jueves, 28 de julio de 2016

Trying to Make Sense of Closed Doors

This past week has been mostly pretty uneventful. We have really just been hanging out at home. I exposed Natali to the original Star Wars trilogy. This is now the second time I have had the privilege of watching these movies with someone who was 100% taken by surprise at the classic plot twists that most people who haven't even seen the movies know and take for granted. Very entertaining.
The main events of the week revolved around watching a door that seemed to finally have opened slam shut. Without going into too much detail, the American couple who was staying with us had been trying for many years to help one of the deaf children in a very special way. Over and over, each door seemed to close. This time, it seemed as though they had finally succeeded in taking an important step when another door slammed shut in their faces. Something about this door seemed much more final. Serious and long-lasting consequences became a possibility, and the American couple knew it was time to let this go. With extremely heavy hearts, they realized that what they had been trying to do was not going to be possible. They returned home confused and broken-hearted, but sure that this was God giving the final "no." I have to be honest with all of you, I'm not sure I would have been strong enough to accept "no" as an answer at this point. They had put so much time, energy, and resources into this. They had sacrificed so much. To some, their acceptance of the situation may have seemed like a lack of persistence or a lack of caring. To me, it demonstrated the strength of their faith and their trust in the Lord. I can only pray that when faced with closed doors, I will have the same faith and trust to keep my eyes on the Lord and trust in His perfect plan for eternal glory, even if I never see the good in my lifetime.
I found this blog entry by Daira Curran that really resonated with this situation. I have kept this post short (or I intended to…) so that you will hopefully have time to read it. http://purposecity.com/insights/why-god-may-be-closing-doors/
For those of you who may be encountering closed door after closed door, I hope you can find comfort in knowing that our Father is a Good Father, and His ways are perfect. We may not understand His plans or His ways, but our perspective is so limited. He can see everything from beginning to end. If we expect to understand everything that God does, then we do not truly believe Him to be the awesome God that He is.

lunes, 18 de julio de 2016

A Touch of Home

The next day began a much more carefree week with a lot of fun, laughter, and good food. One
evening, Natali and I went to one of the malls here. Now, being a girl from a small town who hates to shop, I haven't seen any impressive malls in my life. This place is HUGE!!!! It has four floors of stores (one and a half of which probably make up the size of the little mall back home), a movie theater, a grocery store, and a little amusement park with rides! The orange thing in the left hand corner of the picture is a tree that different organizations and causes use for fundraisers. People buy little pieces of paper (right now they are butterflies) and put them on the tree until it is full. The current fundraiser is raising money for an institution for the deaf, which I thought was awesome!
After buying what we needed to buy, we got some food at the food court and decided to go to a movie. We saw Finding Dory, in Spanish…I have been told it's a very funny movie, but all I understood was the basic plot line. However, it was still fun. Also, can someone please tell me what makes one eyeliner pencil cost $10 while another costs only $1??? Anyway…
I got the opportunities to Skype with my mom and also with Kayla and our four-year-old godson (long story), Keegan. It was great to see all of their faces and catch up on each other's lives. Keegan and I played a game where he would make his T-Rex eat me and I would disappear from the screen, just to return a few seconds later and repeat the process. He and I both thoroughly enjoyed this game, and I loved that I could still play with him, even though I am 2,000 miles away.
An American couple has been staying with us for the past week and a half or so. Having them around has been really great. Having more people to speak English with and being able to talk about culturally American things has been refreshing. But wait! There's more! They cooked two DELICIOUS American meals for us. Fried chicken with baked mac'n'cheese and green beans and meatloaf with corn, cornbread, and cooked cabbage and carrots. We also made some cheesecake brownies with chocolate cream cheese frosting. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE Dominican food. But it was nice to eat some traditional American deliciousness.
On Sunday, I went to church with Paulina and Natali. The service was VERY different from what I'm used to, but I liked it. A praise band with a choir, two percussionists (drum set and auxiliary percussion), multiple guitarists, two keyboards, a trumpet, a saxophone, and some Latin flavor make for awesome worship. People were dancing, clapping, yelling, singing loud without shame, and waving their hands to praise God. It was strange to me, but very cool as well. I didn't understand much, as it was in Spanish, of course. But just being in the presence of so many people who were so excited about worshipping our Savior was a    worshipful experience for me.
Natali, one of her friends, and I took a trip to the beach where the weather went from perfect and sunny to storming and pouring down rain. But we went swimming in the rain anyway and had a great time. We ate some delicious food and had a great day.

