Seymour Christian Church continues to make impact in Dominican Republic

Of the many trips taken to the Dominican Republic over the years, Seymour Christian Church has typically had one focus.

One time, it’s to do a building project. Another time, it’s to lead sports camps.

Sometimes, it’s for adults only. Other times, the trip is for youth.

When 18 people from the Seymour church went July 16 to 23 this year, it involved a mix of youth and adults, and there were four focuses: Women’s conference, construction, church services and sports camps.

“It was the most aggressive we’ve ever planned,” Associate Pastor Dan Weaver said.

“We did more in that seven days than we usually do in a 10-day one,” charter member Donna Sullivan said.

While it was a lot of planning and a lot to pull off, Weaver was proud of what the group — which also included 13 members of Victory Christian Church in Franklin — accomplished.

“I am very satisfied that we did so much and made the best use of our time,” he said.

Weaver said his first trip to the Dominican Republic was in 1998 when he worked at a different church, and his first one with SCC was in 2005. His uncle told him about a missionary, Michell Marte, who had purchased a banana plantation in Navarrete and was turning it into a church camp.

Since then, SCC has worked with Marte to do pastor’s conferences, women’s conferences, youth trips, adult trips, construction and sports camps.

SCC hadn’t been to the Dominican Republic since 2019 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so the theme this year was “A new beginning.”

Members led a two-day women’s conference that drew about 65 people, spent five days on construction and two days conducting sports camps and led a Sunday service at one of Marte’s churches.

Construction included helping build the second floor of a school, adding a deck on Marte’s apartment building/mission house and building bunk beds and security railings for the dorms.

SCC members Carter Murphy and Celeste Huddleston were on the construction team.

“I help my dad and my grandpa with construction, and so I just felt like I would be good at that and be able to use by wisdom there,” Murphy, 17, a senior at Seymour High School, said.

Murphy said they created an assembly line to pass cinder blocks up to the second story of the school.

“There was a lot of teamwork, a lot of bonding that happened there,” said Huddleston, a 2021 SHS graduate who is beginning her sophomore year at Bellarmine University.

Marte’s mission house includes his living space on the second floor and an open-air dining hall and a kitchen on the first floor.

A special moment during the trip was the dedication of Foster Kitchen, named in memory of SCC member Judd Foster, who died Oct. 1, 2021. A Foster Kitchen sign with Foster’s picture from a past mission trip and Proverbs 11:25 “A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed” was placed on a wall.

“He was a special friend and brother in Christ, and he was so special for my son. We just want to remember him,” Marte said during the dedication ceremony.

Foster’s wife, Sophi, and children, Sami, 19, and Alex, 14, were there for the ceremony. This was Sophi’s second mission trip to the Dominican Republic, Sami’s third and Alex’s first.

“Those people loved my dad, and we were able to spend time with them and share our love for him, so being able to do that was really, really cool,” Sami said. “It really meant a lot because my dad’s favorite thing was food, and he absolutely loved serving the people of the Dominican, so being able to have the kitchen dedicated to him where his favorite thing came from, that was pretty neat.”

Sophi said they were greeted with warm hugs that were so heartfelt and genuine during the trip, and she was impressed with the amount of work that was accomplished by SCC.

Alex was too young to go on previous mission trips, so Sophi was glad he had the chance to visit a third-world country and see how other people live.

“I say all the time ‘We just don’t realize how good we’ve got it here,’” Sophi said. “To physically see that and to see his little heart for the people there and to chip in and help, at first, he was a little overwhelmed, but after about the third day, he was diving in to help. As a mom, that was good for me.”

With the dorms near Marte’s home, his goal is to have those be the living quarters for students attending a Christian high school or a Bible institute that he wants to build.

Weaver said in the Dominican Republic, every village has a grade school, but many kids don’t go to high school because it’s considered a privilege, much like college is in the United States.

“Down there, pastors really have no way to get trained,” he said. “There are not Bible colleges in the Dominican Republic, so he was thinking of having a one-year intensive where students could come in, and in 12 months, they would get a degree for ministry. In that 12 months, they would do everything — they would do weddings, do funerals, do counseling, do sermon preparation — that a pastor needs to know.”

SCC started doing sports camps in Navarrete in 2009. Sullivan, a former basketball and volleyball coach at SHS and current girls basketball assistant coach at Trinity Lutheran High School, has led those every year.

Sports have included basketball, volleyball and soccer, and this year, the focus was on the first two.

Sullivan bought more than 60 basketballs and 30 volleyballs and some basketball and volleyball nets to use for the camp, and those all stayed there for the kids to use. Sullivan also bought whistles and cones for those assisting with the camp, and the 250 kids ages 5 and up who attended received camp T-shirts.

“That’s my contribution to the trip. I’m fortunate to be able to do that,” she said.

Also, Indiana University women’s basketball coach Teri Moren, a Seymour native who played for Sullivan, donated shoes and shirts, the Indiana Basketball Coaches Association donated shirts and Immanuel Lutheran School donated old basketball jerseys.

“One of the churches that Michell has has a youth program, and they do basketball sports ministry, so their youth pastor gets involved and coaches and referees, but there’s no way he could afford stuff,” Weaver said of the benefit of the donations.

Weaver and Sullivan both said they like seeing the kids develop in their sports skills.

“The Dominican boys especially are very naturally athletic, but in volleyball and basketball, they just don’t have real good skills,” Weaver said. “We see them play basketball, there are courts all over the country, but you can just tell the skills are lacking, but they love it.”

Sharing her knowledge of sports is rewarding, Sullivan said.

“It’s why I keep going back,” she said. “Some of the looks are priceless. You can’t explain it. You just have to see it.”

After spending time learning about sports and hearing devotions, the campers are rewarded with a concert.

“When we show up in some of these rural areas, it’s a big deal to them,” Weaver said. “It’s the only day that it’s probably going to be something special just for them, and so we usually bring in professional musicians, Dominican people that they know.”

Since electricity is not always reliable there, Weaver said they take generators to be able to host the concert. This year, it included a popular Christian rap artist.

“We would show up with a generator and a rap star and a preacher, and 500 or 1,000 people show up,” he said. “We use the sports camp as a way to promote the concert, and the concert is where they hear about Jesus.”

Every mission trip SCC takes, Weaver said there are people who have what he calls “the wow experience,” where something about missions, love for God and love for people who have it worse than them makes an impact.

“They are just changed forever, and a lot of them get addicted to mission trips and helping,” he said, noting that carries over into their daily life and makes them want to get involved in local missions at home. “Somehow, it just plants a seed for people to love others. … They cannot wait for the next time to serve. That’s what I see.”

Sullivan said people come back with a servant’s heart and look forward to serving in their community and going on other mission trips.

“It’s a tug. It’s why I’ve been back 13 years and (Weaver) has been going 20 years-plus,” she said. “You do it because you love God and the people that you’re serving.”

Murphy said he was positively impacted by the mission trip.

“It was really moving and it was a great experience for everybody involved to grow further in Christ and learn more about helping people and just the Lord in general,” he said. “It definitely furthered my walk with the Lord through our daily devotions at night, listening to my fellow peers share their story and how the Lord is moving through them.”

Matthew Hanks, student pastor at SCC, said even though there was a language barrier between their group and the Dominicans, everyone was able to share Christ in their conversations.

“The gospel goes beyond language barriers, goes beyond borders. It’s global,” he said. “It was just really cool to experience that in person. After being here for three summers now, this is the first time I’ve been able to go, and I just loved every second of it. It went by way too fast, that’s for sure.”