This blog post is over 2 months in the making. I have sat down many times to write this, but each time, it was like Satan found another way to keep me from writing it. “You have more you can be doing.” “People don’t care what you have to say.” “That’s not really what God is calling you to do.” Satan sure knows how to play on my insecurities. But on last Monday, I was sitting in my cubicle at work and felt the presence of the Lord come over me. I started crying (although if you know me, you know that’s not a far stretch anyway.) I just felt like God was saying “Abby, it’s time for you to write this blog.” So here I am—sitting in my apartment, typing a word document that I will probably save and upload to the blog when I have WiFi (more details on that later.)
Since the last time I blogged, I graduated from MVNU, got a job at MVNU as an admissions counselor, and have moved into my own apartment in Mount Vernon. But the biggest thing—the thing that this blog is about—the thing that changed every part of me—began on June 11, 2013.
I embarked on one of the greatest journeys of my life. I went with a group of 7 other people from my church to the Dominican Republic. I could sit here and recount EVERY. SINGLE. MOMENT of the trip for you because that is how vivid it still is in my head, but that would only be enjoyable to the 7 other people that were with me, and perhaps a few that we met while we were there. So I will just highlight a few things.
In preparation for the trip, I prayed over the trip. I prayed for safety. I prayed for a fun time. I prayed for lives to be changed. I remember one night as I was praying, I felt God tugging at me, but I couldn’t tell what He was trying to say. The presence of the Lord was so thick in my room that night that I couldn’t do anything but cry. I was crying for two reasons: 1) That’s what I do when I’m overcome with the Spirit. 2) I was frustrated because I couldn’t understand what He was trying to get across to me. But after that night, I felt this sense of assurance and peace. You see, I was really nervous to go on this trip. I wasn’t excited at all. I was waiting for something bad to happen before this trip that would prohibit me from going, so I was trying not to get my hopes up. Four years prior, I had planned to go to Haiti on my first mission trip. I had begun finding funding for my trip and had secured a spot on the plane and on the team. I was so excited. However, about a month before we were to leave, I found out that I had to get surgery and would not be able to go. I was heartbroken. I lost a lot of faith in God at the time. I was angry. I couldn’t figure out why God had opened so many doors for me to go on this trip and then all of a sudden, they were slammed right in my face. It didn’t seem very characteristic of the God that I had served for so long. After a few months, many many angry prayers, and lots of crying, I began to realize that the doors that I was walking through were doors that I had created myself, not ones that God had created. We can do that, you know. If we want something bad enough, we can create a door in a boundary. The problem is: if that’s not part of God’s will for your life, there is always a brick wall somewhere behind it.
Anyway, I grew up and moved on. Then, somewhere around mid- 2011, there began talk within my church of possibly going on a mission trip to the Dominican Republic. Andrew (my brother) and I were immediately intrigued, but naturally I thought, “This will never happen. I will never be able to go. It didn’t happen before, so why would it happen now?” A Pastor of a Nazarene church in the DR came to our church and spoke. I remember it being a really great service—his son, who lives in Westerville, translated the sermon for us. I can’t remember what the sermon was about, but I remember vividly the passion with which the pastor preached. I fell in love with that man and his family that day.
Fast-forward about 9 months. Talk of this trip began to heighten and it became a real thing. Kristen—who you will meet soon—was organizing this as her senior project for school. At the time, she was almost a junior. Andrew and I put our names down, as well as my mom’s best friend [Mary Ann], her daughter Katie (who is a year older than me), my friend Kaitlin’s dad, and my pastor and his family. A few months rolled by, and we weren’t sure if this was going to happen. Due to lack of communication between us and the people in the DR, there was talk of maybe going to Kenya instead. We had already begun raising funds, so we put faith in a trip happening. But we continued to wait. And so we waited. And waited. And our group began to shrink- my friend’s dad couldn’t go due to extenuating circumstances and Katie couldn’t go due to work. But we continued to wait. And wait. And I remember praying one night: “God, if this is in your will, please just open doors.” The next day, Kristen contacted us and said that the DR trip was on and that we were going to begin looking for flights. We sent out support letters, and I was astonished with how much money came flooding in. This whole time, I was telling myself not to get my hopes up. There was a night when I didn’t think I would be able to make my next payment, and then the next day I got a scholarship check in the mail that would pay for over double of one of my payments. I knew this was a God thing—it couldn’t have just been a coincidence. And I don’t believe in coincidences anyway. But I was still doubtful. [I do that a lot—doubt. It’s something God and I are working through. Daily.]
