My Life in the Dominican Republic
After graduating high school in May of 2013, I went to live in the Dominican Republic with my mom and younger brother for 3 months. During this time, we lived in San Isidro, a sector of the capital city, Santo Domingo. Coming from the suburbs of Overland Park, adjusting to what even Dominicans would consider a dangerous neighborhood was a challenge. I could share plenty of stories that made living there very unpleasant, such as the possibility of dying from a leak in the gas tank that sat right next to the stove in our kitchen, waking up to an invasion of cockroaches, and the very awkward position of having our pastors be our landlords. However, each of these could be a story in itself. My life in the Dominican Republic wasn't one joyous, happy ride, but there were lessons that I learned that I don't think I could have received from being in any college classroom.
I never realized how much I had in the United States, until I came to the Dominican Republic. When I was able to fill my bath bucket with water I was overjoyed, because I knew that some days I wouldn't be able to do that due to the daily outage of water. There was only cold water but that didn't matter, because at least I had water to wash myself. Having fewer comforts and material things provoked me to give more of the little I had and more of myself. Before coming to the Dominican Republic giving for me meant an offering at church, donating to a worthy cause, and things of that nature. Otherwise, giving was not something that I would naturally think about. After living in San Isidro, however, giving has taken on a new meaning. I am beginning to actively look for ways to give to people around me whether that be of my time, my energy or my resources. The act of giving is the fruit of having a grateful heart and an appreciative mind for one's own life. Just breathing alone is something to ponder and give thanks for daily, and each act of giving is a new opportunity to demonstrate this.
Whether you're moving to the richest country in the world or the lowest of the third world countries, having discernment about the people you come into contact with cannot be taken for granted. It's important to avoid making assumptions about relationships. We were told by some "Mi casa es su casa" but it ended up being out of politeness, because it was customary to say. In reality, these people were rarely there when we really needed a helping hand, and when we needed to use something in their home, we didn't genuinely feel welcomed. Ironically, the people we might have least expected to help us, due to their own lack of resources, were the ones who ended up coming through in the biggest way. These were ones who gave out of the little that they had to offer, but did it with all sincerity of heart. These were the true givers in our neighborhood. We didn't have to look for them, because they came to our door wanting to know how they could help. Having discernment between people who will be there for you, and those who are fake is very important and can save you a lot of time and headache.
When life is comfortable it's very easy to put confidence in planning ahead and believe that what you planned will happen. Now obviously no matter where you live, things happen that cause even the best made plans to fail. However, during my time in the Dominican Republic, there were "detours" in almost every plan, making each day it's own adventure. When the course of your plans change from what you wanted or thought would happen, it takes humility and an un-offended heart to accept the change and move on positively. For example, my family and I moved to this country with the intention of serving in a church after being told we would be provided an apartment for "missionaries" to live in by the pastors. However, once we moved in, the pastors informed my mother we would have to pay rent for the apartment that some days didn't have running water or electricity, but had plenty of "cucarachas" or in English, cockroaches. To be honest it was really frustrating being there, because there were so many of these instances in which we were told one thing that ended up being something totally different. Emotionally, it would have been very easy for us to become bitter and resentful towards our new "landlords", but that would have made the stay even worse. We chose to stay focused on our purpose for being there in the first place which was serving people. No matter how challenging the situation, it's important to keep a fervent faith that there is purpose in what you are doing and believe that you will come out of the situation a stronger person.