Two teen mothers gave their hearts to Christ after reading with us Ephesians 5. That's right, Ephesians 5. When has that happened in this history of the world? It was so powerful. I don't remember a time being part of an evangelism outreach where the Holy Spirit was so evident. Wow! It was such a great day.
After hearing the story the students were given a report on the water factory that has been created as a capstone of Hillcrest's financial support for the school. The goal being to equip Santa Fe to be completely self-sufficient. Now, the Hillcrest teams visit Santa Fe because of the decades old friendship, a marker of the unique partnership in the Gospel that the two schools share.
To close the night the team celebrated Zach Jacobson's birthday. The team bought one cake to celebrate, but were surprised by one of the Principals of a school they visited earlier in their trip, who shared two ice cream cakes with the Hillcrest team. The Principal, Bolivar, visited Hillcrest last year. He has a vision to start an exchange program with Hillcrest Academy, and Principal Isaac, Mr. Preston, and Erick Sede sat down to talk about the relationship God is fostering between the schools with Bolivar, Grisbeer Sosa and Ramon Diaz. Be in prayer for this group as they continue to follow the Lord's leading in how He is uniting the two schools around Christ.
Following lunch, the Hillcrest team boarded the bus to venture to Casa de Luz. Many students have heard of this mission stop. It's an orphanage for physically and mentally disabled children. Hillcrest students jumped in to play games, sing songs, and talk with the children of the orphanage who are forgotten by many in society. It was a memorable place where students weren't able to communicate verbally, but shared the touch and presence of Christ with the orphans in true acts of love, concern, and care.
The times of touring, gift giving, and building community through play are powerful platforms that open opportunities for students to share the attractive message of the Gospel, where Jesus Christ communicates His incredible love for humankind through his death and resurrection.
Following the classroom teaching sessions there was a sense that the Dominican students learned some compelling proofs for the Christian perspective. To a person, the Hillcrest students noted that their Dominican counterparts were engaged and enthusiastic about the topics, teachings, and friendships brought by the Hillcrest team.
After settling into the Dominican heat with a soft glow on the faces of Hillcrest students who have seen more snow than sun over the past few weeks, the Hillcrest team ventured out for their first day of ministry.
Throughout the coming week Hillcrest seniors will report back to share how the Lord is working in their lives and in the various communities of our brothers and sisters living in the Dominican Republic. For some of the students this experience will whet an appetite for intercultural ministries. For others, this trip will solidify a confidence in the Lord to boldly share their faith with friends, neighbors, and various people they will come in contact with throughout the rest of their lives.
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!