A friend of mine just recently returned from Africa where she and a small team from our church spent 2 weeks ministering in small villages, churches and in two of the local brothels. We asked her to share about her experience with the teens last week, and her stories got me thinking about my own experiences that I have been wanting to share here with you.
Last summer Justin and I took a group of about 15 teenagers on a mission trip to the Dominican Republic. We spent ten days in Santiago running kids programs, visiting hospitals, learning about the culture and playing basketball.
The third day we were there, we visited a “barrio,” or in English, a “ghetto” that backed up to the wall of a prison. The barrio was made up of small shacks built from whatever building remnants the occupants could find. Many had dirt floors with only large pieces of cloth serving to divide up the space into rooms. Freestanding water collected everywhere and trash was abundant wherever you looked. The men loitered by the side of the road playing cards and the women chased small, half-naked kids up and down the narrow, dirty streets.
When we arrived at the barrio, we set up camp on the basketball court. Apparently basketball is a very popular sport in the Dominican, second only to baseball, and even the most poverty-stricken neighborhoods have some type of court, usually with large concrete bleachers. The court serves as a type of town center. We planned to spend the day with the kids of the barrio, face painting and playing games and simply being the arms and hands of Jesus.
There were a few kids on the court when arrived, most of them unsure of who all the white people were and what we were doing there. So we sat down with our magic markers and asked the kids if they wanted any face painting. And by “asked,” I mean tried to pantomime what one might perceive as face painting, because none of us really spoke any Spanish.
Up until this point in the trip, many of the teens on our trip were having trouble connecting to the people we were ministering to. There was a language barrier for most of them, and they were intimated by talking to people they didn’t know in language they couldn’t communicate in. They struggled with the awkwardness of using a translator and felt insecure about what they should say or do. I have to admit that I was struggling with them. The beauty of working with kids is that they don’t care about our insecurities – they just want your affection and attention.
At first it was just one or two kids climbing up into my lap to get a flower or a heart on their cheek. Then a few more… then word spread back to the neighborhood, and before I knew it, every member of our team had a crowd of kids surrounding them, clamoring for affection, and a butterfly “tattoo”. I’m sure there were at least 100 kids that came out to play with us that day. It made me think of the multitude that surrounded Jesus just to get a touch from Him, or to hear Him speak to them. It was one of those moments when you know you’re doing what you were made to do…to share the love of He who loves us.
Among the hundreds of kids we met that week, there was one little boy that stole my heart… While we were playing with some of the other kids, he had wandered off and found a plastic garbage bag and a piece of string which he had fashioned into a kite. He spent the entire afternoon tossing the kite off the top of the bleachers trying to get it to fly in the wind, only to have it fall to the ground every time. He tried and tried and tried each time reeling the bag back in, picking it up and tossing it back in the air. In that moment, my heart broke for him.
Will this little boy ever have a real kite? Does he even have clean water to drink? Where will he sleep tonight? Does he go to school? Will he end up in a street gang like so many of the men in the culture?
I’ve thought a lot about the kids we met in the Dominican since we’ve been back. It is so easy for us to go on with our day and pick up dinner and go to the gym and watch TV and worry about our own problems. I’ve come to realize that first world problems aren’t real problems. I am trying to learn to be grateful for what I have and remember to thank God for it. I am trying to think of others before I think of myself. I am trying to be gracious and giving and full of love. And when I think about him, I pray for the boy with the kite.