Youth Dominican Republic Mission Trip Report
DR YOUTH MISSION TEAM RETURNS FOREVER CHANGED
“At the beginning of the week it was just about doing the work, but by the end of the week, it was all about the people. The connections I made with our team, as well as with the people of the barrio, are something I’ll never forget. The realization that joy and love could be communicated across a language barrier without words is a lesson I will carry for life.” Youth Missioner Summer M.
The 2014 Youth Mission Team traveled to the Dominican Republic to build lasting relationships with the people of the DR, to build a home for an extended family of nine in the community of El Pedregal, and to build a playground at the Mount of the Transfiguration School.
The Team also brought gifts of requested supplies to assist Padre Alvaro with his work in the community. These gifts included clothing, bed sheets, pillow cases, school supplies, back packs, sports equipment, vestments and altar cloths, guitar and stand, window screening, kitchen items, cameras, medical supplies, and hand tools. Several suitcases were also left behind to be used as closets in the community.
Our Mission Trip
We arrived in Santo Domingo in the afternoon of June 23, 2014, and eagerly boarded our bus ready for the three hour ride north to the Diocesan Camp where our work would take place.
We were “welcomed home” upon our arrival at camp with music by Padre Tony Garcia, Joel De La Cruz, and Charlie and Glennys Polanco. All came from Santiago to joyfully welcome us. Padre Alvaro Yepes and his wife Angela helped us get settled into our dormitory rooms before dinner. After dinner, we enjoyed more music and dancing with our friends. Our first evening closed with compline to end a very long and exciting day.
Our first full day at the camp was quite busy as we familiarized ourselves with the construction status of the home and playground. We visited several homes in the community and sites of prior mission work. Our work schedule would be very aggressive, so, with the help of the community, we got right to work. Our team divided into two groups with one working at the home and the other at the playground. This focused our work and permitted us to get the most done. Before dinner we ministered in two community homes, and enjoyed the fellowship of music and prayer. After dinner, we retired to the second floor balcony of the Stevens Dormitory for reflection and compline. Our long day ended with a moment of silence where we sat in the darkness and listened to the sounds of the adjacent community. This was a powerful experience that our youth repeated each evening.
“We saw El Pedregal differently as we sat in silence to listen to the night sounds of the barrio. There was joy in the laughter we heard. There was celebration in the music. There was hope and encouragement in the conversations. In this moment, our hearts opened…not as a reaction to what we could see, but in response to what we could feel.” Missioner Don P.
Our second day of work brought great progress to all our projects. We started our day by presenting Padre Alvaro the gifts we brought. The decking and most of the pickets were attached to the playground. Most of the playground structure was primed, and some color began to appear. The roof rafters of Jacqueline’s home were coated in creosote and one side of the sheets of zinc were painted white to become the ceiling of her home. We worked in the morning and afternoon in order to keep both our projects on a schedule for completion. After dinner, we projected the Disney movie Frozen in Spanish at the church to about 40 in the community. This film was received with much excitement and appreciation. Refreshments were also shared with the community following the movie, and wonderful friendships were made. The day once again ended with a beautiful time of reflection and compline. Padre Alvaro and Angela also sang to us as we sat in the darkness and stillness of the evening.
“The gift you have given this community is precious. They have heard of the movie Frozen, but never would have the opportunity to see this or any other film. But the film you shared is not your most precious gift. You watched the film with the community. You laughed with the community. You sighed with the community. You shared yourselves. This is what is most appreciated. You will be remembered a long, long time for this kindness.” Padre Alvaro Y.
On our third day of work, the concrete floor of Jacqueline’s home was mixed, poured and finished…one bucket at time. At the playground worksite, rocks and undergrowth were cleared from the playground, and construction and painting continued. This was back breaking work, but no complaints were heard. The sting of hard labor was lessened by the community’s continued work by our side. After dinner we returned to the church to project “The Little Mermaid” in Spanish to about 70 community members. It was amazing to watch the children scoot closer and closer to the screen. We again served refreshments, and were all touched by the joy and pleasure a movie has on a community. Our evening again ended with the most remarkable refection time and compline.
“It was very rewarding to watch our youth interact with the children of the community. We are all children at heart, and watching them play and laugh and simply embrace each other in love is something I will remember always.” Missioner Lauren W.