So…about Pokemon GO…I was strong for a while. I told myself that 1) It probably didn't work here yet, 2) I don't have my own transportation or any way to get to Pokestops, gyms, or places with other types of Pokemon, and 3) It's not exactly safe to walk around here and not pay attention to your surroundings while holding out your iPhone for everyone and their mothers to see. But…it does work here… and MY CHILDHOOD DREAM HAS BECOME A REALITY!!!!! So I caved…I downloaded that app and have been catching 'em all ever since! The American man staying with us also downloaded it and we have all been having a lot of fun catching Pokemon and figuring out the app. There is a Pokestop and a large grocery store within walking distance of where I am living, so we have all been going on Pokeadventures! I also caught a lot of Pokemon the next time we went to the mall to meet up with some friends. Made shopping much more tolerable.

I got sick a few days ago and had to take my first trip to the doctor here. Everything went fine, I got some antibiotics, and I am feeling much better now. I had to pay without insurance, but it was still so cheap! Anyway, I'm only including this detail because we bought a lot of coconuts so I could drink the natural coconut water and I learned how to open my own coconut with a machete! I'm becoming more and more Dominican every day!
Yesterday we met up with some family from out of town and the family members who live here in town at one of the other malls. One of my new cousins, Dioraysa, and I played with the kids in the play area for a while and had a blast. The play area had a bunch of play structures, a trampoline, a pool where you could roll around in a huge inflated ball on top of the water, multiple Wii's, and some other stuff as well. It was great fun.

After that, most of the family left and Natali, Paola, Jhonsito and I went to the movies. We saw "Me Before You" in the VIP room. It had super comfy reclining chairs! This movie was in English with Spanish subtitles, so that worked much better for me. It was a super sad movie, and poor Natali is still lamenting about it today.
Well, there are only a couple weeks left in this vacation, and I have a lot of preparing to do before starting the school year. I am so excited to start teaching this special group of children. For my prayer warriors out there, I could really use some prayer for the preparations and for my Spanish acquisition. Thank you, all!

sábado, 16 de julio de 2016

A Taste of What is to Come

In the last week, I have continued to do fun activities that many missionaries do not get to enjoy, and I also got a glimpse of what is to come after this summer vacation. One of the young men we have been working with for the past eight years became very ill after camp this year. His name is Bernardo, and he used to be one of those extremely challenging kids you can't help but love. Anyone who has worked with children knows exactly what I mean. He would never sit still or do what he was supposed to. He barely had any language skills and would express his frustrations through physical violence. He even broke a team member's toe because he was struggling so hard to get back into the pool after swimming time was over! But for some reason, everyone seemed to feel an unexplainable, intense love for this child.
As the years went by, we watched him grow into a leader among his peers. At camp, he would help us keep the younger children in line and set a wonderful example for them to follow. We were told that throughout the year at school, he would preach to his classmates about the Lord and how accepting Christ changed his life. This young man still has a lot to learn, but don't we all?
We were all told at camp that he was quite sick, but I did not hear anything about his health for a couple of weeks. We then found out that he had been admitted to the hospital with extreme abdominal pain. We were told that he had not really been able to eat much for about a week due to the pain and the lack of food in his home. He was on an IV in the hospital, but had not gotten any medicine because his mother could not afford it. When we went to visit him, he was so thin, pale, and weak. He told me all about the progression of his sickness and we had a great conversation about trusting in God, even when things get tough. It turns out, he has two different types of parasites, two different types of amoebas, and possibly appendicitis.

