from Sarah Kang, medical mission team member and medical student
lt’s been an unforgettable week in the Dominican Republic! As I return home and reflect upon my experiences, I am filled with bittersweetness when I remember the people I saw and the places we went to. Our team of 30 providers and students partnered with Oasis Church in Santo Domingo, who has been supporting this mission field for several years and supplied us with translators and interpreters. We spent the week ministering to and providing healthcare for Haitian workers living in the bateyes (ba-TAYS), small villages dispersed throughout sugarcane fields in the Dominican Republic.
We went to three different bateyes, providing primary care, dental care, and eyeglasses to a total of 846 patients, some of whom were seeing a doctor for the first time in their lives. As a medical student, I was able to rotate with the different providers, practicing my history-taking and physical exam skills. Each patient visit concluded with a chance for them to hear the gospel and be prayed for.
I anticipated that the trip would be physically demanding, and it was, but I couldn’t have expected the spiritual challenges that I would face. The working and living conditions in the bateyes are extremely difficult. The sugarcane workers routinely get up at 3 or 4am and work long hours in the hot sun for the meager salary of 100 pesos or about $2.50 per week. Part of this may be taken out of their paycheck to pay for temporary worker’s housing that is provided by the company. What little money they have left can be spent on alcohol and other goods provided in stores on the bateyes that are, yet again, owned by the sugarcane companies. The cycle of poverty that these people are trapped in is heartbreaking. Yet even in the midst of such darkness, there were brave glimmers of light in the faces of the children and patients we saw. Yes, we saw much suffering, but we also saw smiles and laughter.
There are churches in many of the bateyes we visited, and local pastors lead vibrant communities of faith in the face of difficult circumstances. This trip has made me wrestle with God’s sovereignty in the face of such tremendous suffering and injustice. However, God has shown me powerfully in the testimonies of my fellow team members and the stories of the patients we saw that He is always present and in control. Although I often found myself frustrated and discouraged at the little we could do in our short stay there, I was reminded that physical healing is only part of what we came to offer. In one of our evening devotions we read the last two chapters of Revelation, which describes the coming of a new heaven and new earth, when God will dwell with man and death, mourning, crying, and pain shall be no more (Rev. 21 :4). This is a glimpse of the ultimate hope that we call our patients to, a hope that extends beyond temporary relief and can only be found in Jesus.
I was also struck by how much we had in common with the people we saw. So many of their spiritual struggles are the same: there were individuals who had been hurt by the church, and many others who had once called themselves Christians but felt that they were now too far from God to come back. One such patient was Vanessa. Vanessa was only 24 years old and was coming to us for complications from a self-induced abortion. When asked, she said that she had had more than she could count. Besides her physical pain, she was burdened by severe emotional pain and guilt over her actions. Rather than judge her, I was struck by the similarities I felt between us. I can’t count the number of times l’ve come back to ask for God’s forgiveness after committing the same sin I had told Him I wouldn’t do again. There is nothing in me that makes me more deserving of God’s forgiveness than her, and it is my prayer that she could also know this forgiveness and the healing that comes with it.
Rather than seeing this missions trip as a one-time event, I believe it is important to see it as a part of the bigger picture of how God is advancing His kingdom. Please pray for the seeds that were planted in the hearts of the patients we saw. Please pray for the churches and the pastors in the bateyes, their battle is an incredibly difficult one on so many fronts. Pray for the work of Oasis Church and their ongoing ministry with the bateyes. I praise God for the work He has done in and through us this week, and am so grateful for all who have offered financial support, prayers, and well-wishes. Thank you for partnering with me and our team in this work!