God Is Love!

I thought I knew what love was, is and does, but I found out that I don’t fully understand, appreciate, or have experienced God’s full love, that agape love. There is so much more to learn and explore and experience and feel and teach and live than I ever imagined is possible.  God’s love is just so pure and unconditional and like everything God does, it is vast, unbounded, creative and beautiful. Here is a recap of our mission trip to the Dominican Republic and things I learned and experienced along the way.

If you don’t like to read then you can watch the video recap, but it doesn’t do the trip justice. Video

In the first part of June my oldest daughter, Katlyn, and I took a mission trip to the Dominican Republic.  We were joined by 16 other team members as part of Momentum Ministries in Rogers, Ark.  Pictured below is the full team along with our translators and local pastor and kids.

IMG_8171

We would partner up with Servant Life and work in various villages and churches in and around Juan Dolio.  My wife and Katlyn went the previous year to the same place we would go, so she encouraged me to go and experience it.  I was pretty apprehensive to go at first.  Actually I was pretty apprehensive all the time until it was done.  I was afraid of the unknowns that I knew existed and those that would inevitably crop up.  I was afraid my health would limit me with back problems or stomach issues or heat related problems.  I was afraid I wouldn’t be prepared and couldn’t be effective.  My only way to compensate for that was to try and not think about it too much.  Try and trust God and keep thinking about the verse “Be still and know that I am God” (Ps 46:10).  Don’t over think about the good and bad things that may happen and develop contingency plans to prepare for all situations.  I tried not to develop expectations of what I would experience.  That way I wouldn’t be let down if they were too different from what I expected.  I did however have an open mind to be used however God wanted and to have a good and flexible attitude.

Day 1 (Monday) Before I knew it the day was here and we were up at 2am to get ready for a 6am flight.  Ready or not, we were off and in no time at all I was sitting on the beach in the Dominican Republic.  I couldn’t believe I was here and actually going to do this thing called international mission work.  I have done lots of local type ministry work starting from a young age.  My Grandma Gronlund was very active in the church and was always helping or running Vacation Bible Schools and Backyard Bible Clubs in my hometown of Superior, AZ and doing mission work on the Apache Indian Reservation. I have tied thousands of knots on quilts, stuffed mountains of cotton into dolls,  picked tons of river rocks and harvested truck loads of drift wood.  All projects my grandma would have us do to support mission projects she was working on.  My mom said I was a missionary in the making for times such as this.  This day was mostly travel and settling into our rooms and getting all our supplies organized.  We had brought nearly 700 pairs of flip flops, 150 Frisbees, 150 hats, and various sports equipment to use and distribute.  18 military duffle bags worth of goods. Our resort was a decent place.  2 bedroom condos with A/C in the main room.  There were 2 beds in each bedroom and 2 beds in the living room area.  I slept in the living room since that was closest to the A/C.    I guess this was a pretty good tourist area in the past, but now it is a pretty run down area mostly visited by locals.

Day 2 (Tuesday) was here in a flash and as we ate breakfast and had a devotion we were reminded by Pastor Phil to be prepared to be flexible and have a mindset to serve Christ and not ourselves. We packed into our bus and were off to buy some supplies at the Jumbo, which is like a Walmart/Target.

IMG_8009

We exchanged some money and bought a few things.  The lines were long and finally we went to the express line.  While there Rachel struck up a conversation and led a gentleman to the Lord in the line.  I was like, what is happening, is this for real, it was amazing. Pic below of her praying with him in the express line of the Jumbo.  God bridged the gap and made all things possible.  You will see that as a reoccurring theme.

IMG_8172

Our first village was Consuelito.  This is a sugar cane work camp for Haitians.  I first thought they were refugee villages for the earthquake that happened several years back, but found out throughout the week that some had been here over 50 years.  So some might have been displaced to live here, but most were here to work and have a better way of life.  Hard to imagine that this may have been better from what they left behind.

