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.