We started off the day with a trip to Spring in the Desert, a daycare in the town of Aleman. We spent the morning playing, talking (Spanglish?) and laughing with the kids. We brought them some basketballs to play with which they loved since there were absolutely no toys to be found. There were no balls, no toy trucks, no dolls, no sea saws. The toy of choice was a large, steel, bird cage-type object that the kids were climbing in. For people like me who do not excel in the relating-to-children area of life this was a little bit of a stretch, especially since there weren’t any toys to help entertain the kids. Add the language barrier to the situation (4 years of high school Spanish really did not come in clutch) and you have a very awkward and uncomfortable Taryn. But during that awkward and uncomfortable moment of standing and searching for the most anti-social, tired child who would require the least amount of effort, I realized that it’s not about me. This entire trip is not about me. How could I stand there after seeing the lack of toys and the dirt yard and the steel bird cage and not lose my self-centeredness. I realized that no amount of toys or language barrier can stand in the way of spreading Jesus’ love. His love overcomes all barriers. The morning turned out wonderful. The kids really warmed up to us and leaving them was so hard.
After a great morning and a hearty lunch it was time to get down to business. We had a game against the Dominican Republic Women’s National team to win. We trekked into the capital and laced up. With zero practices under our belt and it being our first game to play together as a new team, the odds were against us. But did we let that stand in the way of the Lady Golden Eagles? Probably not! 62-61. We pulled out the W!
We hopped in the bus and headed back to Score where a huge Argentine barbeque awaited us. After dinner we came together for a team devotion where we shared ways that we saw God working. Some of those ways: the smiles on the faces of the children, the way we bonded with the national team through basketball, and the selflessness of the volunteers at the day care. Despite the heat it was a great day!
I think it’s now officially safe to say that we survived our first hurricane. Erica was supposed to hit hard this afternoon and it did rain quite a bit and get pretty windy, but we didn’t notice much of a difference from the bad storms we get at home. We were supposed to go to the Sugarcane Village this morning, but because of the rain we went to a girls’ orphanage instead. It was a little bit of a different experience than the daycare we went to yesterday. The entire orphanage was fenced off but inside was kind of like a little oasis. Everything was green and there were all kinds of pretty tropical flowers and nice palm trees. We got a little orientation at the beginning, where they told us the backstory of the place. It was started by a lady named Dalma when she took in a girl who had Down Syndrome.
In the Dominican culture it is oftentimes considered shameful to have a handicapped child so this girl’s mom treated her almost like a dog. She was forced to crawl on all fours and sleep in a cage. When her mom died, she was taken in by Dalma, who provided for her and showed her the love she needed. Over time, Dalma took in more and more orphans and children in need. Many of them were abused mentally, physically, and sexually in ways we couldn’t even imagine. Currently there are around 47 girls ages 1-18 in the orphanage, where they are provided with food, shelter, education, and most importantly, love. They are taught the gospel and we were struck by the way they praised God passionately despite everything they have been through. We were able to play on the playground with them, play with the basketballs we brought, play cards, and give them necklaces and some candy which they loved. Before we left, all the girls got together and sang us a couple of songs. It was so neat to see them so excited to sing for us and praise Jesus so joyfully – and they were really good singers! But I think one of the most touching parts of the morning was when the leader prayed at the end and the girls all started to quietly sing “We praise Jesus.” After the prayer they invited us to join in and it was very powerful. They have been through more than we could ever imagine and yet they are able to so easily let us in and glorify God for all they do have.
It really puts us to shame when we complain about the size of our dorm rooms or McDonalds messing up our order. It was really hard to leave them – especially when we saw how they reacted to our love and attention. By the time we got back and ate a little lunch, the storm had really picked up… so naturally we decided it would be a good idea to walk out to the beach and see the storm up close! It was pretty windy and there was already a tree down on the way but it was so cool to see the storm at the beach. The waves were huge and the wind was driving the sand against our legs. I think we all felt like storm chasers and got some pretty awesome pictures to prove we were actually that brave J When we got back we were still feeling adventurous and were already soaking wet, so we decided to jump into the pool! We made up some creative games – like acting out animals as we jumped in and creating a massive whirlpool. I don’t know that I’ve laughed that much in a long time. Our game was canceled in the afternoon because of the storm, which was kind of a bummer. But we made the most of our time by playing lots of games like spoons and Up-Jenkins. We also went to a separate room and shared testimonies and life verses, God sightings from the day, and ways we can support each other as teammates. Several of us talked about how this isn’t exactly how we planned the trip, but we’ve made the most of the time we have and have really bonded and grown closer. I can’t say how much I love this team and how excited I am to spend the year with them!
