The Best Thing That Has Ever Happened To Me
I slowly wake up to the sound of birds chirping and a faint light oozing through my window. By now, the sky will just be starting to colorize.
It is around 5:40.
I shift around on my thin mattress, mostly asleep. I hear Jack’s watch alarm and give him my best effort at an enthusiastic, buenos días, which ends up sounding pretty flimsy this early in the morning. I drag myself out of bed, throw on a flannel shirt and step out onto the cabin porch, into the fresh Caribbean air. Bailey is outside. Buenos días, I whisper, because I don’t want to disturb the peace. He smiles back.
The valley below me is still dark as light blue streams and orange clouds begin to seep into the deep dawn sky. I breathe in and exhale. It is our last work day, but I do not have to worry about that right now. This is precious time alone with my friend Jesus, the one who made the valley, the King. And ultimately, He is the reason we are here together. We will need Him for every bit of today’s adventures; the work, the rest, and the play.
This is precious time alone with my friend Jesus, the one who made the valley, the King. And ultimately, He is the reason we are here together.
We, the Summer Staff at Pico Escondido, meet for devotional time each morning at 6:30. We sleepily sit together and pray, proceeding to spread out to read the Bible and pray on our own. I am wearing worn-down jeans, so that I do not have to wear bug spray; the bugs here are rightfully called hell bugs, and of course there are abundant mosquitoes as well.
I begin to read Philippians 2 and feel led into the Gospel of Luke. It was like Jesus was saying to me: “Come and experience the cross and resurrection with Me, Robbie. I am calling you to walk through the hard and good things of your life with Me. I am calling you to mission. I am with you today.”
And the only sound is the chirping of birds until a large metallic triangle clangs, summoning us to breakfast.
We eat in an open-aired comedor. I pour coffee and spicy hot chocolate, and say good morning to our high school volunteers, but do not sit with them this morning. I am savoring every precious minute with my Summer Staff family.
We laugh at Jack’s imitation of international accents… I squeeze my Venezuelan friend, Hember, in the side and he digs his fingers into my side until I tap out, causing a scene… everyone rolls their eyes but can’t help smiling… we laugh more.
I told Jennifer that I needed to tell her about my conversation with God this morning, because I know she will be excited. She smiles and bounces up and down asking me to just go ahead and tell her now! As we wash our dishes with sponges in large tubs, I tell her about how He led me through the end of Luke by showing me that He is walking through life with me. She is even more excited than I thought she would be!
Suddenly, it is 8:00 and meal time is over, we have to start the work day.
Lydia, Kelly, and I are work bosses on the same team. We exchange a glance and realize that our high school team is already at the work-site on the other side of camp. We start down one long set of steps so we can walk across the field and up the other long set of steps. We are tired. We have been carrying buckets of rocks up the mountain all week.
That is our actual job.
Carrying buckets of rocks up a mountain to make a trail. All of our legs are dead. And we also have to go encourage a group of tired high schoolers to carry buckets of rocks up the mountain too. I do not feel like being a cheerleader. Lydia does not either, but she continues to say: “We can do this!“, with such a look of defiant resolution that I begin to believe her.
… we are going to need the Holy Spirit to really work through us, because our bodies would be pretty useless today without it.
We arrive and I pray so that we can get started… we are going to need the Holy Spirit to really work through us, because our bodies would be pretty useless today without it. I grab a bucket and follow the high schoolers up the steep incline. I picture the trail we are building in its completion — a quiet space built just for Dominican kids.
From my own personal experience, there is often no quiet space in the barrios where Vida Joven kids call home. We visited a barrio in Santo Domingo and there was absolutely no quiet space. We slept three to a bed and heard loud music in the streets late into the night. So I am beyond excited for kids to come from a place like that, to here. From noise, to quiet. From chaos, to peace. From trash-covered streets, to a clean mountain trail.
Walking up the mountain with a bucket of rocks weighing down my wrist and my legs hurting whilst also getting hot in the jeans I threw on today, I picture a Dominican muchacha and her leader following these rocks back and forth up the mountain, talking in peace, praying under the stars. Maybe she will meet Jesus here… maybe she will know that someone cares about her and thinks the world of her… maybe she will really know that God loves her… maybe she will find hope… maybe she will find purpose… maybe she will become a Vida Joven leader herself and reach out to more muchachas! This is why we are all here. This is why we each have given up a month or longer of our summer’s and also raised support in order to be able to work for free.Together we are working towards showing God’s Kingdom in the Dominican Republic. Or maybe, God is bringing His Kingdom through us.
This is why we are all here… we are working towards showing God’s Kingdom in the Dominican Republic.
God must have heard our prayer earlier, because we played movie-naming games all morning and it resulted in a new ten yards of laid trail! Which may not sound like a lot, but that is a lot of rocks!
