As we are packing up to go, we ask anyone who would like a Spanish Bible to come and talk to us. We run out of Bibles in minutes. Addresses, emails, and Facebook contact information is exchanged and everyone is all smiles as we part. Doors are miraculously opening up for Hillcrest to do more and more visits in school and even universities in upcoming visits. We marvel at what God is doing.
Students Excperience a New Resurrection Day; Yearning to See the Broken and Disabled Running to Jesus
Our students interact with the many children of all ages, pushing their wheelchairs out into the sun, combing their hair, or simply holding their hands. We present the staff with a gift of money we brought along and pray for them. One student prays, "oh God, bless these women who care for these children who are made in Your Image. Bless these children that you love so dearly until we see them running and playing in heaven."
After our service, we feed all the children and mommies and babies buttered bread and pear-flavored Kool-aid. As we are handing out our meager lunch, I ask two of the students how it feels to feed Jesus. They look at me as if they haven't heard me quite right. It IS hot, after all, and we are all increasingly saying heat-induced silly things. "The least of these--that's who we are feeding right now. Jesus said when we do that, we are feeing HIM. Plus," I continue, "Anyone who offers a cup of cold water to a child, is really blessing God." I am humbled by this revelation from my own mouth.
Today is the day I fall in love with the Dominican Republic. It is hot. It is noisy. BUT...the people. The people are so wonderful!
Landing at the airport in Santa Domingo is vastly different from the one we left hours ago at JFK. We left the cement and skyscrapers of NYC and landed in a field surrounded by palm trees. I smell food I can't identify and the scent of something burning. I feel like I have been dropped into the middle of a new planet.
Today, I watched parents embracing their sons and daughters. Parents who are doctors and carpenters, police officers, teachers, and pastors. Along with moms and dads, there were school staff, cousins, aunts and uncles and plenty of friends on hand for the send off. “God be with you--we’ll be praying” was the resounding message.
Students receive an incredible education on the Dominican Trip. Their outreach challenges their faith as they share the Gospel on the streets. Their time in schools pushes some to new heights in communicating in Spanish and building rapport with students who eagerly listen to the story of Jesus. But their time in homes for children with disabilities and church ministries to the elderly bring most of the liberal arts education at Hillcrest together.
Students recall the history of Hispaniola, remembering faint references to the slave trade that forged its way through the tiny island. Books read in Mr. Undseth's class, like Uncle Tom's Cabin, began with an overview of how the United States reached racist lows. Seeing the disparity that remains on the island between the Dominican people and the Haitian immigrants forces conversations on humanity that clear a Biblical foundation for students to begin building a framework for ministry.
As students walk into homes that care for the least they are drawn to remember Mr. Preston's history classes where he outlines the movement of mankind to lift-up human endeavors and thwart God's design. Understainding European history and the Colonial period in Hillcrest's classrooms is paying-off for students who are now seeing that Christians, compelled by the love of Christ, have changed the course of nations through the power of Gods word. Students take stories like William Wilberforce and Benjamin Rush as living history, engaging in racism and medical care for people who are made in God's image.
Students use classes like Anatomy and Physiology and Chemistry as they sit with young boys whose muscles are wound so tightly from deformity that their backs and legs nearly touch their head. Understanding the muscle groups, students massage and sing to the young children, providing a ministry of presence and a caring touch that causes smiles, groans and clapping, the only expressions some can muster.
Students in Journalism snap pictures and take videos, skills they've learned in the foundation of Hillcrest's technical program. These skills will help tell the story to underclassmen friends who are on the fence regarding the trip. The seniors always return saying the trip was the hardest and most exhausting experience they've ever needed and loved. The urgency to share the Gospel is a real experience for these students, who are encouraging new friends in churches that dart the Dominican landscape.
