Oliver Marin, a young Cru staff member from Panama, had spent months praying, recruiting Panamanian students and making preparations for the 10-day ministry trip to campuses in the Dominican Republic.
For the first time in the history of Panama, a team of students and staff members were sent to another country with the message of Christ. The team hit the ground running, meeting students and talking about Jesus, expecting God to do big things. But what awaited them at the end of their trip surprised even Oliver.
While on the campus of Universidad Autonoma Santa Domingo (UASD) in the Dominican Republic, Oliver befriended the president of UASD. Oliver spoke with the president about what his team of 18 students from Panama was doing in the Dominican Republic. Their shared interest in teaching students values and principles quickly connected them.
When Oliver told him that his team wanted to host a concert and party for the students on campus, the president canceled the cultural event slated for the next night and turned over the venue to the team and their cause.
The next night, Thursday, students rolled into the party. Oliver, who sings in a band back in Panama, and several others entertained the audience of 400 by playing several sets of popular secular songs. The band skillfully weaved their personal faith stories in between music sets.
"I had a crazy life before Christ," said Oliver from the stage, recounting his time on campus over 6 years ago. Oliver had been in his third year studying tourism at a university in Panama when a national director from Cru had approached him and talked about what it meant to be in a right relationship with God.
Oliver had committed to follow Jesus Christ that day. "It changed my life," he said.
Sitting among the crowd, Juan Carlos, a UASD student with a lot of struggles, listened intently to Oliver's story.
At the close of the evening, the band and team of students from Panama invited everyone to come back for a follow-up party the next night. Juan Carlos made a mental note.
The party, though evangelistic in nature, would also mark the end of the ministry portion of the team's trip.
To the team's delight, 250 students, including Juan Carlos, returned on Friday night. The party was scheduled to last 2 hours but the Dominican students didn't want leave.
After the final party, Juan Carlos approached Oliver and talked about some of his wounds, disappointments and struggles. Juan Carlos said that he saw something different in Oliver and was interested in talking more.
"Call me tomorrow morning," said Oliver, who was more than willing to talk but not expectant for anything to happen in the last few hours of their time in the Dominican Republic. Experience had taught him that the odds of a phone call were slim.
Oliver's phone rang at 9:30 a.m. Saturday morning.
Shortly afterward, he met Juan Carlos. The 2 men went outside and found a seat beneath a tree where many of the team's 145 spiritual conversations had taken place over the last 10 days.
Along the way, Juan Carlos had contacted 4 of his friends, and they were all now seated with Oliver under a big, beautiful tree on campus.
Nearby, packed for their debrief trip, Oliver's team waited on the bus for the next 45 minutes as Oliver continued to sit and explain the gospel to these 5 students.
Realizing that he only had 1 evangelistic booklet and there were now 5 students, Oliver used his own story and natural surroundings to talk about Jesus.
At the end of their time, all 5 heads bowed in prayer, each of them indicating a decision to follow Christ.
A few short minutes later, after a bittersweet parting, the bus drove away. Though Oliver wished he could stay and help these new brothers and sister grow in their new faith, that was not the role the Lord had slated for him to fill.
There are only 2 long-term staff members in the Dominican Republic and a lot of follow-up work to do. The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.
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