Even a week before we left, I wasn’t excited. I went to see Wicked with my friend at the Ohio Theatre, and when I returned, my mom was saying, “Man, Abby! You’re having an awesome week: You just got your first job, you just got back from seeing your favorite musical, and you’re going on your first mission trip next week!” I looked at her and simply said “yeahhhh… I’m not really that excited about the mission trip. I don’t know, I’m sure it’ll be great.” That was sincere. At the time, I could care less.
Back to June 11th. We had to be at the airport in the middle of the night—like 3 am or something. I was already nervous about this trip, and at 3 am, my insecurities were just heightened. We made it through security and we were on our way! We got to Miami International Airport and then we just… sat. We had a long layover. But this began a beautiful relationship. You see, I went on this trip only really being close to my brother and Mary Ann, my mom’s best friend. I was friendly with my pastor and his family, but we weren’t super close. We knew that we shared the same humor and joked a lot at church, but a lot of our relationship was very surface-y. During our layover, I played cards with Pastor Dave and two of his daughters (Kristen—the organizer of the trip—and Allie). We played cards for a good 2 hours, and, looking back, that was the beginning of a beautiful bond.
After another flight, we arrived in Santo Domingo, the capital of the DR. We actually met a girl who got off the plane with us. She was from Oklahoma and was going to be living in the DR for the next 6 months as a missionary. She was mine and Bethany’s age– just graduated from college too! It was her like 6th time there. Her name is Beverly and she is AWESOME– very fluent in Spanish and VERY good with the kids. For the rest of this blog, she will be included in when I say “US,” because she BECAME part of our group– it like we’d known her for years!
We were picked up at the airport by our guide for the trip. His name was Eli (pronounced like “Ellie”) and he brought in tow with him his beautiful family and a few friends. His wife Tammy is actually from Michigan. They have two kids-Elianny and Esteban. We fell in love with this family immediately. We were also greeted by Rolin and his 13-year-old son, Merlin. They were in charge of taking our luggage for us.
It took us over an hour to get to where we were staying—the Work and Witness House. It was in the same city, and really only about 15 miles away, but traffic was so thick, Eli had to maneuver for us as best as he could to keep us safe.
We arrived at the W&W house and were greeted by a lovely meal. That day was full of a lot of love connections—the people and the FOOD.
I know I’m getting too detailed, but I needed to set the scene for you. God did a lot of things in me on this trip. In my life, I had only really heard the “voice of God” a few times, but it always seemed muted—like God was taking into a glass cup. On this trip—from day one—God was speaking TO ME. In my ear. In a plain voice—nearly audible. It was the most wonderful experience—one that has just continued to increase in frequency since I have returned. So I am going to use the Words of the Lord as titles for the pieces that I am going to highlight..for now.
1. I am beginning something wonderful. Begin preparing yourself now.
This was on our first night there. We had all gone to our rooms (I was staying with Allie, Kristen, and Bethany –their oldest sister who is my age J ) to prepare for bed. As I was brushing my teeth (with bottled water—the water there isn’t safe for us to drink), I began praying. “Okay, God, You got us here safely. Now what?” It was then that I heard him say “I am beginning something wonderful. Begin preparing yourself now.” I stopped dead in my tracks—toothbrush and all. Was I imagining that? Who said that? Why was that so clear? But again, I heard “I am beginning something wonderful for you. Good things are coming. Get excited.” After standing and staring in the mirror for a good 5 minutes, I finished brushing my teeth and went to lay down. We went to go to sleep, but after laying in silence for a little bit, we realized that none of us could sleep. And so began what has lovingly been deemed “night talks.” Each night, for the rest of the trip, we would lie awake, recapping all that had happened during the day. I mean, what do you expect—there were 2 22-year-olds, a 17-year-old, and a 15-year-old in a room. We were bound to talk. And we covered subjects ALL over the map—from God, to boys, to the DR, to people we were meeting. And we laughed. A LOT. Some nights, we were up for 2 hours after we laid down. Night talks became one of my favorite parts of the trip because it was in those talks that I gained three new sisters. I don’t know if that’s what God meant when He said “ I am beginning something wonderful,” but this new sisterhood is definitely one of the most wonderful things to come out of that trip. I love them more than words can say, and when I am visiting my parents in Crooksville, I get more excited to see them on Sunday mornings that I do to see my biological family.
