Day 9: The Church

13 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. 4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things 8 Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.

1 Corinthians 13:1-8

Today, our last full day spent in the Dominican Republic (we fly out at 7am tomorrow, 4am Pacific time), was a glorious time of friendship, rest, eating, and conversation. 

Stupid-early this morning a few of us got up in the dark to jog with Tom, DCC's leader with us, out to the beach to catch the sunset and some quick perspective shifts towards hope. He reminded us that the fact the sun rises each day, alone, is enough to give us hope! If the sun keeps rising, then God is continually offering grace and mercy and miraculous redemption for the day. He is not done - therefore neither are we!

It was a great framing for a day at the beach with the Vision Celestial leadership. We had a day of, not "goodbyes", but, rather, "see you laters". We are not done with our friendships here. God is not done with them. We are not done with our shaping of vision and dreaming. God is not done shaping them. We are not done looking, seeing, and hearing the Spirit for our own community. God is not done transforming it. We have much of the story to live into, and we ought to turn the pages excitedly as if we were reading the best book ever. 

The time at the beach hosted naps, virgin pina coladas, and swimming in the luminescent ocean. Everyone had a blast. More stories were shared; blessings were given; and future plans to see each other were conspired. 

This evening, Matt, brought to mind another consistent strand between all of the radical ministries we have gotten to take part in: LOVE! Not only do these wonderful people carry a vision of actively cultivating a holistic Gospel expression in the local communities, they root it in their love for the local communities. It's this love that makes the fruit so sweet and rich. The ministries here are not merely good ideas executed out to make a good name for the ministries in of themselves. Rather, small groups of Jesus-lovers had a stirring of love and decided to respond. None of it's perfect; their stories are riddled with challenges and stumbling blocks of their own kind - but love moved them forward. Moving forward in love often means pushing through muck of un-love, but onward towards great passionate fruit! 

God speaks, but he also loves! The way of Jesus is not just method, strategy, communication, etc. It is a simple but aggressive love that seeks reconciliation of all creation to its Creator. 

What will he continue to stir in us? These trips are not moments of euphoria - they are moments of challenge and preparation for a greater euphoria in places where the unimaginable is being wrought. 

Abba Father, love us so that we might more wholly love. If we only drew so close to you, so close to your heart beat, so close to your throne which sits in glorious victory, we'd maybe love our neighbor and community more. Strategies, plans, images, and structures will come, but without your love it is nothing. Fill us with abundant love. Fill us with abundant joy. Wrap your sweet fragrant life around us. Make us infectious with your love. Give us eyes like yours. Give us hearts like yours. Be with us in flying, in sleeping, and in packing. Prepare us for tomorrow's sunrises, graces, and mercies. Amen

Day 8: Holy Stalagmites Batman!

7 Answer me quickly, O Lord! My spirit fails!
Hide not your face from me, lest I be like those who go down to the pit.
8 Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love, for in you I trust.
Make me know the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul.
Psalm 143:7,8

Shannon led our devotional time this morning, and she began by calling us to reflect on this passage. There is an eagerness to bring what we are learning home - the principles, the joys, the longings, and the dreaming. We have reflected much on this today... it's basically guaranteed that it is not a simple task, but one we cannot ignore. This "simply" means looking at Jesus face to face, who knows the way we ought to go. Our temptation is to sink the the waves of whelm - but he knows! What we are experiencing here with our brothers and sisters in the DR is not merely an annual check in. Our Good Father has gathered us all here, stirred our hearts, for a reason! 

We got to look at the face of Jesus today through a divine walk through some underground caves and through the joy of the Compassion children our team sponsors (and their siblings). 

This morning, the original plan was to head to the worksite to, hopefully, finish the fourth column and continue filling holes. Due to the heavenly rains last night, which I described yesterday, the site was not quite workable this morning. The rains had turned much of the soil into hard clay. Needless to say, we found some relief in the break from the shoveling under the beating sun; then we found glee in the news we would visit said caves! 

It was a refreshing time gazing upon vast stone walls and ceilings and crisp clear turquoise lakes. 

