In early March 2020, we said sweet goodbyes to our Dominican family. We expected to return in a few weeks for summer mission trips. We had no premonition that the COVID-19 devastation lurked around the corner. At first, we held our breath, certain that life would shortly return to normal.
Gradually, reality burst our idealistic bubble. The United States locked down. The Dominican Republic locked down a few weeks later as COVID-19 spread like wildfire from the resorts and airports. Airlines cancelled all flights. There would be no summer 2020 mission trips. Long-awaited projects at orphanages and Christian schools were frozen. Hopes for new sponsorships, needs for beds for children, training and supplies for teachers, evangelism and discipleship opportunities—all cancelled. Caught in the same whirlwind of fear and confusion that swirled around all of us here in the United States, our Dominican partners faced overwhelming needs and cries for help. Without the support of mission teams, there were no extra resources. No hands and feet to help. No physical presence with words of cheer and inspiration.
“The Ministry Continues,” became a rallying cry beginning with Eron Green, STCH Ministries CEO. Holding high the banner of faith in God’s promises, we prayed, “God use us. Direct our steps.” The Dominican government mandated a total lockdown, which prevented most of the population from working. The government also lacked resources to provide any kind of income or social services. The priority became, “Feed our children, families and ministry partners.” Our staff on both sides of the Caribbean rallied and worked together as a team. They developed innovative ways to address what became a crisis. From buying huge palettes of food from the Bravo grocery chain and storing it in the Koinonia mission housing, to scheduling families and delivering food safely to ministry sites while observing the required curfew. The safety of our staff and wise stewardship of resources were paramount. As we marched forward in faith, we experienced a miracle similar to the five loaves and fishes. God’s supply lines were already in place. Generous donors supplied the needed funds.
In August we sensed God’s leading to make a return mission trip to the Dominican Republic. COVID-19 numbers were abating. Boots-on-the-ground information from our Dominican partners indicated that we could safely make a trip to the Dominican Republic. Donated school supplies and backpacks had accumulated in our home office while equipment, replacement parts and other provisions were desperately needed. We wanted to encourage our staff and partners by participating with them in feeding families, building beds and assisting directors and teachers with distance learning. Importantly, we also sought to determine if mission teams using face masks and appropriate distancing could safely and effectively do ministry. We sent out an invitation for a Mercy Mission Trip to the Dominican Republic.
The goals to deliver resources and share in ministries were safely accomplished! Twenty-five children’s beds were built. Thirty-five families received a packet of food. Twenty-two teachers and directors from our Christian schools received training. More than two-hundred and fifty backpacks filled with school supplies for the Samuel’s Fund sponsored children were delivered.
To determine how the Dominican partners felt about the mission week, and to hear from the trip participants, could I invite you to take an imaginary trip to the Upper Room at the IBQ Dominican mission site? It was the morning of the last day, and the ten trip participants with our Dominican partners gathered to worship and reflect on the experiences of the last four days. Pastor Rudy began,
We know God is faithful…God is great…because you are here. We didn’t think anyone would come. You are a gift, like a miracle. Thank you very, very much. The world changes, our lives change, our families change, everybody changes but God does not change. God is always the same. That is our hope. ‘Nothing is impossible with God.’ You increase our faith by coming on this mission trip. God bless you. Thank you for all.
Pastor Rudy then handed a verse to every team member and asked, “Why did you come on this trip? What has this trip meant to you? How did God speak to you?”
Dr. Francisco spoke up. He talked about his role as a doctor and that he considered the worst-case scenario when he knew a small mission team was coming. He communicated to our office that participants would have to wear face masks and strongly urged no comorbidities. Reflecting on the trip, Dr. Francisco concluded that we have to take precautions, but we also have to rely on God.
We can do whatever we want, but it is God who is backing us up, who is in control. In this very moment, in anything we do in our lives, He is the one who says, “this is what is going to happen.” Most people don’t want to come because they are afraid. They don’t want to get out. It took courage for you to come. But you are for us a beacon, showing us that even if there are obstacles, you still have to obey God.
Our other Dominican partners added their thoughts.
Thank you for coming. We didn’t think we would have a mission team to help us during this time. I’m glad we have the God that we have. We know we can trust Him in every circumstance. That is our greatest hope.
