The date was January 6th 2011, a date that forever changed my life. It was the day that the idea and motivation of Gifts of Grace was started.
The day started out like any day. It was Three Kings Day in the Dominican Republic and my companion and I had just entered into a teaching appointment. I was a missionary of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We entered into a small house where there was a woman in the kitchen, a man sitting on a chair watching a baseball game, and a little girl mopping the floor. The father was drunk and the little girl was wearing something that reminded me of a pillowcase worn by Dobby the House Elf in Harry Potter. We were about to leave when the mother called to the daughter, indicating that lunch was ready and she should come fetch the food for her father. While handling the food over to the father she slipped on the wet floor, spilling her father’s lunch and drawing blood from her worn elbow. The man rose up, took a whip from the back of his chair, grabbed her by the hair, and struck her across the face. Us missionaries did the only thing we could think of doing at the time, my comp ran to aid the little girl and I took the man’s whip and said something along the lines of “if you’re going to do that again you’ll have to go through us.” He left the house in a drunken rage. The young girl’s mother came up to us after he left and pleaded with us to take her to get something to eat, as she wouldn’t eat again until late that night or possibly tomorrow and she hadn’t eaten since late yesterday.
We took the small girl to a local street vendor to get her something to eat. When we arrived to pay the vendor for some cookies and soda the vendor must have noticed how strange of a scene it was: a two missionaries and a crying little girl. Not only that, but the fact that it was the Dominican Christmas and all other kids were out in the street enjoying their brand new toys. This little girl was the exception. She hadn’t got a gift, she wouldn’t be out playing with the other kids, she would be cooking, cleaning in her rags and if something wasn’t done right, she would once again be on the receiving end of her father’s whip. As we were ready to leave, the street vendor asked us to stop, she went into the backroom, and brought back a brand new Barbie Doll. She looked down at the girl, handed her the doll and said “Happy Three Kings Day!” She changed instantly, a look of sadness became a look of joy as she looked down at her brand new gift, and she thanked all of us, ran outside and quickly began playing with the other kids. For the first time in a while she wasn’t the “girl with rags” or “the girl with scars” or “the girl without presents” she was just a girl. Just a kid, just like all the other kids. I was blown away by the scene and it was then and there that I made my choice to do something about the impoverished in the Dominican Republic. Especially the children. To do something that would allow them to not only have a better childhood, but also a better future. I just didn’t know how to do it yet.
That night something else life changing occurred but I wasn’t aware of it at the time. Walking around that night, I saw many young girls, some seemed to be 10 years old, wearing clothes that were meant for girls much older than herself and hanging out with men a lot older than her. I quietly thought to myself “those little girls should put some clothes on. They shouldn’t be wearing something like that.” I was right. They shouldn’t have, but it never crossed my mind they had no choice in the matter.
As I became aware of human trafficking later in life and heard about the plight of children in places like the Dominican Republic I came to realize that that girl I saw that night was one such child. A child of the night, sold night after night to evil men. I felt extremely guilty for my self-righteous thought that night. I wondered what I could have done differently. But what really could I have done? I was a missionary! I decided that if I had known her plight then I would have told her “I just want to let you know that God loves you! His Son died for you and He has a plan for your life and a future for you.” Then, I would have told her three words “I’ll be back!”
I am back! In 2014 I started Gifts of Grace, a service organization that helped provide Christmas gifts for the homeless, feed the homeless, and help with special valentine projects. It wasn’t until 2015 when we found the means and the partners to make a lasting impact on those Dominican youths. Education is the key to escaping poverty; many Dominican kids don’t have access to said education or the supplies that allow them to use their God given potential. It is in this form that we are back, we are back to defend innocence against exploitation, we are back to invest in the future of these kids, and we are back to let these kids know they are children of God, loved by God!
Gifts of Grace is dedicated to prevent the exploitation of Dominican youth and give those kids a chance at a bright future through the power of education. Will you join us?