( these are in no order of impact. They are each instruments in the symphony that impacted the lives of many teenagers.)
10. La Comida- Is there anything better than good food and great conversation with new and old friends? Moro ( a rice dish that rocked my face off) and tostones (fried or toasted plantains that rocked the other side of my face off) were two of my favorite culinary finds.
9. The Doulos School- a Christian, bi-lingual school that has an incredible model for education based on “adventures”. The founders of the school started Pico Escondido and are long-time Young Lifers. They have a coffee plantation that offers all the proceeds to scholarships for local Dominican children at Doulos. Kids there are learning about Christ, recycling, gardening, architecture as well as the basic subjects.
8. Berto “El Gato”- a carpenter at Pico who made me laugh everyday as we both butchered each other’s language. Berto and I would be BFF if we lived closer.
7. Dan and Elizabeth Jessup- Dan is a VP with Young Life who oversees Latin America amongst other things. He and his wife brought donors to the camp for the blessing of 2 new cabins at the camp. Dan goes to our church and I loved that our student’s saw Dan in his element has he gave great vision for YL in the Dominican.
6. Club and Poop Smell- we helped lead a club that was out in the rural part of La Vega. As we walked up to the house, the smell of manure was unreal! Stalls and cages for pigs, chickens and goats surrounded the shed we met under. As kids were laughing, worshipping and listening to the word of God, the aroma turned from a stink to part of the essence of this powerful ministry.
5. Spanglish- Both the Gringos and the Dominicans made great efforts to speak and hear each other’s language (that will preach!). This is such a simple, yet powerful example of understanding what life is like for our brothers and sisters around the globe.
4. Near Carjacking- Our group was returning to camp after a night in downtown Jarabacoa. We stuffed into a flat bed truck with a tarp over it to protect us from the rain. I was sitting on the back bumper hanging my feet over the edge as dogs chased us and motorcycles whizzed bye. The truck came to a stop and people started to surround the truck and the noise of a small crowd got louder and louder. I was convinced that some gang was about to mess with us and the group started to get a bit concerned. We sat still for 10-15 minutes, which seemed like hours. I finally worked up the guts to walk to the front of the bus and saw a mob of young people surrounding the truck. It was local Vida Joven kids who saw that our driver was one of their volunteers, Joba. These folks get relational ministry that they cause traffic jams to be with kids, I love it!
3. My Beard- My beard often draws many stares and random comments in other countries. When I was walking down the streets of La Vega with my baseball hat, sunglasses and a stick, the men shouted “FIDEL, FIDEL” as I walked bye. I was also called Moses, Osama Bin Laden and Santa Claus.
2. Staying with Odalys- Odalys is 20 years old and is a leader in Young Life. He hasn’t seen his mother in 5 years because she is a housekeeper in Italy. He takes care of his 7-year-old cousin, goes to University and loves Basketball. We actually watched his beloved Miami Heat get beat in the NBA finals the night we stayed with him. The home stays were by far the most formative experience on the trip for many of our kids as they discovered bucket showers, roosters and no air conditioning.
1. Teenagers are Teenagers, everywhere- The students of both nationalities blended together in a powerful way. From walking to the local cormado, having a crazy dance party and playing cards on the porch, to worshipping together and cleaning up the trash in the barrios. They are all relational beings who long to be known, love to laugh and are on a journey with Jesus Christ.
Notable Mentions: eating several pounds of ribs, waterfall hike, coffee factory tour, meringue lessons, eating dinner with our entire group from a tiny empanada stand, singing in the dark and many more.