My name is Nick Kastner, and I am a part of the El Montana group in the Dominican Republic. Here in the Dominican Republic, I have experienced many wonderful and not so great sights. The Dominican culture is very neat because everyone is very friendly, and they aren’t afraid to say hello by getting into your personal space. The people greet one another as if everyone is their closest friend. It is very different than in the U.S. because normally, as Americans, we don’t usually like interacting with people we don’t know. When preparing for this trip, I was a little nervous about the food. I didn’t know what it would be like since pastor John told us that the food was different. I had nothing to worry about. The food here is amazing. I have enjoyed every meal so far. When we first started to venture out into El Montana, the first thing I noticed were the houses that people lived in and the trash that filled the streets. At that moment, I felt that our team could make a huge impact in the community by just cleaning up the streets. I felt that our team needed to start there, but a missionary, Rick Mackey, explained to our group that when we do things like that, the people will learn to rely on handouts and not go to the church for help. That is why it is so important for our team to pour into the church in order for the Dominicans to go there in time of need instead of going to rich Americans. I found it interesting to interact with the locals. With the help of a translator, we were able to hear their stories. After we listened to their stories, we invited them to nightly rallies at the local church. At these rallies, we started by getting everyone excited about church by playing games. All of the Dominicans really enjoyed the games, because they didn’t want them to end. After, we would worship, a team member would share their testimony, and a team member would give a quick message portraying a character from the Bible. These rallies have been a huge success in getting the local community to come to church. I talked with this one lady who told me that she had never been to church before because she didn’t feel that she was being called to church by God. That night at the rally, she attended! It was really inspiring to see what God can do through simple words of just asking someone to come to church.
On Sunday, our whole team attended the local church, La Vid, of Jarabacoa. That evening, my team attended El Montana’s local church service. Before the service started, John came up to me and asked if I would share my testimony tonight. I wasn’t quite sure because it was on the fly and I didn’t know if I was prepared to speak. I figured that it was my time and that God was calling me to do so. When I stepped up on stage, I felt confident. I began by explaining how I excepted Christ when I was eight years old, but it didn’t mean a whole lot because I felt like I just did it since I knew that I would go to Heaven. I continued by explaining when I was growing up, my best friend, who was like a brother to me, moved all the way across the country. This was the moment where I couldn’t keep my tears back. I explained that I felt like God didn’t have a plan for me, and I didn’t know who I was going to be. Before my friend moved, I liked going to church, but now, I only went because my family went every Sunday. I didn’t like going to youth group anymore, and I fell away from God. I didn’t know who I was anymore. I fell into a trap where I didn’t have self-worth. I hated God and myself for it. I needed an escape, so I turned to lust. But through all of this, God was preparing a blessing to give me. That blessing came a couple of years later when he blessed me with one of my current best friends named Caleb. I got very connected with him and his brother Ben. Our relationships took off, and God blessed me with even more wonderful friends. Caleb and Ben started to invite me to their youth group at Calvary and I got connected back into the church again. I actually wanted to go to church. I felt like God had truly blessed me, and I knew that he was completely in control of the plan that he has for me. Throughout the planning and actually coming on the trip, I realized that I want to make my faith mine. I want to change for myself. I want to change for the people around me because I affect them, and I don’t want to drag them down. I want to change for God because he deserves praise from all people. I didn’t know what I was doing when I was eight years old. But I do now. I am ready to take the steps of what it means to get closer to God. That first step is baptism. That is why I am planning on getting baptized at Los Calabazos on Tuesday. A testimony is shared to give the story of how someone comes or is coming to Christ, but my faith story, making it my own starts now. I was super glad to share my story in front of the whole church, and I am ready to move forward in my walk with Christ.