Playing to Heal

"Listen for God's voice in everything you do and everywhere you go; He's the one that will keep you on track" (Proverbs 3:6).

God speaks to all of us in our daily lives. Sometimes, he does so in mysterious ways. For five women of Trinity United Methodist Church in Hackettstown, New Jersey, God's call to serve in the Dominican Republic came in the form of an unexpected Carnival in Haiti. When Haitian President Michel Joseph Martelly declared a national state of celebration, a cross-border play therapy Mission Education Encounter Team (MEET) trip, with the majority of the trip planned to be spent in Haiti, morphed into a week-long Dominican immersion in the Community Based Rehabilitation (CBR) Program.

Hesitant of spending only one full day in Haiti, a place and people very close to all of the women's hearts, the Trinity team ultimately decided to put their faith in God. "He had other plans for us," says Kim Koch, Trinity MEET participant and Montessori preschool teacher. "We just didn't know what they were yet."

Kim, along with pediatric occupational therapist Leslie Williams-Wexler, speech therapist Kay Tillson, nursing student Kristi McCollum and Trinity UMC Administrative Assistant Lois Spender, hosted five play therapy sessions in different barrios around Santiago, Dominican Republic. The team worked with disabled children on varying levels on the developmental scale, infant through school age.

Play therapy is a treatment technique that uses toys and games to help children develop gross and fine motor skills, visual perceptual skills, sensory processing skills and cognitive skills. Trinity's play therapy mission began in Haiti in January 2011. As a team, the July-August2014 MEET was their third play therapy MEET, their first in the Dominican Republic.

With countless suitcases filled with developmental toys, including stacking rings, nesting cups, busy box cubes, and shape sorters, the Trinity team taught CBR promotoras and parents how each toy could reinforce number, spatial, and identification concepts through play. They helped Promotoras and parents understand how each toy couldbe used in different ways to strengthen gross and fine motor skill development, eye and hand coordination, and sensory processing skills.

Bodies and toys sprawled on the floor, each session was filled with endless fun and laughter. Throughout the trip, Leslie strongly emphasized that "a child's job was to play." However, CBR Program Supervisor Soila Ramirez, who has worked with the program for 11 years, notes that for many of the children, play is not always a priority. Their parents, as well as many of the Promotoras themselves, never experienced the importance of play as children. Therefore, Soila says she "was filled with joy" to watch the children, parents, and other Promotoras laugh and play together. "I felt like a little girl," she explains, adding that the Trinity women are "very special people" and "have been blessed by God."

The women, too,  felt a strong connection to the promotoras and shared a deep admiration for their work. Kay reflects: "The Promotoras'  love and devotion to the children and continuing their development in all areas was inspiring." The Trinity women are adamant on continuing a relationship with the CBR Program and their new Dominican family. "It's not goodbye," explains Lois. "It's see you later."

These five women serve as an excellent example of the power of God's mystery. "We chose to serve, not necessarily where to serve," reflects Kim. "When we left the Dominican Republic we had a new mission field and incredible lifelong connections."