A year ago, Starliner Arias met a team of missionaries with Cru who were visiting her college campus in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. After a few days of initiating spiritual conversations with students, Starliner joined one of the missionaries to speak to 10 students in a classroom. The class’ teacher hadn’t yet arrived when the two stood up front.
They had planned to talk about how to know God through Jesus Christ by using a booklet called The Four Spiritual Laws. As Starliner handed out copies of the booklet, she felt nervous. This was her first time to speak about her faith in front of a class.
At first, Starliner had their attention, but as more students came in, their loud talking overcame her young voice. “Can anyone read the third law?” she asked. One girl answered loudly, “I’m sorry dear, but we can’t listen to you. We are studying for an exam.” Frustrated, Starliner reminded her that before they began, the students had told her they weren’t busy.
A year later, Starliner met another short-term mission team traveling from Panama. They came to visit her school, Universidad Autonoma de Santo Domingo, the oldest campus in the Americas.
But this time, it was different.
For the past 2 years, the Panamanian mission team had come to the university and held a couple of large events and talked to a lot of students about Jesus. However, since they didn’t focus on introducing those new students to the Dominican students who were already active with the movement, those new students didn’t stay involved, feeling no link to the local ministry.
So Leyla Abreu, the Dominican Republic campus director, asked the Panamanian team to involve the students of Dominican Cru, called Cru, as much as possible.
Having traveled the thousand miles across the Caribbean Sea to the Dominican Republic 3 years in a row, Cru in Panama has formed a partnership with the campus in Santo Domingo.
This year’s keyed-down schedule and slower pace feels odd to anyone who has been on a short-term trip. But the Panama team is hoping students like Starliner, who are active in Cru, will learn to reach her school for Christ.
Midway through the Panamanians’ trip, Leyla was already seeing a difference in Starliner’s confidence. One afternoon when Starliner was going to go with two Panamanians to try to find students to talk to, one of them couldn’t make it. Starliner surprised Leyla by being the one to say, “OK, let’s go talk to students!”
“Starliner is doing things she never thought she could do,” says Leyla.
With her similar Latin culture and common language, Starliner is finding a natural encouragement in Cielo Martinez, one of the women on the Panamanian team. Like a pair of training wheels, Cielo is working alongside Starliner, building her confidence in evangelism and discipleship.
Starliner, a psychology major wearing butterfly hairclips and purple jelly bracelets, takes time between classes to get as much experience as she can with her new Panamanian friend.
When Starliner went with Cielo to approach students, Starliner was out of her “comfort zone,” but she says, “Cielo helped me to have courage.” Rather than just wanting to talk to others about her faith, she’s being encouraged and learning more about how to do it effectively.
One student Starliner and Cielo met is Johana Morillo. They first met her earlier in the week, outside the new, state-of-the-art library that stands in stark contrast to the surrounding buildings with their countless layers of peeling pastel paint. After Cielo and Starliner prayed that God would show them to whom they should talk, Johana sat down near them. She was surprised, but very receptive, when the two started talking to her about how she could know God through Jesus Christ.
Since Johana trusted Christ during their first meeting, Starliner and Cielo meet with her again to talk about living the Christian life. After lunch, they find a place on the dry, yellow grass under the mangos and palms. Gently leafing through the blue and white booklets together, Cielo gives Starliner opportunities to explain key words and read passages from her Bible, which she does with increasing confidence. As they get deeper into conversation, the three scoot closer together, but Cielo leans back with her hands bracing her from behind, trusting Starliner to carry the conversation with Johana.
Starliner says, “When I look at Cielo, I think of myself because I was shy and quiet. I understand her, but she is different from how I was. She isn’t afraid to tell others about Jesus.” Starliner may exude more self-confidence than Cielo, but the way Cielo approaches people despite her shyness proves to Starliner that it’s not sheer confidence she needs. It’s her love for Christ and the understanding of His love for people that motivates her to go and speak, confident that God is sovereign over the results.
Cielo confesses that she’s still learning that God can use her despite her perceived weaknesses. Cielo was hesitant to even come to Santo Domingo. She says, “I thought since I didn’t have my life all together, how could I help anyone?” Her Bible cover, with her name hand-stitched in vibrant green and orange, is a reflection of the way Cielo has fully embraced God’s Word in her life. “This trip has been important for me because I’m learning it’s not up to me. I need the help of the Holy Spirit.”
At the end of the week, the Panamanians ask Starliner to once again stand at the front of a classroom to talk to students about her faith. This time, instead of holding 10 students, the room is packed, and a few students even gaze in through the open door and windows. A little nervous after her experience a year before, she steps up to join the Panamanian students. She tells the class about God’s love through Jesus Christ and invites them to the Cru meeting.
“I began to feel calm, just praying in my mind that God would do the job -- to open their hearts to receive the gospel.” The students listen this time, and before the group leaves, they collect response cards, some of which have names and phone numbers of students who want to hear more about knowing God.
Later in the afternoon, since it’s their last day in Santo Domingo, the Panamanians and the Dominican Cru students gather in an empty classroom for a celebration. The dust-lined ceiling fans try in vain to cool the room. A stack of pizza boxes, bottles of red and orange soda, and paper plates sit in a corner until the festivities begin. Then Starliner introduces the Panamanian team, while Leyla expresses her sincere gratitude to them for coming.
After a video of the week’s memorable moments and a short workshop on evangelism for the new students, everyone pulls their desks into huddles of 8 to 10. Many of these students are new contacts the Panamanians have helped the Dominican students make during the past 2 weeks.
Cielo and Starliner gather the young women they have met. They tell them that, since Cielo is going back to Panama, it is important that they stay in touch with Starliner.
Challenging these new students, Starliner tells them, “I started with Cru last summer. When the visiting team left last year, I wondered, Now what do I do? Suddenly they weren’t there, but I saw the importance of carrying on all that they’d been doing.”
In a bright pink notebook Starliner passes around, each woman writes her name and contact information, and Starliner is sure to talk to each of them before she leaves. She desires to create a movement on her campus -- a growing group of students whose lives have been touched by God through Christ and who are learning to tell others how they can know Him too.
This time, when the Panamanians leave, Starliner and the other students in Santo Domingo won’t be left wondering, Now what? They have, not only a list of names and phone numbers, but relationships with many new students who want to learn more about growing in Christ.
This is the third time the Panamanians have come to Santo Domingo, but this time the Panamanians can go home knowing they’re also leaving behind the beginnings of a growing ministry.