Friends and Family,
Where to begin… First of all I would like to thank each and every one of you who supported us during this journey, whether it was financially or through prayer. This experience has forever changed my life and I owe a thanks to you for assisting us in this endeavor. When I first heard about this trip from Danielle’s sister Chayil, it seemed like a “cool” thing to do, and the fact that five years ago we sent Chayil to the Dominican Republic, and this being the next time that she has gone back, made it seem like it was “destined” that we accompany her on this trip. How naive I was when I first made the choice to go, and my reasoning for going wasn’t to experience the most life changing event that I have ever experienced, but boy was that what happened.
God worked more in my life in those eight short days than he has in my entire life. I had been so lukewarm in my faith for as long as I can remember. As a kid, going to church and learning about God was just something that I did, I got to see friends at church, and play games and have fun. I didn’t really care about much else. That really continued until I joined the Marine Corps and everything went even further downhill from there. I was doing, and saying things that I never would have dreamed of before, I drank, a lot, all the time. I didn’t go to church, I never even looked at a Bible, I never prayed or thanked God for still being there for me, for keeping me on his mind, even though I had all but forgotten him. God kept me going, and then he gave me the blessing that I never deserved, as an act of his grace, he introduced me to Danielle. Neither of us deserved each other, we were both beaten and broken and had fallen WELL short of God’s graces, but he knew that these two broken puzzle pieces fit perfectly together, and when put together, formed one perfect piece.
I want to jump back to the present, that side story will make more sense later. So here we are, getting a call from Chayil asking, no TELLING us, that we are going on this mission trip to the Dominican Republic with some organization called Missions Me doing something called One Nation One Day. Danielle asks me right there, with Chayil on the phone still, wanna go? Now, usually I will say let me think about it, we need to talk about it, consider a few things, rationalize the whole decision, but not this time, for some reason I immediately said yes, and before I even knew what happened, we were going. There were plenty of chances for me to back us out, say that it probably wasn’t the best idea, I was still out of work, money is tight, what about the kids? But I made a promise to Danielle and to myself, that I was going to finally stick to something, and this was going to be it. I know many of you have been on missions before and may have an idea of what to expect with the fundraising and once on the trip, but this was a first for Danielle and I, and we were a little scared. We started fundraising, and so many of you felt compelled to help us in this adventure, but time was getting short and we still had about 50% left to go with only about three weeks remaining until the deadline for the money. That is when God worked his first miracle. I had checked my amount in the morning and then Chayil called Danielle in the afternoon to get our websites, in order to check how we were doing . She asked how much we had each risen and I was still about $975 away, but when she checked, I was only $75 away! I don’t know who you are, or what called you to donate $900 to me anonymously, but you truly were a Godsend and I thank you from the bottom of my heart. With only Danielle’s funding to focus on we were able to easily get funded in time, thanks to other very generous family members, we love you all!
Trip time! Man, I was getting nervous, looking back on how I felt before, I can laugh about how nervous I was and how wrong I was about that to expect. Everything started Saturday the 18th. We met Chayil and another member of our group, Madeline, in Tampa and then rode together to Miami where a big kickoff event was to take place at the Fillmore Theater in South Beach. After checking in, and getting our packets, we met the nearly 2,500 other missionaries at the theater for training, meeting our team, and some praise and worship. The event kicked off at around 3 p.m. and wasn’t due to end until about 9 p.m.. One of the things I was nervous about with this whole trip was that I was probably going to have to speak in front of a small amount of people and putting myself out there and having to talk to groups of people (I got a C in speech in high school for a reason haha). I may not have realized it at the time, but, God had some amazing things planned for me last week and he decided to start it off with getting one of my biggest fears out of the way right off the bat. Before the event started, they were having competitions on social media and calling people up to the stage and giving them prizes. I thought, sure, ill take a shirt! So I did one of the events, and ended up getting picked, so I got up there to get my prize, but no, they aren’t doing that anymore, the people getting called up now are being selected to lipsync in front of the whole theater!!! There were three of us called up to lipsync and it just so happens I had to go last, great! The first guy is up and he goes, does great, the crowd loves it. I’m over on the side, sweating, heart racing, not sure what to do, I don’t know the words to many songs! The second person goes, again, she does awesome, and everyone loves her! Then the MC comes to me and asks me if I know a song, I’m so nervous, I don’t know many pop songs like they have been singing, he asks me, “you ever heard of Frozen? You know “Let it Go” from Frozen?” Relief, irony, laughter, all of these ensued, “oh yeah, I know it” I say. God put me in an uncomfortable spot, put me where I least wanted to be, in front of 2,500 other missionaries!!!!, and then he gave me “Let it Go” as if to say, let it go child, let go of your worry, let go of your anguish, let go of your insecurities, and I now know he meant “let go of who you were, I am about to make you new”. So, I go out there in front of 2,500 missionaries at the historic Fillmore Theater in South Beach Miami and lipsync my heart out, and you know what? I wasn’t nervous, scared, or even worried about what people were going to think of me, my biggest fear for the whole trip God took care of in the first 30 minutes, before the event even started! What an amazing and powerful God he is! The remainder of the evening was so powerful and filled with worship and praise to God for the power he was about to demonstrate to us in the Dominican Republic. One of the verses used during one of the speakers was 2 Corinthians 12: 9-10 “9 And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.”, and this proved to be an overwhelming theme for the entire week.
