By: Timothy Kays
THE VILLAGE REPORTER
Picture if you will, a television game show. As the camera zooms in on a contestant, the announcer bellows, “You’ve won an exciting trip…to a leper colony in the Dominican Republic!” The facial expression of the contestant transitions from anticipation, to confusion…to outright disgust. Instead of going off to an island paradise, you are going to an island where you are to be staying in a squalid community rife with the bacterium that causes Hansen’s Disease. Who in their right mind would even consider going to a place like that?
You can start with around 70 people who are members of the Life Changing Realities Fellowship (LCRF). It was not a game show prize. It was not a tourism offer by the Dominican government. It was a call made by a local church there…a call answered here locally. That calling became a mission trip undertaken without fear, dread or trepidation. I John 4:8 states that, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” That love was eager to answer the calling, and Jason Mavis and his crew were ready to share it, even in a leper colony.
The Apostle Paul said in the First Letter to the Corinthians, that the body of Christ has many different members. Corinthians 12:21-26 says, “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!; On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” In these words, written nearly 2,000 years ago, are the keys as to why the LCRF was so eager to heed the calling set before them.
“The philosophy of our church is Serving Seekers and Building Believers,” Jason said. “The serving seekers part of that is that we want to help others. Many times I have been told that there’s so much need here in America. Why go somewhere else? We believe in the Great Commission and the Great Commandment to go out all over the world. Yes, there is a lot of need here, but there is also that aspect that you learn from being over there that our need here is completely different from the need there.
The neat thing about it was though, we had 70 people sign up to go on a mission trip that had room for just 10. Some of the things that you might experience culturally are difficult, and it’s not for everybody. I definitely would say that there is a definite difference between the calling to serve here, and the calling to serve there.”
“We left on February 20,” said Jason. We stayed in Chicago overnight, and flew out on the 21st at 6 a.m. We were there until the 27th, and flew back on the 28th. Upon arrival, the LCRF missions team quickly discovered some of those aforementioned cultural differences. “Many of the places, because of their water supply, you can’t drink the water,” Jason explained. “You can’t brush your teeth using the water; you can’t even rinse your toothbrush using the water. You get used to using bottled water to brush your teeth with. It’s a little bit gross, but you get used to it. When you wipe with toilet paper, you throw it away. You don’t flush toilet paper in almost every part.
Now there are some nicer places in town where we went to that you didn’t have to worry about that. Outside of Santo Domingo though, in places like Nigua City where we actually were, the toilets were community. Everybody uses it, and it’s pretty much just an outhouse. The driving is complete insanity. There are very few road signs.
There are no stop signs. People are coming in every direction. What would be a two lane road here is easily of four lane road there. You got cows crossing the streets. You got mopeds everywhere, including mopeds with a family of 5 on it. You can’t imagine it until you experience it.”
What was the purpose of the trip that put LCRF members into the middle of a leper colony? “We were building a house for Felipe,” Jason answered. “When I say a house, it was simply a three room cinder block home with a kitchen, a living area and bedroom, and a bathroom. It was 20 by 20. Most of us have sheds bigger than that. The windows were open, with louvers for privacy. The roof was tin. It was just basic shelter. The organization that we partnered with down there, the Great Commission Church, found a leper colony that they decided to work with. They found Felipe, who has had leprosy his entire life, and had been living in a very small shack for the past 30 years. They felt that Felipe should be helped first. Everywhere that you looked though, there was someone who needed help, so it was by the grace of God that Felipe was picked.
The team was only in the Dominican for a week, but they came back changed from who and what they were before they boarded their flight for Santo Domingo. Jason tried to sum it up by saying, “We came away knowing that it was not about the building, the house, it was about building relationships. That’s what we believe here at our church, and the church we partnered with over there. We could go in anywhere, build a home and leave, and there is no impact as far as long term. There is no impact in the sense of the eternal. To see a guy smiling who never smiles, a guy who questioned if there really is a god asking if there is church tonight. To see him accepting Christ as his Savior truly was the bigger picture. Do I believe that every time we go down and build a house that that is going to change a family’s view of eternity for salvation?
No, but they saw that our love was genuine. We got down and played with the kids. We wanted to get to know their stories. Having leprosy for years, a lot of them have felt truly outcast. But with us coming in and showing Christ’s love through a relationship, finding out about their feelings and where they stand on things, we took away a vision of a bigger picture that we got to be a part of. As our Pastor Byron (Adams) said, ‘We didn’t have to do that; we GOT to do that.’ We got to go down there and impact these folks’ lives, and just as much, they impacted ours. I truly believe that we all walked out of there with more blessings than what we actually gave. Coming back was tough. You look and see how good we have it with all of these conveniences. The kids in the orphanages down there are starving. They have no health care…they have nothing. Two to three dollars a day is what a family of four lives on down there.”
Luke 8:16 speaks of the light of Christ, and how it should never be hidden. Jason saw firsthand how the light imported by the LCRF team spread. “That light that is there, in that house, in Felipe, in the community, has already begun to trickle out,” he said. It was already happening while the house construction project was underway, especially with a young man named Fausto. He and Jason became friends, and Fausto volunteered his time to help in the construction. “He had never been more than six miles from where he lived to a pizza shop where we went every day,” Jason said. “We figured out that the most he had been is about a mile away from where he had lived all of his life, and he is 16 years old.” Another relationship had been built, and a double dose of reality dealt out. For Jason and the team, there was the reality that a 16 year old boy had never strayed more than a mile from his home. For Fausto, the reality that there is an entirely new and different world out there, and the introduction was made through a missions team dedicated to sharing the love of Christ.
Of the finished house, Jason said, “You could see in everybody though, that it became a hub of hope. It wasn’t just a house for him, it was a beacon of hope. They saw that it wasn’t just us and it wasn’t just Felipe, it was the love of God. These Americanos came over and partnered with this church, and built this house.”
Those ‘Americanos’ know well Romans 10:15, where the Apostle Paul tied in the Prophet Isaiah and said, “And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent?
That is why the Scriptures say, “How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!” Being ‘sent’ is what a missionary expects and eagerly answers. The same can be said of the 70 from Life Changing Realities Fellowship who answered the call to go to the Dominican, knowing full well that with only 10 being selected, their chances were one in seven. The odds meant little, and the leper colony landing spot meant nothing. The calling however…that meant everything.
When the call comes in again, they will answer with the same fervor as before. When it comes to an opportunity for doing the work of God’s Kingdom, that’s just how missionaries roll.
Timothy Kays can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org