My passport is full of stamps from the Dominican Republic. I have gone almost every year for the past thirteen years, since my freshman year of college! The trips have varied in length and location, teams and purpose. We have worked in sugar cane communities called “bateys,” in community development work in Haitian-Dominican border towns, across the border with various Haitian schools. We have visited universities, constructed visual conversation starters called “proxes” to share the gospel, taught English in hopes of reaching Haitian students, played basketball against Dominican athlete teams and embarrassed ourselves royally. What a journey it has been!
The Dominican sister movement to InterVarsity is called ADEE, Asociación de Estudiantes Evangélicos, and our relationship and shared experiences have been much more than cool summer missions; they have shaped the way I see God, his kingdom, and my work with students in the past ten years.
The Dominican Republic is a special place. It is the place where I worked at a special needs school called Genesis and came to understand the intrinsic, unchangeable value of being made in the very image of God, no matter how much the world values us based on what we do or produce. It is the place where the “kingdom of God” transformed from a random fluffy church-y concept to a real thing that I understood as heavenly realities beginning to heal and establish themselves in the midst of our mess. It is the place where a bumper sticker that said “Sé que soy especial, Dios no hace basura” (“I know I’m special, God does not make garbage”) cut me to the heart and began a long journey of coming home to myself as a Chinese-American woman. It is the place where conversations about deep divides between people groups began to grab my attention, break my heart, and hold a mirror up to my own prejudices and need for healing and reconciliation, as well as my own nation’s deep rifts and unconfessed sins. It is the place where I saw the actual power of God break generation-deep walls of hostility and bring miracles of a new humanity united in him, learning to live in peace. It is the place where I began to believe that the costly reconciliation God establishes with us is something he wants us to live out in similarly sacrificial ways, and that speaking and teaching and preaching of the One who reconciles is a timely word that, when embodied, is a way to see bright glimmers of the kingdom of God break through like the dawn of a new day.
It is the place where I learned to ask questions about context and culture and allow that information to impact strategy in ways that began to powerfully decolonize my mind, stripping it of assumptions and opening up new possibilities. It is the place where I watched Dominican Christian students boldly reach Haitian students in a context where there is no mixing of the two. Because of this faith that believed that Christ’s love was without borders, I steeled myself to try to reach the least likely to be imagined in our IV community: Latinx students, international students, black students, and Greek life students. And with the courage of their faith and example, I went. My faith has been emboldened by our Dominican brothers and sisters, and I am forever grateful. I’ve seen students transform as they engage with entirely different cultures and are ushered into spaces of repentance and worship that have changed the course of their lives. I have seen American students take ownership of their American campuses with a tenacity and creativity greatly inspired by their Dominican brothers and sisters.
The Dominican Republic is also the place where I’ve asked many questions about missions, about our posture as westerners, about effectiveness, about the relationship between the missionary and the people being served. What is often experienced in global missions is a lopsided relationship where one has the power to make decisions and the money to see it through, and the other receives without much say in the matter. This is problematic. The lopsided dynamic tends to look like this: those in power have a stark unawareness about the power dynamic and its effects in the relationship, while the others are at the mercy of the benevolence of the ones in power. The former feels self-satisfied with its good deeds while the latter grows in dependence. If we look closely, we would see missions tinged with the undergirding of colonization: Surely we know the more civilized way to worship and to live!
Working with our Dominican sister movement ADEE has taught me much. I have learned (and am still learning) much about real partnership. I am learning that true partnership is where both parties are invited to have a voice, where needs and desires of both are seen and addressed. Partnership like that is much more time-consuming and costly. It requires investing deeply in listening to each other through different languages and observing each other’s contexts, hearts, and vision. It involves curiosity and asking questions about need and desire, and not assuming you know the answer. It is costly in time and relationship, but fruitful in long-term development of shared ownership of a shared vision. I’m learning that partnership like this only works with humility and perseverance — humility that allows us to rejoice in our need of God and one another, and perseverance to press through cultural missteps (which are inevitable) with grace.
The Church in America desperately needs the Global Church. We must acknowledge the lies we’ve believed about ourselves — that we’re invincible, that the ways we do things and what we know is better than everywhere else, that we don’t have anything to learn from anyone else, that we have only to give and not to receive, that we are the saviors of the world, etc. — and we must repent. In a culture that teaches us to resist any “neediness,” we need to fight back with great unlearning and an openness to kingdom culture, where we rejoice in our sheer, utter dependence on God (in which we were created to flourish!) and learn to lean in to our need of others, our interdependency on all of creation. We need the voices of minority groups (I’m talking a wide range — racial, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic, etc.) to speak prophetically to us. We need the voices from the Global church to call us out and encourage us.
And so the work I have been doing with our Dominican sister movement is developing a partnership of shared vision and trust, where our voices are invited to speak into each other’s movements and contexts, where we learn from each other and encourage each other in the gospel. It is turning the missionary arrow (westerner → other nation) into a circle, where both are free to have a voice and influence in decision-making.
We will continue to take American students to the Dominican Republic in the summers, but we are also inviting a team of Dominican students and staff up to New England for our first ever return missions trip this fall! At first, this seems preposterous (see above re: lies we believe about our own importance and lack of need). But at this holy moment in our movement, this return trip seems fitting, timely, and a gift from God. We want their partnership on campus; we want them to reveal blind spots; we want their eyes on the ground to speak into what they see. We need them and are expectant of the ways we will learn together. Thank God for our sister movement and the ways they help us see His face!
Enjoy some pictures from the years of developing partnership!