I had an AMAZING time in the DR. It was the most eye-opening trip I have ever taken. It was filled with opportunities and experiences that allowed my faith to grow so much stronger.

Each day God reiterated simple but very important lessons He needed to remind me:
1. There is hope.
2. Love is an universal language. You do not need to speak the same language to spread the love of God.
3. The financially poor are the richest in faith.
4. If you get out of your comfort zone to serve, you will be the one to be served.
5. If you don’t take time to relax and reflect, you will not learn what you need to learn. You will get caught up in a routine, instead of living day-to-day serving God.
6. Living in an area with sterile equipment, up-to-date medical procedures, and doctors is a huge blessing. Also, the medical field is the career path for me.
7. Surround yourself with people who are in love with Jesus.
8. You sometimes have to give more than you want, BUT you will receive more than you could ever imagine.
9. God listens to every part of every prayer and he will answer, in time. Be patient. Don’t lose faith.
Bonus lesson: The kids in Los Cocos have stolen my heart so I am definitely going to have to go back.

I could go on forever, but those were the main lessons reiterated throughout each day.

Going into this trip, I was terrified. I had no idea what to expect. I didn’t think I had anything to give, but I knew I needed to go. I thought, if nothing else, I would probably get a different perspective. Not only did I come back with a new stamp on my passport and a new heart, I came back with unforgettable memories, life-long friendships, prayers answered, my spiritual cup filled, and so much more.

I would live without air conditioning, hot water, technology, and food/clean water for every meal for the rest of my life, if that is what it takes to have the faith the people of Los Cocos have. The amount of love they project is unrealistic to even think about being shown in America. Their smiles are the biggest, hugs are the longest, and their love is the most genuine.

Katie Sitton

This past week in the Dominican Republic has been so amazing! I saw people live in ways no one ever should. I’ve also experienced things I never thought I would, such as living without air conditioning, having no hot water for showers, brushing my teeth out of a window, eating new foods, doing manual labor for long hours in the hot sun without power tools, and being placed in an environment where my only option was to speak a language I barely know. Although I was terrified at first and thought this was crazy, I am beyond thankful I had this opportunity and I knew God had a plan and was with me every step of the way. It has given me a completely different view of what “poor” and “starving” really mean. Now more than ever, I am thankful for everything God has blessed me with. Seeing the Dominicans who have close to nothing but are still so on fire for God has inspired me. And seeing the faces of the kids when I fed them food and water made all the hard work worth it. I also made some amazing new friends on this trip who are now my Dominican family. I can’t wait to return and reunite with them all again!!!

Casie McKinney

I had an experience of a lifetime and I will never forget the amazing memories that I made with some amazing people that I now call my family.

Going on this mission trip has really opened my eyes to a lot. When I left for the Dominican I didn’t expect much. Growing up we are always told that America is the greatest county. Land of the free and home of the brave, right? Now don’t get me wrong; I love my country, but it’s not until I left, did I realize how pampered and ungrateful America is.

One thing that really stuck out to me is that on the bus ride full of American tourists not one person talked, we all sat in silence on our phones, but on the 2 hour bus ride full of the Dominican missionaries we laughed, talked, and sang the whole ride. It made those two hours fly by.

What really touched my heart the most is the love that the children in Boca Chica have. They have absolutely nothing, yet they still find ways to give. We went there to serve them, but really we were the ones being served. I can personally say that all of us missionaries learned something from those children.

I got to experience first hand that love really is a universal language.

I left a piece of my heart in the Dominican and one day I will go back to find it.

Sydney Haddox

I always saw pictures of the way that some people live in other countries but I always brush them off because they were someone else’s memories of things that they saw and experienced. I didn’t have the emotion behind the pictures, but now I do and the things I saw I can’t even describe some of them. The experience was just so intense: children who were literally starving and had no access to healthcare, no food and sometimes no safe water to drink that wouldn’t make them sick, all while being stuck in the heat that literally makes your pores sweat waterfalls. I am so thankful that God wanted me to go on this trip with the group of people that I did. I will forever remember this experience. The experience of being stuck out in the heat sweating profusely all day long while doing manual labor with no power tools, not being able to sleep at night sometimes because it was just so hot and there was no air-conditioning, being eaten alive by mosquitoes, taking cold showers because there was no hot water and even having to brush my teeth out the window. Having the determination to continue to do construction work and outreach work after having my foot lodged between a boulder and a wheelbarrow full of heavy rocks, causing my foot to be swollen and very bruised the whole time. But all of that was worth it to see the smiles on the children’s faces, to hear their laughter, and experience their incredible love in the face of so much pain. It was worth it to also experience the love of my new extended family that I never thought in the course of only nine days I would fall so much in love with. I hadn’t even left yet and I couldn’t wait to come back. I was in tears crying hysterically for hours. I feel like I left a huge piece of my heart in the Dominican republic. I am so thankful to be able to help in whatever way that I could all the children of Los Cocos and their families, and for my new family members that I had to leave behind.

