We’ve seen a bit of everything in the past two weeks, and we’re still able to “live laugh life” about it. We’ve had fifty kids in class in one community and four in the next, we broke up a fist fight, we have created pencil dependency, and we have lost every pencil sharpener the day we got it. But, we have also seen the excitement and self-confidence that comes with getting a math question right, remembering a phrase in English, and sharing about their dreams and goals for the future.
Throughout the chaos and uncertainty, we have been learning a lot both from our kids and each other. We have been seeing the differences between the week-long trip and this trip, especially in building relationships with the kids. Coming in as summer school teachers, we’ve had to earn respect and trust from the kids. They didn’t automatically love us because we were making them do schoolwork. In the summer. But over the past week we have felt more welcomed, loved, and appreciated by our kids.
These relationships have taken time, effort, and persistence.
During our training meetings, we learned about the relationship cycle. The first step is infatuation. Infatuation is the illusion of love. It often comes with excitement and unrealistic expectations for the relationship. Most relationships in a week-long mission trip do not get past this stage.
The next step that every relationship must go through in order to become deep and meaningful is called disorientation. This is the hard part of a relationship where expectations are not met, faults are realized, and we become disappointed. This happens with friends, significant others, and even with God. This step is what refines the relationship. God uses this step to test and strengthen our faith.
“For you, God, tested us; you refined us like silver” Psalm 66:10
It kind of felt like we started out in the disorientation stage with the kids. The kids are used to the Americanas playing with them and doing whatever they want. Because of this, the kids had expectations for us that we did not fulfill. As their teachers, our goal was to help them learn and make them feel capable, not just to play. It definitely took effort and perseverance to get the kids to respect and listen to us in the classroom.
If you are able to push through the disappointment and redefine your expectations for the relationship you move into resolution and love. This is the final step in the cycle.
Going into our last week of teaching we are still working on moving into resolution and strengthening our relationships with the kids. We have felt a major shift in the atmosphere of the classrooms (minus the fight) and have been connecting better with our students. If we hadn’t persisted through the hard days we wouldn’t have the relationships we now have with the kids. We would have been distant, uncomfortable, and unwelcome. Now we are welcomed and loved, even when the class doesn’t go well.
The process of building relationships with the kids has been similar to building a relationship with God. It has taken persistence, it’s been slow, and at times it is frustrating. Throughout our lives, we encounter difficult times and may not feel God’s presence. But ultimately God is using these seasons to develop our faith and character.
“We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” Romans 5:3-4
He has been growing something so much deeper and more meaningful in our time in the classroom, as well as in our hearts. We have only gotten a glimpse of the joy that these relationships can bring and are looking forward to our final three weeks here in Barahona.
Here are some pictures of what we’ve been up to for the past two weeks!
More personal updates:
Kristina has 25 more bug bites, Bekah had a 101 degree fever, and Kadyn rubbed a banana peel on her foot.
We all learned how to make no bake cookies, the generator broke (means no AC), and we started bringing chairs into the pool.
(PS Arik and Bilen, the kids were asking about where you were this week. Miss you guys!)
We have been in Barahona for three weeks now. Our friends from SPU just left for home on Saturday, so we are getting into the groove of teaching without them. We loved having them around to help us teach, hang out, and play nertz (lots of nertz). We miss them already! S/O to Bilen and Arik. It was sad to see them go, but it was a good reminder of how fast time is flying by. It makes us appreciate the time we have to make stronger relationships with the COTN staff, our host families, and the kids.
Since our last blog, we started summer school and lived with host families for two weeks.
Bekah and Kadyn headed off to Paula’s house and Kristina went to Magnolia’s. Both women work in the COTN office. It was an adjustment living away from the Casa (the COTN guest house), but we quickly grew to love our new families!
Bekah and Kadyn’s host brothers (Paul, 4 & Jeremy, 1) kept them entertained, Bekah even got peed on by Jeremy (LOL). Every evening they sat out on the porch and hung out with Paula, her husband Wellington, her sister Perla, and the boys. As they sat there and talked (both in Spanish and English!), tons of family and friends would stop by on their motorbikes and chat for a bit. They experienced the value that community and relationships hold here in the DR.
