As the first day in the Dominican comes to a close, I am overcome with gratefulness. Grateful to be surrounded by my teammates and coaches. Grateful to be in the Dominican Republic. Grateful to be serving the Lord with G.O. Ministries.
Redeem people. Renew communities. Restore creation. These three phrases capture the heart of G.O. Ministries. The more I have come to know the missionaries, pastors, workers, and interns who work for G.O., the more I have come to value the way they carry out Christ’s work on the island of Hispaniola.
I first was introduced to G.O. in 2012. My high school basketball coach asked me to go on a mission trip to the Dominican to run a basketball camp. While there, I fell in love with the Dominican culture and with G.O.’s ministry. In 2014, I served with G.O. as an intern for six weeks in the summer. During that time, I reconnected with friends I had made during the first trip. Some of the kids I had led in the basketball camp were now active members of the church youth group. Seeing their growth was such an encouragement. Similarly, working alongside the staff who had served me during the first trip provided tremendous opportunities for growth.
Coming into this trip, I anticipated how God would work in my life and in our team. G.O. focuses on partnership between teams from America and the Dominicans, emphasizing the mutual transformation that takes place as we serve the Lord together. I have experienced the transformation in my own life and am excited to help cultivate it in the lives of my teammates who are in the Dominican for the first time.
-Aaron Murray, Senior
During my time at Indiana Wesleyan University, I have visited many different places with my team. I have gotten the opportunity to serve others as far away as Auckland, New Zealand, and I have now experienced the Dominican Republic on two separate occasions. This time was much different. I have served with my brother, my teammates, my coaches, other athletic department staff, friends of our program, and past players; however, this was the first time I have ever been given a chance to witness God work alongside my father. Like most people, I assume, I don’t see my father as much as I’d like. Life tends to get in the way, and I make choices that take my strongest relationships for granted, but through God’s grace and a magnificent set of men I saw this team open up to my dad.
Spending a week in the Dominican Republic can be overwhelming. I was face-to-face with the most severe poverty that I’ve ever encountered. Filth littered the streets, I saw people making a life in the depths of a literal dump, and children who desired to be held regardless of how foreign I was to them. I struggled through three days of digging, played basketball with people I couldn’t speak to, fed starving children, and worshiped.
All of this can be hard to absorb. Yet, I was able to step back and understand some of what was happening. This trip was affecting us all, and, luckily for me, I was able to watch as my dad was exposed to the Dominican for the first time. I wondered how God would speak to him this week. I’m not sure in what ways God touched him, but I know that it did my heart good to serve next to him. What more could I ask for? I saw my dad open up to new experiences. Moreover, I witnessed my team accept him and treat him as one of the guys.
It’s still hard for me to process all the emotions of the week, but I know I will never forget working side-by-side with my father in the Dominican Republic. I only hope it was as impactful for him as it was for me.
-Lane Mahurin, Senior
As we wrap up our second day in the DR, I am beginning to understand the impact that G.O. Ministries has on the island. Their passion for God and commitment to spreading His word is contagious.
After breakfast and our morning devotion our team headed over to G.O.’s Leadership Development Complex, where they have a vision to develop a large complex that hosts many of their ministries. This would include quality basketball, baseball and volleyball facilities for their sports ministires and also business incubators, dormatories, and a seminary. Our role today was to a cistern that will eventually provide water to run this entire facility. We have been talking about digging ditches for almost a year now as a team, but today we were literally digging a hole in the ground! It was extremely hard work and very hot, but it was a great team bonding experience. There is something about working hard alongside a group of guys like this!
We wrapped up the day with our first game of the week against a team from Santiago called Fenix. They were an athletic, strong and aggressive team that really put us on our heels for the first three quarters, getting ahead by 18 at one point. We fought back and finally took our first lead of the second half with 18 seconds left and won by two. Their physical defense really made us better.
The highlight of my day was when I got to share about ‘IAm3rd’ with both teams after the game. It was my first time talking through a translator, but I could tell the Fenix players were engaged and locked in to what I was saying. It is amazing how basketball can build bridges and break down barriers so quickly.
