On May 28th, 2019 we traveled as a group of 13 students and Well staff to spend a week with Manna Global Ministries in the Dominican Republic. The story of how we ended up with this group of missionaries begins several years ago.
Mollee McClain, a former ACU student and member of The Well, grew up at a church that took trips to the Dominican Republic with Manna. Mollee fell in love with the ministry and invited her roommate Emma Thornton and eventually Emma’s younger brother Travis Mack, to spend a summer interning with Manna. So when ACU approached The Well about supporting our students on a global trip this summer, Travis immediately suggested that we go to the Dominican Republic.
The thirteen of us gathered in the Sojourners’ living room every other Sunday during the Spring semester to attempt to “train” for this trip. We spent most of our time looking at the grand narrative of Scripture as best as we could to trace God’s obvious heart to restore all Nations to Himself. We also ended up learning a lot about the nature of short term mission trips- both their ability to help and harm the places they’re going to. I think I speak for all of our team when I say that we ended the training with some nerves about our true ability to help the missionaries and Dominicans in one week’s worth of time. However, we also trusted that God can use all things to draw all people to himself, including our own human ignorance and weakness.
When we arrived in the Dominican Republic, the Senior Director of Manna, Norm, took the leaders aside to ask us what our goal was for the trip. I was a little taken aback, as I assumed that they already had a strict schedule for us to abide by. However, from the very beginning, we felt like we were uniquely heard and ministered to. Our answer was that we truly wanted to serve the missionaries the best we could. We also told them that we honestly just wanted to disciple our own team well, processing with one another as the Lord taught us about the expansion of His Kingdom all over the world. Norm was excited by this second answer because he explained that for the last couple of years Manna was trying to undergo a shift in ministry focus. Manna wanted to prioritize making disciples, rather than getting distracted by the maintenance of ministry and outreach programs. And so he offered to change the schedule of the week a little so that we would have enough time for the missionaries to teach our team what they have learned about disciple-making. However, Norm made it clear from that first meeting that Manna also wanted to learn from us too- how the Lord has made disciples through The Well Church in Abilene, Texas.
The rest of the week our schedule mainly revolved around getting to know the missionaries and the locals that either attended Manna Christian School (their private high school), lived at the Manna Children’s Home, or lived on the same country road in Bobita as Manna’s headquarters. Our team was able to create a curriculum for a VBS-style afterschool program in the neighboring town. We also were invited into several homes of locals. We got to spend a lot of time with the children from the children’s home, even taking them all down to a river one afternoon. We also just got to spend some fun time with the missionaries going on a hike, playing traditional Dominican dominos, and spending a day at the beach.
On the last day, three of the lead missionaries took Santi and me to lunch to process the week. Again, Santi and I were overwhelmed by the humility of the missionaries as they asked for constructive criticism of our week and for any insight we had on making disciples of students.
Norm requested that we go home and join them in prayer, asking God to reveal his will concerning a future partnership with them. I immediately began to ramble on about practical ways we could serve them in the future. But I think my favorite moment of the entire trip was when Norm waited to encourage my ideas but then to gently explain, “we aren’t looking for one-way service. We are looking for two-way partnerships where we are supporting others too in the work of ministry.” I was so grateful for this gentle redirection because he was so right- discipleship is never just about one person’s ability to give to another, but about Christ’s ability to give to both.
On the last night of the trip, we spent time in prayer for each other and we each went around saying what God had taught us that week. We wanted to hear how we would all answer our friends and family back home when they asked the inevitable question, “How was your trip to the Dominican Republic?”
For me personally, I would say that Manna’s humility and intentionality in serving and learning from us taught me so much about God’s heart for discipleship. I believe I came back feeling so refreshed in the work of ministry because God had used the story of how the gospel was transforming their community to remind me of how small my role is compared to the Spirit’s when it comes to making disciples. They had also reminded me of the beautiful partnership between the Church universal that God intends in order to carry out His mission. And most of all, they reminded me of His own glory and worthiness for such a mission.
I would encourage you to join us in continuing to ask God, “How are you calling me to serve Your mission of making disciples of all nations?”