Baptist Church members share experiences after returning from the Dominican Republic mission

The Saranac Lake Baptist Church members who recently returned from a week-long mission trip the Dominican Republic, from left Natalie Sheik, Eric Van Yserloo, Jen Clark, Jamie Clark, Megan Wright, Jerry Stuart, Emily Trudell and Lead Pastor Ryan Schneider. (Enterprise photo — Jesse Adcock)

SARANAC LAKE — Eight members of the Saranac Lake Baptist Church recently returned from a mission trip to the Dominican Republic, sharing their takeaways from the experience on Sunday.

The church partnered with Score International, a global missions ministry that sends evangelicals on short-term mission trips, to send its members to the city of Juan Dolio in the province San Pedro de Macoris in the D.R.

“I want to serve more with you guys,” Joe Salvagni, national director for Score said in a video at Sunday’s service at the Saranac Lake Baptist Church. “Specifically in the Dominican Republic. Specifically with the people that we’ve worked with.”

Caleb Clark said their trip, from Feb. 23 to March 2, was his second international mission. He spoke about the chance to attend two Sunday services with the Dominican community.

“What an amazing experience that was. I had no idea what was being said, it was in Spanish,” Caleb said. “I remember just standing there in awe. I didn’t know what they were saying, but I knew the God that they were worshiping.”

He recounted a particular conversation with the Dominican pastor.

“He said, ‘Guys, I hate to break it to you, but we don’t need you here.’ And your heart kind of stops there,” Caleb said. “(But then he went on to say) ‘But what I want to say is we want you here.'”

Caleb said in the short time the missionaries were there, they couldn’t make deep ties to people separated by language barriers and of a different culture — but that wasn’t the point.

“The reality is we got a grand picture of what we need to be doing back here,” Caleb said. “And that is building each other up as the church.”

Jen Clark said the experience of meeting the family of Score International’s translator, Felix, was like nothing else she experienced all week. She said the group visited Felix’s parents’ house in a sugarcane village to see about repairing his roof.

“We showed up there, nine americanos and they were just so loving and welcome and I don’t know if they spoke any English but they just hugged and kissed each and every one of us and welcomed us into their little and tiny house,” Jen said. “It was just eye opening. To see how spoiled we are and how we could get by with so much less.”

Jerry Stuart, who works with the Saranac Lake Volunteer Rescue Squad, said he taught life saving techniques to kids at Josiah’s House, a boys orphanage they visited.

“We just talked to them about bleeding control, or if one of the kids or adults gets hurt, what to do until help arrives, and they had a lot of questions of course,” Stuart said. “Just kind of did a basic what to do — a CPR kind of thing and Heimlich Maneuver. Just basic life saving things. That was really good. It felt like an accomplishment.”

Erik Van Yserloo’s trip had a specific purpose — to teach bucket drumming to the children at an orphanage the mission serves. Van Yserloo said his biggest concern was being able to overcome the language barrier, “but that happened for sure,” he said.

Van Yserloo said Dan and Shaina, who run Josiah’s House, have a 17-year-old son named Josh who speaks both English and Spanish. Josh had also taken drum lessons in the past.

“I was able to bridge that gap which was really just amazing,” Van Yserloo said. “Literally within minutes of us getting there with the few buckets that we had. … I was just in awe of how well everyone responded to me.”

He said when they first arrived, one of his first projects was to scrape and repaint a classroom in Josiah’s House. However, after scraping the old paint away, Van Yserloo said he saw that moisture had penetrated and deteriorated the lower courses of the classroom’s brick wall.

“As a church, Saranac Lake Baptist Church, we came together and we got a quote for that project, and we funded that project to get fixed,” Van Yserloo said. “That schoolroom is actually being repaired by Saranac Lake Baptist Church.”

Additionally, Van Yserloo said Salvagni was interested in his project of bringing bucket drumming to the D.R. He said they’re planning to work on a curriculum to share with other missionaries.

Megan Wright said that because of going to school for psychology, she has an understanding of the trauma some of the orphans may have suffered in their lives. But, after seeing how fast they took to Van Yserloo’s bucket drumming lessons, she stopped worrying as much.

“For them to connect within like 30 seconds with probably the tallest person in our team, was a moment. I was like, ‘Wow, these kids are OK,'” Wright said. “God has not left these orphans fatherless. … He’s not going to let any child be an orphan, whether they have parents or not.”

Emily Trudell said the trip was not what she expected — she said she was imagining they’d be spending more time with the orphans.

“It was really neat because a lot of us thought we going to spend every single day with kids,” Trudell said. “We really didn’t spend as much time as I really think some of us wished we could have. But it was maybe not what God wanted us to do this time.”

She said in her second day there, she and the other missionaries met with the women staff members of Josiah’s House and shared life experiences. She said one of the biggest differences was that kids there don’t grow up with just one or two people watching over them — the community gets together twice a week for meals.

“One afternoon, us ladies got together to make freezer meals so that they could use those two days,” Trudell said. “Just an easy kind of meal for them.”

Jamie Clark spoke about Delma, who runs Pesito’s House — the orphanage for girls. She said Delma had been caring for 18 orphans out of a tiny two-bedroom house, and the government kept bringing her more orphans.

“More and more of these cases came where children were unwanted, or found out in sugar cane fields,” Jamie said.

She said Delma, one day on her way to her mother’s house, passed by a vacant property with multiple buildings and open space. She said Delma could envision the things that God had for her in that home.

“She touched the floor and said, ‘This is my floor,'” Jamie said. “And she just kept crying out to the Lord to provide. She just knew that god was going to give her what she desired.”

Jamie said Score found about about Delma’s need, and found a way to buy the property for her, where she now cares for 58 orphaned girls.

Like Van Yserloo, Natalie Sheik was planning the mission trip with a particular goal in mind — bringing the girls at Pesito’s House ballet slippers, and teaching a two-day course in ballet. But, as their trip date approached, Sheik said she’d still not received any donations, until her mother-in-law texted her about it. Through one of her mother-in-law’s church friends, who owns three dance studios, Sheik received 160 pairs of ballet slippers.

“And they were all packaged and untouched. Just flawless ballet slippers,” Sheik said. “So I was able to bring 58 plus to these little girls.”

She said she had a two-day curriculum worked out to teach the orphans ballet, but when they arrived, the missionaries found out they’d only be spending a morning at the orphanage.

“I was just crushed,” Sheik said. “But everyday God showed up so big, and showed all of us that his plan and his purpose for our lives is so much better.”

Ryan Schneider, lead pastor at Saranac Lake Baptist Church, said that last month’s trip won’t be a one time thing. He said the church is in talks with Salvagni to likely to send a group back to the D.R. with a project in mind.

“One of the main passions for Joe is to provide drinkable water for the whole area,” Schneider said. “Their vision is to build one of these pump houses in each little community. … Then they would build a church next to the pump station, where there’s automatically a gospel witness where the pastor can just walk over and begin gospel conversations with the communities there.”