Watching videos, seeing pictures, hearing previous students stories doesn’t prepare you enough for the experience that you are going to have on this trip. It gives you an idea of what you’re going to see, but everyone feels and sees this journey differently. For me, I hoped that going on this trip I would learn something new about myself because I knew that these people could teach me more than I could ever teach them, and that’s what happened.
When you tell people that you’re going on a mission trip you get mixed responses. Sometimes it’s hard to explain to people the reason behind your decision to do something like this before you experience it for the first time, but when you come back and share your stories, it’s clear why going a trip like this was the best decision I’ve made thus far.
It was the first day after a treacherous traveling day the day before. The Batey 50 construction team stepped off the bus, and all the children ran to team members that they’ve remembered from past trips. Since this was my first time on the trip, I was looking at the smiles from both the children and team members and watching them embrace each other since it’s been a year since they’ve last seen each other. From the second we stepped off the bus, I hoped by the end of the 10 days, I would form a relationship with someone similar to the relationships I had just seen my team members form from past trips. The first thing we did was take a tour around the Batey, and as we did kids would continually run up to you. Once the tour was over, a few of us started playing games with some of the kids. I noticed that there was a girl, who seemed shy, standing with a few of her friends off to the side. At the moment, we shared a smile, and little did I know that this girl would become the highlight of my trip. Her name was Diana, and she was 9. There was something different about Diana that made her stand out. She couldn’t speak english, and I couldn’t speak much Spanish, but we didn’t need to. We were content with standing next to each other, and that’s all either of us needed to know what we were thinking.
Diana was different because she never asked for anything. She never asked to see my phone, she wouldn’t ask if my shoes or sunglasses that I had were for her, she would hold my hand or sit in my lap and put her head against my chest and that’s all I needed to know what her intentions were. After the first day ended and our team was getting ready to head out, I thought that I wasn’t going to see Diana again. I was coming back to Batey 50 for the duration of the week, but I thought there’s no way she’s going to remember me because there’s so many of us here. I was wrong. When we returned on Monday, 2 days after our first visit, I didn’t see Diana right away. To be honest, it was a hectic morning; the med clinic was also at Batey 50 that day so there was more going on, and my mind was focused on gathering kids that were already seen by the clinic to start playing games with them. As we’re sitting in the shade with a few kids, I feel a tap on my shoulder; I turn around and notice Diana is standing behind me with a smile that could fill the coldest heart with love. She sits down next to me, with a marker and paper in her hand, and asks what my name is. After I write my name down for her, she disappears for a minute and comes back with a drawing that says, “To Kristen, From Diana” with a heart drawn on the paper. From that day on, anytime the bus arrived at Batey 50, I could count on Diana waiting there to run into my arms and greet me the second I stepped off the bus.
It’s so easy to get caught up in your everyday life and miss the connections that you can form with people, and Diana taught me that it doesn’t take much to know when something feels right. I went into this trip hoping that I would gain something more than a great experience, and I did. I learned more about myself in those 10 days then I have in the past 21 years. You’re pushed to your limits working in 90 degree weather for 6 hours a day, but when you look up and see a 9 year old girl who has barely anything smiling at you, and enjoying just standing next to you, not much else matters.
The connections I made on this trip is probably the greatest takeaway from this experience. It’s hard to come back and not feel guilty. You’re spending time with people that don’t have anything, and you come home to an air-conditioned house eating more than 3 meals a day. If this trip has taught me anything, it’s that the little problems that I believed I had don’t really matter. What matters are the memories and the experiences you have with people you care about. Whether you’ve known them for 10 days or 10 years, those relationships are what keeps people going. I’ve been home for a week, and there isn’t a day that goes by when I haven’t wished I was back in the DR shoveling rocks and sand in Batey 50 just so I can get one last hug and smile from Diana, but knowing one day I’ll return is what keeps me going.