PENDLETON—The village of Quisqueya in the Dominican Republic has a population of about 24,000 people; that number increased by 18 for a short time recently, as mission volunteers from First United Methodist Church of Pendleton and Trinity United Methodist Church in Lapel traveled there to perform manual labor and share messages of faith and friendship.

“We visited some orphanages — one was an all-girls home,” said Dustin Ritz, director of youth programs at the Pendleton church. “These kids were just abandoned. We played some games with them and just spent a lot of time with the children over there.”

Ritz led the contingent of four adults and 14 high school students to Quisqueya, which is located near the capital city of Santo Domingo. It was the first journey overseas for the youth groups.

Ritz said the group did some work in the village, including building a public restroom, which Ritz described as an outhouse, and painting a school, but the bulk of their time was spent with the orphans.

The mission group was in the Dominican Republic from July 22 through July 29 and stayed in a nearby hotel.

One of the Lapel students who took part in the mission was junior Emily Eppert. She said she was uplifted by the response from the orphans, despite the hardships they have endured.

“It was the overwhelming joy they have with nothing,” she said. “We would walk into their houses or into the village, and these kids would just run out, give us hugs, want to hold hands and play games. They were just so open to anyone and everyone.”

Ritz said the students did much of the work with the orphans, including organizing games and activities. After playing volleyball, duck-duck-goose or jump rope with the kids, the evenings would be capped off with typical Vacation Bible School lessons.

“The kids really ran the VBS — they were in charge of that,” he said. “We did some skits, played baseball with the kids and sang songs. The service was about two hours, and I’d wrap it up with a prayer for all the kids.”

The group took donations from the community to Quisqueya, including T-shirts, school supplies and sporting goods.

In the Dominican Republic, one sport is more popular than any other, and the local children will benefit from donations from a local high school athletic program.

“We had a lot of baseball equipment,” Ritz said. “Baseball is huge, and that’s all they play down there. We got some help from the Pendleton Heights baseball coach, Travis Keesling, who donated some equipment. We took some balls, bats and a few gloves.”

Ritz said he felt the students on the trip gained a better appreciation for life at home after spending time in Quisqueya.

“I think the general consensus is that it definitely opens your eyes and makes your grateful for what you have,” Ritz said. “It’s not really about items or possessions that you have. They don’t have much over there, it’s a very poor community.”

Ritz said the tentative plan is to take a youth group on an international mission trip every two years. He added that he would like to return to Quisqueya on future trips.

“We’d love to go back there,” he said. “I’d say right now that is the plan. We made connections and built relationships with the people down there, so I’d say right now that is the plan.”

Eppert said she was particularly touched by a youngster in one of the orphanages, 4-year old Wendy, who was being taken care of by another 10-year old girl.

“Just seeing that was really hard; I’m just two years older than my younger brother, and I couldn’t imagine taking care of him,” she said. “She’s very shy, the complete opposite of me. That was funny because we totally bonded.”

Eppert added that she would be thrilled with getting another opportunity to visit the area on future mission trips.

“Absolutely,” she said. “We talk about going back in a couple years and building relationships with that village.”

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Rob Hunt covers news, sports and other happenings in South Madison County. He can be reached at rhunt@pendletontimespost.com or (765) 778-2324.