I stepped out of the cool air conditioned car to find myself in Villa Mella, or what could best be described as a sauna. It was nearly 90 degrees and well over 90% humidity. For this Portland native, being drenched in sweat had become the new reality of life.
The landscape flourished with life. Fruit trees, grass fields, mangoes as far as the eye could see—and still there was destruction in its midst. Cardboard houses with scrap metal for walls, children with no clothes playing games in the trash-filled dirt roadway, and a seemingly endless amount of stray dogs hoping to find leftover food.
With a stack of gospel tracks in my hand I was ready to conquer the world for Jesus.
The gospel tracks were my way of insulating myself from the people around me. It seemed easier to extend a pamphlet than a hand.
Santo Domingo, the capital city of the Dominican Republic, had been my home for the previous 2 weeks. I had been spending time with a friend who had made the island and city his home for several years. The majority of my time was spent with upper class students who could afford to go to one of the most prestigious private schools in the city. One student’s father ran the military, and another student’s father traveled around the world for his business. As the children of these powerful men, they were being groomed as the future leaders of the country.
Yet all of these students had one thing in common: None of them had ever been to Villa Mella, the part of town where I found myself this day, only 30 minutes from their classroom.
Villa Mella was the “Third World” part of this Third World Country.
Shacks for homes. No running water. No electricity.
Chickens and pigs kept in pens were the clear food source of the future.
On paper my experience those weeks in the DR was one of poverty and pain juxtaposed with prosperity and comfort.
But not everything is as meets the eye.
When I asked the private school students why none of them had ever been to the outskirts of town I received the answer of, “There’s nothing to do out there,” and “I hear it’s a depressing place to go.”
I couldn’t blame the students. I didn’t want to leave the air conditioned classroom with fresh food just down the hallway. I was barely comfortable giving these people a piece of paper, much less opening up my life to them.
Yet I found more life in my walking around Villa Mella than I ever found among the wealthy citizens in the urban areas of the city. They displayed such gratefulness as I delivered water to their door. Their kids had the kind of joy I only displayed on a Christmas morning. Where did this vivaciousness come from? How could those with so little act as if they had so much?
It would be easy to see this story with me being just another American kid who went to a poor country and was convicted about how blessed he was. Good thing the story isn’t over or that would be true.
Some trips teach us lessons well after we return to our lives at home. I never knew that a group of young boys would teach me an important lesson about life while we played a game of baseball in a random field next to the hundreds of shacks that were their homes in Villa Mella.
Years later the lesson is starting to become clearer for me:
When we shelter ourselves from the brokenness of life, we miss out on its beauty too.
(This post is a piece of Prodigal Magazine’s Travel Stories, make sure to check out the other great stories as well)