Bringing Dreams Back to the Dominican Republic—12 Trips with Ryan Church

05/15/17

“Anytime you are interacting with any level of abject poverty—poverty is really when you are robbed of your ability to dream,” says Ryan Church, former Senior Director of University Ministries at University Presbyterian Church (UPC) in Seattle and current interim Director of Outreach.

Ryan recently went on his 12th trip to the Dominican Republic with COTN. And he noticed a lot of differences between this Venture trip and his first visit.

 

Sunset in the Dominican Republic                                                Sunset in the Dominican Republic.


The improvement of living conditions in the villages is obvious. Ryan can see the difference the Venture construction projects he worked on have made for families—damaged rooms in homes have been replaced, concrete floors lie where once there was just bare earth. But he sees the most difference in the children.

 

Venture trip participants head down hill UPC Venture participants head down a hill in the Dominican Republic. College students frequently share trips with Ryan.


Ryan remembers, back in 2003, “you’d see children with protruded bellies [from severe malnutrition], yellow around their eyes, and no clothes.” Now, not only are these physical conditions rarer, but the children’s behavior has changed.


“What I experience now are kids who are dreaming dreams, having visions—what breaks my heart is kids who don’t dream.”


Ryan's Venture teamRyan's Venture team with some of the COTN–Dominican Republic children who now have hope for their future.

This trip was also different for a more personal reason.


This time, Ryan’s eight-and-a-half-year-old son, Carson, went with him.


Ryan's son Carson

Ryan admits, “I expected Carson to be a little more tentative than he was.” But Ryan and Carson were so warmly embraced by the COTN staff, the I Love Baseball (ILB) coaches, and the children that any potential hesitation quickly vanished.


Carson and friendCarson said, “Even when I felt weird, [like when a little boy came up and held his hand and walked with him] everybody was nice. And the baseball was awesome!”

Carson’s love of baseball was a large part of the reason Ryan wanted to bring him to the Dominican Republic. Carson may love baseball, but Ryan wanted him to meet boys who breathed baseball. The difference between U.S. and Dominican baseball is, as Ryan puts it, “the difference between a national pastime and a national passion.”


“The I Love Baseball program has been a great joy for me,” says Ryan. In his experience, nonprofit missions often struggle to connect with young men. But in COTN’s ILB program, men like the ILB director, Ruddy Suero; Coach Henry Reyes Ramirez; and Coach Maximo Ortiz are mentoring young men whose dream is baseball—connecting them to the sport they love and helping them grow spiritually.


Carson plays baseball with friends                                           Carson plays baseball with his new friends.

Ryan has been working—and dreaming—with COTN–Dominican Republic for a long time. He says, “These people are my friends now. It’s just fun! We serve and sweat and get dirty."


But it was, unexpectedly, Haiti that helped bring Ryan back to the Dominican Republic. In the summer of 1998, he served on Hispaniola (the island that Haiti and the Dominican Republic share), working with missionaries from church and water projects. And he developed an incredible love for the Haitian people.


During his first trip to the Dominican Republic, he recognized Haitian Creole being spoken in the bateyes (small settlements, originally built around the sugar industry)—and Ryan discovered that many of the children were immigrants and refugees from Haiti.


A Haitian batey (pronounced BAH-tay). A batey (plural bateyes) is a shanty-town camp where sugarcane cutters live. Bateyes are found only in Cuba and the Dominican Republic.

During that trip, Ryan met Yermina. “She was part of the first group of kids I worked with—before I had kids—she stole my heart.” With obvious pride, Ryan adds, “Smartest girl in the class.”


Yermina now works for COTN–Dominican Republic as the transitions coordinator, helping COTN students transition into university—and achieve their own dreams. Ryan says, “She’s an example of a little girl who was raised and conditioned [by poverty]—in ways we can’t imagine—now she’s making an impact.”


Yermina                           A younger Yermina. She is now grown up and serving others.

Because of the generous support of COTN partners like you, Yermina was able to dream—and to help others dream. Ryan notes that because COTN has empowered Dominicans to lead, it has great credibility in the country. He adds, “What COTN is doing in the Dominican Republic is working—it just is.”


Some of this work occurs through Venture trips.


Ryan takes groups of college students from UPC with him on Venture trips every year, and he tells them, “You may feel like you did nothing, but in just the little part we play, lives are being transformed.”


UPC student plays with Dominican girl             Venture participants from UPC created strong bonds with Dominican children.

During this past trip, college students—and Carson—had the opportunity to build lasting relationships like Ryan’s relationship with Yermina. Several college students signed up to sponsor kids, and Ryan is excited—not just for the children being sponsored but for the college students who are growing and maturing. Ryan notes, “I’m familiar with the critiques of short-term missions—but the fruit is good—faith challenged and renewed.”

He continues, “God is at work here. In the way that COTN—in all of its various parts and pieces—is responding to the Spirit, kids are dreaming dreams and seeing visions. They can do that because they aren’t dead, because they aren’t starving."

 

UPC student and COTN child   One of the UPC students on a recent trip. "God is at work,” Ryan repeats, “and we are participating with Him.”  

P.S. Want to experience the adventure of a Venture trip? We have several dates and types of service trips available!