I have a new outlook on life now. I will never complain again of being too thirsty or starving or hot when there are people out there who quite literally have nothing. I love and miss my new family and plan on visiting them again soon and hopefully I will know quite a bit more Spanish before then.

Marissa Davis

I want to write in order to give testimony of God’s goodness.  He used humble servants to accomplish great tasks.  Before I know what testimony to write about, I will start from the heart.  This trip was unique! And I can say I have been changed for the better.  I group was diverse!  Our group of special individuals came together by the grace of God to form a team and a family.  Cultural gaps were bridged through respect, friendship, and love.   Language barriers were broken down through patience, determination, and the great assistance of our translators. A special thank you to Anna!  I was blessed to serve the people of the Dominican Republic, specifically the Haitian people in Los Cocos.  My heart was touched by the Haitians’ humility, their servanthood, and their joy even though their lack is great.  They have joy and strength to complete the Happy and Healthy Community Center through their faith in Jesus.  It brought me great happiness to see the fruits of our labors.  Many families and individuals were blessed by our wiliness to serve and donate (time, money, food, water, gifts, and talents).  The need is great, but love is greater.

I want to give testimony of the trip by remembering the great servanthood of Jeuri.  This man was often the first one up in the morning.  He would clean.  He would wash.  He would dry.  He would prepare lunch for everyone!  His efforts did not go unnoticed, but he is worthy of even more gratitude than we were able to give him.  His heart of service was not only towards the group/family that he knows, but his service and love was also freely extended to the needy.  In Los Cocos, he sweated and labored.  He carried children, delivered food, and sang songs.  He helped make people laugh.  At the dental outreach, Jeuri held flashlights for hours so that the Dentist could work on peoples’ teeth.  I believe his great effort was evidenced by a hypoglycemic episode.  But that brief scare did not keep him down for long.  When his blood sugar was raised, he returned to his joyful, jovial, energetic self!  He brought vibrancy to every event which helped give me the strength to keep smiling, keep serving, and keep pressing on.  He inspired me to do more.  I want to serve more.  I want to give more. All that I have is the Lord’s to pour out, to use as He sees fit. 

I think we all were inspired by Jeuri, by Delvi, and by all the members of our mission team.  That was clearly observed through all the tears, the hugs, the songs, the hard work, the scrapes and the laughs.  Every member of the team was there to serve.  And when given a willing heart of service, the LORD turns that obedience into great victories.  Haitians were blessed; Dominicans were blessed; Americans were blessed; at least one Puerto Rican was blessed.  Most of all I can say with confidence, I was personally blessed beyond belief.  I could not have accomplished greater works with any other team in any other place.  We were operating in God’s will and in God’s timing.  “How beautiful are the feet that bring good news.”  Thank you Lord for an incredible trip!  A piece of my heart is in the Dominican Republic.  I am certain I will return to that island. 
Here I am. Lord, send me.

Joe Balassi

So we had a family vacation planned already for Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic and once I told my husband that the little girl we just “adopted”/sponsored is from DR he said to me, “Why don’t we just go see her in person while we’re there on vacation?” I said to him, “OK, well that would be nice and a good experience for the kids BUT let me see if that’s even a possibility first”.

After several phone calls with Meagan Broadfield (Mission Trip Coordinator) who was extremely helpful and informative of our visit with Daritza in the village of Boca Chica, it all fell into place and our bags were packed with goodies to bring to all the children in the village 🙂 As we were driving up to the village my older son (8 yrs. old) looked out his window and surprisingly said to me, “I can see God in the clouds over there” (so sweet!). We were warmly welcomed into the church/school with lots of beautiful songs sung by the children in the village and they also prayed for us as well. Daritza ran up to me and gave me a big hug and sweet kiss, something I will never forget!! 🙂 Our kids sat right next to her and tried to speak to her though she didn’t speak any English they still figured out how to bond/play with each other by playing a game of tag outside together 🙂 I think the kids really enjoyed meeting Daritza and giving all of the children little goodie bags on Easter 🙂 My older son shared his experience meeting Daritza at his school and brought in pictures to show his classmates and now they all want to sponsor a child in Boca Chica like him 🙂 🙂 🙂 We are so glad we decided to put our faith and trust in God and carry out this memorable trip during our vacation in Punta Cana (about 1.5 hour away from Boca Chica). It’s nice seeing pictures of her with the gifts we send her but it’s a totally different feeling when you get to wrap your arms around a child that you know needs lots of extra love and hope in their lives 🙂 Thank you Happiness Now for giving us this amazing, life changing experience for our entire family 🙂

