By Sister M. Paula Van Thienen
Venturing Out with an Open Heart
At the beginning of this year, I was blessed to accompany a group of four university women on a mission trip to the Dominican Republic. After some months of eager preparation, we arrived in the town of La Victoria, where the Schoenstatt Sisters live by the shrine and are involved in several social projects. Four young women participated in the trip: three from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and one from Chippewa Valley Technical College in Minnesota. Some had learned Spanish over the years; others ventured into the trip without speaking the language, but with the eagerness to learn and give as much as possible. Being our first time, it was hard to know what to expect from this trip – so we went with an open heart for whatever God’s providence would have in store for us. Now that we are back, we can say: God certainly blessed us with an unforgettable experience!
Serving the Poor and Learning from Their Wealth
One of the main activities in the program was to volunteer at the Child Jesus Nutrition Center that the sisters run in La Victoria. The children range from about 8 months to 6 years of age. Covid made it uncertain whether they would be able to come – but as the days went by, more little ones came each day. It was a joy to help there and spend time with them!
In the afternoons, we had the possibility of visiting the families of some of the children from the Center. There we could see the children in their own homes, bring them some food supplies and toys, and say a prayer together. It certainly was powerful to visit some of the poorer areas of the town – and to see how in the midst of hardship and poverty, many of the people have a wealth of faith. Seeing this, one of the young women commented: “Here, one sees material poverty amid much spiritual richness. Back home where we come from, one sees spiritual poverty amid material wealth…” It is certainly a wakeup call to not take what we have for granted, and to remember that material things don’t secure our happiness. Only deep faith in God and openness to his love can fully satisfy the human heart!
…And a Little Fun, Too
Aside from the missionary part of the experience, we had the opportunity to get to know a little bit of the culture, history, and beautiful landscapes in the Dominican Republic. The lively music with drums, the gorgeous ocean view, the colonial landmarks, the traditions, foods, and style of life – all give witness to the rich, vibrant, colorful tone that marks the country.
We thank the dear God for this great opportunity, and we hope this trip will repeat itself in the future – so that many young women can benefit from this unique and beautiful experience!