With the basis of Latin that most six year Hillcrest students have taken, students communicate with old men in the nursing homes. Picking-out root words and decyphering the message, delivered sometimes in Creole and other times in Spanish, students nod their heads which encourages conversation as partner church members translate stories of faith and questions of doubt the octogenarians have in the nursing home. Students' presence encourages the Dominican church, that looks forward to the yearly visits from their Minnesotan friends. The base language studies gives students confidence, using their education to inspire the church.
As students come home they have a renewed sense of mission. They are looking forward to joining the rest of their senior class to finish the year strong, planning conversations with friends who many not have a saving faith in Jesus Christ. The mission experience is one of many capstone events in the life of Hillcrest students, equipped to live a life of eternal significance.
The past two years Hillcrest has visited Casa de Luz (House of Light). The home is for children with severe disabilities. It is a life changing experience.
Hillcrest students arrive via bus. An overview of the home is given by Elson Jones, the trip leader. Elson explains that in poorer countries the people who suffer the most are those with disabilities. In the United States there are a number of organizations that look-out for people who have difficulties or physical disabilities. But in poor countries the marginalized in society suffer the most.
As the students walk off the bus there is a sheepishness to their advance towards the building. Unless a person has been trained in working with disabilities the experience can be intimidating. Caretakers guide students to bedsides. Some students are directed to wheelchairs where outstretched arms accompany jubilant groans from children unable to communicate.
As the Hillcrest students settled in there was a peaceful comfortability that came over the building. Adrienne Schultz started in a chorus of Jesus Loves Me, sung in Spanish. Her hand holding that of a severely disabled teenager who was bound to a wheelchair. Jared Christenson slowly walked over, drawn in by the song he learned in Spanish class, to provide unity for Adrienne as she continued in the song. The experience was inspiring for many of the adults. Sitting with smiles on their faces, chaperons couldn't help but praise God by treasuring these moments of students directing attention to Jesus, the healer, rather than the challenge of the disabilities holding back the children in their midst.
JeeHoon Park pulled out his guitar. A toddler flopped her head near JeeHoon as chords from the guitar broke the silence in the room. She reached her hand towards JeeHoon, who took it gently to feel the soothing vibrations from the guitar. The chords were interrupted by muted strumming. All part of a worship song that felt better than it sounded, a resolution to the brokenness and a small picture into the reality of Easter. The time of the year where the world has a chance to see Jesus break into what we have grown to call beauty of the Earth to feel the vibrations of humanity and resolve the dissonance of sin to reveal the relationship of God.
All in all, Casa de Luz was a glimpse into the heart of Christ. Chaperons witnessed something truly beautiful here.
The first few days on the ground are always difficult. Adjusting to weather changes means putting on sunscreen rather than a winter coat for most students. Many times your head feels like it is on a swivel as every shout, whistle, and loud noise has you craning your neck to see what's going on. There is a lot that goes on in the Dominican Republic. The most challenging aspect of the mission for most is getting sleep.
Usually the days leading up to the mission are restless. When the students arrive they are on sensory overload. New smells, a new culture, and working to decipher the language has minds working overtime. As students lay down to rest in the Dominican loud music often pours in from the windows. Rarely do people sleep before 2am in the neighborhood the team stays. Roosters crow around 4am and dogs begin barking as they sense the dawn. Most students will muster a solid 2 hours of sleep each night, which is exhausting considering the students are on a tight schedule and busy all the time.
However, as Monday morning dawns many students are starting to find their stride. A handful pop out of bed at the dawn of a new day. They're soaking-in devotional time on the veranda that overlooks a street bustling with families taking their kids to school. A man pulls-up to the mission house with a motorcycle piled with bread that is stacked higher than the top of his helmut. Behind him a water truck stops and two men unload six jugs of water for the mission team. At the corner of the block there is a basketball court. A group of girls gather, some in school uniforms. They stand talking, some chomping on a sugarcane stock while they wait for friends before walking away, likely on their way to school.