Sunday definitely reminded me of the military, hurry up and wait. Sunday was also the day that we really got to spend some time with our team and get to know them. We were paired up with a team from Mid Cities Church in Texas. Mid Cities is another Every Nations church (just like our church) that is located between Midland and Odessa, Texas. We got our first taste of the dance we were going to have to learn as well as the skits and dramas that would be performed at each site we went to. The group was a really good mix, about half were teenagers, some had their parents in our group, some didn’t and one was even there without his parents at all! For lunch we were given a special treat, the local Chick-fil-A’s in the area heard about what we were doing and the mission we were partaking on and decided to open on a Sunday and bring us all lunch! We were the last flight out of Miami to the Dominican so we had a while to wait at the hotel. When we got to the airport and on the plane the TSA (may God bless them) had a problem with the peanut butter that we had brought with us so we sat at the gate for about 2 hours and then had to refuel because we were sitting there so long. Once everything was figured out we were on our way, albeit about 3 hours or so late, but when we arrived the reception was amazing! The national media was there to greet us along with a merengue band and dancers at customs and another huge crowd outside with signs and high fives! The Dominican Republic was ready for a change for the better.
Monday was our earliest day, we had to be up and ready for a flag raising ceremony at the capitol building. We raised flags in the largest cities all over the country as a symbol of God’s glory coming to the country. Isaiah 5:26 says “He raised a signal flag for the distant nations and whistles for them from the ends of the earth. Look-how quickly and swiftly the come!” Once the flag raising ceremony was complete we were off to our first “site” (as we called them) of the day, of the trip. I don’t think many of us knew what to expect, especially those of us that this was our first missions work. We were in a pretty remote area and the church that we went to was this little yellow metal shack, no bigger than maybe a 20’x10’ space. There wasn’t enough room for all of us to do our dance and everything, so those with more practice went first, there was so many people that they were spilling out the door. That first site was such a blur, the one thing I strongly remember is passing out the shoes. This ended up being our first time, of many, that we would pass out shoes, and the desire that these people showed for them was something ill never forget. This being our first experience passing out the shoes, we didn’t really know what to expect, but we quickly realized that this was going to be very difficult due to how aggressive a lot of the parents were getting. We were quickly told that it was time to leave due to the atmosphere changing to a very aggressive one. so we were off to our second site. Once we arrived, we were at a little private Christian school in another part of town. The owners of the school didn’t have much and the building wasn’t amazing, it didn’t even have lighting inside. We quickly learned; however, that the generosity we were about to witness in people who had so little is a common theme in the Dominican. The school was run by a poor woman, and any money that she did receive she used to maintain the school and a kitchen that was out back. The kitchen was for single mothers and their kids, so that they could have a place to cook food and congregate. The woman who ran the school was so immensely proud of her school and the work she was doing, God had truly blessed this woman with a servant’s heart, and she was truly impacting the women and children of the area. We headed back to the hotel after the first day, I know my head was still spinning with everything that happened, I felt like I hadn’t really done anything the first day, I know now that God really had me in a bubble, shielding me that first day, showing me what this country was about and what they so dearly needed. God knew I was going to need that perspective and that day of acclimation in order to truly have an effect on the people I was to encounter the remainder of the week.
