Mission trips give us the opportunity to leave our comfort zones, to step outside the familiar and experience new places, foods, landscapes and customs. Curiosity is encouraged and nurtured and possibilities expand our imaginations. We are asked to do without many things that seem absolutely necessary in the US and learn that we can live quite comfortably with a lot less…of everything. These trips offer the opportunity to grow and strengthen existing relationships with our team members and to make new friends with the people whom we meet and serve and with those who welcome and serve us. On mission trips, it is quite possible to have opportunities to do things you would otherwise never experience. It’s quite possible for doctors to lay block to build a wall around a hospital campus; for teachers to help out in the operating room and for businesswomen to manage a portable pharmacy and comfort and play with little children who come to the medical clinics in rural barrios (villages).

Twenty-five of us flew into Santo Domingo, the modern Caribbean capital city of the Dominican Republic and spent the night in a comfortable air-conditioned hotel. A three-hour bus ride the next morning, through beautiful rural landscapes, small towns and villages, brought us to the Solid Rock International (SRI) Guest House in San Juan de la Maguana, República Dominicana (www.solidrockinternational.com). There we met the staff who would guide us through the week and who helped us all to feel comfortable and welcomed. We moved into our rooms, were given the house rules and had dinner. That night we were warmly welcomed at the Sunday evening worship service of the Evangelical Mennonite Central Church--one of many new experiences for most of us. The Praise and Worship service of modern Christian music was in Spanish, but the song lyrics and an English outline of the sermon were posted on monitors so that we could join in the singing and follow the minister’s message. The English translation was another of the many examples of hospitality that we would experience during our visit in San Juan de la Maguana. After the service, the warmth of welcome by the congregation did not need translation.

San Juan is the capital of the province of San Juan, founded only eleven years after Columbus’s first voyage to the New World. This small city is located in a fertile valley between two mountain ranges in the western region of the Dominican Republic. Some days the clouds rest just above the mountains. On other days the clouds settle below the mountains, making them seem to float on cotton. It is an agricultural center and a university town, home to El Centro San Juan de la Maguana Universidad Autónoma de Santo Domingo. A part of each mission trip includes a walk to the beautiful old Cathedral of San Juan de la Maguana.

For the next four days, our group gathered for an early breakfast and then went to work. There were three work teams on this trip: one team staffed the traveling clinics to the barrios; another worked in the operating room at the Solid Rock Clinic and the third worked to construct the perimeter wall around the new hospital campus. Some people worked with the same group each day, others rotated through the groups and had a taste of each experience.

The traveling clinic visited 4 different barrios, where Doctors Jim Cato, Betsy Trigg and Jeff King, assisted by Solid Rock interpreters, listened respectfully and offered diagnosis, treatment, and dignity to scores of adults and children from groups often marginalized in Dominican society. The doctors had a capable support team. Brenda Crowell RN, Angela Jones LPN, Annette Crout, Shirley Ponder and Patricia Hogg traveled to the barrios every day, managing the portable pharmacy and providing crowd control, kindness and compassion for those who came for treatment or just out of curiosity about these strange Gringos and Gringas. Dr. Jim likes to walk around the barrio and make ‘house calls’ during the lunch break each day. This year that practice afforded him and the team members an opportunity to hold the hand of lovely lady who, after 105 years, is still a participating member of her family and village. Her husband, who is a couple of years older, was out for the day. We were all given the opportunity, though this encounter, to be reminded of, and to appreciate, the value of family and community to health and longevity. The traveling medical team was afforded many opportunities to experience the rural culture of this place. There were numerous opportunities to interact with people who live in different cultural and physical circumstances from our own and to learn how much alike all God’s children really are. Mission trips provide participants opportunities to cross the barriers that divide us, extending the possibilities to learn about the dreams that unite us.