2. This is what “home” is supposed to feel like.
Something that I have been struggling with for about a year and a half now is the concept of “home.” There comes a point in every person’s life when the house you grew up in no longer feels like your own. That point came to me sometime around Christmas my junior year of college. Like most college students, I was SO pumped to go home for Christmas—time to get away from schoolwork and spend time with people I love. When I got home, there was a different feeling greeting me. It was still a good feeling—like a place where I was welcome, but it wasn’t the feeling I had gotten in previous visits. I think I had just done some growing up. However, it was something I had struggled with. I had gotten to the point where I couldn’t remember what it felt like to go somewhere that felt like home. Until now. One morning, at breakfast, I walked outside to see the men already hard at work on the Work & Witness house. One of the guys who was working looked at me, said “Good Morning Abby!” and smiled the biggest smile I’ve ever seen in my life. As I said Good morning to him, I got chills. I felt SO comfortable around these people. I felt so welcomed and so..at peace. As I walked back into the kitchen to get the BEST coffee I’ve had in my life, I felt God say “This is what ‘home’ is supposed to feel like. And I smiled. Because for the first time in a year and a half, I felt at home.
3. Love them as you love me.
Most of our time in Santo Domingo was spent working at the Work & Witness house—laying the foundation for a new addition to the building. One night, after working, we went to a different part of the city—a place called Ciudad Satelite Duarte, or “Satellite City.” As we drove into the development, we went past many nice houses.. however, the farther we got from the main road, the worse the houses got. We got clear to the back of the neighborhood, where there were TONS of apartments. We pulled up to a house and Pastor Eli told us that this was a new church plant of the Church of the Nazarene there. The attendance was roughly 20 people a week. Our goal was to go out into the community and invite all of the children to come back and play with us. We split up into 2 groups—1 group went toward the apartments and the other went into the more rural part of the city. I went with the group that was in the rural part. This was VERY scary for me. Many of these people were living in cinderblock-and-mud houses. I had never faced something like this before and was very nervous. I prayed that God would give me a calm spirit during this and that is when I heard Him say “Love them as you love me.” WOW.
We went up to about 20 or so houses and invited many people to come out and join us. Luckily, Elianny & Gerson (the pastor’s son) were with us.. they did the translating and a lot of the “heavy lifting” to get people there.
We met back up at the church and no kids came. For about 20 minutes, no one came. The only one that was there was a little boy named Narlin. He was 2 years old, his pants were too big for him, and he was wearing an adult female’s flip flops. He was the CUTEST little boy. I began playing a game of kickball with him.
It lasted a long time..and one-by-one, more kids joined us. We had games of Frisbee, kickball, and volleyball happening. By the time we were ready to begin music, we had 75 kids in all join us. What a miracle—I would equate it to the feeding of the 5000. God is SO big! These kids opened up a new part of me that I didn’t know was there—a desire to provide love and care for kids in less-than-desirable conditions. These kids didn’t know that they were “poor” according to American standards. They were filled with SUCH joy. It was beautiful and contagious. Because I loved them the way God asked me to, I pray that they saw a spark of something Bigger than them. I think of these children often. I pray that God is preparing them for big things. And I pray that I see them again soon.
4. This is your family.
When we got back to the Work and Witness house after coming back from Satellite City, we were joined by Pastor Carlos de la Cruz and his wife, Titina. Pastor Carlos is the man that spoke at our church over a year prior. He was there with two of his sons (Gerson, who travelled with us to Satellite City, and Zeke, who lives in Westerville) , his daughter, Scarlin, and Titina. When I saw them in the house, I re-fell in love with this family. They radiate such joy and love and it is just unreal how God uses them. It was a sweet reunion for the Alberts and the de La Cruzes—they are long-time friends and haven’t seen each other since they were in Ohio last. We were also joined by their niece, Carolina. She looked around my age, but didn’t seem too interested in meeting us—her nose was in her phone. I tried to talk to her, but to no avail. So I gave up and went on my merry way.
