Empowerment is Powerful

Dominicans are amazing. We truly work with some of the most talented, hard-working, and spirited people on the planet. When Dominicans are passionate about something, they put their everything into it! Don’t believe me? Did you know that Dominicans made up 29.8% of active Major League Baseball players in 2017? That’s almost a third!! It is so fun to watch them play dominoes and slap them on the table when they know they are about to win. It is extremely entertaining to see their eyes light up when their favorite song comes on the radio and they turn into the loudest, most charismatic person you’ve ever met.

I recently had this incredible experience of watching my youth group kids in Canta la Rana blow my mind. You see, we needed to raise $865 USD to send 16 of us to camp. That’s roughly $54 per person. I know that doesn’t seem like a very high amount to most of us, but in the DR, the minimum wage is about $150 a month.  Many people don’t have a fixed income, so they make much less than that. For the vast majority of my kids, this amount of money is impossible to grasp. So, I sat down with my teenagers and young adults—and we had a good long talk. I told them how badly I wanted them to go to camp. I told them how important camp was to me when I was a kid. I told them about how many unforgettable moments they were going to enjoy and how camp is almost a magic place where you can feel closer to God and nature. I explained that they were going to get to meet amazing men and women from all over their country that love Jesus and want to see them develop a relationship with Christ. And of course, I told them how much fun we were going to have! A giant swing, tons of great food, camp fire, climbing wall, swimming pool, etc!!! The whole nine yards. I told them about how the worship was out of this world. I ended by telling them the cost and explained I would help in any way that I could—but that I couldn’t GIVE them the money. We were going to have to put our heads together and fundraise. The room lit up! They were excited. They did exactly what I know Dominicans to do when they are passionate about something. They started clapping and cheering. They were screaming all at once in the fastest Spanish you have ever heard. Ideas were flying all over the place. “Let’s do a car wash.” “Let’s go door to door.” “Let’s make cookies and sell them!” “Yeah, and bracelets, too!”

BINGO! It hit me. We were going to have about four groups come down over the summer and work with Go MAD on our new building site. I knew this would be an opportunity to ask  the group if 32212798_1889130887787115_1594942161273487360_othey would be interested in purchasing desserts and jewelry to help our kids. Our amazing group members were all on board! One of my girls, Maima, just graduated from our Infotep baking class in December and had this amazing recipe for chocolate cake. She and a bunch of other kids baked this delicious irresistible cake together, and they were able to sell every slice. They made jewelry of all kinds and were able to sell them as well. Once the kids had some confidence, our fundraising was getting out of control. Our kids were going door to door in the neighborhood asking for donations, the kids started selling tennis shoes that were donated to us for this purpose, and the kids were doing various odds and ends jobs in the community. Before you knew it, my kids had raised about $17,000 RD pesos ($350 USD)!! I was so proud and so impressed. I posted on social media about our journey in fundraising, and someone saw our post and sent me a message. That person just happened to be leading a Young Life team from Pennsylvania for Go MAD in early July. My kids were going to a Young Life camp in Jarabacoa. The Young Life kids in PA wanted to know how they could help. I sent her a picture of the bracelets we were making and asked if they’d be interested. She replied that if we could somehow figure out how to make them say “Vida Joven” (Young Life in Spanish), that they would want to buy a lot of them. Carlos, our English teacher and male discipler, figured out how to do it in no time. The next thing you know, we’re all huddled around my living room in a circle watching You Tube videos on how to make these bracelets. We made a prototype, sent it to the Young Life group leader interested in the bracelets—and the next thing you know, we had an order for 100 bracelets! When you add the money we would make on these 100 bracelets and the $17,000 pesos my kids had already raised on their own, we had enough money to send us all to camp, pay for transportation, and even have some money left over to save up for activities in the future! We became bracelet making machines! The next several weekends consisted of kids piled in my living room eating pasta and popcorn, watching movies, and making bracelets. Ain’t no party like a bracelet making party! Fast forward to the first week of July, all the bracelets are done and beautiful and the amazing Young Life team from the states arrived. We got to play a fun baseball game together Dominicans vs. Americans (Do I have to tell you who won? Come on, you know Dominicans are serious about their baseball). And then we got to put on a Young Life club together where we played fun games and worshipped together! It was beautiful that my kids got to meet the kids that were sponsoring them to go to camp and watch them play alongside each other. It was cool to see them singing and praying together.

37034648_10100260085135609_2945405833346809856_oAs I write this, my eyelids are heavy. Camp ended yesterday and I’m so stinkin’ tired. We had so much fun and enjoyed every moment of camp. My kids made lifelong friendships, created incredible memories they will have forever, and grew closer to Christ. Every day I would ask the boys what their favorite part of camp was so far. I was expecting them to say the giant swing, the climbing wall, the pool, the food, the ropes course, etc. but every single time I asked I got the same answer: Cabin time devotional. Every night after worship and before the night activity, we had a 45-minute time in our cabins where the boys and girls separate and were given of list of tough questions they had to ask themselves. The questions were about how they dealt with sin in their lives, their relationships with Jesus, and how to live in a society that doesn’t always point us to Christ. I know why this is their favorite part. So many of my kids don’t have any kind of role model in their homes. They don’t get this opportunity to open up and share what’s on their hearts all the time. It takes a special place like camp where kids have a level of independence, great role models all around, and fellow lovers of the gospel everywhere in sight to bring this out sometimes. Our kids weren’t allowed to have their cell phones, so they were literally checked out from the entire world for a week. They had no idea a tropical storm passed through causing severe flooding on the south coast. They had no idea that deadly strikes are going on in Haiti and people are afraid it will cross the border. We were all too busy investing in our spiritual development.

On the bus ride home, I took a moment to thank the kids for all of their hard work and let them know there is a “Spiritual Growth” session of camp in November for anyone that wants to really grow in their faith. This session camp is only two and a half days, and it doesn’t include as many of the extracurricular activities but more focused on digging into the word of God and working on your relationship with Christ. My kids were so excited. One of the kids raised his hand to ask a question: “Do we need to start fundraising now?” Guys, this is HUGE! Watching my kids work so hard and EARNthis opportunity, was one of the neatest things to see. And I now know FOR SURE it was worth every minute of their labor because they’re willing to put in the effort again. I know it would have been easier to just ask some sponsors from the states to throw some money to us to go to camp, but my kids got this amazing opportunity to set a goal, work for it, and enjoy their accomplishments. These are life lessons they can only learn through experience.

Thanks to all of you who participated in our fundraising journey. As you all know, it takes a village. Thanks for praying for us and lifting up our needs to the Father. Please continue to pray for us and our community. Many of my kids are new on their path with the Lord, and some are still trying to find it. I know that this past week was such a great experience for all of them. I can’t wait to see the fruit that grows from the seeds planted at camp.

– Bonnie Smith, Community Coordinator

Is this Heaven?

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