I can’t say that I did a single thing to change a single thing in the DR. I’m sure anyone could have painted the wall as well as I did, no doubt someone could have done it better. And absolutely no sixth grader improved their French on my watch, in fact some French knowledge may have been damaged on my watch, but I don’t think it was anything that Miss Matilde wasn’t able to fix in short order. However, the DR changed me and challenged me in a lot of ways.
Here are a few of my final thoughts on my DR trip.
Some things are the same no matter where you are, even if they are very, very different. Even though growing coffee is very different from raising cattle, at the heart they’re not so different at all. Both require a love and passion for caring for the land and being outdoors and growing something with care. They both have unpredictable challenges and require constant learning. And they both reap great rewards.
Kids everywhere are just kids. They love recess, they all know how to strike a pose when they see a camera and they all want to give their substitutes a hard time.
Language barriers are hard. It’s difficult and time consuming to learn another language and when you are surrounded by people speaking a foreign language it feels really lonely. Even talking through an interpreter is really tiring. I know people have strong feelings about immigrants here learning the English language and I don’t disagree. I do think that if you move to another country you should make every effort to learn the language but I think we should remember that it’s really hard and time consuming and can be really lonely. Just because someone isn’t speaking English doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t want to or aren’t trying to learn.
Warm weather rocks! Especially when you have been trapped in a never ending winter for months. I can’t tell you how good it felt to walk outside and not have to worry about your facing freezing off.
Sometimes you need to get out of your comfort zone. Sometimes we learn a lot more about the world and about ourselves if we go somewhere completely different and a little bit scary, even if it is on the wrong side of the Mississippi.
Doing what your called to do most likely won’t be easy, but that’s ok. I think sometimes we get the idea that if we find our “calling” that things will be easy. You know sayings like, “do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life”, or “do what you love and the money will follow”. I can’t tell you how many times we talked with truly amazing people, who felt called to work in missions and service and who loved what they did, desperately, and they are extremely good at what they do. But ever single one of them said, “this is really hard, some days this is really, really hard.” And yet they didn’t doubt or wish it were different. They just seemed to accept that some days were going to be really hard. Things worth doing, right things, good things, things you were meant to do, are sometimes going to be really, really hard and that’s ok.
Mission trips are complicated. As I said in my first post, this trip was more of service/learning trip than a traditional mission trip, so I’m not sure what a traditional mission trip would have been like. But through our book study (When Helping Hurts), discussions within our group and with those we met along the way, I learned a little bit about how the urge to rush in and fix things for people can end up causing more problems than it solves. That the crux of it all is always going to be creating relationships and walking with people. Helping them find a path to self reliance that honors their unique culture and unique gifts and talents, instead of “fixing” whatever we perceive the problem to be and walking away. We are all broken, in one way or another and we all need each other, in one way or another, and we all need to feel valued.
This quote from Pope Francis speaks to this idea, “Hospitality in itself isn’t enough. It’s not enough to give a sandwich if it isn’t accompanied by the possibility of learning to stand on one’s own feet. Charity that does not change the situation of the poor isn’t enough.” And I don’t think we can help anyone learn to stand on their own feet if we don’t take the time to get to know them and humble ourselves enough to see things from their point of view, meet them where they are, without judgement. It’s complicated and requires a great deal of effort and thoughtfulness.
The two questions I most often get asked since I’ve been home are; “how was your trip?” and “would you go back?” So here are the answers.
How was your trip? My trip was really amazing. I learned so much and I’m still learning from it. I made some wonderful friends and met inspiring people. It was nothing like I expected and absolutely perfect. It’s very hard to describe and something I will never forget. And so much fun!
Would I go back? I would absolutely go back to Doulos. I feel connected there now in many ways and the connection between Doulos and Prince of Peace runs deep. And I really miss Sandra and Darrell and Courtney and Mike and Becky and…..
But the question of would I go on a mission trip is more complicated. I would be very careful and cautious in choosing to go on a future mission trip. I would want to make sure that what I was doing was truly helping. That it was more about the people in need and not about me feeling important. That I had skills that fit the situation, that were needed at that time and place.
I know, we are all called to serve the poor in some way. The trick is figuring out what that looks like for each of us. And to do that well and effectively, we have to get know both ourselves and the poor (and that could be the materially poor, emotionally poor, spiritually poor, relationally poor because poverty comes in many different forms) more intimately. I am going to be very honest here. I am finding this all really difficult and I have zero answers. But I’m working on it….a little at a time. I know I am not going to pack up and move to the DR, that much I have figured out (see Dad every thing is going to be ok). I know I fit in the puzzle somewhere, just where and how is a work in progress.
And I know this for sure. If you get the chance to go and learn about a different culture and meet amazing people and travel with church ladies who randomly break into song and dance and change peoples names and smuggle coffee. Do it! Go! Don’t think twice, just do it. Just prepared to learn and laugh and cry and make sure there is someone in the group knows how to catch frogs.