When we got there the little church was packed with kids that were anxiously waiting for us.  Their little white teeth smiles against that dark Haitian skin was absolutely beautiful and that’s when God’s love began to hit me.  I had nothing to offer at this point so I thought except a smile and a handshake.  They smiled and I smiled and I reached out to give high fives to all.  I was so happy to see them and wanted so much to just serve them and love them.  I was only there a few minutes and I was amazed.  We didn’t have anything in common.  Couldn’t speak the language, different cultures, different economic factors, different education, different everything, but yet God’s love bridged the differences and made us united as brothers and sisters, instantly.  It was just so beautiful and so unexpected.  I’ve helped plenty of people in my lifetime, but we always had more than one common touch point.  Language was the first one and the second thing was something like a friend, or friend of a friend, or from the same community or something common like that in which we could connect and talk about if we needed to.  Here all that was taken away, but yet God’s love bridged that cultural and language gap and any other gap that existed. How could God’s love so perfectly cover that gap?  You knew the gap was there, but it really didn’t matter.  You knew it was hindrance, but it really didn’t matter.  It was hot, but it didn’t really matter.  It was crazy and chaotic, but it didn’t rally matter. God’s love just made things right.  I began to tear up a couple times because I was so unprepared to experience God’s love like that.  I even teared up writing this and thinking back on that initial experience.  As the title of the blog says “God Is Love”, that is what I learned first on the trip and just kept adding to it.  It was crazy, I was crazy and I loved every minute of it.

We sang a song with the kids, acted out a bible story of Zacheus, colored, face painted and played outside with them.  It was so much fun to interact with them.  We then handed out flip flops to all the kids and went to lunch.

In the afternoon we came back to serve the woman and do sports evangelism.  The woman had brought some washable sanitary kits to distribute to the group.  I’m not sure what happened in there with those women, but when my group came back from sports evangelism you could tell something special and powerful had happened.  There were tears and hugs all around.  The hugs were deep, firm, and long.  There was a connection that happened that was powerful and special just like God’s Love.  Again God’s love bridges the gap.  We played with the kids and had a great time.  Phil and Jim had a powerful time with some teenagers on the basketball court.  Instantly a connection was made with these young men.

The day ended with a special worship time outside in the courtyard.  I had no idea a ukulele could be used so powerfully in worship.

IMG_8174

Day 3 (Wednesday) we were off to another village of Alejandro Bass.  We were scheduled to do similar things as the day before.  Again we were greeted in the morning with those sweet little smiles.  I loved them just as much as the day before.

This is my favorite pic of the trip below.  Katlyn loves mission work and desires to do it forever.  It was such a special time to experience this together and see and learn about God’s love together.

IMG_8158

Day 4 (Thursday) Day 5 (Friday) these two days just blend together in my mind.  Couple great experiences.  One of the common phrases we heard was “manana” meaning tomorrow.  They wanted Jesus maybe tomorrow.  There were a couple people where I’m not sure how many more tomorrows they had. Below is a man we prayed with for health.  He was having prostate surgery soon and had other stomach type issues.  He was nice and friendly and wanted God’s help, His love.

IMG_8168

Below is a man that didn’t have many more mananas left it would appear.  He was not feeling well, but still wanted to hear from us.  His chair was barely at the door where he could get a cooler breeze.  His head rested against the door jam and he spoke with us ever so quiet and slightly labored.  We told him about Jesus, and he wanted Jesus, so we prayed with him the best we could and he agreed he loved and trusted Jesus.  God is amazing, again God bridged the gap and showed us His love.

In the pic below, Jim started talking to the guy in the Kings shirt, George, when we were at a church in the city.  George worked for a cruise ship so he spoke pretty good English.  He was such a great guy with a great, energetic, and magnetizing personality.  We spoke with him for awhile and he prayed to receive Jesus.  It was another amazing time and such a great friendship was made.