The Xythalis Family

There are many contributions I plan to make to the community, nation, and the world. Recently, I’ve decided that my dream is to become a nurse. Originally, I thought about studying pharmacy because of my interest in chemistry, but as I researched different careers I decided to take a different path. After completing a career test at my high school, it was clear that nursing was a better profession for me.

My love for helping and serving others, especially children, has been a guide for me to choose this path. Granted it is extremely difficult and requires much hard work to become a nurse, my passion for helping others would be my driving force. Although there are significant responsibilities, I look forward to being able to provide people with the necessary healthcare, comfort, and compassion that every human being deserves. Additionally, being able to assist in caring for people and saving lives would be a dream come true and certainly a way that I could contribute to my community.

Getting my nursing degree is my short-term goal but in the long run, I hope to continue my education and become a nurse practitioner. My Hispanic heritage is something I am very proud of and has had a strong influence in my career goals. My mother, being a native from the Dominican Republic, has taught me a lot about my heritage. She grew up in a small town and lived in the Dominican Republic all her life until circumstances motivated her to make a rash, but very brave decision. Knowing very little English, my pregnant mother decided to move to the United States so she could provide a better life for my older brother, and eventually me as well.

My mother came to New York starting from barely anything and was so hardworking that she managed to provide wonderfully for my brother. She was a single mother who worked three jobs; her motivation was the well being of her son. My mom has inspired me in so many ways to always be as hardworking and determined as she was. Ever since I can remember my mom has given everything she could back to our country.

When I was young she used to take me and my brother to poor towns in the Dominican Republic and donate anything she could get. She would ask our neighbors, church members and family to donate things like clothes, shoes, school supplies, etc. Over the summers, my brother, my cousins and I would go and teach a small little bible study in a poor town every Saturday. We would also bring them candy and small little gifts as rewards for memorizing bible verses. At the end of the summer we had a huge donation drive and a medical outreach for the people in this town. Although I was only a kid at this time I remember vividly how much of an impact we made. All of this was inspired by my mom.

Her idea started out small in 1998, but has now turned into a registered organization called Happiness Now. My mom has big plans for this organization and continues to do extraordinary things to help these people who have so little. My hope is to one day contribute even more than I already have by providing free health care to these communities in the Dominican Republic that truly need it, and continue to help improve my country.

Valerie Chavez

Testimony 1


One baby touched me in a special way. As her mother walked to the front of the church, I noticed her one-year-old baby girl she was carrying. (Those of you who know me would say, “So what else would you expect?”) You know how tender my heart is to little ones, probably because they are too small to talk back or get away, and I love to hold them and cuddle them. But as they got close, I noticed this little one was “special,” as I used to tell my children when we saw a child with Down Syndrome. They knew these children were different but were too young to understand, so my wife and I would just say, “God made them special.” I am reminded here where Jesus says  concerning little children, “their angels behold my Father’s face continually.” I believe these children have a special disposition of grace from their heavenly Father because they are not capable of knowing sin or true rebellion and God covers them in a special saving grace.

When the mom and baby got near enough, I did “my thing” and proceeded to swipe her baby. The first thing she did was grab my sunglasses and tried to put them on, first on herself, then on me. I interacted with her placing the glasses on her and holding them on her face because her tiny button nose wasn’t big enough to do the job. She was “talking” to me by grunting and smiling. She was enjoying herself and looking into my face and reacting to my smiles and grunts back. We played for 10-15 minutes just enjoying a a truly special moment.

In a while her mom and older sister were getting their gifts and food ready to go. Mom caught my eye and communicated that they needed to go and could she please have her child back. I let her know through “signing” that I would carry my new little friend outside the church for her. Then as we got outside I just walked along beside Mom, Big Sister, and a small brown dog that decided to join us for a ways. We turned across the field beside the church and made our way over lava-looking rock that make up this part of the tropical isle. The sharp protruding surface pushed the soles of my tennis shoes up into the arches of my foot and I wondered at how easily Mom and Daughter moved over what was giving me fits to navigate.

