FIRST is proud to share stories from members all over the world as they travel the path of courage and self-discovery. FIRST member, Bailey Pretak, a model self-advocate, has written yet another brave chapter of her own incredible life story — one that has never been hampered by her ichthyosis. We are delighted to take you along on the journey of Bailey’s life-changing mission to the Dominican Republic.
I’ve never been one to let my ichthyosis hold me back from pursuing what I want out of life. This month was no exception. I willingly chose to go to the Dominican Republic, an island south of Florida in the Caribbean, for a weeklong mission trip. The crazy thing about all of this is I cannot sweat and the “winter” weather in the DR is in the mid-high 80s! I knew I would be out in the sugar cane fields with little to no shade, so I also made sure the doctors and nurses knew about my condition (they were at every village with the Vacation Bible School staff). I also had two spray bottles with me and I thought really hard about the best lightweight material to wear for the heat. I had four instant icepaks on me and I even had a hat and an umbrella to help with shade as well. (As it turned out there was plenty of shade, and sporadic rain showers to keep me cool. However, I did, and will always, err on the side of caution).
It ended up being the most incredible experience. I had already been to Romania twice on mission trips, but this one was different. The Dominican Republic is a third world country. I’ve seen the photos of the living conditions, but it cannot even begin to compare with seeing it firsthand. These people live in tiny villages out in the middle of sugar cane fields. Most have to travel twenty miles one way to get clean water. Many work a full day and only earn $3. They don’t know when they will get their next meal. They don’t have shoes that fit them properly, children don’t have underwear, and they don’t have the privilege of medicine or even band-aids when they aren’t feeling well.
My dance ministry, Beautiful Feet, and I went down to lead Vacation Bible School with the children. We wanted to teach them just how great God’s love is and how He is always there for them. The children were so precious. As soon as we would get off the bus, there would be a child in your arms or holding your hand. They just wanted love. We had a translator to help with the Bible story, but when we were playing with the kids or helping them with their craft, we were pretty much on our own. It makes you realize how language is not as big of a barrier as you think. You learn words from each other. Smiles, hugs, and laughter are universal. Their faces would light up when you’d show a photo of them, because they don’t have mirrors to see themselves. While we were with the children, there were other people ministering through construction – painting, putting on new roofs, building new homes. There were doctors and nurses who would take care of the people bringing their families for medicine and healing. People used their talents in basketball, baseball, and dance to teach and train the villagers. There were still others who would visit the homes to deliver supplies and to pray blessings over the families. Lives were changed and not just the Dominicans.
I know that I went home with a full and changed heart. I came home with the knowledge of how over abundantly we are blessed. I actually sat in my house and cried with gratitude for all that I have, all that I’ve experienced, and all that is provided for me. I learned true joy from the Dominicans. They have so little, yet they are the most joy-filled people I have ever met. They don’t have much, but they can see that what they do have is a blessing from God. They also put far more weight into relationships with family and friends than we do. I went expecting to bless them and in return I came back blessed. I know I left a piece of my heart forever in those tiny villages in the sugar cane fields with the most beautiful and joyful people.