July 19, 2023
If you come away thinking, they're poor, but they're so happy, you’ve misread what’s really happening. There is much more to it than that.
What hits you when you go somewhere new? When you visit a different country or even a different kind of community than you’re used to, like visiting a huge city when you live in a small town?
The unknown can be disconcerting—but volunteering on a mission trip with Resonate Global Mission can also provide opportunities to listen to the Holy Spirit and shape your worldview.
For many Resonate volunteers on a mission trip in the Dominican Republic, the country is very different from home. If you’re not used to it, the heat hits you like a wave. You might not speak the language. Traffic may seem out-of-control. Everything seems so different from what seems normal to you. The poverty, trash, and apparent chaos may be depressing at times. But you also see smiling people, brightly colored homes, tropical fruits piled high, and beautiful mountains, rivers, and beaches.
But something happens when we begin to see beneath the surface. Being present in another country and culture—when you can just sit peacefully in the shade of coconut trees, smiling and laughing along with your Haitian and Dominican hosts, even though you have no idea what they were saying—something shifts.
I am definitely more compassionate and helpful to others as the Holy Spirit speaks to me from my experiences in the Dominican Republic.
That’s when you gain eyes to see and ears to hear what the Holy Spirit is showing you and saying to you. It may be the opening of eyes to see Jesus’ presence and ears to hear Jesus’ voice in our Haitian and Dominican brothers and sisters. To tune into the Spirit’s leading to open up our hearts to them. To see God’s image in them.
You see that joy doesn’t depend on your level of comfort or security, or how many things you have. It comes from being a child of God and part of God’s family. You realize that even though you can’t understand what someone is saying, you can feel that you are united with them—even someone who looks and sounds very different from yourself. You are united in Christ. And you’ll never be the same. You can’t “unsee” it. It’s a new worldview.
It may even be a little humbling, since you might have to admit that some of your previous and dearly held convictions have to be set aside. That moment is transforming.
I’ve seen it happen over and over.
Pastor Juan Ortiz, Jeanvenel, Claudia, and a half dozen others from Ponton CRC in La Vega, Dominican Republic, introducing themselves to and sharing their testimonies and struggles with Harold, Agnes, and eight members from Exeter CRC in Ontario, and vice-versa. Through translation, the interaction went on for hours as everyone opened up and shared amid much laughing and some tears.
Nikky and Katie from Muskegon, Michigan, spent a week at the home of Alejandrina, the director of the Christian Reformed school in Mojarra, Dominican Republic, and felt so welcome there in spite of the language barrier. Using Google Translate constantly helped, but there were surprises, like when they were told to put on bathing suits and loaded into a very crowded car without knowing quite where they were headed, and ended up at the beach for the day.
Tom from Sioux Center, Iowa, has been going to the Dominican Republic on mission trips on and off for ten years. He shared: It helped me see the global nature of the church... that there are believers all over the world…that worship takes on all different forms, and all of them glorify God and praise his name. It opened my eyes to how big the kingdom of God really is.
Even though I would never have admitted it, I always somehow felt that the poor could just pull themselves up by their bootstraps and get themselves out of poverty. But after being exposed to an impoverished society, I saw how extremely difficult it really is to get out of because there are so few opportunities. It must be difficult to have hope after seeing generations living with so little. It must be very hard to imagine anything could ever be different.
It helped me see the global nature of the church... that there are believers all over the world…that worship takes on all different forms, and all of them glorify God and praise his name. It opened my eyes to how big the kingdom of God really is.
David from Ontario shared: I am definitely more compassionate and helpful to others as the Holy Spirit speaks to me from my experiences in the Dominican Republic. I have come to value people more in spite of their economic situation. For example, I was impressed at the Haitian workers being able to do really good work with only basic tools, and also to sing while working. I will always have in my mind an image of a family walking home through a sugarcane field after a church service, continuing to sing praises.
At the same time, after each trip I was alarmed at the waste we practice in North America. A simple example is water. In the Dominican Republic, people have to walk significant distances to obtain water, whereas we spray our driveways with water.
When people tell me that they have visited the Dominican Republic my response is, if you didn’t leave the resort, you missed the real experience.
One must be cautious not to romanticize or spiritualize it all, or try to reduce it all to a cliché or stereotype. If you come away thinking, They’re poor, but they’re so happy!, you’ve misread what’s really happening. There is much more to it than that. Or much worse, to assume that the struggles of the people and the apparent chaos and misery in which they live is “just what they’re used to.” No. Life is hard, and people are trying hard to make a difference.
Sometimes when you step out of your comfort zone, a whole new world can open up. As privileged North Americans, we can experience an even greater privilege of fellowship and friendship across cultural, national, and racial barriers. That’s having your eyes and ears opened. That’s having eyes to see and ears to hear.
Stephen Brauning is a Resonate Global Mission missionary serving in the Dominican Republic