After lunch at Vision Celestial, we headed to the Nazarene retreat center once more to have play-time with the team's sponsored Compassion children and their siblings. It was the beauty of the towering caves in the widening smiles; the refreshment of the aqua lakes in the contagious laughter. We played on the playground, hit a baseball, kicked a soccer ball around, played red-light-green-light, drew pictures, and swam in the pool. After a quick cake break, baked in VC's bakery, team members had a quieter time with their sponsored children. The team gave their gifts: backpacks full of a variety of goodies. They prayed, and laughed and took pictures. I was a able to capture a few without interrupting from a distance with the zoom lens. 

The day ended happily, back at our "home", with some delicious shamrock cookies Allen Carl made for us. 

Oh, and happy Saint Patrick's day by the way!

Abba Father, thank you for new experiences each day. We know you always provide us with new graces and mercies, but we get so used to them we fail to notice. In a different environment, you more easily have our attention, our adoration, and our expectation. Increase the consistency of our love for you. You are the same God yesterday and today, everywhere in the world. There is one Church. Lead us. Make the way known to us - to love our community in radical ways. Anything is possible in the name of Jesus by the power of the Spirit! Your Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. Amen

Day 7: St. Patrick's Day Eve

27 What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops.

Matthew 10:27

As the days go on, each one feels shorter and shorter. I am sure part of it is the weariness we all feel - from learning, feeling, and experiencing so much. You could call this a mission trip; I'd call it a vision trip - with vision being something that happens to you not something you happen to create. This vision happening to us is like drinking from a glory-fire-hose. 

Today we were back at Vision Celestial working on the new church building columns and having creative-time with the Compassion children. Three of the four pillars are now filled with concrete (about 3/4 of the way up). Today was full of primary filling in the holes made for the pillars, of which went about five feet deep. It was more tedious than expected, especially during the particularly hot day. 

The children in the Compassion project got to do some more of the cross-bead bracelets Avenues prepared as well as make God-eyes. Each time of crafts then ended with a blissful confetti of paper airplanes - often seemingly the highlight for both the children and adults. There was so much joy! There was an even greater time to be had as the Compassion kids discovered they could throw the paper airplanes and get them stuck in the ceiling. 

After our partnership work, we got to participate in some partnership living. VC Pastor Ernesto and his wife, Pastor Alta Gracia, had the team over to the Nazarene community center (where they also live). Some of us swam a bit while others decompressed. This time culminated into a big dinner on Ernesto's and Alta Gracia's porch with the VC leadership. During dinner sharing, it began to pour like giant heavenly shower; nature's applause for such a beautiful time of fellowship and joy. 

There remains a challenge to listen to the Spirit's whisper for us as we get into a routine and as we grow a little more tired each day. His whisper is our proclamation! 

Abba Father, thank you for so many moments of joy in the DR. I pray that the team is just as much of a blessing as the Vision Celestial team was to us. Thank you that these trips are about way more than work. Thank you for all the learning, loving, and enjoying. You give good gifts! Prepare us for our last work day and the next couple big chunks of relational time. Amen

Day 6: Seeing is Believing; Believing is Seeing

As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him. 10 And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. 11 And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 12 But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13 Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Matthew 9:9-13

Today was quite a full one! We took a break from working alongside Vision Celestial to visit some other local Dominican Republic ministries at work. It was a day full of hearing and seeing the vision of some amazing individuals and groups. 

We began with breakfast and a quick tour at CCR (Christ's Church of Resurrection - roughly translated). CCR is doing very similar work in their neighborhood, closer to the river running through the DR, to Vision Celestial. They have a water purification program, a full and bustling Compassion education program, a dental / skill-equipping program, and much more points of contact with their community. They reside near a small and narrow neighborhood where they minister. Their goal is to purchase, eventually, the whole block so they can minister even more holistically and fully. 

Next, we drove through some lovely and crazy traffic to ICC (Christian Community Church) in the heart of the Colonial City - where we had explored a little on Sunday. Our friend Raphael, who recently visited Hillside, pastors this wonderful church. ICC has a vision to be "the church Jesus wanted, and the church Jesus dreams of" for the Colonial City. Their primary way of pursuing this vision is through the encouragement and discipleship of their entire body - their portion of the priesthood of all believers. The church leadership doesn't necessarily start its own programs. Every ministry they have was begun with small and faithful actions of lay people and then backed by Raphael and the rest of leadership. They try and fail, but they also try and grow! Out of this process, ICC has a thriving homeless lunch ministry (that started with one stove in an empty parking lot), an elderly care ministry (that started with setting up mattresses in the church courtyard), and a Montessori school (that started as a simple tutoring time in one woman's home). ICC really believes in it's people. Raphael guides them, backs them, and advances the vision God has for his people in the Colonial City, no matter how it ends up looking.

