Olivia's Story

Meet Olivia Horner

Year: Senior
Major: Professional Writing
Minor: Family Relationships
School: Miami University

"Our hands have a purpose and out of using them for that purpose, we experience the fullness of joy."

When we step outside of ourselves and step into another culture, we get to experience something bigger than ourselves; we get to see something bigger than ourselves.  My group and I landed in the Dominican Republic at night and so my eyes did not get to see everything in the light until the next morning, but I remember feeling a sense of excitement at being in a foreign place.  I remember thinking that I had never seen grass so green.  I had been to Central America twice before, but what happened during those two weeks in the DR taught me more than I would have ever hoped.  I got to see the infectious movement of joy and this movement deserves to be shared.

My time spent in the DR consisted of sandy feet, blisters, laughter, refreshing ocean swims, meals around the table, sweet smiles, playful games, and small hands.  The small hands are what I will remember the most.  Throughout the week, there were many pairs of little hands that took mine and pulled me to play.  I walked through the gates of the school where we would be serving for two weeks and immediately my hands were occupied.  My hands spent hours mixing and pouring cement, my hands cut and picked up grass; my hands moved stacks of wood.  But mostly, when my hands were not working, they were holding or being held.

I got to work hard under the hot Dominican sun to create a space for kids to play and experience the joys of childhood together.  Our time spent pouring cement and painting would result in a space for kids to learn.  If I learned anything about education and the classroom during this trip, it was that it is valuable and not to be taken for granted.  My team and I got to use our hands to work for the wellbeing of these kids and the community in which this school exists.  But beyond the manual labor, my hands got to experience the joys of interacting with the little ones.

Throughout the two weeks, I made new friends.  I spent time everyday with kids that coined me "corazón" and eventually, "hermana."  We became like brothers and sisters.  I had an increased awareness of their lives outside of the school and I began desiring to see more and learn more about their culture.  With experience came a thirst and growing curiosity in the way these new friends lived.  When we understand that people have intrinsic value and worth, every cultural barrier is broken down.  I saw their lives and I fell in love with them.

The people of the DR taught me a lot.  The kids that I saw everyday taught me that there is so much freedom in living simply and joyfully.  In the midst of hard circumstances that would seem to steal joy, these people had it.  Not only did they have it, they embodied it because there was something bigger than themselves that they were clinging to.  Of all memories that I have from the DR—and they are all so lovely—there is one that I remember most clearly.  My team and I were mixing and pouring concrete to finish the second story of the new school building.  It was hot and we were sweating as our faces began to turn pink from the sun and our arms were getting heavy from all of the lifting.  But all of a sudden in the midst of working, we heard voices rise in song.  It was the chorus of our new little friends that were singing in praise and gladness to the One who had set them free.  Our new brothers and sisters were singing to Jesus at the top of their lungs, shouting for joy.  And it was clear in that moment that joy came from something grander—someone grander—than ourselves.

There is one who loves more deeply and more perfectly than anyone or anything on this earth and my friends taught me that I could approach Jesus freely and without fear.  The way these kids ran to me everyday and wrapped their arms around my waist—that's how Jesus desires for us to run to him, because he causes our souls to experience complete joy in the midst of hard circumstances.  He paid for our freedom to live joyfully.

These hands that I have, they got to work hard and well in the DR to provide a place for these kids to grow, learn, and experience love.  These hands got to hold and be held by children who trusted them and came willingly to experience affection and belonging.  These hands have been given to me by a sweet God, who desires for me to use them to love and to nurture.  This is what I got to do in the DR and that's what I will continue to do for the rest of my life.  Our hands have a purpose and out of using them for that purpose, we experience the fullness of joy.

The movement of joy is everywhere.  It cannot be contained because we were made for it.

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