At this point, I realized that part of my job here is to be the "woman on the ground." I am in a position where I get to actually see the needs that we have been hearing about for years, and I can report back to the team at home and all of you asking for prayers and sometimes financial support. Due to a generous donation, medicine was purchased for Bernardo, and food was bought for him and his family so that his body can heal. When we visited him at his home after he was discharged from the hospital, we noticed that there was no evidence of any food whatsoever in that house. The conditions of the home were heartbreaking.
 Nevertheless, we were able to buy a good amount of food for Bernardo and his family. Now all we can do is pray. I have not heard any more updates on his healing process.
After leaving Bernardo's home, Paulina and I went to a hardware store so we could give other donated money to the man in charge of construction on a new house for another young deaf man and his family. Their living conditions have been even worse than those of Bernardo's family, and because of generous donations, a new home is being built for them. It is not finished yet, but the progress looks very promising.

Hearing about all of this need for so many years has been heartbreaking enough, but seeing it with my own eyes is a whole other story. The family I am staying with told me that it is just one emergency after another with these children and their families, and that Bernardo's home situation is not even the worst of the children currently attending the school. Some of the children dig through trash looking for their next meal. Many of them have been violated and hurt in ways that it makes me sick to my stomach to think about. This has all been weighing so heavily on my heart. My heart breaks for these children and the terrible situations some of them are in. My heart breaks for those who have been intimately involved in the lives of these children and have witnessed these hardships first hand over and over. My heart breaks because there is so little I can do about it. Only through God, our good Father and provider, can the lives of these families be improved. Only through prayer and helping these people set up situations in which they can sustain their own families can they truly be helped. But we do what we can. Bit by bit. Day by day. I am going to ask you all a favor, and I know not everyone will do it. But I ask you all to spend some time in prayer for the deaf community and their families all over this country. Prayer is the most powerful weapon we have against all of the hardship and darkness in this world. As you are sitting there reading this blog, you most likely have a little bit of free time right now. Take a few minutes and lift these people up to the Lord. Every time you think of it, every time you read one of my posts, I beg you to say a prayer, even if it is just a quick, "Lord, help them." There is so much work to be done, and this is one thing YOU can do to help. Thank you for your time, thank you for your prayers, and God bless you all.

