Wow… what a week. As I sit here in typing this entry so many thoughts are running through my head. First and foremost to everyone who is reading this, I want to tell you “Thank You”. Thank you for supporting this team, this program, this missions trip and these amazing young women. It is because of all of you and your prayers and support that this trip was able to happen and that these lives were able to be changed, so a HUGE “THANK YOU” from the bottom of my heart.
This week has been, well in a phrase…life changing. 12 people boarded a plane last Tuesday bound for a foreign country without a clue what would happen, without an idea of what was in store, and they all came out changed. When we arrived last Tuesday I could tell there was some serious culture shock going on. The girls were not just tired from the flight and the additional jet leg, they seemed to be a bit … well overwhelmed for lack of a better term. Wednesday we started off our trip with going to a village and there for the first time the girls got an up-close and personal view of what life was REALLY like in a village in a 3rd world country. This was no longer just stuff you see on TV or in the movies, this was real, this was up close and personal. We got off the bus and (after being immediately grabbed by the village children who wanted nothing more than to hold our hands) looked around and saw small shacks that were put together with nothing more than gravity, steel, and a prayer. We saw children with no shoes trampling through mud, over rocks and gravel and through thorns and bushes without a second thought. It was at that moment when I looked at the girls faces and saw that this was quickly becoming real.
We talked when we arrived about what this missions trip was about, and what we were here to do. We all knew that this missions trip for us was about Love… and showing God’s incredible love to everyone we would encounter. We didn’t know how we would do it, we just knew that we were called here to this place at this time to do this work. At this first village we got that chance, and got it immediately. The village children grabbed us and hung on tight. I was the last off the bus and was swarmed by young boys who wanted nothing more than to hold my hand and show me around their village. I looked ahead and saw all the girls in the village hanging on my team members for dear life wanting nothing more than their attention, and their… love. The team started playing games, and then getting their hair braided and played with and before we knew it and before we could stop it it turned into just a huge playground scene where all kids were simply being kids and playing and my team was just being themselves, letting their guards down, and showing these children the much needed love that they wanted so badly to have in their lives.
Throughout the week these experiences continued. There were more villages, more children, and so much more love being shown and given. As you have read as the girls have all BLOG’d they all gave their devotions, they all spoke to the kids, and they all began to be changed. Each morning at 8am or so the team would gather and we would do our morning devotions. Then in the evenings we would come together again and have an evening devotion and talk about our day and what happened. Throughout this time slowly, yet surely this team was starting to change. The girls were opening up to the kids more, they were being touched by the love that they were receiving and not the love that they were giving… they were starting to see that perhaps… just perhaps this missions trip was about more than just us showing God’s love to the Children of the D.R., perhaps this was about us as well…
Then came a tipping point… a point that changed it all for me personally as a coach of this team, and as a member of this missions team. That point… was Saturday. Throughout the week we had had great experiences in the orphanage, and in the villages, and with members of our team, but this day really became a day of change….
We arrived at a village named La 41. It is one of the poorest in the Dominican according to our guide. We pulled up to a church that was gated and was led in. As we entered in … there wer no children clamoring for us, no screaming kids to play with, and no people to hold our hands… there were just about 5 families waiting on the church steps. The girls faces went long… you could see they were both confused and disappointed that after all the great experiences we have had this week that this… our last village would have no kids to play with. We were led into the church. It was at this point we started to see a few kids that were there had gathered in the church as well and pulled up chairs to sit down. As they sat Maris got up and began to give a devotion. During this time (unbeknownst to the team) I looked outside the church doors and what did I see… but about 160 kids coming down the roads towards the church gate. As Maris finished her devotion I told the congregation that the team would go outside and play with the children. They did so, and immediately the gates were opened and the kids were let in… it was incredible. During this time I was asked to stay in the church. As the team and the kids played outside our missionary asked me to talk to the adults of the village. I was taken back, unprepared, and a bit… well confused. However as the girls will tell you, I am NEVER at a loss for words especially when it comes to speaking about my Savior. So I got up and gave my testimony and spoke to them about the hope that is found in our Lord and about the Love and his plans for our life. Following this as I always do, I asked if anyone had any questions… nobody ever does… until today. A man stood up from the front row. He stood about 6 feet tall and was very muscular and dressed very well and my initial thought was he was someone of means in this small community. He then stood up and in a shaky voice through our translator began to speak to me. He said how these words he just heard ‘hit him in his heart’ as we too grew up without knowing his parents, and he then spoke about his life…how he went through life simply living and thinking about himself first. He said he TOO had tried to fill his heart with anything and everything he could. He then said… I don’t know about Christ, but I want to know. For the next several minutes through our translator we told him about salvation and how he too can be transformed. This was AMAZING!!!!! This was my tipping point, this is when I realized that my mission here wasn’t just to help lead this team to their missions goals, but it was also to change me and show me that the words we speak aren’t our testimony… our testimony is our lives. We are living, breathing, walking testimonies everyday! Our transformation stories are simply that… the story of when we were transformed, and now today this man has one of his own. Praise Jesus!
As I stepped outside of the church after this I saw so much more incredible things happening. Maris and Miranda had started a mini nail salon for the girls, Mary Ann was playing Tag with the older boys, Amber was teaching them a game and writing in the dirt, Kelsey and Sarah and both Brittany’s were playing piggy back rides and games with the kids, and all around us at that moment right there was joy. God was living and breathing through all of us, showing his amazing love through these children to our team, and through our team to this village and these children. Then it was time to go… and as we always do we gathered the village together to pray with the children. I started to pray through our translator and to my surprise the kids began to repeat my words. I got choked up as I continued to pray and heard my words of love and hope resounding in spanish right back to me and to our team. How incredible. We finished our prayers and began to head back to the bus when Emily Ethington came up to me and said something… I couldn’t hear her so I asked to repeat it. She said again “Coach, can I give my shirt to this boy?” I looked at her and said ….” well do you have another one on? “. She said yes, and I in turn said if you want to then do it. I watched as my Senior All-Conference Shortstop took off her Asbury Softball T-Shirt and Handed it to this young boy. I saw his face light up as though he was handed the keys to the kingdom right then and there… and who knows… maybe that was the start of something in his life. Then my gaze turned to Emily, and her face and although I’m sure she’ll never admit it I almost saw a tear well up in her eyes. She then got on the bus and we went back to the hotel.
It was that night, Saturday night at our evening devotions that this team transformed. Mary Ann spoke to us all about her life, about her story and about the direction she wanted to be going. Then the girls spoke with each other and the walls came tumbling down. The history of pain that existed on this team began to be washed away by the love of Jesus Christ showing through each of them. It was this night that this team went from a team, and became a family.
As I close and we go to bed on our last night in the D.R. I am struck by so much that happened, so much that you have read through these girls words in the BLOG and so much that I have seen happen here. We arrived 12 individuals from Kentucky, a little nervous, all with our own goals for the week and our own expectations. We then learned that by giving away the love of Christ we got back so much more. We learned so much more about ourselves, what our focus should be and what our team should be about. We TRANSFORMED. We came here to do missions work, and while we did do missions work, God worked on us, and in us and changed us.
Oh and by the way… we played softball too… and WON. 3-2, 3-0, and 10-0… not too shabby if I do say so myself… not that we care about such things!!