Day 6 (Saturday) first day off to rest and relax and take in a site, Catalina Island.  We boarded a large catamaran and headed out south a few minutes to anchor off Catalina Island and snorkel for about an hour.  The water was so beautiful.  We anchored in about 20 ft of water so it was a little tough to see the coral and stuff, so had to dive down and take a look.  It was a great day to relax, sit under a palm tree and think about all the great things I had learned about God, and myself. Video of underwater adventures.

Day 7 (Sunday) we went to church in Consuelito and it was a powerful time.  I’m not sure what time church was supposed to start because everything seemed so fluid.  There was some serious praying at first.  Long, personal, powerful prayers.  Not sure what they said, but it had passion.  Then a song was sung, then a couple dance routines, then another song was sung and then our team got up and lead the song Oceans.  That was amazing to hear.  Mariam on her ukulele playing the chords, our team singing in English.  Half singing in Spanish and half it creole.  It was a powerful time of worship.  Singing the same song in 3 different languages.  It was music to my ears.  Again, God’s love bridged the gap and made us united.

IMG_8114

That afternoon there were a couple people we wanted to see at Alejandro Bass.  We had to wait for the bus to come back from the airport so we didn’t leave the resort until a little after 5pm.  We need to be back at the resort by dark for safety reasons.  It was a crazy run to get there and find the people we wanted to see one last time.  The last manana people.  The girls found the girls they wanted to see and I found Raphael in the final minutes we were there.  Raphael is such a powerful man in his stature and demeanor.  It would seem he was quite a natural, working class leader in the community.  We said hi, gave him a handshake and hug and parted ways.  Manana was not today for him, but we will pray for him and hope to see him again.

This little guy below named Oscar became my little buddy in Alejandro Bass.  He found me every time we visited his village.  We would hold hands as we walked and he noticed that I was looking at the rocks and picking up interesting ones, so he started to look and bring me some as well.  He would show me where he lived and introduce me to his dad.  It was a special bond that was established in just a few short days.  Again, God bridges the gaps.  Loved that little dude.  Hope to see him again next year.

IMG_8111

We had given flip flops to just about every kid in a 60 mile radius it seemed and we still had tons leftover.  It was like the fishes and loaves in the bible where they just kept multiplying. The pic below is what we had leftover, makes you wonder how big was the pile we started with.

DR 2016 377

Day 8 (Monday) headed home to the good ole’ USA.  Another full day of travel.  It seemed like it was much easier to get there than to get back.  Had to go through customs twice, once leaving the island and again in Atlanta.  Then we had a long layover in Atlanta.  We made it home around 11pm after leaving the resort around 9am.

Final Thoughts

I’m sure I missed a few points, misspelled a few words and villages , had some grammar challenges along the way in providing this recap, but God will bridge the gaps for you.  I didn’t even mention the great times on the bus rides, and special moments on the roof of the resort.  All the special and powerful times of worship and fellowship and devotions at meals.  Fun times in the room with just the guys (old men and teenagers). All those experiences could be a book in itself.  Maybe another time.

The people we visited lived differently than I do, but they all wanted to be happy and love and be loved.  That was common.  Love is so universal and so powerful.  I kept singing the song by Foreigner “I want to know what love is” in fun, but as I think more about what I experienced.  I really do want to know what love is.  Not that I’m missing it, but that there is so much more to explore and learn.  Love is powerful and dynamic and I believe you can spend your life experiencing it, giving it, receiving it, studying it, observing it, teaching it, and just plain appreciating it.

Overall it was such an amazing experience and lives were changed forever including my own.  I learned so much about myself, learned things about God I thought I understood, developed stronger friendships with those on the team and learned about a new culture.

Thanks for reading and thanks to all for the support you provided.  Lots of people supported us along the way with money, with prayer, with training, and with things I’m sure I don’t even know.  Thanks, it was appreciated and awesome!!!!!!!!

IMG_8156

Love you,

Erik

 

 

 

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s