By Erin Cascioli, Student at Palm Beach Atlantic University
The all-girls trip to the Dominican Republic proved to be a truly remarkable experience.
Going into the week, none of us quite knew what to expect. We knew that we would be working with a church and the school they run, but we did not know to what capacity. The organization we worked with is Del Camino Connection (DCC). DCC connects churches and groups like PBA, to the Red del Camino, a network of churches in Latin America who want to do church differently. The churches in the Red del Camino focus firstly on building relationships. Relationships take the focus above all else. This seemingly easy concept to understand was surprisingly difficult especially at the beginning of the week. By the end of the week, however, the entire team felt like one family and we all felt connected to the church we served at.
The church that we got paired with, Puertas de Sion, is pastored by a woman named Maria Lopez.
Maria has faced a lot of adversity from other churches and has been accused of not being “qualified” to pastor a church. However, after hearing her story, there is no doubt in my mind that she is not only qualified, but anointed by God to pastor the church. Maria went into a poor neighborhood and saw a need for a church as there was no church in the area and most individuals don’t have any means of transportation to get to a church. After discipling some of the individuals in the community, the leaders decided that it was time to build a church. They found a bare plot of land in the middle of the community. Maria and the leaders of the church marched around the plot of land and claimed it in God’s name. Years later, there is not only a church on this land, but a school and a water treatment plant. Puertas de Sion and their school, Amor y Vida, are a place of safety for the children and a central beacon for the community.
One part of the school that really resonated with the entire group is a group of at-risk children and orphans that Maria and Amor y Vida school are serving. Maria began to accept children from a local SOS Children’s Village (part orphanage, part foster care, part church camp and retreat center). However, the teachers and Maria quickly realized that the majority of these students were not on the same level as the other students behaviorally and academically. Rather than turning away these students, Maria created a special education program of sorts to help them get caught up and on par with the other students.
All of our team really enjoyed working with the students and after asking Maria a few questions about the orphaned children and the program at the school, our leaders agreed that it we could go and visit the Children’s Village and see what it was like for these students. Visiting the Village was very difficult for the entire group. These children had very little but it was better than the alternative of living on the street. It was also incredible to see how these kids took so much pride even in the little bit they had. These children had so much joy and love in their hearts, even though most of them have experienced more hardship than any of us will ever have to in our lives.
On the last full day of the trip, we took the teachers and volunteers at the school on a retreat to the beach. This was easily everyone’s favorite day. We just finished up our week together and everyone grew so close. It was as if we were all one giant family. It was such a blessing to see that these people were just as touched by us as we were by them. At one point in the day, we made a joke about our American qualities when one of our friends jumped in and said “No! You’re Dominican now!”
It was so incredible to have built such strong relationships with the church and create a large family. In that day, we all realized that we accomplished the main goal of the Del Camino Connection: to create meaningful, Kingdom relationships.
Would you or your group like to be part of a Serving and Learning team connection? Contact us to learn more!