martes, 5 de julio de 2016

New People, New Places, New Adventures

In the two weeks since coming back from camp, we have barely stopped moving! We are on summer vacation, and every day has been full of activities and fun. A lot has happened, so get comfy. I have been so unbelievably blessed by this family and the way that they have taken me in as one of their own. They always make sure I am comfortable, fed, have had my coffee, and am included in family activities. Their love and hospitality is more than I could have ever asked for or even expected. I thank God every day for these amazing people, because without them, this transition would have been (and would continue to be) so much more difficult.
Leaving my family and mission team at the airport was a difficult, yet exciting experience. I hugged each member of the team, saying especially difficult "see-you-laters" to my grandmother, my sister, and Kayla. I was heartbroken to walk outside and leave them there, but I was also extremely excited to start my new life. This was the moment I had been waiting for for the past three months. This was the moment when my old normal ended, and my new normal began.
We left the airport, dropped by the resort where some of the other team members would be staying for a few days, grabbed some Burger King (yes, really), and went to my new home. I soon found out that I would not even be staying in my new home that night, because all of the cousins were getting together for a sleep over that night and then having a photo shoot the next day! I was totally shocked and honored to be invited to such an intimate family event. One of the cousins and her husband live in Spain, and they were visiting for a couple of weeks. They had never gotten formal wedding photos taken, so they wanted to do that now with the family.
We spent the night talking and laughing and having a great time. With my extremely limited knowledge of the Spanish language, understanding one person talking very slowly is difficult, and sometimes impossible, for me. But with seven or more women in the same room going at it at the same time, I was completely lost. I spent the whole evening just trying to pick single words out of the conversations to know what was going on. It was exhausting, overwhelming, and a little discouraging. But I also just enjoyed watching them interact and laugh and have a great time together. We put seven women in one bedroom (it had A/C) and slept for a few hours.
I also brushed my teeth with the tap water for the first time! None of the tap water in the Dominican Republic is safe to drink, even for the richest of the rich. Each year when we came to camp, we were instructed not to even use it to brush our teeth. But now that I am living here, I figure I should do as the Dominicans do! I have been waiting and waiting for the stomach upset that I had been conditioned to believe was inevitable, but I have yet to be affected by it. My dental hygiene and other functions are great!
Anyway, we all woke up early the next morning and the cousins started getting ready to have their pictures taken. The eldest cousin, Paola, did everyone's make-up like a professional. They did their hair, put on their dresses, shoes, flower crowns, and jewelry, and in just five short hours everyone was ready to go! I stood near the photographer and took pictures on my phone so that they would have some pictures to look at that day. It was a great time, everyone looked great, and the pictures were perfect.
We went back to the home of my new cousins, rested for a bit, and then went to the Colonial Zone to take MORE PICTURES! After some more photo fun, the bride asked me to take a picture with her. A woman who barely even knew me, who would have had every right to be annoyed to have some random gringa tagging along at her wedding photo shoot, asked me to be in one of her pictures. I felt so honored, I can't even begin to tell you. The bridesmaids forced a flower crown on my head, gave me a bouquet, and I had my picture taken with the bride.
I came to my new home late that night and found that Paulina, the director of the school for the deaf in Santo Domingo (Centro Cristiano de Educacion para Sordos, or CCES) who I am living with, had done all of my nasty camp laundry for me. Anyone who has gone to camp knows the dread of unzipping that suitcase and breathing in the potentially lethal fumes that will inevitably escape as you rush them to the washing machine, wishing you were wearing gloves. The generosity of this family never ceases to astound me
Saturday was finally a day of rest. I think that is the day Natali and I put post-it notes on, like, everything in the house to help me learn the Spanish words. Natali is Paulina's daughter who lives with her, and who I am lucky enough to be able to call my new sister. She has become such a great friend to me. I haven't been lonely at all during this transition because she and I have spent so much time talking and laughing. She speaks wonderful English and is really the only reason I have been able to communicate with anyone. She is always willing to help me communicate and answer any crazy question I might have.
The next day, Dr. Jeanne Prickett, the president of the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind, and Sra. Carmen Castro, president of a school for the deaf in Colombia, came to visit Paulina and see the school here. Over the few days they were here, the three women established a friendship and partnership that will surely benefit the deaf in all three countries. God is so good! We all went to a beach called Las Terrenas in the northern part of the country with my new cousins and more of the family. It was absolutely beautiful. We spent the day eating and swimming and then went to a city called Nagua, where more family members live.