The Hillcrest students look up periodically to catch these short glimpses of the Dominican morning. Most of them are busy journaling, not wanting to forget a moment of their trip. J.K. Lee shared his testimony last night, making a strong profession of faith that many haven't heard. Kari and Beth Simonsen have been sharing how their dad and husband, Eric, is doing in the hospital. They are staying with the mission, doing the Lord's work. The church service yesterday was completely otherworldly. Then, there is the food. Some of it the students would never consider trying if in the United States. Kidney beans poured-over white rice with a piece of chicken that is more bone than meat. But it is filling and satisfying and tastes amazing in the new Island culture that the students are enjoying. Needless to say, there is a lot to write about this morning.
Students are recalling special conversations with chaperons, that often happen over ice cream or empanadas following the team's evening outreach. The sugar helps them process what happened that day prior to their debriefing sessions at the base. At least that is what Mr. Preston is telling them. This is a special memory for many. This is a small glimpse into Hillcrest's approach to life-on-life mentorship, and it is transcending culture and Hillcrest to show students that mentorship is important everywhere.
The students will hustle down for breakfast shortly. From here they will board buses, sing songs, share the Gospel, and pray with men, women, and kids on the street. This is their mission. This is the stride they are hitting. This is what they've been looking forward to. Being pushed out of their comfort zones. Taking the training they receive at Hillcrest and using their preparation as a platform to share the Gospel.
Each year students grow accustomed to the Dominican culture. Some love the food. Others love the way people interact. But all students come away from the churches skipping and singing songs that are full of life. The video below is no exception.
The lyrics are as follows:
Dios es Bueno Alabale
Dios es Bueno Adorale
El me Levanto,
mi vida cambio
El puso mis pies
En la roca firme
God is Good, praise His name!
God is Good. Adore His name!
He lifted me up!
He washed me clean!
He set my feet
on the solid rock!
The team headed to church in the Dominican today. What an experience! Loud singing. Loud Preaching. Great time of sharing afterwards.
The team shared in worship, and heard a great message from Acts 3 about receiving, not what we ask for but what we need. And, further about entering in to the full provision of Jesus, rather than sitting on the outside, hoping for small change to fix today's problems. So GOOD!
The team is looking forward to more outreach tonight as they head into remote areas to share the Gospel. Pray for them as they continue to work with the local church to share the love of God today!
Yesterday the Dominican mission team visited the Santa Fe school. A lot has been said about this relationship in this blog. To sum it up, this school is really a sister school of Hillcrest Academy. Their founding occured because God called a husband/wife team to train a village of people forgotten by the government. The village sits in the shadow of a sugar cane factory. Most of the adults in the village remember when they or their parents were supported by the income of the factory. Now it sits abandoned and many of the adults leave the village each day to work in the city, nearby sugar cane fields, or peddling whatever crafts or goods they can find.
The school is a Christian school. Similar to Hillcrest, Santa Fe wants to build confidence in God's word for the students. They explain the world from a Biblical perspective and work to build a faith that will last a lifetime through their daily lessons.
Since God brought the two schools together Hillcrest has seen buildings erected, students transition to high school and University, and the creation of an adult education wing on the campus for adult classes in the evening, following the day school classes for younger students.
In the evening, Hillcrest students put on their Sunday best and attended a Dominican church. Needless to say it was a cultural experience. Loud Spanish music fills the streets similar to church bells in the midwest. Where midwest churches have a short greeting time, the Dominican church spends five minutes in handshakes and hugs. The people in the front make their way to the back of the church. The people in the back move to the front. The whole process mixes the entire church and lasts for a long period of time before people slowly find their way back to their seats. Relationship is important in the Dominican Republic. It's one of the spiritual lessons most student learn on this trip, that God has created us for community. It is not good for us to be alone.
Hillcrest has a nearly 10 year partnershp with the Santa Fe school. When the group first visited the school there was garbage everywhere on the grounds. Trees were overgrown and weeds were knee high in some places. 5 year old boys played stickball in the corner with a bottlecap and crooked branch from one of the trees. The girls wore skirts two sizes too big, some with no shoes, stepping over bottles and wrappers to run to our students.
