I recently returned from a short trip to the Dominican Republic where I had the pleasure of spending a couple of days working alongside Vida Joven (Young Life in the DR) staff and leaders in the Monte Llano community of Puerto Plata. During our time in the local community we joined leaders as they did contact work with kids, attended church, went to club and built some benches to be used in the local club “room”. We were hosted by Isa Emiliano, who serves as the Area Director in Monte Llano, and her team of volunteer leaders. During the trip I sat down with Isa to discover just a little bit about what it looks like to be an Area Director in the Dominican Republic.
Jeff Tait (JT): Isa, tell me a little bit about how you became a Vida Joven leader and eventually wound up on Vida Joven staff in Monte Llano?
Isa Emiliano (IE): “While I was in college in Santiago studying to become a civil engineer my sister, Chris, met Julia Veloz who was on Vida Joven staff and was working to grow ministry in my home town of Puerto Plata. Chris became one of Julia’s first volunteer leaders and was the first person to tell me about Vida Joven and their ministry to teenage kids. Ironically, I spent a weekend at Pico Escondido for a church retreat and met Julia as well. Julia encouraged me become a volunteer in Santiago. Initially I focused on doing contact work with girls in Santiago…which eventually turned into a girl’s Bible Study. From time to time I would come home to Puerto Plata to help with club. So that was my introduction to Vida Joven…contact work with girls and weekly Bible Study. After graduation I moved back home to look for a engineering job. I started volunteering with Vida Joven in Puerto Plata during this time and was asked to consider to coming on staff. As I waited for job offers to come in, I prayed that the Lord would make it clear where He wanted me. The only calls I got were from Vida Joven friends asking if I was still praying about joining the Vida Joven staff. This seemed like the confirmation I was looking for…”
JT: Tell me a little about what contact work looks like in Monte Llano and how you use Camping in your local ministry.
IE: “As a team we spend a lot of time doing contact work with kids in our community. Kids in Monte Llano really love volleyball so every Tuesday and Thursday we meet kids at the local gym to play for a couple of hours. Beyond volleyball on Tuesdays and Thursdays, our leaders spend time hanging out with kids wherever they might be. I imagine this looks pretty similar to contact work in US. Wherever the kids are, that’s where we try to be. Watching movies…getting to know their families… typical contact work stuff. As far as camping goes, we take kids to Pico Escondido for week long camp in the summer. We also take kids who have been to summer camp to “growth” camp…it’s probably similar to a Campaigners weekend camp where they learn how to grow deeper in their faith. Finally, if we have students who are interested in becoming student leaders, we have a Student Leadership camp.”
JT: Isa, what are the biggest challenges for Vida Joven in your community? What are kids in your community struggling with?
IE: “Well, right now we are “earning the right to be heard” with some of churches in the community. They just aren’t sure who we are and what we are doing. Along the same lines, it’s been challenging to get to know some of the people in the community too. Similar to the church, they just don’t know who we are and why we do what we do. They are coming around though! We’re always looking for more leaders who are willing to invest in kids from this community.
As far as kids in Monte Llano go, I would say their biggest struggle is their relationship with their families. Many kids from our neighborhood come from broken homes. Dad’s not around and mom is working all time.”
JT: What’s a typical Tuesday look like for you?
IE: “I wake up and spend time with Jesus and then go into the office. From 3:30 until 7:00 I go meet leaders to play volleyball with kids. After that I usually go spend time with some girls…either doing Bible Study or just hanging out.”
JT: What three foods are always in your kitchen?
IE: “Ha… let me think…bread…eggs…plantains. Always have plenty of plantains!”
Written by: Jeff Tait