This past fall I participated in a Bible study, we read through David Platt’s new book, Follow Me. There were many things that I learned in the course of the Bible study, but the one discussion that stuck with me was the discussion of God’s will. As Christians we often discuss what is ‘God’s will’ for my life. We look at his will as option A or option B. I have used that phrase repeatedly in my journey through life, and have had that thought process as I made decisions. As I read through Platt’s book, I was challenged about that viewpoint. Platt discussed in his book that God’s will isn’t specifically choice A or choice B, but God’s will for us is “…a relationship that God wants us to experience every day.” In Galatians 2:20 Paul writes, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” God’s will for us is to be in communion with him, and to study his word, and to live a life that daily reflects Him.
This theme has stuck with me over the last months as I think about my time serving at Pathway to Jesus. As I wrote in my November update, this year has turned out very differently than what I expected. I thought God’s will for me was to support and train teachers at Pathway to Jesus. I have struggled with justifying my time in the DR and have questioned whether it was God’s will for me to even be here. God’s will for me is relationship with Him and my prayer is that I am daily cultivating that. I am encouraged by the fact that even though my finite mind cannot understand exactly what his purpose for me is, I know that my responsibility is to stay in communion with Him. As I serve day in and day out, I am grateful that His will is playing out, even though it is not what I pictured it to be.
So, all that to say, what have I been up to? My days are so diverse and each day is spent differently. Here’s a list of some of the tasks that I complete day in and day out to support Pathway to Jesus.
- Organizing materials and creating a system for check-in and checkout of the limited resources that the school does have.
- Coordinating volunteers and visiting groups.
- Supporting teachers in discipline, working with students that need extra support in learning how to behave in school.
- Mapping a K-7 Bible Curriculum
- Creating a 4-7 Art lesson resource
- Coordinating teacher work days
- Supporting Shelley Hernandez, Carrie & Eddy Ramos in decision-making on the administrative level of the school.
- Working directly with teachers, answering questions, and supporting them as they teach.
- Encouraging and showing the love of Christ to each and every person I encounter.
As I list these tasks, I think it’s important to communicate what I’m doing, however I have learned that the number one task I am accomplishing is living a life that reflects Christ, and spurs on each person I encounter to be in relationship with our great God.
As I end this novel, I want to say thank you again for your continued prayers and financial support. I am blessed by a community of believers and supporters and I know that it’s through your prayers, that God has strengthened me on this journey. As I mentioned back in November, I will be heading back to the states on April 14. This is about 8 weeks shy of my original commitment, however with my upcoming marriage, God has led Anthony and I to make this decision for our future. Many of you may be wondering how this affects the financial support that I raised. I will continue working and supporting Pathway to Jesus from the States and will receive the financial support through the month of May. My original budget was set through May and so for the last 6 weeks of my budgeted support, I will be working stateside. Any additional funds that I have raised will go to support Pathway to Jesus.
Crown Point team hard at work on the second level of the office building.
Building relationships and blessing kids!
Crown Point Team
Garage Sale with the grannies.
These last 2 weeks have been quite the change of pace, and have been very good! Two weeks ago we welcomed a group of 9 hard workers from Crown Point, IN. They came eager to work, serve, and love on our kids. I spent the week translating, encouraging, and getting to know the team. Through out the week, there were multiple conversations about what it means to serve others, and what it means to come on a trip like that. The conversations were challenging, and encouraging. I think the highlight of the week for me was spending 2 afternoons bringing team members to the homes of the children they sponsor. It was encouraging to hear the testimony of the families as they welcomed us into their homes shared about their lives, the good parts and the hardships. The same story resonated in each home though, a deep gratitude for the sponsorship, helping their child get an education much higher than they would receive in the public school. It was neat to see the lives of both the sponsored child and the sponsor be blessed by the connection.
Last week we were blessed with Grannies on a Mission! Ruth Boss and Karen Hoekstra (Carrie’s mom), came with a mission to love and bless. They spread Christ’s love through organizing, serving a brunch, and coordinating a garage sale that raised funds for the school. They also came bearing lots of gifts for the staff, students, and other important people in our community. The garage sale was a neat opportunity to not only raise funds for our school, but also to provide the neighboring community with affordable clothes.
