Last week, I returned from a week in the Dominican Republic as part of a team with GO Ministries. This was the second year I've been able to take this trip with my 18-year-old daughter, Nicole. It's a precious thing to watch your child minister to others in Jesus' name! This year's trip was extra special given that I had the chance to coach Nicole's volleyball team this year, and we had 5 other players with us from that team. So it sort of felt like I had half a dozen of my kids along with us this time!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 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 before getting involved with GO, but hadn't really 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...neither! I'm one of the two old guys — the one with considerable "silver" around the ears.)
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 for the first time last year, 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 our roughly 120 campers. Each of the Dominican girls also left camp with either a Bible or 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 roughly 80 of the neediest kids of the community a hot meal six days a week.
One other aspect of immediate ministry 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 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. And it was extremely encouraging to see the huge growth in some of the young people that responded to that call at last year's service!
Platform for future ministry: This was the fifth year for this particular volleyball camp in Hato del Yaque, and the local leaders have helped us understand the ongoing work that happens in the time between our annual short-term trips. The local Pastor's wife has been doing bible studies with some of the girls as they continue to come back to the church regularly to practice their volleyball (which has improved dramatically even since last year!). If I understand correctly, the kids come to play, but at the end of those open court sessions, 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 and the church as she continues to play with and minister to them, and ultimately, we hope, with Jesus!
As a sign of this multi-year, ongoing cultural change around this community of girls, the local leaders were really excited by the fact that in the past year only one of the girls from last year's camp had gotten pregnant this past year. That may not seem like such a great development to our eyes, but to them it was huge — this was mentioned multiple times during the week we were there. In the past, they would have seen at least 4-5 pregnancies (and likely more) among this group of girls. That's a big deal to them, both as a measurable sign of the gospel's transforming impact, as well as an important step toward breaking the cycle of poverty.
Hopefully as we're there ministering directly and indirectly in the community (by doing things like painting houses near the church), we're helping the local leaders establish closer ties with the community that enable them to better minister year-round.
On a different note, GO's theme this year was "Grafted into the Story," which brought to my mind a couple of articles we've run in SMI on that topic over the years. In the Father's Vineyard talks about our fruitfulness as believers, and another article that I kept thinking about down there was Abiding in Christ: The Life of a Branch. Both of these articles are a few years old and worth another look if you don't remember them.
One thing I appreciate about these types of short-term trips for myself is that they help me hit the "reset" button on living with a more intentional and missional mindset. Of course, 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.