That night, during our nightly devotions, we were joined by Pastor Eli and Tammy, Rolin and Merlin, Salvador and Fernando (guys who had been working with us at the Work & Witness house-guys we began to ADORE), and Carlos, Titina, Gerson, and Carolina. We normally sang songs during our devo time, but we had accompaniment by Pastor Carlos on the guitar this time. We decided to sing songs that we all knew. We began to sing songs from our devo book in English, and after a few seconds, the Dominicans joined in song in Spanish. It was the most beautiful meshing of voices I have ever heard, and I remember thinking “This is what heaven has to be like.” That night, Andrew led devotions, and afterwords, we continued with worship in song. At one point, I looked around the room, and felt God say “Abby, this is your family.” And He was right (of course). Over the course of just a few days (and a few hours for some,) these people had become my FAMILY (except for Carolina… I’ll get to that in a second.) They had lavished so much love and kindness on us and expected nothing in return. They greeted us with unconditional acceptance—something that is very hard to come by in the US. This new family of mine.. WOW. I felt so blessed to be a part of it.
(This video is from what happened AFTER that— the Dominicans broke out into song and grabbed items from around the room– a water jug, a Frisbee, and a cheese grater. TOO FUN!)
Carolina… I made it my personal mission to befriend this girl. The next day (after night talks, of course), I tried to talk to her, but she would only give me one-word answers. She also told me my fingernails were ugly. WHAT? Not nice! I thought she was being rude, but then I asked her if she had a boyfriend, and any barriers that stood between us came crumbling down. She pulled out her phone and showed me TONS of pictures of him. I realized that Carolina was just a tad nervous to speak in English because she wasn’t very good at it. And when she said that my fingernails were ugly, she was trying to tell me that she wanted to paint them. 🙂 After that moment, a bond formed between Carolina (Caro) and I. It’s indescribable. I have never felt such a connection with another person in my life. For the rest of our time in Santo Domingo, Caro and I stayed up late each night talking– until 2 or 3 in the morning! Since my Spanish wasn’t the greatest, there were many barriers. Luckily, Salvador was there.
He has been taking tons of English classes at school and is actually REALLY good—he could definitely live VERY well in America. He was our translator—without him, I’m not sure if we would have made it past the fingernail comment. 😉 I don’t know if it’s the fact that we’re the same age or if we have a lot in common, but there is something s beautiful about our friendship. We don’t talk nearly as much as we’d like (we both lead very busy lives,) but I think of her and pray for her daily. And I trust that I will see her again soon.. because my God is a God that keeps His promises. 🙂 I am so blessed to have such a wonderful Dominican family— all of them.
5. I am preparing a way for you to be here.
There were about 3 -4 days between #4 and #5. It’s not that I wasn’t hearing the voice of God—because I WAS. But it wasn’t life altering– just God leading me in my daily life.. On Sunday morning, we left Santo Domingo and went to Bonao—where Pastor Carlos, Titina, Gerson, and Caro are all from. Pastor Carlos had to preach on Sunday, so he and Titina had left the day before to get back to prepare. We went to church at his church that Sunday and met some new friends—Roberth and Jeudy. Roberth has gained the nickname of Bobby—it really stuck. Bobby, Jeudy, and Gerson are all best friends and Bobby is the cousin of Gerson. These guys became our brothers. In every free moment, we were playing spoons (CUCHARAS!) with them, singing, or dancing with them. I cannot say enough about the impact that these people left on our lives.We talk to them on a regular basis now and are always planning what we will do once we are reunited.
In Bonao on Monday and Tuesday, we helped with construction on the parsonage. It was very fun—there was always music playing… and if you know me, that means there was ALWAYS dancing. I met Caro’s parents—Milagros and Lazaro—and fell in love with them! Milagros and Titina are sisters and I just love them so much. We went to a waterfall on Tuesday afternoon and then said goodbye to our friends in Bonao L (Caro, Bobby, and Jeudy). Merlin (lovingly nicknamed “Tuna”) and Gerson went back with us to Santo Domingo. On Wednesday, we said goodbye to Salvador, Fernando, Jose, Rolin, Tuna, Tammy, Elianny, and Esteban.
We then did some touristy things—went to the house of Christopher Columbus’s son—and that night, we stayed at a resort. Titina and Gerson went with us. That night, as we were eating dinner, I had no appetite. God had been pulling at my heart for a few hours now and I just kept pushing it off because I was trying to hold my back my sadness of saying goodbye to people who had just impacted my life SO much. As I sat at dinner (which was outside, RIGHT on the Caribbean),God kept trying to get my attention. Finally, I just turned around in my seat, started at the ocean, and let my guard down.
