Led by Principal Peter Boonstra, 20 students from Illiana Christian High School along with two faculty chaperones went to the Dominican Republic for spring break the first week of April. This was Illiana’s fourth mission trip to the Dominican Republic since 2010.
Illiana Christian’s sister school, the Pathway to Jesus School in Santiago, was formally approved and adopted by Illiana’s board four years ago. This year’s trip was not just a one-and-done mission trip; rather, it was another example of Illiana’s ongoing service to a Spanish-speaking community, another trip in which sustaining relationships were built and progress was witnessed. Two Illiana graduates, Shelley De Young-Hernandez and Carrie Hoekstra-Ramos, both work at Pathway to Jesus, so it is very exciting to partner with them.
Pathway to Jesus School started in 2003 as a preschool and church. It has now grown to include preschool to seventh grade. The preschool still meets at the church, but the kindergarten to seventh grade classes meet at the new school building nearby. The school offers a low-cost Christian education to children in the surrounding community who come from low-income families. Tuition, which costs $12 a month, is subsidized by many sponsors in the United States. Pathway to Jesus offers a high quality education compared to most schools in this region of Santiago. Their mission is to provide an excellent Christian education, giving each child and his/her family an opportunity to know Christ.
On each trip, the Illiana Christian service team brings supplies and equipment to help build the school. Many of these supplies are paid for by contributions to Illiana’s annual “Spaghetti Supper.” This year, on March 8, the team raised $5,000, making it the best fundraising dinner in four years. Students who volunteered to go on the trip also raised funds by asking for support from their churches, family members, and friends.
The team performed physical labor every day: painting walls and murals, doing woodworking, laying concrete and digging trenches for the school and church. They also volunteered to help in the classroom by teaching the children how to count to 10 and identify basic shapes and colors in English. A highlight of the week was a fun fair and talent show for the children. Finally, the Illiana students were able to visit the homes of Dominican families one evening, trying new foods and getting a glimpse of how the Dominicans live. This was an eye-opening experience.
A mission trip can be a life-changer for some students, impacting the direction of their life as well as future goals. A trip like this exposes them to a completely different culture, enriching and deepening their understanding of God’s kingdom.
“Going to the DR gave me the opportunity to live out my faith and help others," said junior Joel Kostelyk, of Hammond. "It also allowed me to share a bond and create close relationships with my team members, most of whom I had never talked to before.”
“Going to the DR meant a lot to me because it was an opportunity to share Jesus' love with others and be the hands and feet of him," said senior Tiffany Groen, of St. John. "I loved the children, my work crew, and all the people I met. It was a trip that made me grow spiritually and come to the realization that although we didn't speak the same language as the Dominicans or share the same traditions, we all worship one God, and he is awesome! It was a great trip!”