And just like that, two months have passed. We are excited to see our friends and family, but are sad to leave this place that now feels like home. Just the other day we were talking about how we finally feel adjusted to living here. We are going to miss the people we have become friends with and the community-based culture.
As we are wrapping up the two months, we have been processing through what we’ve learned and how God has been working in our lives. Megan, the country liaison, and Courtney, her intern, have been here the last two weeks. We know them from home and it was refreshing to spend time with people we were comfortable with. They have helped us to process through our time here and give us a different perspective of the work COTN does. They asked us these questions which we feel like have been central as we process the summer.
What’s one of the most prominent lessons you have learned this summer?
Throughout the summer, God has been teaching me to let go of things. As I’ve learned to give God control of the little things, I’ve been able to trust Him with the bigger things. Going into our summer school classes, I had a lot of hopes and expectations for the kids and what they would learn. After some disappointing days teaching, I realized my goals for teaching were unrealistic and God had bigger plans. Rather than teaching the kids specific new topics, we were there to encourage and make sure the kids knew that they were loved, smart, and capable. Handing over my time in the classroom to God proved that he could be trusted to exceed expectations. As I learned to trust God during the summer, I was able to also hand over things I had been so tightly holding onto at home. I have been able to let go of career plans that have been controlling my life and decisions for years. Allowing God to retake his place as the center of life has brought peace and freedom. Despite not knowing what life will look like after graduation, I know He will exceed my expectations, just like He did this summer while teaching. – Bekah
While I was reading the book, The Alchemist, I felt God really speak to me through one line in the book. The alchemist tells the boy “you’re in the desert, so immerse yourself in it”. When I read that line, I was reminded that I am exactly where God has placed me and that I need to soak up the time that I have here in this place. It can be hard to let yourself be in the season you are in. We are always looking to the next season, always thinking how much better it will be to get out of the one we are in. But I think God calls us to immerse ourselves in the place he has us in. It’s not always easy, but if we are always looking to the next, how can we see God working in the now? There have definitely been times where I want to be home and have the normality and comfort of life in the US, but I have learned during this trip that it’s so important to immerse yourself in the place that you are. Whether that is a short-term place or a long-term place, God has you where He wants you. I have learned to focus my mind on being present and focus on the place and the people that I am with. – Kadyn
One huge thing that I’ve learned through out this experience is what rest truly is. To be okay with stillness, and with silence. At times I would be living alone, at times I couldn’t understand anyone talking around me, and at times we just did nothing the entire day. This was frustrating because we would feel unproductive, bored and lonely. But having these times of stillness gave me time to think and turn these questions to God. To lean deeper into him when I felt lost even with people all around me. I was reminded that I should stop and slow down my life. To remember what gives me life and to refocus it on God. At home I’m constantly busy and don’t give myself enough time to rest, but this summer he has given me that space to grow and learn to love rest. – Kristina
Would you encourage others to serve with COTN? What has this experience brought you that other internships could not provide?
Living in another country brings you to a place of vulnerability that you can’t find in the states. It allows God to shape you and impact your life in ways you had never considered. It is definitely difficult and testing but the rewards are far worth it. I was also reminded while I was here how life-giving it is to serve others. Giving your summer up to God and allowing Him to use you creates possibilities that you can’t find in any other posture.
COTN’s goal is for the countries we serve to become sustainable. For their schools, clinics, and ministries to be completely run by in country staff. My global health classes constantly stress the importance of building sustainable projects that can be supported long-term by local staff, that will not crumble when American funding and organizations begin to pull out. COTN was the perfect fit for me because of their commitment to build up and support the work already occurring in communities in Barahona. – Bekah
I think that at some point in everyone’s life, it is so valuable to experience another culture and be able to see things through a different perspective. To understand that your way isn’t always the only way, that listening can be very powerful and if you never ask questions you wont gain anything. I think that COTN is a great opportunity to experience this, and a place where you have a platform to start. This is a place where you are able to build relationships with a staff that consistently serves their community. Being able to have an internship this summer where I could not just work with COTN but experience the daily life in the Dominican Republic was something I couldn’t gain from sitting in just an office in the states. It provided me an opportunity to critically think of issues and challenge myself in new ways. – Kristina
What I’ve found is that it’s a transition of mindset. In America, we like to compartmentalize. We separate our work and school, our school and ministry, and our work and ministry. But what this internship has taught me is that it doesn’t have to be this way, nor should it be. I’m finding that the more I can connect the three, the more beneficial and life giving the experiences are. With COTN I have found a place where I can take what I learn in the class room, and apply it to the real world of work and business. This business also happens to be a ministry where I am able to work for the benefit of God’s Kingdom, serving and caring for others. It all goes together.