Tuesday was our longest day of them all, out in the streets by 9 and not back to the hotel until 6 or 6:30. I was so excited for what Tuesday had in store for us. Monday night we heard some amazing stories of what God had done and I felt that I just hadn’t seen anything yet. I was disappointed, maybe felt a little like I was doing something wrong, but as I said earlier; God was just preparing me for what was to come. Our first site that morning was at another little church, and I mean VERY little. This was the first time I was going to do the dance, and there literally wasn’t much room for error, since the space where eight of us were going to dance was about 6’x3’ big. The dance went great; I remembered more than I thought which was relieving. After the dance; however, we got to do something a little different. While half our team did shoes the other half, our half, would be going house to house ministering to the people and inviting them to the event on Saturday. We got to talk with people in their homes and in the streets, it was amazing. This is where I quickly learned that one of the things I was the most uncertain about would become one of my favorite and just amazing things to do over the whole trip. I started praying for people. I didn’t know what to say at first, but when we are our most unsure and at our weakest, that is when God is his strongest. I started praying with people and the words coming out of my mouth were not my own but that of God speaking through me to the people. I prayed for a lady in her home, for a family and their home, I even prayed with a couple men that were building a house! I couldn’t get enough of sharing the words that God putting in my mouth. Alas, as the theme of the week went, we ran out of time and had to move on to another site. The second site was another church and went very similar to the first, we went out on the streets and I saw two boys, probably 15-17 years old sitting on a truck. We went up to them and asked how they were and invited them to Saturday. After talking with them for a bit I came to find out one of them had some health problems, I don’t know exactly what they were but it was serious enough that even his friend told us when we asked if we could pray for them. I prayed for them and God really spoke to my heart in that moment, I didn’t realize it at the time, but God was showing me how small our world is and that we all can have the same problems. After this site we took about an hour and stopped at a park in a little neighborhood and rested in a little gazebo. While we were at the park a bunch of little kids showed and with an old basketball they were using as a soccer ball, needless to say, we played a little soccer with the kids in that gazebo and it was such a good time! On to the third site for the day. This site was quite a ways back into a village where our bus could not travel so we had to walk, about a mile at least. We get to the site and do our dance and presentation and hand out the shoes, nothing really special other then we had to limit the number of shoes we gave because we were almost out and we had one more site to go. Our fourth and final site was on the way back to the bus but not quite, so we wouldn’t be going back to the bus between sites. We decided to take an inventory of what we had on us for the last site. We quickly realized that none of us had any water on us. We also realized that we were down to 10 pairs of shoes left, all the same size, definitely not enough for the last site. Our team leader decided that we would just leave the shoes with the pastor of the church at the last site since there wasn’t going to be enough for all the children, so we would leave it to him to decide who got them. Danny (our team leader) also decided that Brett and myself were going to go to the bus and grab all of the remaining water and bring it to the site since our team was literally running on fumes and had no energy. We weren’t even really sure how we were going to get through our presentation. Brett and I go to the bus and gather all of the remaining water; we searched in and under every seat in all the compartments above, everywhere. We left the bus, making sure that we got it all for the team, we ended up with about 14 or so bottles of water for our team of about 35, it would have to do. Brett and I show up to the site and there is about 35 or so kids there, our team is already in the middle of one of the skits, we pass out all the water except two bottles since everyone got what they needed. The team does an amazing job on the skits and really brings the energy, they didn’t have energy before, but yet again when we are weak, he is strong therefore when we are weak, we are strong through God’s power. Once our presentation was complete it came time for us to pass out the shoes, now Danny had decided during the skit that we would just pass out the shoes anyway and try and get them to the kids that fit the one size we had. So we opened the bag and left it on the ground, each team member came and started grabbing shoes and passing them out, I gave mine to a little boy and got a great big