When the students took us into the classrooms we saw desks with a shred of wood, splintered at all ends, for a writing platform. Some of the seats didn't have wood on them at all, causing the students to sit on a metal bar for the duration of class.
Some Hillcrest students set out to raise funds to purchase desks for the new school. Principal Isaac and Gregg Preston visited with the administration to guide the school to Christian curriculum that promotes a grace-based, Biblically-centered view of the world. The following years, as Hillcrest ventured down, they saw dramatic changes. Most notably the changes happened in the buildings. But as we visited with the leaders we saw that changes were happening to the teachers and leaders, who were also impacting the students, through the friendship God is forming.
Two years ago the administration pulled aside our group leaders. Sitting in the living room of the school administrator, who lives on the Santa Fe campus, Hillcrest's leaders heard a story and started to weep. The admnistrator said that the teachers wanted to do an outreach project after one of Hillcrest's visits. Their motivation was that Hillcrest's friendship showed them that faith in God is an action and they should be out in their community.
The school setout with a Christmas project. They traveled to a home for elderly people who can no longer care for themselves. Santa Fe's administrators prepared their students with a short program and directed the students to eat a Christmas meal with the elderly men and women that surrounded their group. Following the songs the school's boys stepped into line. They grabbed bowls of porridge and fearless walked to men sitting in wheel chairs. Spoonful after spoonful the little boys led the way for other students, who followed suit and sat in unison to serve a forgotten part of the Dominican society. Santa Fe's administrators were floored. They told Mr. Preston that they huddled in a corner. They prayed. They cried. They said, "This is how Hillcrest's teachers must feel when they come down and serve our country."
As Mr. Preston and Mr. Isaac left the room that day they realized that what they were giving to the Dominican school was more than resources. They gave friendship and encouragement for a small Christian school to be faithful with the Gospel. This is the relationship God has generated for us with the Santa Fe School. This is where our students held a party yesterday. It is a community holiday with Hillcrest visits. They are our friends, and the reunion is sweet every year.
After the mission team gathered outside the Chapel wednesday for a group picture they boarded the bus. Carol Aaase took her clipboard and started through the first of many checks with with the students. She read the names of each individual, looking for a raised passport clutched in their hands. Students' heads turned, acknowledging the members of this monumental trip that works as a pillar in their senior year.
With snow glistening in the sunlight Evan Malmstrom gazed out the window at Hillcrest and started his prayer for the group. He prayed for unity, clarity of vision and purpose, and safety. With heaters blasting on the school bus many adults simply heard the "amen", excited to take this journey with these students they have mentored and encouraged throughout their senior year.
For many, the night in the hotel was short. Girls' rooms were occupied with ipod's playing favorite worship songs on repeat. The boys settled in and tried to close their eyes. Rooms were full of laughter and smiling faces rather than quiet slumber.
An early morning departure at the airport saw the students arrive in the mid-afternoon in the Dominican Republic. After collecting their bags a hoard of Dominican's approached and started hugging all of the chaperons. A nearly decade relationship is rekindled every year when Hillcrest travels on their mission. Translators are excited to reunite with friends who are about the Lord's business. Students awkwardly introduced themselves as they grabbed their bags and watched Papito, an iconic bus driver who has driven Hillcrest's groups since the beginning, load the bus with force and yell to the students to board his bus.
Students shedded jackets and rolled-up sleeves in the Dominican sunlight. As cars and mopeds passed the bus cameras emerged, documenting the little things that students are looking to hold on to after their week long experience.
A soft buzzing on the bus from a chaperon grew into a boisterous clapping. American's don't sing on buses. Instead, American culture says buses are a time to focus inward. But, in the Dominican Republic the bus is a community, and communities sing. Students start clapping. The outgoing ones work to mumble through the Spanish words the translators are singing, introverts simply clap, smile, and laugh at the cultural differences.