Kristina lived with Magnolia, her husband Fran, and her sister Pamela (14). Over the two weeks, Pamela and Kristina became close because Pamela was quite good at English. She ate chichurones (pig skins), learned meringue, and realized her love for empanadas. She had a lot of alone time to rest and reflect on the days. This school year she had a busy schedule and during her time at the host family she had to learn to be okay with taking time to rest.
Last week we also got to go to Zumba at the local park! It was great to get outside and to be back together for an hour each night. We learned some new dance moves, too! We hope to make this a weekly outing for the rest of our time here.
Here’s what day in the life of Kad, Beks, and Kristina looks like:
8:30 – Breakfast
9:30-11:30 – Class
12-2 – Lunch
2:30-4:30 – Class
5-11 – Dinner, pool time, chillin out, & if we’re lucky, Zumba!
Throughout each week we teach English, reading, and math in the five bateyes. We have run into a few roadblocks: some schools don’t have books for reading class, kids don’t bring their notebook and pencil every day, and the different types of classrooms we have in each community. We have also realized the breadth of grades, ages, and skill levels in each class and have learned how to teach each group of kids.
The most challenging subject is reading. Some kids don’t know their letters while some kids should be reading chapter books. It is also a challenge to have enough books each day at each school. We have learned how to create new activities with reading and adjusted to the different learning styles of each class.
We love teaching English and math! It is really exciting to see when students understand what they are learning and when they realize they are capable of learning these subjects. Their looks of joy and confidence are what we look forward to every day. We have also started to personalize the subject matter of the English classes to what each group wants to learn. We only have a few more classes of English left and want to teach them what they want to learn. We also taught them the Black Eyed Peas song “I Gotta Feeling” to teach them the days of the week in English. It was a hit!
Originally it was daunting to think about how much subject matter we felt we needed to teach each kid, but we have realized the real reason we are here. We want to make each kid feel capable, confident, and cared about in our classes. It’s less about them learning a certain amount of math and more about them seeing their ability to learn. We love our kids and look forward to the little successes during the day!
Through everything we have done here, the language barrier has been the most difficult aspect. God has been teaching us so many things through us not fully understanding what is being said.
Church services are lively, loud, and long. We love seeing how other people worship the same God and the passion and excitement that He brings to them every Sunday (and Thursday!). Although it’s next to impossible for us to get the message of the sermon each week, it’s incredible to hear people worship and talk about God in another language. You can definitely feel His presence in the room.
We have a newfound respect for people moving to a new country and being faced with learning a new language. We definitely feel lost a good portion of the time but we always figure it out in the end!
We would love prayer for energy, patience, and that God would continue to show us why we are here. We hope to be stretched in new ways and see God working all around us.
Here’s some personal updates from the past two weeks.
Kristina: has 21 bug bites, hair has been cornrowed for like five days, scooped a dead bird out of the pool.
Bekah: all the kids think her name is cow, shaved her legs for the first time, was traumatized by two wasps on her back today.
Kadyn: according to Franklin she has a boy name, didn’t shower for five days, loses it whenever she sees a puppy.
Time has flown by and we are already done with our first week. We flew into Santo Domingo late Sunday night and toured the city the next day.
In the afternoon, we picked up two other interns from SPU and headed to Barahona (bara-OWN-ah), our new home.
We went to the COTN office to meet all of the staff members and then went over to the medical clinic to meet the nurses there. After that, we went to the I Love Baseball field and Kristina showed up all the boys with her skillz.
Over the next few days we visited the bateyes, communities where we will be teaching at the COTN schools. We met with the principals of the schools and met some new friends. In Los Robles, we met a guy named Robinson who was paralyzed from the waist down in an accident a few months ago. As we visited with him and his family we were amazed by his faith in God and his confidence that he will walk again. In Don Bosco, we met two girls while we walked around the neighborhood. We quickly got comfortable with each other and were laughing and joking around together and singing Despacito.
We also helped with the COTN kids camp on Thursday and Friday. It was for kids ages 8-12 who behaved and did well in school. We sang and danced with the kids for the whole morning and in the afternoon we played with them on the playground and watched them swim. It was a cool opportunity for the kids to meet and play with kids from other communities.
Finally, we were able to tour the two universities in Barahona. At the public university, we got to sit in on an English immersion class and talk with the students. We have been having a lot of fun seeing the city and being immersed in Dominican life.
So far we have been learning to go with the flow, adapt to change (there’s a lot of change), and how to rest. The culture is very laid-back and relationship-based, so we get a lot of free time to just build relationships and reflect on our experiences.
