This is a story of pride. A story of poverty, and a story of change. The past two weeks of this crazy life have been some of the most impactful of my short existence. God blessed me in the most unexpected of ways by sending me and my incredible missionary team to the Dominican Republic to serve the community of Nuestros Pequenos Hermanos, a place that will forever hold my heart captive. NPH, translated to “Our Little Brothers,” is a home for children that may not have families of their own, or whose families can’t provide the resources to adequately care for them. There aren’t words for this place, but I will find the best ones I can. Never have I encountered such a genuine joy than in the laughter and smiles of the beautiful souls that live at NPH. I went to this place thinking that I was going to serve them, that I had something to offer them that would be some sort of addition to what they had, but I was humbled beyond my imagination at how little I had to offer them, and how very much they had to offer me in my own internal poverty. I went to serve, but I was served more than anything. And I realized through this, through the most true encounter of joy I’ve ever known, that we live in a prideful way. Our society of materialism and the next best thing, of busyness and instant gratification, our poverty is deeper, more damaging, than the material poverty we pridefully associate with a necessity for help. We’ve fallen into the broken belief that what they need is more stuff. That they have nothing. But the opposite couldn’t be more true, that the everything that we are so accustomed to, gives way to our own kind of nothingness.
I imagine this community of beautiful souls to be much like the kingdom of heaven. I learned much about love as a universal language. My Spanish is embarrassingly terrible, and the extent of my verbal communication was usually saying hello and asking a name. But that didn’t matter, I felt known and loved by the children, and they called me by name when I walked by. If the love and joy of this community was projected into the world, so many of the world’s problems and unrest would look quite different.
We led two mission trips in the DR, and I learned much about humility and service through being able to serve the teenagers we were leading, and the pequeños of NPH. Our projects included digging a trench to put a fence around one of the houses the children live in, and plastering the agricultural learning building that is being built. I fell in love with working at the trench, and determined that I was born to use a pick axe.
This trench is only a hole in the ground, but it became something much more than that. Each shovel of dirt and swing of the pick axe contributed to the hole that will one day house the fence that will surround the home of children who may not have had one before.
While the entirety of this experience profoundly moved by heart, there are a few moments that moved my heart in a particular way. The first is the story of a little boy, who for this moment, we’ll call Joe. Joe was one the first children I saw at NPH, and he captivated me from the first moment. His small face peeked out at the strangers that were coming to stay when we came that first day. He waved reluctantly.
The next day, he was standing a little further outside of his humble home, with a little more fervor in his wave. This progression continued until the day we decided it was time to reach through to him. My teammates and I made a series of goofy attempts to get him to smile. What we received was far more than a smile, we got to hear him laugh. There is no sound I’ve heard that has carried more joy than the sound of Joe’s laugh, no sound that has moved me to tears by the sheer amount of love it invoked. By the time our last day rolled around far too quickly, Joe was running to greet us with hugs and that smile, with dance moves and squeals, and he was venturing much further than the porch of his home at NPH.
This story may sound rather ordinary, but when I tell you that Joe is missing his left eye because he is receiving cancer treatment, and that he speaks a different language from every other child at NPH because he is from Haiti but couldn’t receive the medical help he needed there, it becomes quite extraordinary. It becomes a story of the power of love and joy to overcome even the strongest of barriers between people, it becomes the example of how our hearts are meant to coexist in this life and the next.
One of my biggest roles on my mission team is being the musician. I have the great blessing of leading praise and worship each night on all of our mission trips. This blessing was multiplied beyond my imagination in the Dominican Republic. I was able to sing for some of the masses at NPH, and to celebrate the mass and glorify the Lord with the children right next to me, playing the drums or keeping rhythm with the tambourine while I played and sang in the small chapel.
These moments filled my heart and soul. One afternoon I was spending time with some of the older girls at NPH, and one of my new friends brought me a terribly out of tune, beat up old guitar. They chanted for me to play and sing, and because their smiles have me wrapped around their fingers, I listened. The song was off pitch and the guitar barely sounded like a guitar at all, but I’ve never heard more beautiful music than when the girls and other children around us started to sing with me.
There are so many moments I could write about here. I could speak endlessly of their smiles, hugs, and capacity for love. But the most important thing I could write of is the joy I encountered there. I find joy in morning cups of coffee, rainy days, and extra large pizzas, in Jesus and music, and the gift of friendship and my quirky family. They find joy in love. Period. The joy of a soul who seemingly has nothing, who has been through more than most of us will have to encounter in our whole lives, but who lives love, is unlike anything in this world. The joy of this soul simply isn’t of this world, but living for one that far surpasses this place. This is why being there felt like such a reflection of heaven, because the children had overcome the trials that don’t belong in God’s perfect artistry, and lived as if heaven was here, now. The community is a reflection of what the body of Christ is meant to be.
We have much to learn from children, and especially the children of NPH. To love unconditionally, to care for one another from the depths of our hearts, and not the shallow reflections of our phone screens. To smile and let it reach our eyes, let it radiate from our very being. To find joy in the greatest simplicities in life, and to give joy even in hardship, even in trials, even in pain. To never let our curiosity be stifled by the monotony of our prideful society, and to never let the fragile pieces of our hearts close their doors.
This is a story of pride. A story of poverty. And a story of change. I’ve told of pride and poverty, but the story of change is yet to fully be told as the graces of this experience are changing my heart faster than I can keep up with.