hug. About five minutes go by and it’s time to start leaving and there are team member standing around with shoes in their hands, so Danny tells them they need to give them to the kids, we have to go. There was one problem with that though, there were no kids left without shoes, every kid, big and small, had a pair of shoes on, a pair of shoes that fit. There were 35 kids at that site, of all sizes, on our way to the site we counted 10 pairs of shoes left, all of which were the same size. I know what you are thinking, “they must have counted wrong”, we didn’t, I promise you that. Matthew 14:13-21 comes to my mind, as I am sure it does to many of you. In that story God multiplied the bread and fish for the faithful that came to hear his word. We remained faithful to him and he gave us the energy for our presentation, the people remained faithful even though we were the last stop, it was hot, REALLY hot, yet they stayed. God multiplied the number of shoes we had, he took care of his faithful servants in their time of need. God worked a miracle for those children and made sure they all had shoes that day. We walked back to the bus astounded at the glory of God and what he had done. God wasn’t finished with us yet. We get on the bus, exhausted, sweaty, thirsty. I pull out the two bottles of water that are left, we grab cups that we had gotten earlier and are about to start sharing these two bottles of water. We start passing out the cups, and the water, getting close to the end of it all, then God lays one on us again. Brett and I searched every inch of that bus, there was no water left when we got off. As the last of the water is going out, one of the people sitting in a seat kicks something on the ground. I don’t think I need to tell you what it was, but I will, IT WAS AN ENTIRE CASE OF WATER! Just typing this gives me butterflies thinking of the impossibility of what happened with the shoes, with the water, but nothing is impossible for our God. God took care of his true and faithful servants that day by multiplying our shoes, and giving us water. A miracle of biblical proportions happened, and I witnessed it, God showed me that day how amazingly powerful he is, that is the day that God changed my life. God doesn’t need to prove his power to us, there is no burden of proof on him to get us to see him, but he decided to show us that day, just how amazingly powerful he is. That, in combination with the whole week, has changed me, changed everything about who I am, my entire identity is changed, and I love it!
Wednesday morning we were told that it would be a shorter day because we were going to head to a local church in the evening for service. The church we attended was the Iglesia Cristiana Oasis (Oasis Christian Church), which was very cool because this is the church that the majority of our translators went to. Our first site of that day was a public school where we gave our presentation to over 200 children and parents! After we did our dance and I went outside to speak with some of the kids that were out there I was told by Danny that someone wanted to speak with me. I was introduced to Edward, Edward was trying to learn English so he could get a better job and be able to provide for his family. I talked with Edward and we each taught each other a few words in each other’s language and got to know each other a little. The conversation eventually made it to whether or not he believed in God and if he had accepted Jesus in his heart. I was elated to hear that in 2012 he had given his life to God and went to a church just down the road. As we were talking Edwards younger sister came over, she did not speak any English whatsoever. At this point Danielle was part of our conversation as was Jordan, one of the missionaries on our team, him and Edward were both 17 and were having a great conversation. When Orchidia, Edwards younger sister, came over she really wanted to talk to Danielle so Danielle took her to another area where there was an extra translator. I was not part of the conversation, and if you have not yet read Danielle’s letter, please do, because what happened in that conversation was truly from God. I know how the conversation ended; however, and that was with Orchidia giving her life to God and accepting Jesus in to her heart. Our second site of the day was another small church on the outskirts of the city. This church was nestled on the edge of one of the most beautiful, undisturbed areas of jungle that we saw on our trip. The sheer beauty of this area was astounding, and the generosity of the Dominican people shown brightly yet again as they gave us all a little container of fresh peeled fruit. Mango, papaya, pineapple and more, it was SO good! The third site of the day was in the same neighborhood as our first site of the day on Monday. This was a very poor area, and immediately as we arrived I got a very uneasy feeling as we walked to the church. This was another very hot day and you could tell that the locals were running on short fuses, especially the kids. There was a very large group and not all the kids were able to fit in the church, at one