Mission-cation* A Dominican Republic Project – Part 1

When I was a kid ‘vacation’ wasn’t a two-week holiday slot on my farmer-Dad’s calendar. Travelling was going to visit family, often an hour and a half drive (one-way) for us to see grandparents: a jaunt squished between Dad’s morning and night cow-milking schedule – what a treat when older brothers could cover the evening shift.

Long after the cows were gone my parents’ travel plans still focused on visiting one of us five kids and Dad was especially happy if that included helping us with a project.

From somewhere in the gene pool, I am wired to go and see and do! Throughout the seasons of life I’ve been blessed with health and sufficient means to travel – most often with my husband of 45+ years – for R&R in the sun; hiking with a backpack and tent; travelling to run races; visiting my Scottish ‘roots’ and of course – also visiting family!

Yet a travel category still gnawed on my wish list:

To take a *mission-cation – a mission combined with a vacation abroad or in one’s home country, achieving/contributing to a humanitarian project in addition to vacation perks and/or in environment different than home.

Karen Toews

The closest connection to fulfilling this desire, in 2005, was running an ultramarathon with my husband, to raise funds for a clinic (built in 2006) for our favourite mission in Mozambique.

An amazing trip and race of a lifetime; yet I still wanted my boots-on-the-ground experience.

In December 2017, a friend affiliated with Servant’s Heart Ministries (SHM), started working with a local team to build a house in Sosua, Dominican Republic. The plan was to go for a week in the spring of 2019.

This was my trip! Even better, my builder-husband decided he was in too!

Fast forward through 2018: fund-raising for the project’s supplies and labour for local tradesmen. Bottle drives and bake sales; spaghetti supper; penny auction; packing groceries, Bingo bowling; catering Christmas parties and donations from many generous souls.

April 3, 2019, on-the-ground in the Dominican, we were excited to get started but the SHM team-on-the-ground had planned an orientation day first. Touring us through a section of the Sosua community helped us acclimate to our surroundings and showed us the big-picture impact of the SHM operation for neighbourhood adults and children. A great day with wonderful people: substance for another blogpost. (Full disclosure, our team had exemplary energy and enthusiasm, but after a few days of moving concrete blocks and pails of mortar we fondly looked back at that ‘easier’ orientation day!)

Next morning we were dressed in work duds, slathered with sunscreen, carrying our water bottles – ready to rock, waiting in the resort lobby alongside tourists prepped for a day by the pool or the ocean or headed out for an excursion. After a few days of this routine some of the guests began to recognize our team in different stages of grubby and fatigue, coming back for the lunch and siesta break or at day’s end. It was fun to answer their questions as to what we were up to!


Finally delivered to ground zero, thanks to driver-Dave navigating up and around hills amongst animals, motorbikes, pedestrians and vehicles.

I know from practice living in the kaffuffle of house building/renovations that a house takes months to complete. This project would not get done in a week! But our team of ten, linked with the local block-layers, had a scope of work.

Get the concrete walls up and the house closed in with a tin roof- okay then!

A delight to meet the recipient family; hard for me to relate how they felt after waiting four years for their new home.

Different languages weren’t a barrier for interpreting Minerva’s emotions as we hugged – kindred women, wives, mothers and grandmothers- but I am still processing the disparity in our lives’ circumstances because of where each of us was born. I hope to articulate this better when my thoughts are more settled.

A lovely family to work and spend some days with; enjoying small mugs of strong, sweet coffee and many hugs, trying to communicate and crazy-laughing when we knew we had totally mis-interpreted things. One day my wish was granted to cook a meal with Minerva for the work gang – a story to share later.

A project using rudimentary equipment and physically demanding labour.

I won first prize for getting the dirtiest!

Team mates Debbie and Tammy learning masonry. How did they stay so clean?! These two never said quit and never stopped smiling!

My husband Derryl loving the chance to be a concrete guy shouting for more mud!

Though our goal was daunting, thank God it was accomplished on schedule.

Time to say good-bye; first a celebration with the family and workers – and a few neighbour girls who shared so many smiles and hugs. Happy tears with a prayer of dedication and thanksgiving – including safety without injury on the job. (No small blessing considering the flip-flops I saw on the job!)

This project expanded my heart and spirit, pushed some physical limits, and I was so proud of my husband, in his zone but respectful of not being in charge. Being there only a few days, it’s already surreal looking back – were we really there with these beautiful people!

Before part two of this story is posted, I urge you to pause and consider:

  • don’t give up on the spark of a dream or mission on your travel wish-list – be patient, ready for action and if it involves a team, expect personal growth and work, i.e. months of fund-raising!
  • if your trip/mission involves physical labour, find out the specifics, i.e. how much weight are you going to be lugging and lifting. Prepare.
  • know your limits, i.e. heat (or cold), stamina, previous injuries. No heroics to go over the edge just to keep up, or save face.
  • there’s more than one way to do things; ours isn’t always the best one.
  • above all – expect (even look for ) the unexpected.

Thank you for reading my thoughts and travelogue. I look forward to writing the rest of this story – and many more.

With love and gratitude,

xo, Karen

PS If you’d like to share your travel dream or experience – or something else related to Vibrant Inspired Living, I’d love to read your comment. I promise to respond.

5 Comments on “Mission-cation* A Dominican Republic Project – Part 1

    • I’m glad you enjoyed it, thanks for sharing! The experience of so many integrated factors in one week – culture, disparity and its accompanying emotions, different ‘pockets’ of people (our NS team, the Dominican SHM team, the house-family and neighbours, meeting tourists in the resort)- since getting home it’s a bit of a blur. That’s why I’m writing the next part now while things are fairly ‘fresh’.


  1. Pingback: The Rest of My Dominican Republic Story – Karen Toews

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