The group pulled-in to the compound, unloaded bags, and walked the flights of stairs to their room. The foreign home they walked into is going to be the place where introspection, debriefing, and prayer occur over the coming days. Shouts down the hallways for a meeting cause girls to jump-up, grabbing their cameras and waterbottles before darting down the stairs to a large room with 9 foot concrete ceilings and cafeteria-style tables. Elson Jones, the trip leader in the Dominican Republic, greets the team. Students look at each other, working to decipher his accent amidst the echoing from his voice in the small room and the sounds of dogs barking and Spanish music pouring into the room from the outside.
Elson detailed the mission for the evening. The group would travel to a remote village after dinner. Students would present a few songs to accompany the mini concert put on by a local church. The Americans would walk in the community, visiting doors and inviting people to attend the outreach.
As the group boarded buses following dinner there was a quiet excitement. Students who volunteered to share their testimony were being encouraged. Others, who volunteered to share the Gospel, sorted through scripture, finding words of encouragement and highlighting passages they wanted to reference.
As they walked out into the community the students checked for two things in their backpacks. Grabbing their water bottles many took two or three big gulps. They're being warned of the dangers of dehydration. After packing their water bottles into their backpack they grab the Evangecube and zip-up their packs.
Walking door-to-door the group shared the Gospel using the Evangecube. Some walked with translators from the church they were partnering with. Students asked questions and heard the story of the people living in the remote village using the translator as a friend to understand the reality of this new culture. Others set out with chaperons and used the Evangecube and their Spanish training to communicate God's love and pray for the people in the village.
As the group gathered for the service the sun started setting. Creating a half-circle, the group sang and their voices dissipated into the evening as the village went dark and generators started in larger homes. Translators began dancing to the music, calling some of the Minnesota boys to join in. Sheepishly, they bobbed their knees and smiled at the girls, who knew the boys struggle with rhythm.
The music subsided and students spoke, sharing testimonies of what God is doing in their life and the difference he is making as they look to the future. The Dominican translators put their arm around the Hillcrest students, showing unity as the students communicate the love of Christ to the Dominican countrymen.
As the night closes the students are on a high. They sit with chaperons on the bus ride to the mission base, sharing stories of little girls with sparkling eyes. Some begin sharing the situations of the villagers they met, talking of the difficult circumstances and the words God spoke through the students and their friends to encourage them. Tonight will be another night where sleep is difficult. Excitement and praise to what God is doing will captivate minds away from rest.
Today the students got the chance to hear a theoretical cosmoligist at the Fermilab. His title is pretty much the way the presentation went. Our students were left hearing a theoretical presentation of the big bang which sounded like something out of a Dan Brown novel. I must say that I was very impressed with how the students conducted themselves as they listened to his ideas and discected them with the knowledge they had attained at the Creation Science Museuem, and a proper approach to science.
All students waited until the end of the presentation. I could tell some of them had questions on the tip of their tounge as the Cosmologist communicated what happened in the first 3 minutes following the big bang. One patient student posed the question, "what you're saying, doesn't that have a great deal of assumptions? We don't know for certain what happened in that time span". The Cosmoligist skirted the question by saying that there are a few assumptions, but most of the presentation was based on scientific facts and observable occurances. The students knew he wasn't telling the truth, but proceeded to respect him and offer up other questions to try to cause the scientist to think.
This is really the heart of our students after participating in this week of world-view processing. One student asked our tour guide if there were any Christian scientists at the Fermilab. The tour guide said she knows of a number of bible studies conducted by Christian scientists at the Fermilab. This fact gave the student peace that their questioning of the Cosmoligist would be watered by God's people at the lab. Other students had the chance to communicate the reality of God's design on the earth as they communicated to the tour guide the answers they received at the Creation Science Museum.
This trip has been an amazing display of how God proves science true. Our students are understanding this and are gaining confidence in sharing the Gospel. Many have come back to us as chaperons asking questions posed by those who they've been witnessing to. This is truly a great education experience where students may be gaining a semester's worth of knowledge while also learning to effectively communicate their knowledge to the glory of Christ Jesus.