Our role in helping develop G.O.’s sports complex and competing and connecting with these teams might be a small piece to the puzzle of G.O’s huge vision, but we have become more excited to be a part of what God is doing here in the D.R. We know the impact will be felt for generations to come as many young kids’ lives will be changed forever through G.O. Ministries!
-Grant Evans, Junior
Man, was today an amazing day…
After a delicious breakfast and a great time of devotion, we loaded the vans and made our way back to the cistern. It couldn’t have been five minutes into our digging when dark clouds covered the sky and it began to downpour. The ground quickly became muddy, slippery and nasty, yet everyone continued digging and digging. The work ethic of these guys is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Their desire to serve others and serve the Lord is truly unbelievable, and that’s definitely something that attracted me to this program.
After a couple hours had passed, we had dug about another foot down in the cistern and decided to head back to the church to eat lunch and get some much needed rest. Upon arrival to the church, I began to realize how truly special this program is… We had spent the morning digging a big hole, in the rain, in the Dominican Republic, all for the ultimate purpose of building God’s kingdom. I really don’t believe there is any program in the country that can say they were doing that this morning, and I’m so lucky to be part of one that is.
After our lunch and rest, we packed up the buses once again and headed back to the site to get to work. This time, we had no rain, but a blazing Dominican sun beating down on us. The heat didn’t stop anybody. We got into a routine of having four people in the hole using the pick-axes to free up the dirt and rocks, then we would rotate and have a shovel crew come in to clear it out.
Today’s afternoon session seemed to be our best session yet in terms of progress. At the end of the day, the ditch for the cistern now stands roughly seven feet deep at the lowest point. It’s been incredible to see how far we’ve come in just two days of digging, and I’m proud of how much persistence our team has shown.
Tonight was, in my opinion, the best night yet. The team went to dinner at the local G.O. Ministries Sports residence, a place where the coaching staff can connect and join together in fellowship. We ate a wonderful meal there, and then afterwards we all joined together in a time of powerful worship.
I have to say, there’s nothing quite like what I experienced tonight. Thirty people gathered around one guitar, singing praise to Jesus and listening to the touching stories of how God has worked in the lives of the Dominicans. I think it’s just so cool that I can be a part of continuing the vision that Coach Tonagel had over a decade ago, to be serving the Lord and spreading the light of Christ throughout Santiago. A night like tonight is why I know I made the right decision in coming to Indiana Wesleyan.
-Canaan Coffey, Freshman
Today was one of the most impactful days I’ve had in my time here at Indiana Wesleyan. I came into this week feeling like a seasoned veteran entering my third year on the team and second trip to the DR. I thought I would spend my time focusing on the new player’s experiences and growth instead of my own. As always seems to be the case, when you focus your efforts on others, you end up getting blessed yourself!
It started off as a normal day in the DR. We woke up and had breakfast and a devo led by the coaches and senior Aaron Murray. Then we headed out to the worksite to continue digging a cistern that had now surpassed 8 feet in depth. At lunch time, we left our worksite early to serve lunch to an underprivileged group of kids.
When we arrived at the church, there was a little boy outside eagerly waiting our arrival. As we exited the bus, he jumped up and gave everyone a big high five. His face lit up as each player acknowledged him with an “hola” or “que pasa” as they walked past. I was one of the last players off the bus so I decided to pick him up as I walked by our new companion. The moment I picked him up I was met with a surprise that shook my world.
I had no idea how this small child would react to a very large stranger picking him up. I thought he might scream, tremble in terror, or just start crying. Thankfully, it was quite the opposite. He immediately lit up with the biggest smile, and gave me the BEST hug I have ever received. He wrapped his legs around my back and arms around my neck and just squeezed me with all of his might. What this little boy may never know is how much something as simple as a hug changed my life.
This hug was an act that showed me that God’s love has no barriers. No difference in age, race, social class, or language barriers can stop the power that God reveals to us in different ways. Through a hug, a little boy showed me so much. He taught me that you don’t have use any resources or even words to impact the life of another person. He showed me that sometimes the smallest things make the biggest impact.
