I recently returned from a week in the Dominican Republic as part of a team with GO Ministries. We had a great week, made extra special for me by the ability to share it with my 17-year-old daughter, Nicole. There's a unique joy that comes from watching your child minister to others in Jesus' name!
Nicole and I had started feeling a tug in this direction about a year ago. Our local church has become increasingly involved in a particular community in Haiti since the earthquake there in 2010, and we initially signed up to be part of the next trip going there this past February. But as time went along, it didn't feel like we were supposed to go on that trip, so we ultimately pulled out. Just a week or two after that difficult decision, her volleyball coach sent us information about this GO Ministries trip to the Dominican, which would focus specifically on two of her passions — kids and volleyball. We immediately knew that this was the trip the Lord had been preparing us for!
The main focus of our trip was a 3-day volleyball camp for the girls of Hato del Yaque, a community just west of Santiago. We basically did the same camp twice each day: younger girls (roughly 6-12 yr-olds) in the morning, and older girls in the afternoon.
I'd heard of various "sports ministry" groups/trips in the past, but never totally understood how they worked. So for the benefit of others with similar questions, here's a quick explanation of how a bunch of gringos teaching volleyball for a week in a poor Dominican town can become something productive for the Kingdom of God.
(For anyone looking for us in the video, Nicole is the blond, blue-eyed beauty. I'm...none of those things! I'm one of the two dark-haired old guys, but not the one wearing the whistle.)
It's important to recognize there are two distinct ministry "dimensions" to a trip like ours. There's the immediate ministry that happened while our team was on the ground in the DR. And then there's the platform for future ministry that is created by our team being there. I sort of understood the former before we went, but it was only after I got there that my eyes were opened to the latter.
Immediate ministry: When the "Americanos!" come to town, it's a curiosity and a draw (at least out where we were). The community kids flock to the church, where there would easily be well over 100 each day playing basketball or volleyball with us, braiding hair (not mine), and just generally being loved on and played with by us. More intentionally, our young ladies did a great job presenting the gospel through two-a-day devotions to each group of our 100+ campers. Each of the girls left camp with either a Bible or Beth Moore bible study book. We also were able to do more direct ministry through a one-day vacation bible school, as well as helping out with the nutritional clinic that GO runs at the church, feeding the neediest kids of the community a hot meal six days a week.
One other aspect of immediate ministry that I didn't expect happened the last night of the camp. All of the campers were invited back to the church that night for a worship service, where the Pastor also spoke and presented the gospel. Many of the campers came and several responded to the invitation to either start or renew a relationship with Jesus that night. Much to my delight, I saw at least two of my "Yellow Team" older girls and one of my "Younger Yellows" among those down at the front. I'd expected to sow some seeds while we were there, but it was an unexpected blessing to see some of them actually sprout while we were there!
Platform for future ministry: The "aha!" moment for me came when the local Pastor's wife explained to us her experience and interaction with the volleyball camp. Last year, she participated in the camp, practicing and playing alongside the older girls. While she clearly enjoyed it and appreciated the opportunity, explaining to us that prior to that she had never been given the opportunity to play any type of sport (not unusual for girls there), she also explained that in the year that has passed since the camp, she has continued to play volleyball with the girls of the community in the afternoons when the kids pack the church grounds. Each day, if I understood correctly, at the end of those "open hours," they wind down with a devotions/talk about God/life/stuff time. In this way, our few days of volleyball camp each year turns into a year-round platform for ministry to the girls of the community. Without the volleyball, most of these girls wouldn't have a connection to the church and wouldn't be hanging around there for the ministry that happens. As it is, they wind up in relationship — first with us Gringos, secondly with the Pastor's wife as she continues to play with and minister to them, and ultimately, we hope, with Jesus!
To wrap up, here's a funny story about one other thing we did that straddles the line between immediate and future ministry. The first day we were there, before the volleyball camps, we went out into the community to paint three houses that the Pastor had identified. These were a combination of church families and just relationships in the community. The first two groups went to their houses and got started, but while walking to the final house, a young boy asked the Pastor to come paint his house too. Apparently persuasive, the Pastor asked if the boy was sure his parents would be okay with that, given that they weren't home. Yep, this boy's parents came home that night to find their house painted a new color! (Hope they liked it.) Hard for us to imagine, but the father was extremely grateful, coming by the church multiple times in the days that followed to thank the Pastor. We also found out later that while we were painting, doors opened for the Pastor to have conversations with several people near those homes that he'd never spoken with before, despite living relatively close to the church where he's been pastoring for the past five years. Some of those people expressed interest in having their houses painted in the future, which at a minimum provides a basis for continuing relationship with the Pastor, the church, and again, hopefully (in time) Jesus.
On a more personal note, I found this trip to be a great "reset" to a more missional mindset. Like many of you, I've participated in varous types of ministry over my adult life—leading and participating in church cell groups, facilitating financial small group classes, taking short-term ministry trips, etc. But occasionally I'll realize I've been coasting for a year or two (or longer) with no specific outreach or ministry focus. My relationship with the Lord is good, but I haven't really been doing much lately. This trip was a good spark to bring that ministry mindset back home with me and live with a greater intentionality and sense of purpose.
The good news is you don't have to go on a mission trip to get that same spark. It's healthy for all of us to occasionally pause and consider if there are areas where the Lord wants to be using us more (or differently). At Sound Mind Investing, we often focus on the financial aspects of this, as we will again soon in the upcoming July anniversary issue we're currently preparing. But hopefully it's obvious that this goes beyond our money into every aspect of our lives.
Maybe you've read this and realize you don't have a relationship with Jesus. If that's the case, I'd love to talk to you about that. The incredibly good news of the gospel is that you can have a personal relationship with God! Shoot me an email and we can start that conversation.