I’ve never been one to let my Ichthyosis hold me back from pursuing what I want out of life. Last month was no exception. I willingly chose to go to the Dominican Republic, an island south of Florida in the Caribbean, for a weeklong mission trip. The crazy thing about all of this is I cannot sweat and the “winter” weather in the DR is in the mid-high 80s! I knew I would be out in the sugar cane fields with little to no shade; yet, I trusted that God would somehow keep me cool and prevent me from overheating. I still made sure I was well-prepared though. The medical team knew about my condition; I wore clothing that was light-weight and breathable; I carried my spray bottle with water in it for my “fake sweat”; and I had those ice packs that activate when you break them.
It ended up being the most incredible experience. I had already been to Romania twice on mission trips, but this one was different. The Dominican Republic is a third world country. I’ve seen the photos of the living conditions, but it cannot even begin to compare with seeing it firsthand. These people live in tiny villages out in the middle of sugar cane fields. Most have to travel twenty miles one way to get clean water. Many work a full day and only earn $3. They don’t know when they will get their next meal. They don’t have shoes that fit them properly, children don’t have underwear, and they don’t have the privilege of medicine or even band-aids when they aren’t feeling well.
My dance ministry, Beautiful Feet, and I went down to lead Vacation Bible School with the children. We wanted to teach them just how great God’s love is and how He is always there for them. The children were so precious. As soon as we would get off the bus, there would be a child in your arms or holding your hand. They just wanted love. We had a translator to help with the Bible story, but when we were playing with the kids or helping them with their craft we were pretty much on our own. It makes you realize how language is not as big of a barrier as you think. You learn words from each other. Smiles, hugs, and laughter are universal. Their faces would light up when you’d show a photo of them, because they don’t have mirrors to see themselves. While we were with the children, there were other people ministering through construction – painting, putting on new roofs, building new homes. There were doctors and nurses who would take care of the people bringing their families for medicine and healing. People used their talents in basketball, baseball, and dance to teach and train the villagers. There were still others who would visit the homes to deliver supplies and to pray blessings over the families.
Besides leading Vacation Bible School, our group had the opportunity to teach a group of young kids some dance steps. We also worked with a worship dance team from there and taught them some lifts, gave them technique to work on, and created a mini dance combination for us to do together. Then, we showed them one of our dances and they showed us one of theirs. Several of the nights we were there, we attended local churches and danced during the service. Another time, we finished with Vacation Bible School early and were able to walk door to door to see what the needs were of each home. We handed out supplies that day and prayed with the families. It was probably my most memorable experience.
Sharing this trip with my dance students, fellow dance teachers, and the head of the dance studio I work with at home was something I’ll treasure forever. It drew us even closer together. Lives were changed and not just the Dominicans. I know that I went home with a full and changed heart. I saw God protect me from the heat. With every location He provided shade for me through trees or a canopy. When I did start getting too warm, He would send a breeze or a light rain. It definitely was not a coincidence! I came home with the knowledge of how over abundantly we are blessed. I actually sat in my house and cried with gratitude for all that I have, all that I’ve experienced, and all that is provided for me. I learned true joy from the Dominicans. They have so little, yet they are the most joy-filled people I have ever met. They don’t have much, but they can see that what they do have is a blessing from God. They also put far more weight into relationships with family and friends than we do. I went expecting to bless them and in return I came back blessed. I know I left a piece of my heart forever in those tiny villages in the sugar cane fields with the most beautiful and joyful people.
View of the Dominican Republic from the airplane.
Our whole group that went.
Sugar cane fields.
The houses in the villages (all are smaller than your living room!).
One of the little girls that stole my heart.
Our dancers with the worship team from the Dominican Republic.
A map of the island. We were in Hato Mayor.
My coloring group. The young boy was my favorite child. He had a disability so we immediately connected. He had to walk with a walker.
The girls there loved to play with my hair (because it was so white!) Here is an example of the finished product.
My dance ministry, Beautiful Feet, at one of the churches we danced at.