I was first ‘sold’ on Short Term Mission in 1991 when I was asked by World Servants Europe to lead teams in the Dominican Republic. We had a large team of around 100 young people from the UK, the Netherlands and the USA working on three projects but staying in one big compound. We had some memorable experiences on this trip including the scary moment in the middle of the night when one of our team woke with a fright (and a scream!) finding a rat sitting on his chest – inside the mosquito net! The highly dubious practice of eating fruit late at night and forgetting to wash your hands didn’t dawn on the poor lad, so this was a salutary lesson! A quick dash to the hospital and a few rabies jabs later and the mood was rather somber to say the least.
Oh no! Tarantula’s on the loose!
Building a clinic on a hill outside Santa Domingo was an amazing experience – especially when we were welcomed on the first day by local children with large silver petrol cans – full of tarantula spiders! When they let them loose, our team could have qualified for the London Olympics 100 metres sprint!
When you have such a large team all willing to work hard alongside local craftsmen and women, it’s incridable how quickly a building will go up! Within three weeks the project was completed and became a vital lifeline to the local community in such need of medical care and support.
I quickly came to understand the value of short term practical aid and mission projects which are so beneficial for those taking part.
Probably the most memorable experience in those early years was the dreaded ‘bus crash’! We’d been visiting Sosua Beach in the Dominican Republic on one of our free days – always necessary during the course of a three week, highly intensive project. Sosua Beach is located on a crescent-shaped bay and is one of the most popular tourist resorts in the Caribbean with golden sands, calm waters and beautiful scenery. As we travelled back in the evening to our compound in our convoy of three buses, tragedy struck. I was in the first of the three buses with my 23 young people and suddenly we hit a cow strolling across the road! The driver lost control of the vehicle and we went careering off the road and down an embankment eventually hitting something and coming to an abrupt standstill.
We were all thrown towards the front of the bus with shattered glass flying around us. I quickly got to my feet expecting to find someone seriously injured or worse when I heard voices shouting from outside the vehicle. “Don’t move! You’ve hit an electrical pylon and the cables are resting on the roof of the bus!”
We all froze!
I have often found that it’s in extreme situations that you feel the intervening presence of God in a powerful way. This was one of those occasions!
Several miracles took place that day.
The first was that although there are many power cuts in that part of the world, there was only one that day and it hit in a 20 minutes time slot, exactly at the time we hit the power cables! The second was that we all got off the bus unscathed, even though the front of the bus was wrecked and windows were broken. That morning we had decided to travel in an American Schoolbus rather than the flat fronted coach we normally used. That saved many from injury, the engine compartment taking the main impact.
We all clambered into one of the other buses which had been travelling in convey, and headed back to the camp where we prayed and thanked God for his intervention.
That kind of experiences changed your perspective on life, faith and God.