On our fourth day of work, the construction and painting of the playground progressed nicely. The floor of Jacqueline’s home was completed. The team worked until mid-afternoon, and then hiked to the river with many friends from the community. This rewarding day culminated with our Fiesta during which we shared a delicious meal, music and dancing with the community. This was a great time of thanksgiving and celebration. Our reflection time confirmed the love that was growing between the members of our team and the community. Compline again ended this wonderful day.
“Where did you make the most difference today?” Youth Missioner Kelly D. Kelly led our reflection time this night, and responses were unanimous. We made the greatest difference, not by our work, but in the relationships we have made.
Our fifth day of work was our last full day in camp. The doors and windows were installed in Jacqueline’s home, and paint touch-ups were applied to the playground. Pea gravel was delivered and spread under the playground. Shortly after noon, our work was done. We celebrated with our Dominican friends at the waterfalls. Our time at the falls was a blessed celebration of friendship, hard work, and satisfaction in all that was accomplished. Reflection time on this night was a blessed sharing of emotion. Joyful tears were shed as team members shared what the week had meant to them. A part of us will remain in the DR, and a part of the DR will forever be in our hearts.
“I am not often comfortable with people or places I find myself. I really can’t explain it, but here I feel comfortable. This past week has been great. I feel that I have made a difference in the lives of others, and my life has been changed, too. I have friends here now that I really don’t want to leave. There is so much more to do. Do we have to go? I want to stay. A NE Youth Missioner.
On our last full day in the DR, we worshipped with our Dominican family. Fr. Tom J. helped celebrate, and even did so in Spanish!!! Melissa P. translated Padre Alvaro’s sermon so the rest of our team could hear his message of thanksgiving. The gift of the guitar and stand was presented to the church, and a young lady played it briefly for us. This gift will provide much needed music to future worship services. Jacqueline addressed the community regarding the meaning of the new home to her family. There was not a dry eye in the church. Back packs were given to the children present at church, and clothing was distributed to adults attending church. After service, we toured Jacqueline’s home and had our group photograph taken at the home and playground we helped build. Our time at the camp ended with heartfelt promises that we would see each other again.
Our 3 hours bus ride back to Santo Domingo was a mixed blessing of joy and sadness. We already missed our friends. Stories were shared, and plans for future mission were discussed. Following our arrival in Santo Domingo, we enjoyed a beautiful afternoon exploring the historic Colonial Zone. Each missioner found a perfect memento of their wonderful time together in the DR. The evening ended with dinner on the rooftop of Café Angelo with Bishop Julio Holguin, his wife Milagros, and missionaries Karen Carroll and Charlie Nakash.
Our final morning in Santo Domingo brought one final, great surprise. We met Ellen Snow at the Hotel Mercure during breakfast. She was taking part of medical mission that based its operation at the hotel. It was the perfect end to an amazing mission experience for us all.
Padre Álvaro and Ángela were excellent hosts, generous with their spirit, and sincere with their love and caring for us and the community. It is difficult to find the words which explain the impact this experience has had on each of our hearts. We have built a true giving and receiving relationship with the folks of El Pedregal. The fun, fellowship and generosity of our sponsors will never be forgotten.
“Our amazing week together brought us an understanding of how much it means to the folks in the DR that others care about them. We heard many times that it is not what we bring with us, but the fact we came which is most important to them. It is the relationships that will grow and continue to form that is the greatest gift of all.” Missioner Melissa P.
The NE Youth DR Mission Team returns home able to give the assurance that the Diocese of Nebraska is well known and loved in El Pedregal. We may also give the assurance that we all have found a second ‘home’ in the DR with family anxiously awaiting our return. We learned that our youth can accomplish many, many important things. We look forward to all the wonderful places God shall lead us from here!!
Thank you to all who made our incredible dream a beautiful reality.
Don and Melissa P. Father Tom and Sharon J. Linda B.
Steve and Lauren W. Angela B. Michael G.
Rowan P. Summer M. Summer S.
Shiloh T. Crystal K. Kelly D.
“This was a mission to make a difference. Mission accomplished!!! There were no “good-byes” when we left because our hearts will always be with our Dominican family in our new mountain home of El Pedregal. NE Missioner Steve W.”