On Monday, it was time to go to work at the school. The teachers needed to finish their grades, and I was just kind of there. But that morning, I made the mistake of telling Jhonson, Paola's husband, that I know how to drive stick. He then told me to get in the driver's seat of the guagua. Always up for a new adventure and figuring I would just drive to the entrance of the neighborhood, I agreed. When we got to the actual road, he told me to continue. I was hesitant, and quite frankly very nervous, but I safely drove us all the way to the school! There wasn't much traffic and it is a pretty easy drive, but it was still definitely different than driving in the States!
Later that afternoon, Paulina took us to see the progress on the construction of the new school. I was in total awe. It will have 10 buildings, with two to three classrooms or offices in each building. The classrooms are gigantic and have windows on both sides, allowing for a much nicer breeze in the classrooms. There will be a playground, a basketball court, a garden courtyard area, and an actual cafeteria. This school was supposed to be ready when classes resumed last August, but it is still no where near ready.  The potential of this school is incredible. It will be able to hold so many more student who are right now on a waiting list, unable to access an education. As it is government funded, it will be well recognized and the education and employment opportunities for these children will increase tenfold! This is such an exciting time in the growth and development of the Deaf Community here in the Dominican Republic. Any prayers for speedy construction would be much appreciated.
The next day, the students got to go to the school to pick up their report cards. When the students saw me, they were completely shocked. None of them actually believed me when I told them I was staying! Seeing them after camp was like a dream come true. It really hit me for the first time that I will get to work with these children every day once school starts back in August.
Once all of the kids had left, Natali and I took my first public car home. At one point, it was me and her in the front passenger seat and four grown adults in the backseat. This is apparently the norm for this kind of transportation. It is very cheap, but it is also hot, sticky, and can be dangerous. Another check on my become-a-Dominican card! (This picture was taken in the first public car, before we squeezed into the front seat in the next one.)
Wednesday was a pretty relaxing day. I put up my own decorations that I had brought from home in my new room (hammering nails into concrete walls is no small task!) and finally moved all of my stuff into the bathroom, instead of living out of my travel bag. But that night, I had another new experience. We ran out of clean water. I'm like 95% sure it was my fault that we ran out before more got delivered because I drink so much water, but it was still alarming. For me, at least. No one else in the house seemed the slightest bit concerned! For the next day and a half we didn't get have clean drinking water in the house! But we had juice and soda and we spent most of the next day at Paulina's sister's house visiting wish the cousins, and they had water. So, I survived!
Friday we headed to Nagua again for Paulina's mother's 80th birthday party that was going to occur the next day. It was Natali's birthday, so we started the day off with a bunch of birthday songs on YouTube and we spent the evening with a lot of the family members. Or, rather, what I THOUGHT was a lot of their family members. Come to find out on Saturday, I had barely met any of the family. Probably more than 50 family members came to the birthday party on Saturday. And this was just the close family! We had a wonderful day celebrating the matriarch's birthday and came home that night.

The next morning, I woke up very early with a very upset stomach. I was so embarrassed because I was sure that it was my weak American stomach not handling the food well from the previous day, or thought that brushing my teeth with the water was finally hitting me. But it turns out that almost every single person at the party had gotten sick. I know I'm a terrible person, and I didn't WISH sickness on anyone else, but I was a little relieved that it wasn't just me…But I learned that fresh squeezed lime with a little salt and water puts a stop to the runs real quick! The in-town family came over and we visited and said goodbye to Diokely and Fernando, who were leaving to return to Spain that evening.
Yesterday, I did laundry here for the first time! The hose shot out of the dryer and got water all over the place twice while I was rinsing the clothes, but other than that it was a total success! After I hung up all of my clothes on the lines outside to dry, it started to rain, so Natali and I rushed to hang them up inside. Then it didn't rain…of course. I started my new grad school course, finally got this blog set up, and had a relaxing day.
Today, we picked up some more guests who will be staying with us for a bit and have had another nice day. Now you're all completely caught up! I promise I won't wait so long to post next time so the posts won't be as long! God has been so unbelievably good to me in the way of people He has placed in my life, luxuries I still get to enjoy, and health. My Spanish is improving a little bit every day, and I am so excited to wake up every morning and see what new experiences God has in store for me.

lunes, 4 de julio de 2016

Camp 2016

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.