After ICC, we visited the International Justice Mission (IJM) office. The location is unmarked in order to remain secretive, since the work they do is dangerous, risky, and very important. IJM serves many different nations by partnering with local governments in order to train and equip law enforcement to combat sex trafficking - among other large social justice issues. They have their own trained investigators, but it is their goal to raise up a sustainable system within a nation's own government to be passionately saving at-risk peoples. The office in the DR is relatively new, so growth is slow in some regards, but there is growth! This is huge, since, before IJM came in to partner with the local government (and churches), there had been very little movement to combat sex trafficking. Please be praying for the IJM staff especially, as their work is very secretive in very dark places. 

We ended the day heading back to Vision Celestial to visit some children and their families in their homes - children whom team members sponsor. It was a sweet time, despite the challenges of language differences. Thank goodness for our wonderful translators! It was so fun to see how excited these kids were to connect with their sponsors. For most of them, it was not their first time meeting their sponsors. The children remember everything their sponsors share with them. It's amazing. 

After a long day running around we settled down at our "home" to process and to eat Dominican lasagna. 

It turned out to be a dense, busy, but challenging day regarding vision - our individual and collective vision. Each ministry we visited served with similar principles, but with different expressions - each extremely important in their context, scope, and measurable fruitfulness. Together they complete a picture of a dynamic Kingdom of God. Our team is discovering that we carry those same characteristics - each of us are different, with different visions, contexts, scopes, etc. Yet if we apply the same principles of the Kingdom, of seeing, then we can, too, partner to dynamically express the in-breaking Kingdom of God. 

In the Matthew passage above, the author takes note that both Jesus and the pharisees SEE. They look at the same situation, a bunch of rejects and failures, but see different potentials. The pharisees see only what's right in front of them, the obvious, a people who are undeserving of God's love. Jesus sees through the obvious, into the potential, a people who deserve God's love - knowing God's radical love can transform them in unbelievable ways. So he goes out of his way to reject the culture of the pharisees, the comfortable culture, to present a new culture to those he sees in need of love and healing. 

Which vision do we carry today? Do we see like the pharisees? - the obvious, the acceptable, the separating? Or do we see like Jesus? - the potential, the risky, the messy?

Abba Father, give us sight like yours. We all are prone, in our own ways, to be blind - to have tunnel vision when it comes to your Kingdom. We are foolish to think we have no vision... we see... and we act based on what we see. Give us sight to see what you see as you see! Cause the team to see each other's potential, to work together, to see the potential of others as the ministries of the DCC see. Have your way with us. Amen

Day 5: Este es el dia!

I will put in the wilderness the cedar, the acacia, the myrtle, and the olive.I will set in the desert the cypress, the plane and the pine together, 20 that they may see and know, may consider and understand together, that the hand of the Lord has done this, the Holy One of Israel has created it. Isaiah 41:19,20

Another full day at Vision Celestial! 

This morning we got to lead some unique and fun activities for the children in the Compassion program (who attend VC's education center). We performed a couple skits, one of which Katie wrote and was such a beautiful living picture of the Life in Jesus. She found this awesome chemical that when mixed with water instantly solidifies the water. The skit has a thirsty girl, Anastasia, begging the children for water. One by one, popular people, beautiful people, and famous people approach her offering their "water". Each temptation pours water into a cup for the beggar, but when she goes to drink it nothing comes out (the mysterious powder was in the bottom of each cup). Finally, Jesus comes along, and his water remains, quenching the girls thirst. We ended each session with some songs; jumping, wiggling, and smiling. 

The time doing the skits and songs was humbling. I don't think any of us felt all that confident, but the Lord is good - for we are among friends who are simply taking pleasure in communing with us. Dan led a devo last night about our call to be childlikeness... to expect the Father's love and to live in full freedom like a child. It seems like we were challenged to apply those truths right away. 