point a couple of boys standing outside started fighting and one of our translators stepped in and broke it up. There was definitely something dark having an influence at this site, and I could feel it. I stepped away from the site and just walked a little, and prayed, prayed for God to remove whatever evil was at this church and was affecting the people. I stepped back to the church and immediately felt a difference in the atmosphere, the adults were more relaxed and the kids were able to calm and be able to see inside unlike before. When I got back I began speaking with one of our translators, whom up to this point had been fairly reserved and hadn’t really opened up much as of yet. His name is Arturo, and he began to tell me and another person a little about himself which turned into him giving us his testimony and how he eventually came out into the mission field with us. Arturo and I are pretty different, he is shorter, darker skin, much more in shape and he is younger than I am. The amazing thing is, none of those matters to God, and God was using this moment to show me how big he is, he really does hold the whole world in his hand. We are all God’s children, regardless of race, age, gender, situation, location, anything. We are all his children, created in his likeness, and loved by him regardless. Arturo’s story was my story, told by a different person. He was raised in the church, eventually stopped going when his parents stopped making him, fell away, did his own thing and though he was in control, made some really stupid mistakes and then he met a girl. A girl that he loved, that loved him and a girl that God put in his life to show him how stupid he had been. The thing is, Arturo’s girlfriend is the one that convinced him to go back to church with her, she is the one that convinced him to talk to his church and then ask to be able to come out with us instead of doing his other duties at the church for the week. Arturo told me of how he came back to Christ and gave up the old Arturo and began anew, and how he had been saved and even how much God had worked in him while he was out with us. God connected Arturo and I, and I believe, someday he has something amazing planned for him, and I will be there to see it. That night we went to service at the church, our leader Danny was going to be giving the sermon and he asked a few people to speak before him. I went on stage, yet again, and gave the testimony on how we are all the same in God’s eyes, yes I was a missionary from the United States, but that is where the differences ended. I told of Arturo, and his testimony and how it was like mine, and how God revealed just how small the world is and how he did create us all in his likeness and that in his eyes we are all the same. Praise him!
Thursday was our “free day” it was a day where we were able to go and see some historic areas of the city. We were able to see the oldest cathedral in the Americas and the house where Christopher Columbus lived. It was a nice day of relaxation that God knew we dearly needed. That night was baseball ministry night, something I had been looking forward to all week. We went to another pretty rough neighborhood and nestled in a pretty compactly populated area was this big field with four baseball diamonds. We show up, it was our team and another team of missionaries. We decided to do our missionary team versus theirs, so we mixed and did half missionaries and half locals. We played a little old school church softball game. If you don’t know this about me, I may be pretty out of shape now, but when I play sports it is something that I go all out or don’t play at all. So we begin playing and I am up to bat, I get a hit, get on base and end of scoring later in the inning. My next at bat I come up, hit a grounder to third, make it to first base, they throw home to get another person so I take second, they throw there and overthrow, on to third base the ball was still pretty far out there so I head home. Now I should say, I am EXHAUSTED by this point, but I am heading home so I give it my all. I see the ball coming in and the catcher gets it, only one choice in my book… dive! So I do, head first into home, trying to avoid the tag. Well, I did score all three base runners, and I did make a spectacular dive in to home, but it wasn’t my time, I was out. I get up, everyone is going crazy, kids cheering, they all want high fives and the local coach recorded the whole thing. He showed me and all the kids, missionaries, parents, everyone, a million times, haha. Later I realized I had blood on my hand, meh no big deal, it’s a lot though, I look down and my right hand is all torn up and so is my left leg, battle wounds of playing baseball with a group of awesome individuals in the Dominican Republic. Now the reason I told you that story, is because it plays a large part of God’s bigger plan. A plan that he has had since the beginning of time, and it was my time to enact it. God had set this all up for a reason, the softball game, me playing, me diving into home and all those kids seeing it and recognizing me and thinking it was awesome.
