What motivates 16 British volunteers to raise funds, leave the comforts of home and travel to an island recently devastated by hurricanes? Maybe for its rich history, beautiful beaches and thriving culture; yet, there was a stronger purpose as they flew to the Dominican Republic on Sunday, 25 February.
While the Dominican Republic may be the most visited destination in the Caribbean, these purposeful youth and leaders wanted to make a difference in the lives of those devastated by the storm.
Arriving at Las Américas international airport near Santo Domingo they were greeted by five local pastors including the President of the Central Dominican Conference (Asociación Central Dominicana), Pastor Paulino Puello and his associate who was integral in hosting the group throughout their stay.
The visitors were led by Pastor Dejan Stojković, British Union Conference Youth director. Working with a small team, his plan, conceived in 2017, was to involve youth in a mission trip that would make a meaningful intervention in the lives of those affected by disasters.
After introductions and welcoming statements, the group departed in the white minibus of a local church elder, complete with purple tasseled curtains adorning each tinted window to keep the sun out. As they drove along the highway with the coast to their left, it quickly became evident that rules of the road seemed to be a flexible concept for most of the drivers around them!
Accommodation was provided at the beautiful, church-owned Najayo campsite, set on more than 25,000m2 of land along the country’s southern coast.
Split into three groups, the 16 volunteers were assigned to a church member’s home that was either in need of repair or rebuilding as a result of the hurricanes that tore through the region last autumn.
The work was physically demanding as they demolished walls, transported bricks and wood, shoveled sand and manually mixed cement amid a fusion of Caribbean sunshine and rain.
The families and tradesmen were very accommodating. They expressed gratitude for the help despite this being the first time many of the volunteers had ever set foot in an active construction site.
At the end of a tiring working week, the volunteers attended the Haina Central Adventist church to experience a program led by the local Pathfinder Club and hear a sermonette by Pastor Stojković. On Sabbath morning, they returned to actively participate in the service, sharing special music and listening to Fred Bacon Shone, South England Conference (SEC) treasurer, deliver the sermon.
After lunch, the church was transformed into a multi-specialism health clinic. Some of the volunteers helped church members set up the clinic, and their financial contributions helped local healthcare professionals give free consultations to over 300 members of the public. The funding also allowed for the distribution of medication that would otherwise have been too expensive for most residents. Services were provided in areas of dermatology, gynecology and internal, general and pediatric medicine.
For Maleah Ackie from the SEC it was her first mission trip. She said, ‘It was amazing to work alongside the people we were helping, and it was extremely fulfilling to see how grateful they were for our help. Something I wasn’t expecting is that not only was I able to see and be a part of building a house, but I also learned a lot about myself as I did things I never imagined I would be able to do.'
Those same sentiments were echoed by another first timer, Oana Balans from Wales. ‘What impressed me most is that I learned to relate to God in three languages. And we have brothers and sisters around the world. I have totally loved the following words from Lupita, in whose house we ate: “¡estamos aqui para servir!” In other words: “we are here to serve!” This was a personal message for me because I realized my life needs to change.’
Pastor Rayné Severino, oversees 6 churches in the area. He was indispensable to the group as he provided language support and cultural knowledge. Noting Jesus’ ministry of service to those in great need he stated that ‘as His disciples, we are the ones in charge of fulfilling Jesus' ministry today.’ He added, ‘For the UK youth to come to the DR and not only provide financial resources but also to come and help to build houses was a great accomplishment of fulfilling Jesus' mission.’
Due to time constraints, the volunteers did not fully complete the projects. However, there was a sense of satisfaction in seeing the progression at each site throughout the week. The homes have since been completed and plans are being made for the next mission opportunity.