When the World Grows Dim
Ever have one of those moments when every SINGLE thing in your life shifts?
A mark in the journey of life that you will forever look back on and say, "That was the day that Jesus wrecked my world"?
It happened to me on our first trip to the Dominican, when Jason and I left our babies in the care of others and traveled to the saddest, most joyful place I've ever been.
I'll never forget the children playing over streams of garbage,
the smell of sewage,
the bright, happy faces of dozens of kids against a backdrop of gray, ugly concrete,
the hands clinging to my shorts,
the sweaty faces pressed against my arm,
the giant, heaving sobs that I could not fight away.
Six years later, they are all still fresh for me.
It started with a plan to celebrate our 10th anniversary.
August of 2014 marked 9 years, but we had saved enough money, so we decided that 9 is just as special as 10, right?
We got to planning and dreaming and praying and ended up in the slums of a place called Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic.
Bless my hubby, he dove right in.
While I was choking back giant, heaving sobs, he was seeing these boys for who they were, no less than the third graders he teaches every day
Why not pull up a chair and play some connect four?
he spoke Spanish like it was his JOB and, of course, the boys adored him.
"You think I'm skilled at connect four? wait 'til you see my moves on the court...."
his sarcasm spans continents ;)
They played hoops for well over an hour under the blazing island sun.
Shards of glass?
These kids see the glimmer of a game on the horizon and grab onto it like its oxygen.
Jason was drenched and I was proud.
After I composed myself and realized that my husband was on the verge of serious dehydration, I rounded up the kids for a lil' lesson.
Turns out that Dominican kids are just like Americans - funny, loud, obnoxious. 🤣
In no time at all I was in my happy place, laughing, teaching and teasing.
My heart had gone from broken and bleeding to soaring. I got to thinking that maybe these kids have something I don't.
Maybe when Jesus is all you have, then He really is all you need.
Is the American dream starving us?
That's when Liz, the coordinator, explained that this was actually the really nice part of town.
And this club that she built? It serves 225 kids, but there are over 600 on a waiting list.
Even though it looks like depressing gray concrete to us, this place is a ray of light to its community.
Kids get to play UNO here, and eat a snack,
and be loved by adults who won't harm them.
It left me wondering what could be waiting for us in the lesser areas of town?
It didn't take long to find out.
Liz took Jason and I on a tour of the "barrios" where her kids come from.
I didn't take my camera.
It didn't seem right.
It was everything you see on tv, all the things you know are out there, but are hard to process while sitting on a comfortable couch with a full fridge not 20 feet away.
We walked the streets where girls are expected to become prostitutes.
I sat in the 5X5 foot tin home of a boy who thinks that his only options in life are to kill or be killed.
I jumped over streams of sewage and held hands with children who actually had nothing.
Oh, Lord...I can handle the knowing that there are people in this world who live on very little.
I can appreciate a lifestyle different from my own.
I can stomach the idea that not everyone has what I have.
I'm wise enough to know that in the end, they may be the ones with the very most.
Maybe all the stuff I've surrounded myself with is actually distracting me from who YOU are.
I get that.
But I'm a girl, and you've given me three daughters, Lord, and I CANNOT tolerate the idea that just hours from our American abundance is an ocean of girls who will sell their bodies before they are ten because they don't know any other way.
While I kept it together on the outside, I found my heart screaming the all too familiar refrain, "It's not fair!"
Just one mile from here tourists are sipping margaritas on the beach and lazing the day away in hot tubs. My kids are back home visiting the zoo with their grandparents and eating chicken nuggets 'til their hearts' content. Our pet kitten has a more predictable food supply than these people.
It is so unfair, Lord. Does it have to be this way?
I made it through that trip and let it wreck me enough that we've gone back three times since, turning the people of the Dominican into our dear friends.
I think a lot about them and when I do, I feel frustrated with God. He really could fix it all with the snap of his mighty fingers. So why doesn't He?
I've had conversations with people I deeply respect who have reminded me that despite our best efforts, there will always be poor people. True.
Jesus said it himself. When you really think about it, the history of human efforts to reduce poverty look like a giant failure. Humanity has been trying to end poverty since our earliest days. It's like a weed - it just keeps growing. All the money and energy and resources that we have poured into helping have not eliminated the sadness. So why try? It's a depressing thought. But there's what is true and then there's the TRUTH.
True, no matter how big our hearts are, Jason and I cannot and will not fix what is wrong, here in MN, or across the sea. However, I can't find one reference in scripture where Jesus tells us to succeed at this task.
He doesn't command us to fix the problems of the world. He says "love them".
He tells us to go and give a cup of cold water.
I can do that.
He asks us to feed the hungry and give clothes to the naked and visit prisoners.
I can do that, too.
I can take time out of my life and money out of my savings account to travel to the least of these and put my hands squarely on the shoulders of young boys, telling them they are MORE than conquerors in Christ.
I can sacrifice a trip to Disney world and bring my girls to a place where we can whisper in the ears of our friends that Jesus' thoughts of them are as relentless as the waves on the shore.
We will never stop coming here.
Not because we think that we have all the answers or because we think our American dollars will fix the heartache, but because we are fully capable of obeying Jesus' command to "love others".
And because I've called Christians around the world my "brothers and sisters" but there is NO WAY that I would ever allow my biological brother to live in such conditions.
And because when you stand on the shores of God's great ocean holding the hand of a baby girl who has her whole life ahead of her, but thinks she's nothing more than an object to be used, the world and all its trappings look shockingly dim.
Suddenly my 403b doesn't seem so important, and my mortgage seems like less of a burden and more of a blessing, and my car can really last me another year.
Every resource I have is worth the investment of laying down my life to find that, without exception, every single thing Jesus ever said is true.
When we place His love and His commands at the center, we see how lovely He is.
We see how fully equipped we are to do the work He has called us to do.
Lord, when this little spark of my life is gone and my name is forgotten,
let the thing that remains
be a resounding "alleluia"
on the lips of those you sent me to love.