One Smile Away

As the pandemic continues, stay-at-home orders for several countries remain, and others begin to open back up, our work in each base is looking different every week. However, we are blessed to continue finding ways to serve God in the communities to bring light and hope. Today’s story serves as a reminder of how big of an impact our short-term outreaches have. Benjamin Jones, a student at Joshua Wilderness Institute, got to serve with us in Jarabacoa, Dominican Republic, in January this year.

Preparing for a trip to a foreign country is both exciting and mysterious. Presuppositions flood my mind as I anticipate the events of the two weeks to come. A variety of images and scenarios begin to materialize as I learn more about the Dominican Republic. The lush, green landscapes. A humid climate. Bugs beyond your wildest nightmares. And yet even with all of my preparation, no amount of research could’ve prepared me for the powerful love of God in a matter of just two weeks.

God introduced me to a fresh brand of community. He revealed to me the depth and authenticity of relationships in the Dominican Republic. In America, the interactions we share with strangers are hesitant and brief. The everyday focus is on the self. But in the DR, there is an abundant sense of fellowship, even in the smallest of encounters.
Additionally, the people you run into don’t seem to suffer from the sickness of ‘hurry’ that many of us in the States do. While sitting in a barbershop in Jarabacoa with Dave and the men’s sports site, countless customers entered with such presence. They warmly greeted every one of us. Being acknowledged so intentionally threw me off. If anything, I expected an even more distant approach than what I’m used to. I was able to see the love of God in the unreserved smiles and fist bumps from strangers. It reminded me of how special it is to be intentional with another human being, familiar or otherwise. It reminds me that as image-bearers of God, treating others with love is the Gospel at work.

At the men’s sports site, in particular, I was beyond privileged to serve alongside Dave, Zurdo, and my band of “Joshua brothers.” Playing basketball at the local middle school was such a beautiful experience. Communicating with the students there proved memorable. As I fumbled to speak Spanish with them, my words were met with joyful laughter. Many of the kids stuck close and pushed me around a bit. It was reminiscent of growing up with five younger brothers. When little brothers get physical, they’re bonding. Spending time with the kids at the school and the baseball fields was a visual aid for me in remembering God’s love. It is impartial, unreserved, and filled with life.

Throughout the week, practicing baseball with the younger team was immensely encouraging. I remember how my friend, Wilbur, stood out. He has a humble spirit, a vibrant smile, and seeks to include others. Wilbur and I speak different languages. We look different from each other. We have grown up in different environments and have experienced the world from different perspectives. And yet the willingness to love is what redefines community. It isn’t merely a group with shared origins, preferences, or experiences. Community is sharing the love of Jesus with anyone and everyone. And it’s only one smile away.