Immediately, plain as day, I felt God say “I am preparing a way for you to be here.” And I started bawling. At the dinner table. At devotions that night, everyone had a chance to share, and I had decided long before that I wouldn’t share what God had been telling me. I thought “God, no one will believe me. It’s my first mission trip and they’ll just think I am on a high. I’m not talking.” And He said “Abby, you need to share good news!” So I did. And I’m sure people WERE thinking “Abby…. No. this is your first mission trip. You have no idea what you’re talking about.” But that’s okay. That’s not up to other people. That’s between me and God.
So… God is preparing a way for me to be in the DR. I don’t know if that means long-term or what. But I know that that’s what He’s doing. Each day, since I’ve been back, there has been an unrest in my soul. I don’t feel fulfilled here. I feel like I left 95% of my heart in the DR. I feel like I can’t find a place where I truly belong here. I try to make the best of the situation I’m in.
I have realized that God has been calling me to do mission work for a VERY long time, but Ijust kept brushing it off as just a coincidence (again, sometimes I can be very dense.)
When I was 14, I went to the SCO (then CO) NMI conference at Grove City Naz. I met a girl named Rachel Cadwallader who went to Gloryland Naz. She was 15 and God had already called her into the mission field. I remember praying “God, that’s so cool! Why don’t you call ME?” …. It’s funny, because thinking back, God DID call me then. I was a bucket of tears that day (at age 14, I didn’t EVER cry, so that was rare. 😉 ) But I just chocked it up to being a desire of my own heart and brushed it off. But I haven’t been able to forget that day. If I walked into Grove City’s auditorium, I could tell you exactly where I was sitting, exactly what was happening on stage, and exactly what I did. So now, 8 years later, I am answering that call.
In July, a friend who had been praying with me about what God was doing in my life sent me one of the most wonderful quotes I’ve come across, and it’s is currently written on a post-it note on my beside table, on my coffee table, and by my desk at work:
“ Sometimes God calls you and says ‘wait.” It’s often in the waiting that He’s preparing you.”
I have decided to let God prepare me however He wants.. I will go where He sends me, or I will stay here if He tells me to. I do believe that it is His will for me to go back to the DR, but until then, I am preparing my head and my heart here. I think that it is just as much my job as it is God’s to prepare. So here is how I’m doing that:
- Research: I have begun looking into what it takes to be a missionary. I have researched needs through Nazarene Compassionate Ministries as well as World Vision international. There are some stipulations I have to overcome before pursuing any of that, but I am confident that if this is God’s will, those won’t be roadblocks.
- Mind: I am spending a lot my free time learning Spanish and learning about the culture in the DR. I ask my friends (mostly Carolina, Bobby, and Salvador) TONS of questions about how life works in the DR. I have also bought books about Dominican history.
- Spirit: My heart has been reignited with a passion to learn more about this God I serve. I am currently reading a few CS Lewis books as well as a few books about missions.
- Money: I have begun saving a little bit here and there. I am also living below my means–no Wifi and no cable at my apartment. It is hard just starting off after college because so many unexpected expenses come up. And here soon, I will have to begin paying off student loans. I graduated with TONS of debt (not remorseful—I LOVED my college career and would do it again in heartbeat), but in order to do mission work, you must be relatively debt free. That will be impossible for me for at least 7-10 years. Unless a miracle happens, it’s hard to see how this will be an immediate reality for me. But I am doing what I can right now.
- Investment: I decided to sponsor a child in the DR through World Vision. Until I can physically be there, I want to support these people as best as I can.It is $35 a month. The little boy I sponsor is 7 years old and his name is Nardito. If you are interested, Go HERE.
- Body: I have begun working out on regular basis. In order to be as effective as I can in the DR, I must be in much better shape than I am right now. I want to be a living sacrifice, and for me, that begins by making sure I am ABLE to complete tasks as necessary.
So there you have it. 2.5 months in the making. If you’ve made it to the end of this, I applaud you. This is the most I’ve EVER written in a blog, but there is so much on my heart.
If you could, please pray for me. Pray for doors to open. Pray for my debt load. Pray for miracles. Pray for Beverly as she continues this ministry there. Pray God uses her in big ways. But mostly, pray for the people of the DR. Pray that God reigns supreme there and that each day, new souls are won to Christ. Pray for my friends. Pray for my family there.
Pray that one day, God reunites the family that has been torn apart and that once again, my heart will be at home.