Friday rolls around and we ended up cancelling two site so we could have more time at the other two of the day. The first thing we did for the day was go to a national park, just to see a little of the beauty of the country and was it beautiful! Then we walked to streets of a part of town so we could pass out flyers for the event on Saturday night. The local pastor that we worked with all week had organized a bus to take the people of this area to the event so we wanted to get as many as we could there. We then went to our first site of the day which was a little church around where we had been the past couple days. One of our skits, called the line skit, was a demonstration of being normal alone and being better with God, it involved getting over a line and getting to the better side. When the skit was done we would have a kid come up and walk across to the better side; however, three of our girls, holding signs of alcohol, pride and greed would come out and grab the kid and stop them. Well the boy that came out this time was a bigger kid and he just plowed right over the poor girls, which hadn’t happened before. The second site of the day was quite a drive from the first, as soon as we arrived I knew exactly where we were, it was the same neighborhood as baseball the night before! The church that we stopped at was actually right next to the baseball fields. We pulled up and get off the bus; it was a fairly large church, compared to what we had been going to all week. I get off the bus and walk in and immediately the pastor approaches me and starts talking about the night before, the kids are pointing and getting all their friends to see that I was there again. We begin our presentation, do our dance, start the skits and the line skit comes up. We decided that this one would be different so we had the biggest kid there come up and walk across the line, this time; however, Brett, Joe and I were holding the signs. Brett and Joe go and grab the kid, he isn’t going anywhere, I was holding the alcohol sign, I walk up and pick up the kid, throw him over my shoulder and walk the other way, away from the line. The church starts laughing and the boy started laughing, it was funny, but I felt like I could have an impact on these kids because of the night before so I wanted to make a show of it and make sure I was out there and made a show again. Towards the end of the presentation we would have one of our team members give their testimony to the group, it was always a pre-chosen person and they knew who it was going to be. This was our last site of the trip and Danny said someone from his team was going to come and give their testimony, but he hadn’t chosen anyone, he left it open to the floor. This, this was what God had been planning for me, the reason I was bloody and had a torn up hand, the reason I carried the kid the other way, the reason God had made me stand out in this neighborhood. God told me to move, go, this is it, and before I knew what I was doing I was standing in front of the crowd again, with a microphone in my hand. God knew that these kids, who had been loud all presentation, some not paying attention, many not wanting to be there, he knew that they needed to hear him and he knew they weren’t going to want to listen. I walked up there, and maybe it was just me thinking this, but the church went quiet, for the first time all presentation, it was silent. I told the kids and parents alike my testimony, I told them about not wanting to follow God, I told them about wanting to make it on my own, I told them why I was holding the alcohol sign, not because it was chance, but because it controlled me for many years, it kept me from God and what he had planned for me. I told them of Danielle and how she kept God on my mind, and then I told them of God reaching down and pulling me out of my pit and saving me, sending Jesus to die for my sins, for their sins and how it is never too late for you. I said all this, they listened, I don’t know if any of them will heed the warnings, take what I said to heart and give their lives to God, but if even one person does, then my entire life, all my struggles, all the times I have fallen, they were all worth the pain because they are saved, just as I am now. The last thing we did at that site was give out shoes. This time was different though, we were actually able to wash the feet of the children and humble ourselves before the people of God. It was a symbolic gesture, but one that God used yet again to speak to me, he told me that I am no different, yet again, than any of his children, and that it was and is going to be my duty to serve his people and spread his word and his light and show the people of the world how loving and graceful he is.
Saturday involved us meeting in the morning and doing some team activities and reflecting on the trip. We did an exercise called “hot seat” and it involved each team member taking turns in the center of a circle and the others telling that person what they thought about them from the brief time we were together. I will never forget the group of amazing people I was with on the trip, the team from Mid-Cities Church in Texas will always hold a special place in my heart. I am so thankful how God blessed me with the group he chose for me and the profound impact they all had on me. Thank you, guys.
The event, Saturday night, I was not quite sure what to expect for the event. We arrived and there were so many people already there. We took our seats in front of the stage, and it began. It was a celebration of the week, a celebration of what God had done; we worshiped God through song and through the amazing words of Dominic Russo, the founder of Mission Me. We ended the night with a call to give up your life to God and as a show for who wanted that, we turned out the lights had everyone who wanted that decision to hold up their phone with the light on. I was an amazing sight to see, so many lights, lights that showed to impact God had and was going to have on the country. We were supposed to be able to then go and pray with the people, but that didn’t happen, unfortunately. God had another miracle planned for us. We were ushered to the area where the buses were supposed to be to pick us up, there were no buses. We sat for about 30 minutes waiting, no buses. We were told there was an issue and that it would be advisable to just pray, so we did, and we sang. The bus company was not going to come, they wanted more money. We prayed. I am not completely sure what caused the issue to be solved, but about 5-10 minutes after the entire group of missionaries was praying and then praising God through song, they showed up, and there was no longer an issue. God is truly amazing.