My family and I just returned from serving on a dental mission trip, November 4-12, in the Dominican Republic through Smiles for Hope and Esperanza. To say that it was a great experience is only the tip of the iceberg. We gave away free dental care, but in return, we gained friends and wonderful experiences; we grew as a family unit, and all the members of our expedition felt blessed by the people that we were there to serve.
This dental mission trip was first and foremost a chance to share our special skills and talents with those that are less fortunate, as my husband and I are both dentists. We have been on previous mission trips to provide dental care to those who need it desperately, but whom have limited access to care. Back in dental school, we experienced our first dental mission trip, and it touched our hearts deeply. That began the love of doing humanitarian work, and since then, service has been a cause that is near and dear to our hearts. In 2001 when we set out on our first dental mission trip (and our kids were mere twinkles in our eyes!), we spoke of someday doing a family mission trip when we had children that were old enough.
This trip was the culmination of that dream that we had 15 years ago, and it was so incredibly special because we decided to share it with our children. We felt like they were old enough now (at 10, 9 and 7 years old) to understand and appreciate the disparity between their charmed lives and the lives of those we served. We knew from our past service, that the only way to truly understand how lucky and blessed we, as Americans, is to experience the trip first-hand.
Our shared family experience proved to be not only a wonderful chance to provide dental care, but also to bond our family unit more tightly together. While on the trip and since coming home, we have had very deep meaningful conversations about poverty, service, joy, friendship, and true happiness. Our kids saw the Dominican children in some very impoverished areas, but noticed quickly that their spirits were not diminished by their circumstances. In fact, my kids expressed many times how friendly and approachable the Dominican kids were that they interacted with, and how their lack of Spanish language experience was no barrior to feeling a strong sense of friendship with the Dominicans.
Every morning as we began our day we learned how our sponsor in the Dominican Republic, Esperanza, was helping people out of poverty. It was uplifting to hear the associates’ stories of what they were doing to better their lives with Esperanza’s help. I felt very fortunate to be furthering Esperanza’s mission of helping the worthy people of the Dominican Republic break the cycle of poverty and realize their talents. Each morning we also reflected on what the Bible says about service, and how we are all ambassadors of God’s love to one another. It really invigorated us all as we began the day with a renewed sense of love, appreciation, and purpose.
I found the hard work of doing mission work to be very gratifying not only because I was working with such an appreciative group of patients, and exemplary group of dental professionals, but also because I was watching my children’s world view and knowledge of the importance of service grow before my eyes. The impact of our trip to the Dominican Republic will have a lasting impact on their lives I know with certainty. There’s nothing quite like serving one another, and I’m thrilled to see it taking root in my children’s hearts too. I hope that this will be the beginning of a multi-generational legacy of service in our family.