My year here has been quite an experience and I’m constantly thinking about what God is teaching me through this experience. There have been highs and lows, and I’m continually wondering what it is exactly that God is doing. I leave you tonight with the latest lesson, one that I’ve been humbled of continually over the last 7 months. My time here is not about me or the impact that I can make. It is all about how God is being glorified, and how his kingdom is being advanced. My daily prayer is “Lord use me, may others see YOU in me, and may YOUR purpose play out in my day.”
I am very thankful that Timothy Christian has given me this year’s leave of absence to serve at Caminito de Jesús. My prayer through this time is to not only bless the staff, kids and families at Caminito de Jesús, but to also continue to continue to cultivate a spirit of service in my former students at TCS. It has been fun to keep up with a handful of families. I also had fun with a visit from Flat Stanley. Flat Stanley is a project that the 3rd graders at TCS participate in. Each student receives a Flat Stan to color and then send out to a friend or relative to have an adventure. Ryan, a former student, sent me his Flat Stan and I had fun showing Flat Stan around the DR. Last week we had an unexpected afternoon off school and so I took the time to put the pictures and videos I took into a fun video. I had a lot of fun and hope you enjoy a quick visit to the DR with Stan~ it even includes some sunshine!
In addition to having some fun with Stan, things at school have been going very smoothly! I was very refreshed to be back after my 3 weeks in the states. My new perspective and daily prayer is that God uses me, that I am serving selflessly, that I give grace in interactions, and that my life is a reflection of the Lord. This perspective has helped me in my day to day work, and I’m consistently thankful for the opportunity to be here. Next week my position is going to shift a little bit as we are hosting a work team from Crown Point, Indiana. Please pray that the experience can be positive for the team, for safety, for health, for good weather, and for a time where God is honored.
Well it turns out that I’m holding true to my sporadic blogging reputation. I’m a week back in the DR after a wonderful 3 weeks in the states and I thought it would be fun to recap both my Dominican and American Christmas experiences. I enjoyed both thoroughly, however both were uniquely different.
Christmas in the DR is celebrated beginning in September. There are decorations on the houses, in the stores, and beginning in October the Christmas carols are piped through the stores. The excitement grows and by December the air is charged with energy for celebrating the holiday. Pathway to Jesus celebrates Jesus birth with Christmas programs and Christmas parties. There was a lot of time spent rehearsing in the classrooms and by the end of December both the elementary and preschool classes were ready to present Jesus’ birth in their own special way. Both programs permeated Christ and were a great opportunity to share the story of our Savior’s birth. The last celebration was the staff Christmas party. This was my favorite Dominican Christmas tradition. We all gathered at the kindergarten teacher’s house and had an animated time! There was lots of laughter, many pictures taken, and a buffet that was charged the minute amen was spoken. It was a blessing to experience a Dominican Christmas in a new way and beautiful to celebrate Jesus’ birth in a different culture.
After celebrating a Dominican Christmas, I had the chance to head home and experience an American Christmas, including a sweet reunion with Antho! We spent the gift of 3 weeks together with my family, his family, and friends, as well as getting a chance to make a dent in wedding planning. It was a blessing to have the chance to reconnect and spend time together in the same place, rather than via FaceTime.
Brookfield Zoo Lights with the family
Family trip to the Shedd Aquarium
MN bound Christmas day
So Much Snow
Much needed Date day in the city
Honest moment here, I really don’t like blogging. I think about it all the time and as I read all these eloquent blogs, I think to myself, how do people do it? Every time I sit down to write a blog post it turns into hours of staring at the computer screen thinking, what is the best way to articulate beautifully the ramblings of my mind. So, I thought I’d give it a raw shot today, just shoot out there random thoughts and experiences I’ve had over the last month since I’ve appeared on this blog. Here goes nothing, just going to ramble as the thoughts come to me…consider yourself warned!
- I am proud of the growth of my Spanish. I have really been able to communicate more clearly with both the teachers and the students. My vocabulary is daily growing, but my verb tenses are still all confused. I’m grateful for the graciousness of the Dominicans.
- I have been working continually on developing Bible curriculum. As I sort through the important stories in the Bible and organize them to fit Pathway to Jesus, I realize there’s so much Bible knowledge that I can still learn.
- I’m enjoying the teachers at Pathway to Jesus more and more. Time is a great thing; it has allowed me to earn the privilege to share more with them as well as make some great friends. Serving others is all about building relationships and valuing them for who God created them to be. Also, baking for them will make them all your best friend.