After only 300 yards we were at a very primitive wooden shanty that passed as a home for this little family. I allowed Mom to open the door as I hung back just enough not to pose any kind of a threat, as this strange “white grandpa” carried her little treasure. She deposited her bounty somewhere inside and came back to retrieve my bundle. As she pried five tiny fingers from my sunglasses, I transferred her to her mother’s arms. I turned and made my way back the way I had come with a joy, that for a little while I had been the face, hands, arms, and feet of Jesus and I was humbled.


Testimony 2


After such a long, hot, sticky, joy-filled day, Noel turned our minivan and headed for the condo we were staying in. He swerved, slowed for speed bumps, honked, and gestured (all Christian of course) as he maneuvered in, around, and through traffic until we finally got to the main road that runs along the ocean in Boca Chica.

As Noel worked his way along, he suddenly pulled over and started talking to Jackie in their native tongue, of course as usual we were patiently waiting for our customary translation so we could get the scoop. It happened that Jackie had mentioned to him that she wanted to get some of a particular ice cream that she knew we would enjoy. Noel told her there was one just a little ways behind us, so he proceeded to back the van slowly to the street we had just passed and skillfully headed off in the right direction.

We only went about a half of a mile until Noel stopped in front of the ice cream shop. We all poured out of the van with Noel’s hands ever present to help the ladies and the guys out so no one fell.

We swarmed the small establishment like bees to the honey comb. Like little children, we stared through the protective glass at all the scrumptious flavors spread out before us. Jackie negotiated all the details with the pretty young local lady who served each of us a treat that made our mouths water just looking at it. One lick and we were instant DR ice cream junkies. Being careful not to let a single drop slide down the sugar cone and go a-wasting, we lapped up every precious, delectable bit.

Let me back up a little here and share what may be the most important single event of the entire trip. As is common in countries where people have limited opportunities to earn a living and financial resources are scare, we became the focus of some “street urchins.” The shop was only 12-15 square feet and open to the street on two sides so we were open for the world to see. At first, one young boy slid up next to me and setting his make-shift shoe shine kit down, looked up and motioned that he could shine my shoes. Since I didn’t want to ruin my new neon green and black tennis shoes I shook my head no. Next he moved to Jim and got the same results.

Then there were 2-3 boys from 12-14 and one was asking us to buy HIM an ice cream cone (and after sucking up my sample of this glorious treat, I understand why). Well, first I told them I had no local money, then Jim said, “get lost kid.” No, he was kinder than that, but firm with his rejection. They weren’t to be dissuaded that easily and moved on looking for “weaker” prey. Next they asked Jackie but she was as adamant in her negative response as Jim and I had been.

Let me interject here, it is not for hard hearts or lack of compassion that we were so curt. We have all been around the block. We have all been hustled some place for money for a bus or food or you name it. We have all seen the guys holding a cardboard sign, “Vet, no job, need money for food,” or some such held up for motorists to see as they stop at the stoplights. We have all been hustled enough that we have become, if not wise, calloused. I have, in my case, lost most – not all – but most of my guilty feelings  I used to get. I try to be led by the Holy Spirit in such matters, but more often than not I turn my head or overt my eyes to lessen the accompanying feelings of pain for those people. Most adults know when they are being conned.

Now back to the story. Well having failed at their first ploy, they moved on smoothly to another. One slightly older kid approached Jackie and said, “If you will buy two, we will share with the smaller ones,” tugging real hard on her already weakening heart strings. She had already told them, “Negatory, guys.” Well, maybe not so drill sergeant-ish, but with resolve.

Next, Valerie, Jackie’s 20 year old daughter, starts to pry her “fingers” to loosen resistance of her mother’s heart. “Ah, mom, why don’t you buy them one?” or words to that effect. Sure enough, she worked her magic and the walls of Jackie’s “hard heart” came tumbling down.

She bought two sugar cones full of delectable sweetness and handed them to two of the boys. One to the taller, more street-wise looking kid and the other to another. Well, it was obvious that Mr. “Tall pants pushed down exposing his drawers man” was wanting to hoard all the bounty for himself and wasn’t planning on sharing at all. What he didn’t figure on was a little latina hot-head mommasita named Jackie jumping right on his business. Needless to say, she straightened him right up and everyone got at least a mouthful to tantalize their taste buds.