Tomorrow we head off to our host families for two weeks and Monday we start teaching. Keep us in your prayers and feel free to reach out, we don’t get snail mail here but we do have wifi at certain times of the day! Keep an eye out for our next blog post!
Kadyn, Kristina, and Bekah
It is incredible how time has been flying by this week. It´s already Thursday, which means we will start traveling home in less than 48 hours!
God has definitely been with us here in beautiful Barahona. He has given us an amazing opportunity to create relationships that will last much longer than the duration of this trip. Through our small groups and daily work teams, we have been able to connect with one another through Christ.
Every day has brought many new adventures. COTN has given us the chance to spend a large amount of time in the communities. We have been pouring cement floors, helping to construct new roofs and most importantly spending time with the children and other community members getting to know them better. Some of the guys have been able to play baseball games against local teenagers, and they even won their game yesterday! In the afternoons, some of the ladies have been playing softball in one of the communities and will play their first official game this afternoon against the national team.
Beyond all of the fun we are having, God is definitely working in each and every one of us. He has provided us with wonderful weather, energy to make the most of each day, and a time to reflect without the distractions that we have at home. He has also shown us that love, joy, and faith are the same in all languages.
It has been an awesome week filled wih memories that will stay with us for a very long time. Thank you for your prayers, and we look forward to sharing our stories with you when we arrive home!
About a month ago I–along with 23 others–embarked on a short-term mission trip to the Dominican Republic, a country located on a small island in the Caribbean. We went down there with an organization called Children of the Nations, a non-profit group that sponsors children in third-world countries. Our mission: to spread the love of Jesus in the most tangible ways possible. The outcome: changed hearts and a deeper understanding of who God is.
We participated in several service projects during the 10 days we were down there. Most of our mornings were spent laying concrete floors, painting a school, and baking bread for Haitian earthquake victims. In addition to these service projects, we spent our afternoons doing relational ministry with the I Love Baseball Foundation. Using baseball as platform, we were able to connect and build relationships with the Dominicans through this commonly loved sport. Although the Dominican baseball players far outweighed us in expertise, we had a blast and were able to learn a lot from them.
Having now returned from our trip, it will be impossible to forget all that we experienced–from the haunting smell of poverty to the joyful sound of children laughing; all of it remains deeply ingrained in our senses. Pain and joy. Suffering and happiness. Weakness and strength. We witnessed it all. As I continue to reflect on this paradox of realities, I am reminded of a particular experience we had on our trip. This experience took place when we attended a Dominican church for the first time.
During our first full day in the DR, we were invited to attend “Buenos Nuevos Iglesia” (Good News Church). The service was definitely more charismatic than anything I had ever experienced back here in the US, and there was something about the energy in the room that morning that struck me. As I stood there among the Dominican Christians–exhausted from dancing for an hour straight and sweating profusely in 90 degree temperatures–I came to this sudden realization: These people were happy. Genuinely happy. And because of their happiness, they were celebrating. The entire church service (all three hours of it) was a sweet and joyful celebration.
Why were these Dominican Christians so happy? Instead of blaming God for their poverty-stricken conditions, they were actually giving thanks to Him. But why? And that’s when it hit me: Christianity is the only religion I can think of that offers something worth celebrating. That’s why the Bible has so much imagery about parties and wedding banquets. That’s why the Bible talks about heaven as being an endless celebration of praise and worship. As Christians, we truly have something incredible to celebrate. We celebrate Jesus, the one who died for us, rose again, and now sits in glory. Our debt is paid and we are free. We don’t need to earn anything from God; instead it’s freely given. It’s almost too good to be true. That’s why Christians can’t help but celebrate–it’s really our only proper response to grace.
It doesn’t matter if one is rich, poor, well-fed or hungry. This is good news for everyone. The Dominicans Christians we interacted with seemed to grasp this concept full well. In the midst of poverty and brokenness, they still had something to celebrate. Needless to say, it was an honor for us to come together as the body of Christ and celebrate with them.
Overall, our trip to the Dominican Republic was heart-breaking, rejuvenating, and inspiring. Not only did we get to know a lot of Dominicans, but we also got to know each other really well. By the end of the trip our team of 24 had truly become a family. Thanks be to God for such an amazing trip! Our hearts are forever changed.
See the video of our trip.
Written by Tracy Spohn