I traveled down to the Dominican Republic early this year with one of my closest friends, Kayla, to observe some of the classes before I start teaching in August and to get settled into my new room at my new home. In all, my move required three checked suitcases (due to the 50 pound weight limit, not because they were full), a carryon suitcase, and a backpack. I am extremely blessed because the woman I am living with (the director of the Christian school for the Deaf in Santo Domingo) and her family have a very nice house. There is electricity almost all of the time, hot water, and you can even flush the toilet paper! We spent the next day at the school visiting with the students and attempting to observe classes that were a little disorganized due to it being the last day of school and the presence of us American intruders. The next day, dentists, doctors, and medical students from a Rotary Club in the country came to the school to give the students and their families free check-ups and prescriptions. Kayla, a couple of people who had come early from the team up north, and I helped interpret the interactions between the doctors and the deaf students. It was a wonderful experience, and many of the medical students expressed interest in learning sign language and doing another clinic like this at some point. Many of these kids do not receive the medical attention they require due to financial hardship, so this was an invaluable opportunity for them and their families. On Sunday, more people from the northern part of the team joined us, and we spent the day talking, catching up, and relaxing. On Monday, we visited a couple of the student's homes. We got to see the new house that is being built for one especially impoverished student's family, thanks to donations from members of our mission team. Throughout our stay, we also got to ride in the guagua (a 12 legal passenger van that normally transports 18 students to and from school every day) that the mission team raised money for the school to buy so that children who don't have transportation or money for transportation can still come to school. It was an incredible experience to physically see what the donations are doing in the lives of these children and their families. The next day, we headed to the camp where we were reunited with most of our mission team (some came for only part of the trip due to its lengthy nature this year) from Florida, New York, Connecticut, and various parts of the Dominican Republic. Even though some of us have only interacted for one week a year during camp, these people truly feel like family. When I see them, I know I am home. I know I am exactly where God wants me to be, doing exactly what He has called me to do. Camp this year was a little different from previous years. For legal and possibly size reasons (we're really not sure about the details), we split the camp up into two separate camps. The first camp was for kids 15 years old and older, and the second camp was for kids 15 and younger. Honestly, the idea of this format worried me a little bit, but it turned out very well. Splitting up the camps allowed us to gear the messages and activities toward the different age groups, instead of trying to meet all of their needs at the same time. It also gave us the opportunity to spend more time with the older kids, as we weren't just chasing the younger ones all day long. It gave the older ones a chance to enjoy camp rather than having to be helpers for the rambunctious youngsters.This year, we told the story of David through dramas and sermons given by mostly Dominican preachers, both Deaf and hearing who sign. We focused on how David was chosen to be king because of his heart and relationship to God, not because he had any physical features or talents that made him better than anyone else. We told them that all things are possible with God using the story of David and Goliath (look up the song "Ese Gigante Se Va Pal Suelo" for a song you just can't help but move to). We taught the kids about repentance and redemption through the story of David and Bathsheba. The story of David is so applicable in the lives of these children, who have been conditioned to believe that they will never accomplish anything of worth due to their hearing impairment. Reinforcing that the most important thing for them to have is a heart connected to God, that they can accomplish anything even if the odds are against them, and that no matter how far they have drifted they can always come back to their Heavenly Father, was hopefully a message that will stick out in their minds as they return to their homes and everyday lives. Every year up to this one, my job has been to lead the younger boys group, which is always quite a task. But this year, I helped my grandmother teach the science station. We focused on magnetism and electricity. We taught the children about magnets, let them play with magnets, and had them test items to see if they were magnetic. We taught them how to build simple circuits with lightbulbs and had them add paper clip switches to their circuits. We also let them build electromagnets using nails, wire, and a battery. Watching the eyes of these children light up with excitement every time they learned and understood a new concept brought me a joy I can't even begin to describe. And when I realized that I was now going to get to spend every day doing that, I felt so immensely blessed. Even the three and four year old boys and girls were able to build their own circuits, with a little help. (No, there was no risk of electrocution with one AA battery as a power source.) A couple of the students built multiple battery series circuits on their own, matching positive to negative throughout to make the bulb light up more brightly. These children are so intelligent. They are constantly underestimated by their families, society, and culture due to their decreased ability to hear. But when given the opportunity to learn and explore and try new things, these students absolutely thrive.
The days were filled with tirelessly playing with, teaching, helping, and loving on the children. The nights consisted of missionteam bonding such as watching a professional basketball game, playing the card game Spoons, learning how to dance bachata, roasts, and other activities. It was an experience that, just like every year, really can't be put into words. I could go on for pages and pages about everything that happens at camp, but it could never truly capture the experience. It is a place where God's presence is so tangible. A place where even when you are most tired and frustrated, you still find a way to do the job you are there to do. It is the place where I truly know what it means to have the joy of the Lord as my strength. It is a place where lives are touched, hearts are changed, and lifelong friendships are made.