Internships are meant to shape guide you in your career, and what this internship with COTN has taught me is that career and mission can go hand in hand. Before this summer, I wasn’t sure this was possible, at least not in a tangible way. Interning with COTN was and is a incredible experience that has given me so much more excitement going into my senior year. This internship has brought purpose to my education. I would encourage anyone interested in missions, public health, education, finance, or any other major to consider looking into serving with COTN. There are countless ways to bring what you learn in the classroom to this ministry. – Courtney
Courtney has been an intern in the US at COTN this summer. We wanted her perspective as an intern in the States to compare to our experience as in-country interns.
What are the greatest difference you’ve found between a week long mission trip and this 8 week long trip?
Week long mission trips have always been a “mountain top” experience for me, much like many people experience at summer camp. Going into the our trip I was expecting a somewhat similar experience, to be constantly overjoyed and having incredible God moments all the time. A few weeks into our trip, I found myself disappointed and wondering where God was in our day to day life here. Living in the DR has not been 8 weeks of camp high, but rather he has been teaching and shaping me slowly in a lasting way. After week long trips, it is easy to drift back into your normal routine, but I truly believe God has created a lasting change in me that I am only beginning to understand. – Bekah
The biggest difference that I have seen from coming on a week long mission trip here to eight weeks over the summer is starting to really see and understand the mission behind everything we do in a one week trip. Over the summer we were able build relationships, understand each of the villages education system and how the clinic operates a little bit more. In a week long trip it can be sometimes frustrating when you can’t tangibly see what difference you are making, granted in eight weeks its hard to see this as well. But also over the eight weeks you see the trust start to form with the kids you’ve been teaching, the smiles on the nurses faces when you finish counting all their inventory, and the light bulbs clicking in the kids head when they remember something from English class. Progress isn’t fast and it isn’t easy but overtime change WILL happen if you are persistently present. There isn’t a constant high when you are here for eight weeks like it may be after one week. You face frustrations, challenges and joys and it’s a slower, deeper change. – Kristina
“The thrill you feel on first seeing some delightful place dies away when you really go to live there … if you go through with it, the first thrill will be compensated for by a more quiet and lasting kind of interest” – CS Lewis, Mere Christianity
I feel like this quote is so applicable to my experience with the different trips I have been on here in the Dominican. During a short term mission, you feel the thrill. That feeling of love for a place and a people that is overwhelming and fills your entire being. I felt that love for the DR in my two, week-long trips here. The people you are with, the constant excitement and new things, the mission trip romances… all add to this thrill and infatuation with the place. You constantly see and feel God’s presence and know His plan is so much bigger than you could imagine. It’s incredible and life-giving and I would definitely recommend.
But, when the time came to actually live in the Dominican Republic, the thrill faded away. It’s unfamiliar, there’s frustrations that arise, and a language you don’t quite fully understand. As we have lived here and experienced the culture, people, and lifestyle of Barahona, I have begun to feel this interest that Lewis describes. We have a commitment to the people we have lived with, served, and been served by. A longer term mission trip creates deeper roots in the place and with the people there. I love this place and the people who I’ve become friends with and I have a stronger commitment to this place. Being on a longer term mission allows you to experience daily life and truly get to know the people you are with. This quiet and lasting interest in this place is something I will have with me for a long time.
I do believe that in the spectrum of missions, each trip is crucial to God’s plan and each person has a purpose no matter the length of their stay. But, what is necessary, is for there to be a long term mission in the place and lasting relationships being made in the community. The short term trips help support the long term mission. They’re the quick bursts of energy, labor, excitement, and encouragement for those living in the community every day. The long term people are the ones who are there daily and have committed their lives to God’s mission in their community.
This summer I questioned mission trips altogether and wondered if they were good for the people in the community being served. God has been showing me that each type of mission is important to Him. He can use any type of commitment someone has given up for His work. He has helped me to change my perspective on why missions are important and how they further the kingdom and His plan. – Kadyn