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.