-Ben Carlson, Junior
“Man I got it good!” That’s a saying that’s said quite often around our program. You don’t realize how good you actually have it until you visit a place outside of normality. This past week in the Dominican Republic has definitely been one of those places. There have been so many new experiences and people that I have never encountered before. The land is absolutely beautiful here and unlike anything I’ve ever seen. The hurt and brokenness here is also unlike anything I’ve ever seen. A lot of it has been unbelievably humbling.
Today, our team had an opportunity to host a basketball camp for the children of a local community nicknamed, “The Hole.” Why it’s called that I’ll get to later. I’ve been apart of many basketball camps in my lifetime—both as a camper and as a counselor—that have not compared to the fun I had at our basketball camp today. It’s not every day you can teach multiple kids the game you love while simultaneously holding toddlers on your back or shoulders. Many of the children we were teaching had on flip-flops instead of basketball shoes because they were the only shoes they could afford. It really puts into perspective how well off we are in America.
We’re a basketball team but our mission this week hasn’t had anything to do with basketball. It’s been to love people before ourselves. The strength of that love is only magnified when a language barrier is thrown between you and the people you’re trying to communicate with. It has been a challenge to communicate with the people here, but it has reminded me how powerful simple gestures are. Handshakes are a sign of respect. Smiles, hugs, and laughter are a sign of joy and companionship. Not many words need to be said when the aura of love is so prevalent. The children down here are constantly seeking attention, affirmation, and affection. Many of these children are acting out of the absence that they receive of these things back at their homes. It only adds to the sweetness of the fact that for one day, if even just an hour, we get to impact lives in a way that not many people get to do.
After camp ended, we were taken into “The Hole” that I had mentioned. The reason it is called “The Hole” is because of the original landfill that is central to the town built around it. It’s houses are packed in tight together at the bottom of this bowl-shaped town. In the middle is a stream that flows from the mountains surrounding it. The stream is almost impossible to walk through as trash is layered on top of itself all throughout the water. The stench is almost unbearable and the atmosphere exudes brokenness and desolation. Drugs and prostitution are everywhere. A significant drug lord, who takes care of “his” people but mostly at the expense of their well-being, runs the town itself.
However, in the middle of this town is a GO Ministries Church. This church is one of a kind in the sense that it is the only one to exist in “The Hole.” The drug lord who runs the town has allowed GO Ministries to intervene because of the fact that many children are fed daily by this organization. Since the opening of this church, more than 90 people have been baptized and have given their life over to Jesus.
There is darkness surrounding us down here. Around every street corner lie poverty, violence, and sin. However, there are many people here living out James 1:27. We as believers are called to, “take care of the orphans and the widows.” These are a group of people whom I have looked over far too often in my life. After being with many orphans and widows this week, I’ve come to realize the importance of showing the light of Christ who lives in me. I’ve found myself entering the brokenness of many children this week. Their stories dumbfound me. 2 year olds look like 5 year olds and 7 year olds almost seem like teenagers with how fast these children grow up. The children down here have to grow up so fast. We so often take for granted the little things like running water, warm water, air conditioning, and sturdy roofs over our heads. The things we think about as necessities are for the most part, luxuries for people down here.
If there’s anything I’m taking away from this week, it’s that the things that I complain about, the worries I have, and the problems that occur all pale in comparison to the struggles people down here face every day.
Lord, thank you for the blessings you have bestowed upon our program. Thank you also for the blessings you’ve bestowed upon the people reading this who have to be using some type of electronic device to read this which puts them in the top 1% of wealth in the world. The people down here live so simply, yet the complexities and depth of their love are richer and deeper than anywhere I’ve ever been before. I hope to take back at least a piece of the kindness and community that I’ve experienced this week. See you soon America!
-Micah Davis, Freshman
Read more from Micah at http://www.voiceofgenz.org/
After hours of working and sweating in the scorching Dominican sun, we had every reason to quit. We were down 18 to the Fenix Basketball Club with 2 minutes left in the 3rd quarter. In the past, this would have been the moment when our team would have given up and started to ponder what we were having for dinner after the game.
