We went without hot water, air conditioning, comfortable beds, WiFi and other American comforts for a week in the Dominican Republic. Each day we had hours without electricity, bug bites became a way of life, and oppressive heat drained the energy out of us. We dug 60-yard trenches with shovels and picks, leveled, laid blocks, mixed and poured cement.
Each day began with worship. We also paused after lunch for worship and ended each day with worship. Being unplugged from the world allowed us the time and head space to plug into God and each other. There was no WiFi, no text messages, no social media to distract us from what God was doing in us, for us, and through us. Youth who had seen each other often in America but rarely spoke finally started to have conversations with each other thousands of miles away.
The work was not easy. When we started mostly everyone needed breaks after just a few minutes of labor. Most did not have the physical strength or the mental stamina to keep up. However, we kept pushing and by the end of the week our physical ability had grown. We needed fewer breaks and our endurance and stamina had increased. After just a week of work the youth learned that not only had their bodies grown in strength and endurance, they also realized that they had a new found work ethic and that work builds character. More importantly, they realized that being unplugged, having unadulterated time with God, working hard and being in nature brought them closer to God. As the week wore on, it was evident that God was doing something in the group that far too often we are too distracted at home to notice or allow.
At the end of the week we closed the Sabbath with vespers sitting on a beach. The Sabbath seemed to mean more after a week of character building work. Since we had been worshipping together all week, the Sabbath became a celebration of where we’d been with God and what He had been doing in us. Instead of being the normal weekly social ritual, it was a special day for fellowship, reflection, and celebration with God and with each other. As we closed the Sabbath with prayer, four youth came forward for baptism and one for re-baptism.
Although not all of us can go on mission trips, it is important for us to create time and space where we can be unplugged. Perhaps families could put all their phones away during meal times and family worship. Create opportunities where family members can spend time engaging in character building work. Spend intentional time in nature. Foster an atmosphere of worship through the week, so that Sabbath is truly a celebration of where your family has been with God all week.
We went to an orphanage in the Dominican Republic intending to give of our time and energy, which we did. However, what we gained far outweighed what we could give.
I leave you with some quotes from the youth who were on the mission trip:
…I always heard mission trips change you but I wouldn’t know till I gave it a try…I ended up making great friends…and I started to understand my path with Christ more. – Naomi
Mission trips give you a sense of relaxation and peace with yourself and God. Being away from technology for a week can hurt but it can bring you so much closer to yourself and your surroundings. – Liz
…We became a family on a spiritual journey. – Victoria
Mission trips allow people to step out of their comfort zones, experience new things, meet new people, and remove yourself from your monotonous life. You’re able to separate yourself from the outside world and reconnect with God and get to know Him for the first time… -Briana
…I got closer to God on this trip. I don’t do worship every day. – Anonymous
This mission trip was worth going on because it brought me closer to God… – Anonymous
This mission trip helped me to grow closer to God and meet new people. – Asher
I feel like this mission trip changed my life by seeing a whole different world. – Jovani
…Building the sidewalks also built up my character, stamina, and work ethic. I appreciate this opportunity for all it taught me and I’m so glad I came… – Jessica
It changed my life and showed me how blessed I am. –Michael
This trip was truly life-changing. It was very humbling and just altogether amazing… – Desiree
A picture is worth a thousand words and can only capture so much; but the memories that are made, those are priceless. – RJ
(by Pranitha Fielder)