What happened next still gives me goosebumps and brings tears to my eyes as I write this down. Jackie started talking to them about everyday, ordinary things that boys – young men – know about and feel at ease talking about. Then Jackie moved on to her true intent and primary message. She asked them (the group had now grown to 5-6) if they went to church. “Si,” they heartily replied. All except one young man who was leaning up against a car with eyes cast down, he didn’t answer. After such a rousing response to her first question, next she said, “Do any of you know Jesus?” Again, most if not all of the other boys gave a quick yes. Still, the young man leaning against the car refused to join his friends. Jackie turned to him and asked him if he knew Jesus, and he responded “no.” I am giving you what I remember – this is not verbatim. I was about 8 or 10 feet away and was just reading the situation as it unfolded. I couldn’t hear what was being said but Jackie filled me in later. It was at this point that an older Dominican gentleman walked out of a restaurant that was right there and was standing beside me observing the scene as well. He spoke no english and I spoke no spanish except “Taco Bell,” “nacho cheese,” “si,” and you get the picture. He looked at me and was telling me a mouthful and I glanced back at the young men and then back at Fernando, the gentleman’s name, and he gestured with his right hand spreading his pointer finger and middle finger to form a “V” and raising it up he touched his face tenderly and slowly drew them down his cheeks, moving them slowly back and forth as he moved them to the ends of his mouth. I looked back at the slumped lad with his head dropped down, hands clenched at his waist and his bare feet crossed on the dirty sidewalk. I couldn’t see his tears but I could read his distressed expression. Jackie had told the group that this isn’t a game, it’s not something to joke about because “what you are telling me is not between you and me. What you believe is between you and God. There are only two paths. If you believe in Jesus, the path leads to heaven. If you reject him the path leads to hell.” It was at this point that Fernando and I had been watching the events unfold.

Then the boy told Jackie, “He can’t save me. I have done too many bad things.” As he spoke his heart was moved by the Holy Spirit and as the tears moved down his cheeks, angels started to rejoice in heaven because his heart had been made tender and God’s light shone into his dark heart bringing conviction of his sins and the knowledge that he was a sinner without Jesus. Furthermore, he recognized at that moment that he he needed saving. As Jesus said, “I came to save that which was lost.” The Spirit of God moved into his heart and the glorious light of God’s love shone into all the crevices and dispelled the darkness he felt.

Jackie talked to him and assured him Jesus loved him and could save him. Fernando again started speaking to me and I told him she is sharing the gospel with him. He nodded and made a book gesture with his hands. Then he said more words I didn’t understand filled by “Spirito de…” and I said “Yes, the Holy Spirit is working and moving in his heart,” and touched my chest. Fernando repeated his words ending with Holy Spirit only in Spanish. I nodded and realized we were communicating concerning spiritual things. My heart warmed as we talked back and forth.

As the young man assented to accept Jesus, his friends started to laugh and talk and motion towards him. I noticed a second man had walked up beside Fernando and they were conversing and Fernando filled him in on what was going on. All three of us suddenly read the goings-on before us and all said “they are mocking him” – I in English and they in Spanish. Instantly they bolted towards the bullies and proceeded to tell them “no” in uncertain terms, that this is serious stuff and they should be ashamed and shut up. I couldn’t believe it. The Holy Spirit had not only touched the heart of a little boy, he had given three middle aged (well, okay, one was an old man) the ability to cross cultural lines via his Holy Spirit. We had spoken in “tongues” so to speak.

The two men and I moved back to our original places and Fernando to the “new guy” all the details. Fernando introduced his friend to me and we all shook hands and had a holy hug. Fernando gave me his card and told me to call him, spreading his thumb and pinky out in a “hang loose” symbol and placing them up to his ear and mouth.

We took pictures and held hands in a circle right there in front of God and everyone. Jackie prayed and at the end we all said “amen.” Then one of the “new guys” said hallelujah and Jackie said “yes!” and we all said “One, two, three, HALLELUJAH!” and we shook the walls of hell and sent some demons running with the echo of our joy-filled praise. I can only imagine what all the locals thought.

I said goodbye to our new brothers-in-Christ I had met and they asked if we would come see them or call them. What a blessing. What a privalege to have been part of such a heaven-sent moment.

We don’t know what will become of the “little sheep” but we do know Jesus, the Great Shepherd, calls his sheep by name and leads them out and cares for them. Jesus said, “of all my father gives me, I will not lose one.” He is safe in the arms of Jesus.

Dean Gammons