By: Liam Watts
Starting a new semester is always difficult as we are relearning how to balance schedules, studying for tests, and embracing the frantic whirlwind that accompanies each new wave of freshmen, but as crazy as it gets, it’s all part of the first week experience. Now, imagine trying to do all this while also spending a week half-way across the world. This year OKWU sent Coach Donnie Bostwick, 15 of his athletes, and 3 other members of the coaching staff on a mission trip to the Dominican Republic. Partnering with Go Ministries, this OKWU crew spent 7 days working, teaching, and living in Santiago around the areas of Hoyo de Bartola, Hato del Yaque, and Hoya del Caimito. Their mission was to help the community through various service projects, daily meals, and sharing the joy of sports. In addition to their service goals, the OKWU crew also made it their goal to focus on their theme for the week: grafting. Grafting is the concept of bringing two separate things together to create a new whole, and this theme set the tone that the week would follow: bringing two separate groups together.
One of the first projects that the OKWU mission team worked on while in the Dominican Republic was construction for an outreach center that Go Ministries was building. Go Ministries has a vision for a building that will function as a missions’ base, sports complex, student center, dorm, and outreach complex. They first broke ground on this structure in November of last year and have made steady progress since. The OKWU team was able to help by digging trenches for the base of a watchtower. While it wasn’t glamorous work, this watchtower is vitally important as it will help to keep the building and all the people it serves safe. In the following days the OKWU missions team tackled numerous other jobs in surrounding communities ranging from painting houses, to construction, and to meal service and prep.
It wasn’t all hard work, however, since one of the goals for this trip was to hold basketball clinics within the community. Many of the children in the Dominican love sports, just like kids here in America, but they often must make due with less than ideal equipment. Members of the mission team described basketball hoops made from boards nailed to trees and balls so flat they might as well have been Frisbees, and they told me that whenever the kids would play baseball they would have to use their hands as bats. So, it was with great pleasure that the OKWU mission team was able to share some of their equipment. Assistant Coach Kendrick Babineaux said that this helped him “appreciate the things I have.”
Throughout the week, the team played various games and sports in the communities they visited, building relationships along the way. Sharing the love of sports allowed these two groups with vastly different experiences to find common ground. In addition to regular pick-up games, the OKWU mission team also got to play against some of the Dominican’s actual basketball teams. They described these games as both great fun and a great way of learning more about the Dominican people.
When I asked members of the OKWU mission team what surprised them most during their trip, one of the things I was told was that they were unprepared for the racial tension between the Dominicans and the Haitians. After decades of hurricanes, tropical storms, and earthquakes that have ravaged their country, many Haitians have been left with nothing. Seeking better opportunity, they turned to their neighbors in the Dominican. In many ways, however, the Dominicans face the same struggles. Because of this, the Haitians are often seen as stealing the opportunity of locals. While people on both sides are suffering from poverty, they rarely find solidarity in their struggles.
Over the course of the week, the theme that the OKWU mission team began with, grafting, revealed itself more and more clearly, giving the group ample opportunity to apply it. Whether it was learning to relate to kids, finding common ground in the love of sports, or attempting to sow unity between different racial groups, bringing separate things together was often the path that led to Jesus. As the OKWU team went from community to community, they found that just sharing their testimony helped them to relate to others and gave them the chance to spread the gospel. Coming home now, many of the players are energized, and motivated to continue this work here. Of course, most of the players, including Elbert Lawrence, told me they would “go back in a heartbeat.”