It was about the third day into the trip that we finally settled into a routine. I was told “you will be hot and grimy by hour one” that was the first truth we learned. What I wasn’t prepared for was the dirt, trash and exposed sewage or the smell of burning plastic.
We traveled in vans and relied heavily on the translators. We spent most of our time in Maggiolos-which means Hole of Pigs - a mixed community of Dominicans and Haitians which sits near a garbage dump where many of the village residents earn their living and feed their hunger. Jobs are scarce. They do whatever it takes to make a living.
We also spent time in Munoz- also a mixed community of Dominicans and Haitians. In Munoz, we saw kids being kids- playing soccer, swimming and having fun. Only their swimming hole, which they shared with the local animals, was polluted and murky. We saw them bathe in it, wash clothes and sneak drinks when they were thirsty from playing in the hot sun.
As we walked through the tightly packed shanty homes in Munoz, it was evident that this was a community. The women were busy-they had chores to do. The kids were playing and older residents visiting. Everyone was sharing life- together. Building community. My second truth was, they may not have much, but they have relationship.
Our team assignment was to visit the families that earned a filter through community based work. Each family goes through an educational program over 5-day period to learn about the need for pure water for hygiene and health, learn to care for their filters and hear the gospel through the story of the woman at the well. The translators are believers and very familiar with the Bible stories we shared, often from English, to Spanish to Creole. The effort to communicate one verse is lengthy and challenging standing in a small, hot, one-room home with dirt floors, open windows and often no place to sit or even room for everyone to enter.
We spent the rest of the week delivering filters, helping with VBS and sharing the Gospel. We prayed. We spent time talking in our broken Spanish with new friends and neighbors. We laughed, and played with the kids. Most of it was normal. But a lot of it was not.
What UTK is doing in the communities of Puerto Plata is changing lives. What they don’t do is encourage dependency on outside sources. UTK brings together mission teams, community leaders and residents to work together to achieve their goals and vision through hard-work and guidance from people who love and care for them. It all starts with building relationship. Working side-by-side in the community. Hiring local staff who are competent and supporting the pastors and the local church.
It was just last year that I started this journey to try and understand exactly what Until They Know really means. I knew in my head the foundations of the ministry. I picked up the lingo and learned to spell Somos Sancocho. But I couldn’t really grasp the day to day struggles and realities of the Dominicans. Going to the DR was life-changing. To have the personal experience of helping to share the gospel and witness the salvation of three people was far more than I expected. This opportunity changed my head knowledge of UTKs mission to a heartfelt understanding beyond the words and photos I share. From the summer staff, drivers, pastors, translators and Brad, I now know first-hand the important role each of them play.
I also learned on my trip that the Gospel is for you, it’s for me, and it is for the people of the DR. Jesus came for those who believe- to remind us of the truth that continues to change us every day. He also came for those who still question. He is and will always be a ray of hope in dark and desperate places.
God has his hand of blessing on this ministry and I am humbled to be a part of it. If you have not been on a trip with UTK, do it! If you can support the ministry through your time or resources, do it. There is still a lot of work to be accomplished and it is going to take ALLof us working together Until THEYKnow.