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“Rancés, I didn’t understand you,” I said to the Dominican young man as he left our house after Mike´s surprise birthday party Wednesday night. Dominican Spanish is not only challenging for my students; I often have to ask for clarification, though after this third visit I am catching on.

At the birthday party, Rancés had given each of us a little dolphin souvenir. Peter found a bit of yarn that he threaded through the eye of the dolphin and hung it around his neck. On the flight home, I gave my students a debriefing questionnaire. One of the questions was: “Which individual did you meet that made a big impression on you and why?” Peter answered, “Rancés. He was quiet, but very thoughtful.” The handmade gift was just one of the ways Rancés showed that thoughtfulness.

So at the door after the party, as I laughingly pushed him out of our house so we could get to bed, Rancés stopped me with his quiet, deep voice, “Profe….” When I couldn´t understand him, he replied, “Profe, usted es de aquí.” (“You are from here,” meaning “you are one of us.”)

When Mike and I began taking my students to work at International Children´s Care homes, we had a goal of visiting all of the Spanish-speaking projects. We started in El Salvador, went twice to Guatemala, and then, three years ago, a Dominican young man told us they would steal our hearts. And here we are, hearts stuck, it looks like we will not get around to visiting Mexico or Nicaragua any time soon. We often receive invitations to non-ICC projects, as well, but a year is already a long time to be away from our friends at Las Palmas.

I have read the criticism of short-term mission trips, especially aimed at those who visit orphanages and create short, intense relationships that create more abandonment issues. We take our responsibility for our interaction very seriously. This year, at Mike´s party, as one of the spokesmen for the older students, Andy said he had come to understand that our role was not just to paint a building, but to build connections so that we could learn from each other. He thanked us for what he has learned from us. We are thankful for what we have learned, as well.

I hope that the emphasis Sus Manos puts on collaboration among equals, building lasting relationships, and learning from each other softens the brevity of our visits. I know that our returning to ICC’s Las Palmas campus has spoken strongly to our friends there of their value and, I hope, has made us all long for that big family reunion in heaven, where there will be no more separation caused by distance, cultural misunderstanding or language barriers.

This story was written by Rita Barrett, PAA’s Spanish teacher and annual trip leader to the ICC Las Palmas campus in the Dominican Republic. It was posted on the Sus Manos mission blog which can be read at

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