Standing in the Baltimore-Washington International Airport with bug spray, a water bottle, and her Bible, junior Ashlyn Smith was ready for her four and a half hour flight to the Punta Cana airport in the Dominican Republic.
From Feb. 21 to March 5, her mission was to distribute necessary supplies and share the gospel with the Dominican children and teenagers, with the help of 18 others from the Christ American Baptist Church in York, PA.
The missions group stayed in La Romana, drove on a big yellow school bus, and took anywhere from one to four hours to get to cities, such as El Seibo, to teach English, self-worth, purity, and God’s grace.
As a part of the church missions group, Smith spent hours in the Batey, which are small villages where some of the plantation workers live. The goal of each day was to teach in the schools, distribute clothes and food, or attend church services.
Although Smith was there to teach, she had learned and experienced things herself.
“Where we live, we have everything we need, so we don’t have to depend on others,” said Smith. “In the Dominican, community is all they have and it means everything to them. I’ve learned to cherish the people around me even the ones I don’t know.”
She learned lessons that will stay with her even as she went back to the United States.
“It made me appreciate what I have and I now have a greater understanding of other cultures and lifestyles,” Smith said.
There are many cultural differences between life in the Dominican Republic and life in the United States. For instance, Dominicans don’t keep dogs as house pets. Rather, the dogs just roam around the streets and are everywhere.
Even the driving customs are completely different.
“There is no such thing as using a turn signal,” she said. “No one actually stops. The only rule of the road is the bigger vehicle has the right away.”
Everyone in the Dominican knew a couple words in English.
“I basically only used Spanish, which I didn’t know a crazy amount of,” Smith said. “It was very hard to communicate even with the Spanish I did know.”
Overall, Smith missed two school weeks, but gained a lifetime of experience.
“When I was there it felt like a few days but when I got back to school it felt like I was gone a few years,” Smith said. “But I would do it again a hundred times.”