- Dominicans are blunt. I’ve been told many a time exactly what to wear, what I should eat, and every time I cough, what medicine I should take. In the midst of their bluntness, they care deeply for each other, and even me.
- My purpose here is not to say my culture is better than your culture, but to value a kingdom culture and work with the teachers to grow the kingdom.
- Everyday is a new day to face, and life should be approached one day at a time.
- I am grateful for FaceTime, gchat, and iMessage. We’ve almost made it through the first 4.5 months of this long distance engagement, only 17 more days until a sweet Christmas reunion, but who’s counting?
- I was able to sneak away to the beach to celebrate Thanksgiving with some teachers from SCS. I am so grateful for the chance to get away, as well as the ironic moment of having to pause on our trip to let 6 turkeys cross the road. Really, that happened.
- I haven’t taken enough pictures, sorry! I’ll try to work on that.
Wow, that was probably the quickest post that I’ve written, I should try rambling more often. As I reflect on it all, I come back to gratitude. God continues to stretch me, peel away my layers, chip away at me, and grow me in ways that I’m so grateful for. God is good, and his constant companionship is what I turn to daily as I continue on my journey here in the DR.
When God called me back to the Dominican Republic to help build up the teachers at Pathway to Jesus, I had big plans and big ideas of the best way that I could support them. I had visions of teaching them great classroom management strategies, building their teaching method repertoire, and strengthening the curriculum. I arrived in country ready to help them in a way that I felt was best. If you notice a theme in those thoughts, they all revolve around the word “I.” Needless to say, I have been humbled.
My work here has not played out at all in the way that I had anticipated. As I have observed, interacted, and contemplated on my experience so far, I realized that first and foremost I need to step back and take time to learn. I need to value and appreciate the culture within which these teachers are teaching. I need to learn more about their everyday life beyond school. I need to build relationships. I need to learn the background to their teaching and management strategies. I need to show them I value them individually and desire to serve them. I am not here to impose my background and experience on them, but rather to value the good that they are doing, encourage them, and provide them with opportunities to grow within the context of their culture.
I have found this process of learning so enriching. I am learning the beauty of the Dominican culture, as well as the difficulty of the lives many of these teachers are living. I am learning the struggles of education in this country. I am learning how to support them in the context of their lives. I have had to shift my big ideas and my big plans to the simple prayer of “Lord, use me.” In order to teach and train, I need to step back and learn. When I step back and learn, it’s ultimately these smiling kids that are going to benefit.
Well, here we are three weeks after my last post and nothing..sorry! First and foremost, I want to continue to thank all of you out there that are praying for me, for Pathway to Jesus, and placing this year in God’s hands. I am continuing on my adventure and here is a few more things that I’ve been up to.
Alex, Kathy, and Sara Pereyra
Family trip to Ocean World, complete with birds eating off my hands!
..and a full fledged dolphin show!
I have been blessed to be living with the Pereyra’s. Kathy and I worked together at SCS when I was here from 2003-2008 and I actually taught Sara kindergarten! We have had a lot of good laughs and I am so blessed by their generosity and spirit of Dominican hospitality. I am being treated like one of the family and even headed to Ocean World with their church on a holiday in September. They are a blessing to me.
These 2 girls have been a big part of my life the last 2 months. Carrie (left) works as the preschool director at Pathway to Jesus and Allie (right) is a dear friend who still teaches at SCS, after I recruited her there 8 years ago! It has been such fun to enjoy Friday afternoon ice-cream dates as well as other special times together!
Life at Pathway to Jesus continues to be an adventure. There was a Monday 2 weeks ago that we headed to school for a normal day only to find out that there was a protest in the neighborhood. A Dominican ‘strike’ consists of the people in the neighborhood burning tires and logs in the street to prove a point about an improvement they see necessary for their neighborhood. This specific strike was in pursuit of improved roads. Our students were not in immediate danger, however getting to and from school was unsafe and so we had to close school for 2 days. Other than that I’m keeping busy working with teachers, interacting with students, working on Bible curriculum and providing support in whatever way possible.
I also just got spend a week reconnecting with my dear fiancé! Antho flew down last Monday and we were able to spend a week full of quality time, as well as giving him the full experience of my life here. It was SO great to be back together and wonderful to be able to give him a picture into my Dominican life.
God continues to grow, stretch, break, and build me in my time here. I am daily thankful for the new things he is teaching me and how He is opening my eyes daily to more of Him.