On the way to lunch, Ira grabs my shoulder as if to say; “You have been doing a good job.“, and it makes me feel like I am somebody. Kelly asks how I am feeling, and I can tell that she really wants to know… I am tired, but I am feeling good.
After lunch, while we wash dishes, Hannah wants to hear about my life, my friends, my hopes, and my fears. She is a deep talker. She is a great listener that deserves someone to listen back. I ask her about her routine at school, what she likes, and what she does not. (I have had lots of these conversations with different people this past month.) When the dishes are clean, I step outside and lay down on a bench to rest. Everyone is taking some kind of descansa.
The enthusiasm has worn off and rise is sitting heavy in my stomach. I am content, but I do not think I can bear walking back over to the job site and carrying more rock-buckets. I pray again for energy. I tell Hember that I am exhausted. He tells me that he too is very tired, by pronouncing it ‘tie-red‘. He tells me that I need to go back to work. ‘Quizás,’ I reply, which means maybe. We laugh. Quizás has become the motto of the summer staff. He decides to come to work with me on the mountain in order to encourage me. I can practice my Spanish, and he can practice his English as well!
The best part about hard, purposeful, sweaty work is that it makes rest and play so much sweeter. After work, we trek back across camp and I shower — a refreshing cold, then warm, then cold again, shower — grab a book and sit down on the porch
It has cooled down again. I have been missing fiction, so I am reading Sonny’s Blues, which is actually Katherine’s book… I sit in a chair near Sam and Carson, each reading their own book. Nearby Jenna, Meg, and Brie are laughing and crafting at the picnic table. We are all resting together. Doing the things that give us life.
There is talk of hiking Mt. Mogote in the morning. Grace warns us the rail is difficult and dangerous, she sounds like Gandalf or Dumbledore with that warning. She tells it like it is. I look at Bailey and give him a look that shows him how much I want to go, but what I say out loud is that my legs are too tired. He replies, in a silly voice that I have grown accustomed to, that it would be so much fun, as a smile begins to cover his face. I decide that I will rest my legs once I get home to the States, there is no way that I am going to miss this hike. I look around and see that several of my friends are going to go too and my soul starts jumping up and down inside of me.
I plan on napping until dinner so that I can wake up early tomorrow morning to hike, because I really did mean it when I said that I was tired.
The next thing I know, Carson is waking me up to tell me that dinner is over, I am confused and actually quite angry with myself until I realize that Hember has saved me a plate. Everyone comes back to the cabin as Jack, Jenna, and Sam sit on the picnic table with me while I eat the chicken, rice, and beans that we have eaten nearly every day for a month now, but that we will soon miss. I am glad to be with people that look out for one another.
I am glad to be with people that look out for one another.
I am starting to sweat, there is no AC, and I am getting sleepy. I walk back to our room through the small kitchen where Lydia and Michelle are enjoying some chocolate ice cream bars that we bought in town. I stop to enjoy one with them. We laugh and I cool off for a minute, but then I say goodnight.
I wash my face, turn off the light, and climb under my three-weeks-unwashed sheets as I clutch my cross and prayer beads that make me feel safe from the large spiders around camp. Soon, Jack walks in, followed shortly by Carson. We will all be rising early to hike tomorrow. I struggle to stay awake as we recap our days and speak kind brotherly words to one another. Buenas noches amigos. It is good to be here with you, I think to myself.
Soon I will have to leave these people.
I will cry because I am sad to leave them, but much more because I am thankful — very thankful — for this family. Something about Pico Escondido with them has been extraordinary. This has been the best month of my life.
What made it so great?
Well, my first hunch is that Jesus was with us. Of course Jesus is with us everywhere we go, but it was extra obvious this time. The thing is, Jesus is especially with us when we go on mission together. After His resurrection, He sent the disciples out into the world to proclaim the Good News, and He told them, “I will be with you to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
“I will be with you to the end of the age“
— Matthew 28:20
But what about when we not only get together, but live together in His name? And what about when we not only live together, but go on mission together in His name? Jesus is with us times two, at least. And what about when we follow Jesus into a beautiful third world country together, and live and work and rest and play together? What about when we expedition together? There is nothing better.
Thinking about my family at Pico Escondido, I feel a tug that just might change my entire life.
I want to expedition with Jesus and with Jesus’ people wherever I am. I want to bring the joy of our family home. But maybe I am being called to go out and seek more of what we had at camp, taking on discomfort for the sake of God’s Kingdom so that I might find comfort in God’s family of co-missionaries. Maybe I am being called to work in a missional community far from the comforts of my home, chasing beauty and bringing God’s Kingdom and living, working, resting, playing together. And maybe that is the best thing that could possibly ever happen to me.
Robbie S. Wooten Jr.