Scanning the lush green horizon beyond the playground, I breathed in mountain air. How could a place captivate me like this? Or a people? In just one week?
I considered my home. Our children are the fifth generation to live on our
farm. We have family for neighbors, space to roam. Who gets to enjoy that kind of heritage?
Ah. The children of the Dominican Republic.
Maybe that’s why I fell in love. Families live simply: eating together,
playing dominoes, talking. Most folks live all their lives in the village they
were born in and have no desire to be elsewhere.
I love my home. Why then, taking in the beauty of this vastly different place, did I feel that I could just stay?
Perhaps it’s because I couldn’t go back. I would never be the same.
On our family’s first day there, we’d known no one in the village, and
yet, even amidst a language barrier, meeting in a picnic shelter/church/pre-school, we were among family.
Looking around at the children, I might have anticipated songs, stories, music, meals, siestas we would share. But how could I have known that
those wide-eyed, little bandits would steal my heart?
I’d been on mission trips before. I fully expected to return counting — no, being overwhelmed by — my blessings. (Seeing poverty first-hand has a way of fostering gratitude.) I knew the feeling of being “more blessed” than the people I’d met, knowing I didn’t deserve it.
But that week, a new concept of “blessing” rocked my world. Against the backdrop of green mountains, I heard a whisper of a voice: “They’re every bit as blessed as you are.”
I smiled. It was true.
Earlier in the week, when the words first came to me, I’d asked, “Are you
sure?” God had assured me. It wasn’t my imagination. This was the lesson.
I learned it from the children of Mata Gorda, who feel smartly dressed in the one school uniform they have the privilege of wearing five days a week to school, a place they get excited about. Pre-schoolers walk alone down dirt roads to an open-air building, one of the nicest structures in the community. Most days there is no electricity or running water. Learning happens without regard to the presence or absence of these features. Children eat rice and veggies for lunch every day and are thankful. They giggle when someone pushes them on a swing. They love their teachers.
They even love strangers who speak strange words, who enter their world only to leave moments later.
These little ones taught me how deeply God loves and blesses his children, heedless of circumstance. Just because I have more things does not make me more blessed.
Saying my goodbyes, I felt Elisabet’s hand on my arm: “Hasta manana?”
“Oh, no...Elisabet...tomorrow I go home...”
Too many goodbyes. For them. For me.
We sang our “goodbye song,” comprised of three languages:
Shalom, mis amigos, Shalom, mis amigos, Shalom, Shalom,
'til we meet again, ‘til we meet again, Shalom, Shalom…
Then, I was back home, wandering through the grocery store, viewing jam-packed shelves with new eyes, overwhelmed by the excesses of life in the United States.
I felt compelled toward the rice aisle. In a haze, I threw a bag into
my cart, next to $100 worth of food our family “needed.” What in the world was I doing?
A Christmas song on the loudspeaker gave way to a heart song. I heard young Dominican voices in the familiar tune (but that had been the first week of November — too early for Christmas, right?)
¡Regocijad! Jesús nació, del mundo Salvador;
y cada corazón tornad a recibir al Rey,
a recibir al Rey. Venid a recibir al Rey.
Our family went to the D.R. expecting to teach others.
Instead, we received the simple joys of swings and slides and hand-claps, of wanting to be a puppy when you grow up (like 4-year-old Tomito), of playing baseball in flip-flops or work boots or no shoes at all. We were blessed enough to take “siesta” on a concrete floor among children who truly rejoiced at the gift of handmade blankets.
Five years later, I still hold the D.R. in my heart: not just the beauty of the landscape, but the passion of the people.
We were taught more than we could ever teach, were given more than we
could ever share. We are blessed beyond measure, as are our brothers and
sisters around the world. Each in His own way.
Physical resources are important. It’s wonderful to be able to lavish our children with gifts.
Dear Patch readers, may I challenge you to do less for your children this Christmas?
Adopt a family. Serve at a mission. Support an outreach. Start new traditions. Make your children a part of it. Take them to the store to pick out an item they’ve wanted for a long time and allow them to experience giving that thing away. (Ask ahead of time if it’s something they want to do.)
My daughter once said a strangely profound prayer:
Thank You, God, for the things we have and for the things we don’t have...
At age 3, she could not have understood the wisdom her words carried. It’s not in the things that we have that we find our greatest
blessings. Some choices are not up to us.
But we can choose to be grateful. To be filled with joy.
Fortunately, we have songs of the season to remind us:
Joy to the World, the Lord has come!
Let earth receive her King!
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And heaven and nature sing....