Mission trip raises kids’ poverty awareness
by WILLIAM WRIGHT, Lifestyles Editor
May 08, 2011 | 1593 views | 0 0 comments | 21 21 recommendations | email to a friend | print
MELISSA WORD, a second-grade teacher at Yates Primary in Cleveland, sat on a street corner with second-graders in Cielo, Dominican Republic, assisting them in their education.
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When Elementary school teacher Melissa Word visited the Dominican Republic in March, she promised to bring her students something back that would be priceless — awareness of what it was like to live in abject poverty.

The second-grade teacher at Yates Primary said her first mission trip out of the country was the answer to her prayers, but it also gave her the perfect opportunity to share information to impact her young students for change. But the change started with her.

From March 12-19, Word joined her son Brian, a youth pastor in Montgomery, Ala., with 39 others on a construction mission trip to Capa de Cielo, in Barahona, Dominican Republic. Cielo is one of the poorest areas on the second largest island in the Caribbean.

Although her son had visited the area several times in his 10 years with Mission Emanuel, an ongoing Dominican Republic outreach ministry, Word said it was only last year when “I really felt the Lord tugging on my heart to step out of the box,” and reach out to a foreign mission.

The predominantly Spanish-speaking area was an eyesore of underdeveloped and underprivileged people kept in the backdrop of the tourist sites in the Dominican Republic.

“They have nothing,” Word said, fighting back tears. “Cielo is a community right outside the Dominican Republic. It’s up on the top of a mountain. These people really have nothing. They live on a day-to-day basis.”

The Haina river basin, which flows three blocks from Mission Emanuel’s Cielo hilltop property, is one of the ten most polluted rivers in the world.

The first night when Word and her team returned to their modest hotel after driving through the community, seeing the poorest of the poor surrounded by unclean conditions, she admits to being taken aback along with several of her colleagues.

“The 27 of us who were new had a hard time accepting what we saw,” she confessed. “We have so much in this country. They have so little. But somehow it’s a little bit harder to go to similar places in Cleveland. It’s easier to step outside.”

Word said the executive director of Mission Emanuel, Jack Larson, told them the purpose of their visit was not to feel badly about their own prosperity but to keep the focus on the needs of the people at hand.

“He said the Lord doesn’t want us to feel badly. He wants to give and bless people. He want us to have. He wants to bless us. But we, in turn, need to go to people in the world — in Cleveland and beyond — who aren’t so blessed.

“That really helped us that night. So we gave our time and energy and let the Lord work through us in whatever way He saw fit.”

Word said the results was blessing upon blessing upon blessing as they concentrated on loving the people they met.

The team built two homes, provided medical supplies for a clinic and visited with Domincans in the community while sharing the Word of God. The thing that impressed Word the most, however, was that despite their disadvantages, she noticed how cheerful the people — young and old — were.

They seems lighthearted, contented and always in a good mood, something not as evident in most materialist societies.

“These people were happy with what they had which was next to nothing,” said Word. “They were filled with joy. They truly are beautiful, beautiful people, but they have next to nothing.”

Their “nothing” became a huge something as Word returned from her mission trip to share her experience with her young students.

“When I told my second-graders that I was going on a mission trip and I explained to them what we would be doing and why we were going — I had one student to ask, ‘Are you going to bring us back something?’” Word recalled.

“I said, ‘Yes. I’m going to bring you back something. I’m going to bring you back the knowledge of having gone to another country and visiting other children your same age — going to their schools — and you’re going to learn about the Dominican Republic from my having gone there. I’m bringing you back knowledge.”

After visiting two different second-grade schools in Cielo — one with Mission Emanuel and one out in the community — Word said she witnessed the poverty and sad predicament of the Dominican people, but she also witnessed their priceless faith and dignity as they praised God for what they have and received through Mission Emanuel.

According to Word, making her students aware of the plight of less fortunate children made a real impact on her pupils who listened to her with wide-eyed attentiveness. It also changed her. Seeing people who virtually had nothing, but are happy because they have faith, hope and love, was like seeing people from a new perspective.

“That experience — those people — will never leave me,” she said. “My husband Alvin and I worked on numerous trips in the U.S. with youth groups at First Baptist Church, but this was different. I’m also more aware of the need we have right here at home in Cleveland. The need is everywhere.”

Through it all, Word said the key to change starts with “prayer and being aware,” two things she did quite a bit of — before, during and after her visit to the Dominican Republic.

According to the U.S. Department of State, slightly fewer than half of Dominicans live in rural areas. The population is more than 8.5 million people. The people also enjoy a tropical climate year-round.