In the operating room at the Solid Rock International Clinic, Doctors Matthew Swan and Jeff King, with a team of skilled OR nurses: Rochelle Rathbun RN/Surgical First Assistant, Terry Wellman CRNA, Brad Coomer RN, Alex Strand RN, and Tina Cox LPN performed 15 surgeries in 4 days, sometimes by flashlight when the public electricity failed and before the clinic generator could kick in. Susan Doughty spent her time supporting the medical teams and in particular providing valuable service for the surgical team and staff. The days were long, the facilities sparse and outdated, but the patients were stoic and for the most part uncomplaining. The need was obvious. The opportunity to help another person, who would otherwise continue to suffer, was humbling. The medical skill, compassion and cooperative attitude of these professionals, all working so well together, were impressive and inspiring. Alex and Brad were in charge of the OR playlist…and some of the more mature members of the team had opportunities to hear music that might we might have never have chosen on our own.

Alyson Brickey RN, Courtney Garrett Hays RN, April Gravley RN, and Rainey Pirtle Germain RN rotated between these two groups lending skill and enthusiasm and, like all of us, exploring the opportunities and possibilities that traveling with a mission provide. These talented young women and the other younger members of our team added so much, promising that the future of missions will continue.

The construction team, Michael Barron, Mike Crout, Todd Jones, David Otto, Jay Ponder, Tom Van Pernis and Jeff King, laid 13 sections of cement blocks in four long days. Those 13 sections are part of the perimeter wall of the new SRI Hospital, scheduled to open in 2018. These guys came home dirty, sweaty and tired every day from working in the tropical sun…but they also wore big smiles as they tossed back and forth good-hearted jibes about who worked hardest…along with a few sore muscle groans. Their opportunity to work shoulder-to-shoulder with local masons, using tools that were far from high-tech, to help construct a modern building helps move the dream of good medical care for this remote place into the realm of the possible and the commitment of SRI board of directors, staff, donors and volunteers is moving the possible toward reality.

When the reality of this building is realized, it will house modern medical equipment, with an adequate generator and clean water system. It will provide space for local physicians and nurses and for visiting medical mission teams to serve this community. Emergency Medical Tech (EMT) training has already begun and there will be a modern ambulance. There will also be space and the technology for distance learning/training and video conferencing so that medical teams here will have access to information and medical innovation from around the world. This campus will offer vastly improved modern medical services, not only to those who can afford to pay and those with insurance, but also to those who cannot afford to pay. The possibility of helping everyone grows into a reality.

For our individual reasons, this age-diverse group of millennials, genXers, baby boomers and an octogenarian, left Nashville and traveled to the Solid Rock International Guesthouse in San Juan de la Maguana, Dominican Republic, to spend a week outside the ‘normal’. We worked and lived together in shared rooms with cold water showers, somewhat less then reliable electric power, and limited Wi-Fi access. Using our respective skills, learning new ones and embracing the opportunity to expand conventional possibilities, each of us for a few brief days tried on ‘different’. Mission trips are usually billed as opportunities to give service to others and the actual work is service-based. Most often the missioner comes home realizing that the experience of receiving far exceeded what we were able to give. I think the same is true for this trip. For the ‘first-timers’ this is a revelation. For those who have gone on other mission trips, there is the expectation of receiving more than can be given. Mission trips could almost be seen as selfish experiences, when you come to the realization of how much YOU need what other, less stuff-affluent cultures have to teach. What we learn about ourselves when we temporarily step outside our culture of immediate gratification is sometimes enlightening.

Mission trips teach us to not be afraid of different; encourage us to want to know what lies on the other side of the hill; require us to be interested in the wellbeing of others. Going requires a bit of self-confidence, trust in your fellow travelers, confidence in the kindness of strangers and acceptance of the will and grace of God. As a team, we hope that those of you who are reading about our trip will find the opportunity to go on your own mission journey in the near or distant future and that you will be blessed, as we have been, by the experience.

© 2022 First Presbyterian Church | 4815 Franklin Pike, Nashville, TN 37220 | (615) 383-1815
Website By Worship Times