Dominican mission trip a real lift for students

June 27, 2016 / by / 1 Comment


A University-led mission trip to the Dominican Republic opened the eyes of nine students.

By Jeannette Cruz
GCU News Bureau

Nine GCU students visited various villages in the Dominican Republic this spring to participate in their field of study, experience a whole new culture and spread God’s love and grace.


At this school house, the children were fond of their GCU visitors.

Daniel Cruz, program manager in Strategic Alliances, and his wife, Alicia, began leading teams of college students to Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic two years ago. This year, the trip was made possible through a partnership with Students International.

Each component of the trip added to the experience of every student.

“What happens is, you gather a team to fulfill some work for God, and usually each of them goes with a different purpose. But that doesn’t matter because, once you’re there, the Lord takes over,” Cruz said.

“You find there is this almost this breakthrough moment where everyone becomes the same. They’ve got crazy hair after a few days, they feel like outsiders and there is no ‘cool group’ or ‘uncool group’ among them — just like the scripture where God’s commands to His people to be of one mind.”


GCU student Emily Ghena (right) worked as a dental assistant during her time in the Dominican Republic.

Sophomore Emily Ghena spent 12 days in the town of Jarabacoa and worked full-time as a dental assistant. Ghena saw patients of all ages and oral conditions, but rarely did she see anyone who needed regular teeth cleaning.

Dentists really say that the mouth is the gateway to the body, and it was important to see how that while in the U.S. we have a lot of awareness about oral hygiene, people in the Dominican Republic lose their teeth to decay,” Ghena said. “One patient’s teeth were hurting so much he pulled them out with pliers.”


Almost every background was a different shade of green.

Ghena loved sharing her knowledge and believed that she could change their perspective about dentistry and oral health. That transpired when Ghena helped a little one overcome her fear of dentists.

“This little girl walked into the clinic absolutely terrified after she had been physically held down by previous doctors to do dental work on her,” said Ghena. “So rather than immediately sitting her down in the patient chair I talked to her and let her warm up to me. All I wanted was a smile, and I got that from her.”

That same feeling filled sophomore Michaela Hegarty while working at a social work site in the village of El Callejon, where she taught women of all ages about prayer and living a Christian life.

“At the end of the day the women loved on each other and they shared so much joy and laughter,” she said. “I arrived with a great yearning to be a missionary, but I had no idea what that even looked like — it really was about letting myself become God’s instrument to spread his Gospel to others.”


GCU junior Santos Torres experienced the most life-changing event — he was baptized in front of his peers.

Hegarty remembered being mesmerized by God’s presence, especially when GCU junior Santos Torres was baptized in the middle of a river just before their departure.

“I think the most meaningful part of this trip was discovering that God works through all different kinds of people — we were all very different and from all different walks of life,” Hegarty said.

Torres described the event as one that began as a joke after he confessed to his peers that he had never been baptized. But God had the final word.

“I remember as we drove down to the river, Santos was so quiet, and for him to be quiet is unusual,” Cruz said. “I had no idea that I would be baptizing Santos that day, but his transformation by the end of the trip was very, very evident.”

As he stood in the water with Cruz by his side, Torres’ memories of growing up troubled and homeless crossed his mind, but now he felt only gratitude.

“For a long time I had discredited God, and I was finally acknowledging that God has been in my life,” he said.

Torres was surrounded by applause and was embraced by Cruz and peers. It was then he realized the power of his testimony.

● Click here for a video from the trip and here for a video about Torres.

Contact Jeannette Cruz at (602) 639-6631 or

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One Response
  1. Daniel

    Here are links to Santos’ interview/baptism and a video of the trip:

    Jun.27.2016 at 2:38 pm
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