Barrio Balls

Sunday afternoons have become a family favorite.  For the past three months, our family along with Phyll and the O’s load up with a few soccer balls, a volleyball, and a couple baseball gloves and head to a vacant lot in the poorest neighborhood in Jarabacoa and literally have a ball.  ::yuk yuk::  The memory of how this all actually got started is beginning to fade, but I do remember the idea behind it.  As a group of five Americans feeling called to minister to the people and children of a third-world foreign country, we felt completely unequipped and out of our element.  People stay trapped in the poverty cycle for generations among generations even when outside forces offer another option because there is comfort in their own designed set of cultures and beliefs (and other theories).  I recently read Lysa TerKeurst say in Unglued, “remember, comfort zones don’t have to be comfortable—they’re just familiar.  It’s where you feel like you belong.  And where you come to believe you will stay.”  We knew that simply driving our SUV into the barrios, and hollering out the window, “hey, you!  Don’t sell your kids to human traffickers… come learn about Jesus and the American dream [tongue in cheek],” was never an option.  If we’re going to change just one life, they’re going to have to trust us.  And trust doesn’t come quickly or easily.  We knew that the only way to gain trust is to build relationships with these people.  We want to be the kind of missionaries—the kind of people—that others look to us when they need help, because they have already seen His light within us.

My parents had come to visit us over Thanksgiving and they brought with them several deflated soccer balls and other various kids sports equipment.  When they called before they came and asked if that would be useful, I had no idea how instrumental those soccer balls would be in our future ministry.  In mid-December, we loaded up those balls with no real plan or destination and began a drive through a barrio (basically a Domincan ghetto) that none of us had even been in or knew anything about.  After we had looped around two or three times and had gotten quite a few strange looks by onlookers checking out the funny white people, I remember thinking, “okay, we can always go back home now.”  But we eventually got out when we saw three boys playing barefoot in a vacant lot.  Our own three young kiddos saw no problems with the situation and immediately squeezed through the barbed wire fence and got to making new friends as only children can so easily do.  It amazed me how God used a four, five and six-year old to make the first connections with the people of our ministry.  When Lukie meets new people here, he has often introduced himself as, “We’re missionaries.”  Of course, us adults chuckle, but I know that it’s true that God called our whole family here.  And what started out that day as three Dominican boys quickly grew to at least thirty kids by the end of the first hour!  Preteen girls formed a circle and passed a volleyball back and forth, boys from age 5-15 kicked the soccer balls, and Trevor and big Luke took turns playing catch with some boys with the gloves.  Emily immediately found a little friend and they played with a Barbie that she brought with her.  Her love and ability for the Spanish language amazes us all!  At the end of the day, we gathered the balls and promised we would be back the next week.  There were no handouts, and we didn’t give away anything.  And the next week as we drove to the empty lot, the kids came running out of their homes as they recognized our car pulling up.  And just about every week after that, we have done the same thing.  We’re learning names, attitudes, and all of their glorious little personalities.  Sometimes adults stand outside the barbed wire and just watch us.  The boys love for the guys to rough-house with them, and the girls are content to hold hands or have a piggy back ride. We joke that when the first real fight breaks out, it’s time for us to go home.  Joke, yes, but the fist-fights are the real deal.  It is my guess that “use your words” is not a technique that the parents are reading about in parenting books around these parts.  The situations we are dealing with are bigger than any of us, and only something that can be accomplished through the power and will of Jesus within us.  It is a slow process that often leaves us in agony over the thought, “does what we’re doing really matter?”  Pray for us that we keep the vision and calling for our lives in the forefront of our minds as we move forward in these beginning steps of our ministry.  We can see God laying the groundwork, and at times, we are so excited at the prospects of things to come!  But there are other times when it seems things are moving so slowly, and we are missing our loved ones so deeply, that we allow the doubt to seep in.  Youversion’s verse of the day today is 2Peter 3:9, but let me back it up to verse 8.   I think I texted this verse to Phyllis a few weeks ago.

8  But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.  9a The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness.  

It’s not a perfect process by any means.  It is so easy to lose sight of the important things, but I am thankful for the weekly opportunity to hold hands with a barefoot child with tattered clothes, and the daily opportunity to read God’s word to put things all back into perspective.