June 29, 2014

On a mission

Local athletes spread the Gospel on trip to Dominican Republic

By Devin Golden

— The local girls who visited the Dominican Republic last week on a mission trip through Score International tell a matching story.

Toward the end of a visit to Pasitos de Jesus, a girls orphanage in Boca Chica, the children began singing the Gospel song “Mighty to Save” to their visitors.

“It sent chills down your spine,” said Kala Franks, a rising senior at Coahulla Creek High School. “I felt they were ministering to me rather than us ministering to them.”

Franks joined fellow Coahulla Creek softball players Baylee Adkins, Erin Harden and Hannah Jackson, plus North Murray student and softball player Kaitlin Epps, on a trip last week to the Dominican Republic for softball games and mission work on some of the poorest parts of the Central American country. Coahulla Creek softball coach Josh Swiney was a chaperone along with Epps’ father Damion Epps.

Score International, a sports-based ministry group in Chattanooga, offers short-term mission trips for church groups, schools, sports teams and construction and medical-outreach groups.

The local group went as a sports team — joining with baseball, basketball and softball players across the country, including Southeast Whitfield student Nick Stuard — and grouped with softball players from northeast Georgia for three games against local Dominican Republic softball teams.

The sports aspect, though, was just a small reason for the trip.

“The whole premise behind it is sharing the Gospel,” Swiney said. “You get to share the Gospel to the kids there.”

The group left June 20 from Atlanta and flew into Santo Domingo, the capitol of the Dominican Republic. The group stayed most of the time in Boca Chica. The group played a game Saturday and later that day visited a village, Comunidad de Hondura, to hand out groceries for local families. Saturday saw another game and a trip to a village. The group played again Monday and visited Josiah’s House, a boys orphanage in San Pedro de Macrois. The visitors played their third game Tuesday and visited the girls orphanage. Franks said the boys orphanage had around 15 local kids and the girls orphanage had around 30 with ages ranging from a few months to 18.

The group’s final full day, Wednesday, included a visit to Lily House, a rescue ministry helping prostitutes in the country. The group returned Thursday to the United States.

There is a need for mission work in the country. According to a Huffington Post article from August 2013, around half the children in the Dominican Republic live in poverty. The girls on the mission trip saw it first hand.

“These kids didn’t even have shoes,” said Epps, a rising senior. “We went to one village and gave out flipflops and they were fighting for them.”

Yet, it surprised the group to see how the locals made the most of the unfortunate living situation.

“I wasn’t expecting what we saw, just to see people live in those environments,” said Adkins, a rising junior. “They made the best of it and they had fun. We played games with the little kids.

“It was very eye-opening. It made me see life in a different way and helped me understand I have a lot when I think I don’t.”

If there was any recurring theme, it was that one. The group went to minister — teach word of God — to the locals. They hoped to make a difference, and in turn were affected by what they saw.

“The main roads are paved but you go down a lot of dirt roads and through (poor) villages,” Swiney said. “I think it was eye-opening for the girls to see how we have an abundance of everything here and how there are people with nothing at all.”

Said Harden, a recent graduate, “You see how God works in them.”

That even was true during the games.

“We take the game for granted,” Epps said. “We’re decked out in Nike UnderArmour and they are in tennis shoes and hitting the ball over the fence.

“We got to see what it’s really like to be so unfortunate.”

Swiney said the week was Score International’s “Super Sports Week” and the organization coordinated all activities. He said the competition was more for fun but the local Dominican Republic teams were “pretty good” considering their resources.

“We went in not knowing what to expect,” Swiney said, specifically remembering the third game. “The girls on that team didn’t have uniforms, had old gloves and bats, but I tell you they could play.”

The girls agreed and felt proud of the service, both religiously and athletically, they did for the locals.

“To me, it was going there to give those girls an opportunity to play someone,” Adkins said. “I don’t know if they have someone to play against. I think they just practiced all the time.”

Many of the girls called their favorite part visiting the girls orphanage, where the children sang at the end of the visit. The same feeling — that they were the ones ministered to — hit hardest.

“It was a very neat experience,” Harden said. “You go down to spread the Gospel, but they ended up teaching you.

“It made your heart melt.”

It was Swiney’s first time traveling to the country. He said this was a trip he, and the girls, will always remember. Once the group returned to the United States, where life is much better for them than it is for many children in the Dominican Republic, it was clear what they learned most.

“Never take anything for granted,” Epps said. “Your problems are so small compared to everyone else.”