My Mission

In that first shower when you get home from Camp Hands of Joy, you can wash off all of the layers of bug spray, sunscreen, and dirt that the camp showers just can't seem to cleanse. You can shave away the hair that has been growing mercilessly under your armpits, on your legs, or on your face. You can finally feel clean and refreshed for the first time in over a week. You can step out of the shower and feel the A/C that keeps you from getting immediately sweaty again. But what that shower can't do for you is wash away the memories of the children's smiling faces. What it can't do is wipe away the love you have for each and every child, even the ones you never directly communicated with. What it can't do is erase the desperate yearning to go back to camp, and the pain of knowing it will be a year until you go back. And you wouldn't want it to.
The problem with my post-camp shower this time was that I wasn't home. Well, I was, but not the home that I had known my whole life. Not back in any kind of comfort zone. Camp was just the beginning of my new adventure, my new life. This time, my post-camp shower was cold (though there is hot water. I just couldn't figure out how to make it work and was too embarrassed to ask), and when I was finished, I stepped out into the hot, sticky Dominican air. But I felt ready. I felt excited. I felt nervous. And I was clean.
My name is Alyssa. I am 24 years old, and I am an American from Florida. For the past eight years, I have been involved in a week-long overnight Vacation Bible School-type camp for deaf and hard-of-hearing children in the Dominican Republic. It started out as a pretty disorganized event for around 50 children from one deaf school in the capital city and has grown to have its own organization (Hands of Joy) and bring in around 200 children from various schools around the country. The children get to come to a camp where their language (American Sign Language) is the dominant language, meet and interact with children who face the same hardships as they do, get three meals a day and a bed (unheard of for some of these kids, as many of them live in extremely impoverished conditions), and go to different daily activities such as chapel, swimming (the favorite of just about everyone), sports, science, crafts, and discussion group. They learn about Bible stories and about our awesome God in chapel through dramas and preaching and have it all reinforced throughout the day. They get loved on and cared for by a team of Americans and Dominicans who come to serve at the camp. This is a week that the children look forward to and talk about all year. This used to be the week that I lived for. And now that week is my life.
Every time I left camp, my heart stayed in the Dominican Republic with those children. I lived the rest of the year waiting to get back. I have always felt a desire to work with these kids year-round, but it was never really an option. I started serving with this mission when I was 16 years old, so I had to finish high school, and then I needed to go to college, and then I needed to get a job and make some money. Moving to the Dominican Republic never seemed like a viable option. I started an online graduate school program and was on my way to becoming a marriage and family therapist who had the linguistic and cultural ability to work with the Deaf Community in the United States. But when I came home from camp last year, I knew I needed to change my life course. I knew I needed to pack up my life, move to the Dominican Republic, and work with these children throughout the year. I just didn't know how to do it.
In February, the director of the school in Santo Domingo that the camp has been working with for the past eight years came to visit the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind. She stopped in my home town for a night and asked me to be her interpreter, as she speaks very little English and my grandparents (who she was going to be staying with) know very little Spanish or sign language. I had never mentioned to her my desire to move to the Dominican Republic, but all of a sudden she looked at me and asked me, "When are you moving?" I clearly must have responded with a very confused expression because she followed up with, "When are you moving to the Dominican Republic?" She offered to let me live with her and told me that I could teach science at her school. This gave me a lot to think about. I was then struggling with whether this was a personal desire or a true calling from God. Was my God going to walk this path ahead of me and guide my steps?
A month later we had a special prayer night at a microchurch I was attending. We broke up into groups of about seven people, and each person got a turn on the "hot seat" while everyone else prayed and asked God if there were any scriptures, words of encouragement, songs, visions, or anything like that He would like them share with that person. When it was my turn, I was silently asking God if there was anything He wanted me to hear. I kept hearing the word "go" over and over. Then, a woman who I had only ever met maybe once told me that God was telling her that He is speaking to me, but that I had been doubting that it was His voice. He wanted her to tell me that it was His voice and to follow what He was telling me to do. Another woman spoke up and said she had a vision of me standing on a dirt road with a sign pointing forward and God was saying to follow the path He had laid out for me. In that moment, without consulting family or friends or giving much thought to how I was going to make it happen, I made up my mind that I was going to pack up my life and move.
The next few months were filled with my normal full time job as a teaching assistant, graduate school, and church commitments, as well as packing, preparing to move, and visa application requirements. And now, I am finally here. I have finally begun this new and exciting chapter in my life. I have already been here for almost a month, which is crazy, so I am very behind on keeping you all updated, but I will be writing about this year's camp and then about my week and a half in the country since leaving the states. I will also be setting up a gofundme page for anyone who feels led to contribute to my mission, as I will not be able to be paid for teaching until I can pass a teaching exam in formal Spanish. And as my Spanish abilities are abysmal, that will most likely be a year or more. Thank you all for your time, and I hope that the way God has spoken to and is working through my life will continue to be an encouragement to all of you who might need to be reminded that He is here, He is within all of us, and He is working.