Friday, September 4, 2015


The teacher of my class of whom I was assistant to became such a significant part of this trip for me. So much so that I have to use an entire post to talk about her. Her name is Marina, and she’s the best teacher I’ve ever met. This was partly due to her experience as a middle school teacher during the school year. For example, on the first day of VBS, me and Marina’s niece and daughter (who were my two awesome helpers), set up the chairs in our room in several rows. But when Marina saw this, she suggested that we put the chairs in a half-circle around the room, so that we would basically stand in the middle of the class. This proved to be a much better set up, because it allowed us to interact at a more personal level with the kids.
 But her teaching skills weren’t only due to her experience, they also had to do with her character and her evident love for her students. Through her example, she showed me how to engage the students in a bible lesson. The other teacher’s assistants in my team kept telling stories about how rowdy their kids were, and how hard it was to get them to sit still and listen. This is what made me realize how amazing my teacher was. I mean, all the other teachers were wonderful. But Marina seemed to have developed a special connection with the kids in my class, because for the most part during the bible lesson, they were enthralled. Even I was entranced by the bible lessons. She made them sound so beautiful and thrilling. She had the skill of really capturing the awesomeness of God in each lesson, and it made me so thankful she was there. No way could I have taught the lessons in the same way. Besides her teaching skills, Marina also radiated Christ through her actions. She showed love to me and every child she talked to.  She showed genuine care and interest in my life by asking me how the trip was going, what was my life was like at home, and helping me prepare my testimony when it was my turn to share it with the children. She also encouraged me to pray more when I noticed how every day, right before VBS started, she would shut herself into an empty classroom and pray for about 10 to 15 minutes. Seeing this reverent action reminded me who we were doing this for, and that we can’t do it without Him. It made me realize that the secret to Marina’s success was simply Jesus Christ.
                                                                  That's her.

My Class

After a few days of preparation, VBS week finally came. I’ve gotta admit, I was nervous. I mean, how would the kids be? Would I be able to communicate clearly with my Spanish? Would they just ignore me if I couldn’t speak well? I was a teacher’s assistant, and my class would have about seventeen 11 and 12 year olds. That was an important age, because it’s when you start figuring out who you are and what you believe in. And I felt like at any moment I could screw it up. I prayed A LOT that week. But from the very first day, I found that when I spoke Spanish to these kids, even though I did speak it poorly, they were super understanding. They actually HELPED me remember words and phrases. And God actually used them to help me get my point across. It was crazy because the people who I was trying to help ended up helping me. It was very humbling to me, because I realized that I was trying to be a perfect Spanish speaker. But on this earth, there is no such thing as perfect. And my class understood that way better than I did. As the week went on, I really got to know these kids. And the more I got to know them, the more my heart ached for them. So many had grown up either Roman Catholic or without any real beliefs at all. They grew up feeding on lies. Most of them had no real exposure to the truth. When the teacher asked how many had been to a church, most of them raised their hands.  But then when she said “A non-Catholic church”, all of them except 2 lowered their hands. But what really made an impact on my heart, was how they then seemed very confused at that point, because they didn’t even know there was a difference. It really opened my eyes to see the need for the love of Jesus and the true gospel to be spread in the Dominican Republic. Catholicism has a strong hold on that country. And the need for outreach is great.
                                                                      My two favorite girls

The Orphans

The day after we arrived to the D.R., we spent the day with a large group of endearing orphans. We did a bible program with them, preformed a puppet show about Noah, made gospel bracelets with them, and shared a meal. Something that caught me by surprise while we were with them, was how much they looked out for one another. The older ones were always helping the younger ones. Those who knew how to do the craft would help the ones who didn’t. I was moved by how closely knit they all seemed, even though many of them came from rough backgrounds. It was like despite the fact that many of them no longer had their own separate biological families, they had all created their own giant family together. They proved to me that to be family, you don’t have to be blood related.
My main responsibility during that time with them, alongside my friend Katie, was to help get some games going. In my head I pictured that game time going perfectly: All the kids would be sitting in a perfect circle in a nice room, eagerly listening and waiting for us to explain to them how to play a fun game. And I would proceed to explain it to them in flawless Spanish. But what happened was NOT at ALL what I was imagining. Instead, envision this: After a few hours of sitting down all morning and evening, listening to bible lessons, making crafts, and eating lunch, about 50 children from a variety of ages let loose their energy and started running around on a large field, yelling and horsing around under a hot sun. And Katie and I trying, though seemingly to be in vain, to get them to play an organized game. And every time I tried to speak Spanish, I would forget a bunch of words and forsake correct grammar all together. Simply put, it was chaotic to me. That was reality in the D.R. And it smacked me right in the face. I really lost confidence in that moment and started to doubt whether I should do anything at all. But then, I felt something inside me prodding me forward, as if the Holy Spirit was nudging me and saying, “Come on Leslie, try.” So I did. And somehow, with my kindergarten level Spanish skills, we got some of the kids to actually participate in a game. And they ENJOYED it. So much so, that they actually wanted to play another game! God used that whole ordeal to show me that if we can just set aside our insecurities, put our trust in Him, and make some effort, we can bring joy into the most chaotic moments.