With little hope remaining of a comeback, Coach Whaley called his famous press to raise our energy. I knew that if we could get a few easy turnovers and baskets, this game could turn in our favor. Trevor Waite led the charge with hustle play after hustle play, and really propelled our team into the fourth quarter with a chance to come back and win this game. That energy led to a 34-point outburst in the fourth quarter and Wildcat victory!
There has been so much growth throughout this week from our team off the court that it can be easy to overlook the growth that we had on the court. Last year, our team always had to question our toughness until the final few games of the season. There were many moments that revealed we needed a mindset change during times of adversity. It has been so great to see the members of this team take steps in the right direction when faced with adversity on the court.
It would have been so easy for us to move on from the game after being down 18 points, but we were witnessing to many unbelieving Dominicans who were watching in the stands that night. What would giving up say about our program, but more importantly our relationship with our Savior? Our play has always been a direct testimony to our relationship with Jesus Christ. Although there are clear areas of improvement our team can make, one intangible quality our team is developing is the mindset to never give up. As I head in to my senior year, I am anxious to see how this team continues to grow in this area!
Bob Peters, Senior
Today was the most significant spiritual day of my life.
As we got to the beach excited to finally have a relaxing day to conclude our trip everyone scattered to snorkel, lay out in the sun, or read a book. I chose to find a secluded area on the clear water beach that was surrounded by towering mountains to have some time of prayer and reflection. As I on my way I passed a Dominican girl sitting in the sand playing who smiled at me, but I did not give it much thought. After some time of prayer with God, I headed back to my brothers to relax and have some fun.
After lunch, I grabbed snorkeling gear to head out to the coral reef. I stopped at my chair to put on some sunscreen but I noticed the young Dominican girl who was probably 13 years old walking past me. I immediately noticed how terribly crippled she was! Her left foot was completely deformed in a vertically arched manner. I felt bad for her when I noticed the problem but I was going to just continue on with my day, because after all it wasn’t my problem. Right?
Well, that is exactly when I felt the Holy Spirit prompting me to go talk to her. With my snorkeling gear in my hand I walked up to the girl and offered my snorkeling gear. I tried to engage her in conversation as she began to swim, but she appeared to be ignoring me. As I worked harder to get her attention, she shocked me with some gestures telling me she was both deaf and mute.
After attempting to communicate with her through writing in the sand, a man who was also at the beach came up and joined us. Through a translator, I learned about the tough circumstances of her life. God broke my heart immediately into a million pieces. I felt so many different emotions, but mostly I knew that she needed me to love on her with the love of Christ.
After playing in the sand a little bit longer, Canaan Coffey and I took her to lunch at a nearby food stand. The joyful smile she gave in return was almost unexplainable. As we sat there waiting for her food tears began to stream down my face. The weight I felt and the compassion I had for this girl were overwhelming. My heart truly broke for her.
Cannan and I went back to the beach to play with this young girl. For several hours, my teammates joined in as we made up games to play with each other. It was an afternoon filled with laughter from her and from our team. Right before we left she allowed me to pray for her using gestures. I laid hands on her and pleaded with the Lord for her to be healed and redeemed. I couldn’t have imagined having a heart filled with such love and compassion just a few hours before. Even though she couldn’t hear me when I was praying she was crying by the end of my prayer.
Leaving her was so extremely hard because I have no idea what is going to happen to her. As I got on the bus I went to the back and broke down. I began weeping into Grant Evans arms and he just held on to me. What I had just experienced was far more significant than anything else I have ever done. I am just so glad I listened to the Holy Spirit inside of me telling me to pursue the girl.
This evening has continued to be impactful for me. I experienced God in a worship service we had back at our dorm in ways I never have before. I do not know if I will ever hear what happens next for the young Dominican girl, but I DO KNOW that God called me to pursue that girl and there is a reason for it. And I know that I will be changed forever because of it.
-Grant Zawadzki, Sophomore