Through this coronavirus crisis, we have learned to trust God’s Word. We know that it doesn’t matter the situation, doesn’t matter how hard it is, He will always be there. God will continue to do great things through us. The best thing is—you hear the voice of the Lord; you obey and take action. That’s the important thing to the Lord.
Tina is a schoolteacher who has been on several past mission trips. She spoke about the pervasive fear in the world. She shared that when she received the mission trip invitation, she immediately heard, “Go!” Then she thought about her job, her family. She read on the internet the U.S. embassy recommendation not to travel. She sat on the back porch and read Psalm 91. She recounted the experience:
I heard a voice. “Do you trust me?” A scene flashed across my mind from the movie, Aladdin. Aladdin flew on his magic carpet, held out his hand and invited Jasmine to go with him, saying, “Do you trust me?” I pictured the carpet, and I thought, “That’s the thing. You are stepping out on that carpet, hoping God will hold you up.” For me, that hope was my faith. Of course, I have the fear…but, can I trust Him? At that moment I knew if I didn’t go, I would be missing out on the blessing.
Becky is a pharmacist, and most days she works in air-conditioning with a great team. She remembered that when COVID-19 hit, everyone was terrified in spite of masks and shields. She would have patients hold their prescriptions up to the window because she feared to touch them. But God spoke to her heart about this mission trip. Her college-senior daughter was available to come, and they had really missed the opportunity to serve last summer. She responded, “I will serve doing anything I can do to help.” In the Dominican construction yard, she sweated and got so covered in sawdust that she was almost unrecognizable. But as she hammered, screwed, sawed and sanded those twenty-five beds for children, she said, “I knew I was right where God wanted me.” Becky’s daughter nodded, “What’s the difference between going to the grocery store and coming here? Besides, I felt we did so much more than we did the last time we came.”
Tania is one of our front-line workers. As a nurse, her potential COVID-19 exposure is greater than most. However, she shared that fear was never a consideration for her.
I had a rough beginning during my teens, and I could have been dead a long time ago. But God had a purpose for my life. Because of the COVID-19 fear, all the ministries where I usually help in the United States had been stopped. So, I prayed, “I want to serve you, God. What am I supposed to do?” When the email invitation came for the Mercy Mission Trip, I knew that was for me. Jehovah is my provider, my comfort, my protector. So, whatever He called me to do, I needed to trust. Just get up and go. He would provide. He would protect.
Jeny, a STCH Ministries employee out of Houston, her husband, David, and high school senior, Noah, came as a family. David asserted that others tried to impose their fear on them. They prayed strongly as a family and felt the shield of the Lord was around them.
We had to serve. We needed to be Jesus’ hands and feet. We determined that whatever others said to us was not going to get into our hearts and minds. And we prayed that God would give us the strength. I’m glad that we were able to live out God’s Living Word—’Go! Be my hands and feet.’ That’s why we are here. And that’s what we did.”
Jeny emphasized that for believers, it is about finding our truth in the Bible. We need to seek God’s wisdom, not the world’s perspective. When we trust God and follow His Word, we are not normal. We are not supposed to be normal. Jeny went on to say, “I expected my usual trip to the Dominican Republic. I knew STCH Ministries was not going to put us in danger. Joanna or Mark would not say, ‘It’s dangerous, but come on in!’” The mission team group laughed in agreement as Jeny concluded,
I got out of this trip just what I expected. I expected to see our Dominican family. I expected to see smiles on them. I expected to be filled up with joy and love. I expected God would provide, and He has. And that’s what we have received. We haven’t been working as intensely, but it’s been great. It’s been refreshing. We have gotten to spend more time with our own family and with our Dominican family. It’s been an amazing blessing.
Summer 2020 did not look like the summer we had planned. Life often happens that way for all of us. But God still has a plan and will use us in Kingdom work. In the midst of adversity, God used STCH Ministries to touch countless lives in new and innovative ways. We came together as a team with our Dominican partners in ways we had never thought possible. The participants on the Mercy Mission trip stepped out in faith—their own magic carpet of hope—and traveled in spite of the COVID-19 virus for the opportunity to change lives and meet needs. We are optimistic for what the future holds in the next few months and as we head into 2021. Circumstances and plans often change. We know God is always the same, for “Nothing is impossible with God.” Luke 1:37