After each group of ninos, we could take a less nervous breathe, to hand out bookmarks - the ones the Hillside family made at the 2016 Community Retreat. The children loved them, and they loved getting to choose from the many different creative options produced by our Walnut Creek church. 

At lunch, which is incredible by the way (have you tasted or seen the avocados from the DR!!!! They are a literal metaphor for the love of God...), Ernesto shared his story with us. There is too much to write here, but it was fervor-making to hear how he came to love Jesus, serve Jesus, and then serve the children and families in his little dense community outside Santo Domingo. He is crazy, and rightfully so! He has been walking with the Del Camino Connection, and he continues to see God provide in insane ways with their (starting as such) simple efforts. 

After lunch the group split up - half remaining at the education center to do a craft with the three classes - half heading to the new church-building worksite. The pillars are coming together with great progress. Vision Celestial's goal is to get the ceiling on the first floor of this building by December. This would allow them to begin using the new space, even before it's finished, for various ministries and as another source of shelter during seasons of bad weather. Hannah shared a craft with all the children today - a cross bracelet with different colored beads representing different elements of the Gospel: Dark Grey - Sin, Red - the Blood of Christ, Blue - Baptism, Green - Life to the Full, Yellow - the Holy Spirit, and White - Eternal Life with Jesus. There was definitely a challenge with the language barrier, but our new friend and spontaneous translator from Cuba, Antonio, was an amazing help. They kids, nonetheless, loved the craft. It was so exciting to see these little loved ones creating a craft that was prepped by our very own Avenues (Adult Special Needs) group. How can it be so simple to love a brother or sister so far away - no matter who you are. 

The day was wrapped up with some ice cream, Cuban sandwiches, and an especially sweet time of worshiping together. God has this team here for a reason! 

We are learning a lot, but know there is so much more to see and learn in the days remaining. Isn't it wonderful!

Abba Father, glorify yourself in all we do - here in the DR, at Vision Celestial, at Hillside, wherever. It's so easy to become self conscious when loving others. Yet you are with us - you hold our hand always - you call us friend. We need not to think with too much difficulty to love simply and extravagantly. Thank you for the humility today. Thank you for being gracious and merciful to us and to your Church! Show us what it is you want to equip us with.

Day 4: Sweetly Sweating

2 He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. 3 And he said:“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. Matthew 18:2-5

Today we kickstarted our time with Vision Celestial, whom we will be serving alongside with the majority of our time. This morning Pastor Ernesto and Pastor Alta Gracia shared with us, in depth, their vision and goals for their local church. We got to view each of their major initiatives - of which Sunday services is but a celebration for.

The floors above the worship area host an education center for the Compassion children. They enthusiastically waved and smiled in the midst of their lessons. In some rooms, children stopped their whimsical playing and playful smacking of the walls to give us welcome. It was another sort of sound of worship this beautiful Monday. 

In the worship room, and in a couple smaller rooms in the back, resided Vision Celestial's water purification system. This small, vibrant local church, years back, prayerfully and humbly walked around their neighborhood to assess the spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical needs. They quickly found that clean water was in lacking, and its lacking affected every aspect of healthy and wholly living. Now they are providing water to their neighborhoods, at nearly half the cost of the bigger local water companies. 

With the profits from the water purification, Vision Celestial has also started a local bakery - with high quality bread at a fairer price. The bakery is able to take advantage of a government program to equip and certify local women (and men too) as bakers. There are great expectations for this fingerprint on their community. 

After viewing these ministries in the middle of their day-to-day organic lives, in the midst of neighborhood children weaving in and out, we visited a Vision Celestial construction site. They are building a new two story, bigger, worship center. They long for more space to serve children, families, and the whole neighborhood. It would enable them to fully convert their current worship space into a space focused on the water purification ministry as well. This project we get to help construct throughout the week!

Construction today was sweaty but sweet. We are primarily helping mix and pour cement for the main pillars that will hold up the second floor. 

There's something other-worldly about being immersed in the very community-engaged lives of a radical holistic church. It's hard not to be ecstatic. Yet, Jesus promised this very thing if we would pursue his kingdom first, like children. His kingdom is at-hand, and there is an in breaking when a body, no matter how big or small, moves forward with everything they have. 