I’m glad to say we survived Hurricane Erika! We woke up Saturday morning and headed to the capital to play our game against Teresa’s (a legend at basketball down here) team. On the way there we all looked at the broken trees, ripped billboards, and numerous Dominicans cleaning up the destruction. We arrived at an old gym in the middle of the capital and laced up our shoes, ready to being our second game in the Dominican. Before starting the game, I found myself complaining about how hot our first game had been just days before. Soon after the game started, I realized that I was in fact mistaken, the second game was definitely the hottest gym I have ever played in (I’m sure I will say the same thing about our third game). But then I realized that I had nothing to complain about. People down here not only have to play in this heat pretty much all year, but they have to live in it as well. Many Dominicans do not have the luxury of all of the things we have access to, live an air conditioned gym or home.
Anyways, the 40 minute battle ended with the Golden Eagles coming shy from a win. But even after the competition on the court, we were still able to connect to the opposing team, despite our language barrier. As we prayed with them, you could feel an ease in the gym, like that God was connecting all of us in some way or another.
A trip back to SCORE shortly lead to an adventure back to the capital to experience the midday culture of the Dominican. We arrived at the straw market where we tested out our bargaining tactics. To much of our surprise, we were not all that terrible at it! Hats, purses, and bracelets later, we were back on bus to take a trip downtown to the streets of Santo Domingo. There we experienced more shops, music, and many architectural features that were so beautiful, no words could describe it. A city that is so poverty stricken, could be so beautiful once you saw all of God’s beauty behind it. I am truly blessed to be able to have experienced such a beautiful culture and city.
After spending hours in the city, we again boarded up the bus to cheer on the CU Volleyball team. Once we arrived, it came to our attention that the lights in their gym had gone out shortly before the game was due to start. Twenty minutes later and midway through one of the volleyball player’s testimony, the lights suddenly reappeared, as if a sign from God!
One game into their match, we boarded a bus again for a dinner at all of our favorites, Pizza Hut (which is apparently a fancy restaurant down here!). Waiting for the pizzas, we all found ourselves complaining how hungry we were, but were soon brought into perspective about the children we had visited earlier in the week, who may have gone days without eating.
Eighteen pizzas later, our hungry stomachs we once full again. However, going to bed that night made us think about all of the blessings we have received in America and the Dominican. We are blessed to have food, shelter, and family who loves us, which many Dominicans cannot say that they have.
Sunday started with a trip to the nearest church. Going into there, I wasn’t sure what to expect due to the language barrier. With a translator, were able to listen to the sermon in Spanish and English. Many of the songs were sang in Spanish, but you would still be the presence of God. The power and love of the Lord was apparent all throughout the sermon and songs. The Pastor spoke a lot about being humble and how easy it is to say that we are a Christian, yet boast about things for ourselves that is deserving for the Lord. Being an athlete and a Christian, this hit right to the heart. It is so easy to take credit for something that isn’t really ours. Instead, we should give credit to God and thank Him for all the opportunities possible. Even being down here is truly a blessing from God. I love being able to experience everyone else’s culture and understand how God has blessed us so much. You see so many people on the streets or in poverty stricken environments that are so poor, yet can see all of God’s beauty. Inspiring!
A few hours by the pool soon lead to a trip back to the Girl’s Home that we visited our third day here. Here, were able to reconnect with the girls and share our love to them. Instead of playing basketball this time, we instead resorted to arts and crafts which the girls absolutely LOVED! It was so touching to see their smiling faces while they were able to step out of their comfort zone to include us in their daily lives. Nearing the end of the visit, we listened again to the girls sing, which sounded like voices of Angel’s. Ginny from SCORE explained to us how the owner of the home would use singing as healing. Being in their presence during that moment makes you understand what she means. As goosebumps formed on our arms, you could feel the love that God has touched each and every one of those girls. The trip ended with a Happy Birthday song from the girls to our one and only SARAH, who will be 19 Monday!
As we end the night, I look back on all the moments I am able to connect with not only my teammates, but each of the girls we have touched during our time down in the Dominican. I am blessed to be able to have spent this opportunity with all of the wonderful young women that were all placed into my life by God. He has blessed each and every one of us so much which can only be more apparent as our time down in the Dominican comes to an end.
God bless you all!