Two American Mothers, Ann McGuire, (Minnesota) and Barbara Owens, (District of Columbia), traveled together to the Dominican Republic this summer to participate in Campamento.
Campamento (Camp) is an annual summer camp for very poor girls who live at the “Teresa Toda Home” in Azua, Dominican Republic. Camp started about 20 years ago when the Church of Saint Edward and the Teresa Toda home became Sister Communities. Instead of material help, like food, clothes, school supplies, or money, the Sisters at Teresa Toda asked for a personal connection with other women of faith. This request led to an annual camp, themed “Women of Faith.” Travelers come from all over the country and represent many different faith traditions. All sacrifice a week of summer to share their love with these very poor girls.
We asked Ann and Barbara to share a little about their experience this summer. Here are their stories.
Volunteering with Campamento was a game changer for me! As a mother and school teacher, I have a vested interest in helping young people thrive. So, when I met Ann at the American Mothers, Inc. conference in April 2017 and heard about the girls in Santo Domingo, I felt I had to know more. The following week, Ann told me all about the mission and shared how important her work had been to her over the last 15 years. She had watched many of the girls in the program grow from adolescents to teens. The idea of pouring into those young lives was something I couldn’t ignore. And after reading the program materials, it wasn’t long before I agreed to participate in Ann’s mission trip scheduled for July.
Saying “yes” to the trip was a scary, exciting leap! I had volunteered in the States and Africa before, but this one was different. This time when I said “yes,” I didn’t have a clue about the cost, the travel itinerary, or even know anyone on the mission team. The one thing I was sure of was the grip in my gut that I felt every time I thought about going. I told myself that the details were not important. I believed they would be revealed to me with each step I took.
As March turned into late April, I assured Ann that I was absolutely committed to going! I just didn’t know how I could afford to get there. I told Ann it would be a faith move for me and indeed it was. My job at this point was to pray and wait. I asked God to make a way for me to go and to work out the details. Following my prayer, I took several acts of faith. I made calls to the CDC to find out what shots I needed. I decided to take with me 50 pounds of multivitamins for women and children, and made public appeals for donations. I blocked off the dates on my calendar. I also informed others of this step of faith and asked people to pray about the process with me.
The response to what I was doing was overwhelming. Every week, people in my local congregation encouraged me, donated vitamins and funds, and inquired about my progress. By May 1, 2017, the only thing I didn’t have was my airline tickets. That same week, my husband and I had dinner with another couple, who inquired about my trip. I explained that I was putting things in place but had not purchased my airline tickets. The couple offered to purchase my tickets on the spot (“Faith without works is dead.” James 2:14.) As I boarded my plane, I thanked God for His goodness, but my blessings didn’t stop there.
Little did I know that my small leap of faith would lead me to one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I knew that I was being sent for three reasons: to serve, to learn, and to give. There were seven of us on the team. We started each day with the girls all together, opening in prayer, then a song and bible study about women of faith. Afterward, we broke into groups. I was assigned to teach math. Yet the girls at the Home taught me far more than I could ever teach them. Let’s start with their hospitality and big hearts. These incredible young ladies are selfless, respectful, kind, and beautiful. Whatever offering we made, they graciously accepted. They didn’t complain. They were thankful. I gained a new level of gratitude just from spending time with them. They simply loved the connection they made with volunteers and were content in knowing that someone cared enough to be there.
I learned from my experience that it’s okay to step on faith when you answer a calling, even when you don’t see the full picture. Just trust God in the process, and know that things will work out the way they were predestined. I also learned that it’s important to know more than just a few sentences and phrases in Spanish. Now I am committed to learning Spanish so that I can better communicate with those I serve. Most of all, I learned to be grateful for what I have and that sometimes, God just wants you to be a ministry of presence. It’s not always about what you do, but the fact that you care enough to show up and be present in the moment. This welcomed change in my perspective is all due to my experience in Azua.
Every camp is special and rewarding. Like all American Mothers know, your blessings multiply when you share them with others. This year was special because Barbara Owens, Mother of Year, Washington DC, joined for the first time along with travelers from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Oregon, and California. Barbara and I first met and quickly became friends at the American Mother’s Conference. Barbara heard God’s call and said “yes” to Campamento, although the logistics were not straightforward. Once there, she and all the others jumped in with both feet, never complained, and bonded with these girls with such different backgrounds as ours. Seeing the girls light up around the travelers gives me a feeling like no other – a mixture of thankfulness, peace, compassion, and love.
The girls are so happy to see us, but are even sadder when we leave. The Sisters who run the home tell us the girls talk about camp all year long. The opportunity to give these girls something to look forward to all year long is a blessing. I’ve been co-leading camp for 16 years. Now, the Sisters and the girls are part of my life, like extended family. Bringing new and return travelers to Azua to develop the same bonds has been one of the great joys of my life.
I personally learn from studying the women of the Bible, Saints, and other women of faith to prepare for camp. The first week our women were Jochebed, Rhoda, Mary and Martha, and Saint Teresa of Calcutta the first week. The second week we studied the Queen of Sheba, Susanna, Phoebe, and Saint Cecilia. Each is a fascinating character who has a lesson to teach us. This year, Martha and Mary was a favorite – how do we balance doing with being present? The perennial challenge for moms!
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