It seems to make your heart beat simply more rightly. It's as if we were made to live for this kingdom. 

Abba Father, our hearts beat more in sync with yours when we are near your kingdom's in-breaking. You taught your disciples to pray: "your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven". You taught your disciples it is worthwhile to long for, and it is possible for there to be clear reflections of your kingdom here on earth. Give us eyes to see; give us ears to hear. Your kingdom come and your will be done in the Dominican Republic as it is in heaven. Your kingdom come and your will be done in Walnut Creek as it is in heaven. Thank you. Amen

DAY 3: Brothers and Sisters, Visiting Family

9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
1 Peter 2:9,10

Tom, our leader and friend from the Del Camino Connection (DCC), opened our day with this reminder and call. We are here to visit our brothers and sisters - since we all have the same call. The churches that are a part of DCC form a network of churches looking to make a radical difference through holistic expressions of the Gospel. This looks like a church leadership taking a serious look at the spiritual, emotional, and physical needs of their direct community, and go to great lengths to creatively solve those needs. This results in great risks and great fruit of the Spirit. The pastors are described as having "second conversions" - a moment of awakening to be the church in ways only dreamt of. 

What a challenge for us, too, in the states! What a blessing to be in a partnership with these daring and faithful people. 

Our day began with a visit to El Circulo's morning service. El Circulo is a young church that grew out of a youth movement in the early 2000's. They holistically serve their community through youth outreaches, an Alpha class at a local Dominoes Pizza, and through creating safe spaces for school-drop-out youths. 

We then had some time to explore Colonial City, the first colony in the America's that Columbus founded. We saw where Columbus' son, Diego lived (it was a pretty legit castle), and some of us got ice cream - those of us who missed that are still quite bitter about it. 

Finally, after a quick dinner, we went to Vision Celestial's evening service. It was so wonderfully lively, and we were welcomed like long lost family members. Sarah preached a good word about Jesus' empathy and compassion for us... we can fight for the Kingdom, for the holistic, risky mission of God, because in any suffering we might experience, Jesus experienced it first. More joyful greetings continued after the service, concluding an heart-filling and awakening day. 

The Lord has something for us!

Father, thank you for our brothers and sisters who are living out the Gospel 100%. Who have risked everything for the sake of loving their cities and communities. Teach us at Hillside to walk in the same manner. Teach us through our brothers and sisters. Thank you for hugs, drawings, laughter, your Word, and for times of praise that feel like we literally before your throne. Give us rest and expectation. Amen.

Day 2

Day 2: New York, the DR, Danny Glover, and Kevin Costner

Travel continued throughout the night and morning... from a mild 60 degree Bay Area climate to the snowy 20 degree New York, and finally the 80 degree Dominican Republic. 

Matt claims he sat next to Danny Glover on the way to New York, which led to a passionate lecture from Dan about how terrible Kevin Costner is. This then led to Sarah and Katie defending Kevin Costner (and Keanu Reaves as well... somehow he was thrown into the debate about terrible actors). 

The team is bonding, needless to say, and it feels great to be sitting in Santo Domingo, drinking coffee, eating plantain chips, and praying / contemplating about the week of ministry partnership ahead. It's an incredible privilege to support and encourage our brothers and sisters in Christ here, and maybe it's an even greater privilege to learn and be challenged by them. 

Abba Father, thank you for safe travels. Thank you for the team you sent to the DR this year. Give us ears to hear. Make our hearts sensitive to your Spirit. Speak to us, lead us, and reveal whatever you want to us. Continue to prepare the hearts of the team. Prepare, too, the hearts of those at home - that when we return we will better prepared for your calling. Amen

- Trevor

Off We Go

Some of us have gathered, and some are still yet to arrive! Hearts are full, and joy is obvious. 

We head to the Big Apple first, and then connect on over to the Dominican Republic tomorrow. 

See you on the other side :)

Please be praying with us. 

Abba Father, grant us safety as we visit our brothers and sisters in the DR. Prepare our hearts, minds, and bodies for your Spirit's leading. Give us rest- whether through crosswords, music, or sleep on the flight. Do more than we could ever anticipate or imagine! 

- Trevor