A small, brown hand was thrust under my downcast gaze, holding out a chocolate sandwich-cookie. I lifted my head in confusion and found myself staring straight into the deep, brown eyes of a little boy. No one had told me I'd be interacting with the locals, but here one was, thin as a Holocaust victim, but offering me his food.
For the first time in my life, I traveled outside of the United States of America. The plane landed on a hot, muggy island on the third of July. This was Dominican Republic, which I knew absolutely nothing about. I had prepared for my ten-day stay like an expert, only to discover that many of my "precautionary" items had no reason to be there. The airport closely resembled what I would find in America, but as soon as I walked onto the street, I knew this was not the land I had grown up in. Instead, everything was placed outdoors and everyone except the wealthy tourists was dirt poor.
Why was I there? I was a part of a group of over 300 teenagers sent to do mission work in a project called "Ultimate Workout 24." My job was to paint a school and build another one next to it. I could have switched to other jobs while I was there, but I didn't. Now that I look back on it, I wish I would have. There were so many wonderful things that I didn't witness, like the miracle of having enough sandwiches to feed eighty kids when there were only forty, and having twelve left over. For six of those ten days, I painted a school in Barahona different shades of blue. The work got very annoying after a while, so my group and I eventually caught on to painting each wall only as the sun wasn't shining on it. I sang as I worked as did the people on either side of me. Marino, a local, did touch ups and continually asked me about the properties of snow.
About the fifth day of work, five local children came onto the site. This was not allowed, but no one sent them away. Rather, they went inside the building we were painting and colored with the resting volunteers. Three were girls, and they remained inside. The other two were boys. I shall not forget them. It was in the middle of the afternoon, and I was scraping paint trays with two group members, Richard and Johnny. They were sitting on the ground, and I was dangling my legs over the edge of a stone table. One of the local boys came out and started vigorously scraping trays although no one had asked him to. He grinned at me and asked for a drink of water by pointing to my water bottle and then to his mouth. I had him tilt his head back, so I could pour it. Perhaps I was too abrupt, however, since it started coming out of his nose, and he began to laugh. He scraped a few minutes longer and then decided to go back inside.
Then came the other boy. He approached me shortly after his friend went in. Spanish words came out of his lips, but I didn't know what he was saying. I pointed to my water bottle to ask if he needed a drink, but he shook his head in frustration and went back inside. This made me sad because I was reminded of how many times a local would try and talk to me, but I couldn't understand them. I returned to scraping. Maybe ten minutes later, that chocolate cookie appeared under my vision.
"Gracias," I said, and hesitantly took it out of his little hand.
He nodded and smiled. In my opinion, it wasn't fair that he gave me food, and yet I couldn't have rejected his gift, because that's exactly what it was: a gift. Nevertheless, I pulled the snack apart and gave him half in hopes that it would fill him for a short while. What did he do with it? He walked over to Johnny on my left and offered it to him.
"No gracias," Johnny said, later questioning the accuracy of that statement.
The boy shrugged and ate the half I handed to him, then went back into the schoolhouse. I sat on the rock for a moment and tried to comprehend what had just happened. Earlier that day, I had felt stormy, but this boy with his kindness completely changed my mood.
The entire time I was in Dominican Republic, I took most of the situations for granted. It wasn't until months later that I realized how large the impact was. My perspective changed with my heart, and produced who I am today. I now have a deep love for children, for helping people, and for making as many new friends as possible so I can share my joy. It also caused my faith to grow tremendously. Now I can participate in small kindnesses and hope for something good to come out of each of them. Perhaps not everything went exactly the way I wanted it to when I was in the Dominican, but the experience ultimately taught me what it truly means to be a missionary.