My Host Family

When we got to the Dominican Republic, we split into groups of 2 or 3, and were distributed to different homes to be hosted by members of the church we were working with in Santiago. Each host family volunteered to share their homes and take care of us for a few days until VBS week. At first I was thinking, “I hope I don’t intrude on their lives or get in the way or anything.” But when I entered the home of my host family, the Zapatas, I was blown away. They were incredibly kind and generous hosts. They made us feel so welcome and at home. I was most struck with their genuine care and thoughtfulness. They made sure our food was always washed with purified water so we didn’t get sick. They packed a generous lunch for us when we were out working all day. Whenever we needed something, or even just kind of wished for something, they would make it their top priority to get it for us. And I don’t just mean for our physical needs, though those things were met famously. They also cared about our lives. To them, we weren’t just a few bodies to keep alive for a few days. They saw us as people with hearts, minds, and souls. Through their example, they showed me what a difference you can make in a relationship by intentionally reaching out and seeking to connect.  I remember one night specifically, we were sitting on the rooftop of their house, and they wanted to know all about our lives. Like what we wanted to be in the future, what our lives in the U.S. were like, what our interests were. They genuinely wanted to connect with us. It made me feel loved, and showed me what it truly means when the Bible says to love your neighbor as yourself. And now I feel like I’m a part of another family who lives in the Dominican Republic, and that I left part of my heart with them.

The couple in the middle and their daughter in the blue dress are the Zapatas.

The Team

This trip required TONS of preparation. With all the fundraisers, lesson planning, supply preparations, memorizing skits, and spiritual preparations, the mission team had a busy school year. And I quickly learned how important it is to have a good team who’s willing to work. God really blessed this trip with a wonderful team. I was truly struck by the great attitudes of each member. I never heard a single complaint or grumble. Everyone seemed to authentically enjoy serving in this way. During one fundraiser in particular, we had to load, unload, and spread a ton of pine straw under the hot sun. My entire body was aching by the end of it, and I was sweating out a river. I was actually thinking to myself, “Man, I can’t wait to be done with this.” But then I heard something. Was someone whining or even crying? No, believe it or not, it was someone laughing. Several people actually. The other team members were joking around, laughing, and ENJOYING the strenuous labor. Watching them have joy in the midst of pain really encouraged me and convicted me. It encouraged me to persevere, and it reminded me what and who we are doing this for. It’s not for ourselves and our own comfort and pleasure. It’s for the Lord, the giver of everlasting joy.

Another thing that God showed me during all the preparations is the importance of teamwork. During one of our regular meetings, we were discussing all the money we needed to raise and the work we had to do for the trip. And honestly, I felt kind of overwhelmed. How in the world were we supposed to do all that in a few months? But God showed me that with prayer and teamwork, great things can happen. During the yard sale fundraiser, we basically had a giant pile of stuff to sort through and organize for the yard sale. Seeing the amount of work there was, I figured we would be done organizing everything sometime in the next decade. But once all the team members, plus some volunteers, got busy sorting through it all, it was done in no time! There was no possible way someone could’ve done it on their own. In fact, none of the preparations could’ve been done by one person. But God didn’t intend for us to be on our own. And after each fundraiser was set up, God always provided more than enough funds to come through. And through that, God showed me that if we plant the fields, He’ll grow the crops.
I'm the girl on the side with the pink skirt :)

One of our regular prep meetings

Yard Sale Prep (I'm the one with the chair)

My Community Service Learning Journey

Hey guys! Long time no post ;)

I want to share with you an experience I had this summer. These past few months I have been taking a course called Community Service Learning. It’s a wonderful online course, and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to grow spiritually and mentally, all while earning college credit. It’s taught me what it really means to serve, and how important it is. I’ve also learned a lot about myself through the process, such as what some of my strengths and weaknesses are, and who God is calling me to be.

For this course, I needed a service project, in order to practice and expand on what I’ve been learning about service. So I chose to use a short term mission trip to the Dominican Republic that my church, Faith Bible Church, alongside my parents, were planning. This mission trip has been done several times before by my church, and its team members were always from the youth group, with the exception of some. I have been on every single one of these trips, largely because my parents are the main coordinators, but mostly because I love the D.R. :D  Each of the trips have been special and unique in their own way, and I always learn a lot through each one. But the trip this year in particular was without a doubt the most spiritually, emotionally, and mentally enlightening one that I’ve ever been on. That was mainly because God used this course to make this trip really impactful on my life. In these next few posts I am going to be sharing some things that I learned on this trip and how they influenced my life.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

This makes me want to live amongst the wildflowers and become a bee keeper.