It was a hot, searing day as the sun beat down on my skin. The lush green palm trees provided me shade as I sat and observed my surroundings. Children, barefoot and dirty, wearing tattered and stained clothes were running around laughing and playing. Their joyous giggles put a smile on my face and warmed my heart as I watched them.
It was my first time in the Dominican Republic, away from my parents and traveling alone. It was also my first mission trip and I loved every minute of it. As I sat and looked around the village of slums and shacks, I saw that the people were so giving and friendly. They had next to nothing, and yet they were still volunteering to give more.
I met a young girl who was thirteen years of age, sweet and beautiful, and a local of Santo Domingo. All she wanted was to be loved, and of course, to learn English. As I tried to translate most of what she spoke to me, we were able to have the first of our small conversations that would continue throughout my visit in her country. Her family was poor and her father cleaned the building in which I stayed. She had a precious little brother who was only three and her mother was a housewife. Even though I remember her appearance and personality, I don’t quite remember her name anymore. I saw this girl and her family every day for a week and enjoyed seeing their big eyes smile.
During the day I played ball and drew pictures in the dirt with her and her friends. We got dirty and grimy, sweaty and smelly, but none of us cared. I have never cared less about what I looked like than when I was with her. It just didn’t matter. She barely had any clothes, shoes, or even all her necessities, and still she was beautiful. I learned local games and rhymes that she taught me. We would play jump rope games with an old dirty rope and played baseball; we substituted the ball for bottle caps and the bat for a large stick, a little different playing that way, but fun none the less.
The day before we left I was sitting under that same tree that provided the much appreciated shade just a few days earlier. She came up to me and quietly spoke in Spanish; her voice was as soft as a feather. I could tell she was holding something in her hands, something small enough that her fist was closed tightly around it. First she gave me a hug and said “Tengo un regalo para ti”, which means “I have a gift for you.” I was touched that she would even think to give me anything.
All of a sudden, I felt her sweaty fingers against my wrist. I looked down and saw her black, precious hands tying a strand of beads to my wrist. It was a bracelet made of black, sparkly beads and transparent beads, strung together by a piece of black string. She began to tell me that she prayed over the bracelet and for me, because I helped her and had formed a friendship with her. The words she spoke touched my...