A heart for ministry: Kings travel to Dominican Republic

When Mahomet's Mike and Brandy King went on their first mission trip to the Dominican Republic in 1999, they did not expect their lives to be changed.

"Brandy and I never saw ourselves as international foreign ministry types of people," Mike King said. "In fact, I was more like, 'Look at all the need around here.'"

Now, 20 years later, the Kings have become the directors of internships at Go Ministries. The Kings fell in love with Go Ministries as they departed on their first trip to the Dominican Republic in 1999.

On that initial venture, the pair filled in for Mahomet residents Sarah and Tim Payne, who worked with student ministries at Windsor Road Church. The Paynes were expecting their first child and were unable to travel at that time.

Leading a group of students, the Kings said the first week they were in the Dominican, their hearts were touched.

"We learned a lot about the people," Mike King said. "They are very relational. There were no cell phones or air conditioning, so people just sat on their front porch and hung out like we used to before we had home theater systems and AC.

"Everybody knows everybody, hangs out with everybody, takes care of everybody; that's the way it should be. That's how we were made. We were made to be together with each other."

But going to the Dominican Republic isn't just about catching up with old friends.

The Dominican, which is ranked 88th out of the 177 poorest countries on the Human Development Index (HDI), is populated by people who struggle to make ends meet.

Twenty percent of the Dominicans live off less than $2 a day. One-fifth of the population live in shacks, the vast majority of them without access to running water, proper sanitation and electricity.

"Poverty sucks here, but it sucks even more there," Mike King said.

"In the Dominican, it's so easy to see the needs: This kid is hungry or that kid needs new shoes or that kid just wants to be held for a while," Brandy King said.

Just outside the city of Santiago, the second largest city in the Dominican where Go Ministries works, there is a garbage dump called "The Hole" where people live.

With the help of Go Ministries, the people living in this area now have a church building, a feeding center and access to water purification.

For 25 years, Go Ministries has set out within the Dominican to empower local leaders to make necessary changes within their community.

Mike King said that volunteers may dig trenches or lay the foundation for a church, but then the local people also have an opportunity to take ownership of the facility by helping to build or serve.

"It's all about finding people who know their culture, who know the people, who know the needs, so you take those people who are completely capable of doing whatever we would do while we are down there and help support them," Mike King said.

Each summer, Go Ministries hosts church organizations looking to serve for five days. The short-term help works in one of 11 feeding centers, a medical center or a sports ministry program.

Unlike other Hispanic nations, the Dominican is not known for its soccer, but rather for the baseball players it breeds.

"So many boys see that as their ticket out; if they can score a Major League contract, they can get out of poverty," Mike King said. "Go Ministries saw what was happening in that a lot of people were taking advantage of these kids, making them sign these contracts to where if they even make it to the major leagues, so much of their money has to go back to these people who are taking advantage of them."

Go Ministries set up a program for young boys and girls to learn a sport such as baseball, basketball or volleyball while also getting their education (a typical Dominican education ends at eighth grade), learning a trade and about the Christian faith.

Mike King said the camps have produced athletes who have gone on to sign a professional contract.

But one in five Dominican citizens are also chronically undernourished and do not have access to medical care.

The Go Ministries feeding centers provide a meal to more than 1,000 kids six days a week.

A new four-story medical center provided by the organization will also help Dominicans in the Santiago area get the medical attention they need."Right now, the medical center operates out of a tiny apartment," Mike King said.

The new facility will house diagnostic tools, laboratories, a treatment center, a dentist and an optometrist. There will also be space for medical professionals to stay during a residency and for medical teams or schools to serve.

After falling in love with the Dominican, Mike and Brandy King wanted their children to experience what it means to give back.

"It was always our goal to expose our kids to that so that they would have a better understanding that this is not the norm here," Mike King said.

Their eldest son, Eli, went seven years ago with his dad when he was 10.

"He caught the bug, too," Mike King said.

And while Mike had made several trips to the Dominican over the years, Brandy did not return to serve in the Dominican until 2014 when she visited with her daughter Lydia.

When it was time for their youngest two children, Jeremiah and Abby (a Dominican native) to go, the Kings decided to make the trip to the Dominican a family affair.

Go Ministries relies on volunteers to do the short-term projects needed to keep the operation running. But Go Ministries also relies on interns to manage the volunteers, to assimilate them to the community and to help them connect with local leaders.

While intern spots are generally reserved for college-aged students, Mike and Brandy approached Go Ministries in 2015 about bringing their family to the Dominican for a four-week period in an intern capacity.

"We loved it so much that we asked if we could do it again," Mike King said.

So, the family went to the Dominican as interns for six weeks in 2016.

"Being a part of the interns, we made some good connections with the college-aged students and fell into a parental role, if you will, doing some mentoring," Mike King said.

Because of their connection with college-aged students, the Kings took on the role of directors of internships in December.

Within the first few weeks of 2018, the Kings have sorted through hundreds of internship applications to select the first 12 interns who will work with Go Ministries for the first six weeks of summer. Twelve more interns will travel to the country for the second six weeks of summer.

While many church-based groups volunteer during the summer months, the Kings said they have seen an increased interest from volunteers to come during the winter and fall months, too.

Because of this, one of the Kings' visions as directors of internships will be to see if they can implement a work-study program for students in international business or ministry, to work as interns during the fall and spring semesters.

But the Kings still want to do more for the people of the Dominican.

As Mike began coaching his son's Mahomet-Seymour Soccer Club (MSSC) team, he knew that his role was more than teaching a game.

"When I was coaching, I wanted to find a way to not just teach them soccer, but also how to be good men," Mike King said. "One or two people may go on to play professionally, but it's more about developing character and traits of service."

Mike approached MSSC Director Jim Sims about opening up the trip to the Dominican to all players within the club. The players would spend five days working with local children, teaching them how to play soccer since Dominican youth are not as familiar with the sport.

The game is just beginning to win popularity as professional city teams are starting to find success in league play.

In 2016, more than 40 MSSC players visited the Dominican. In 2017, 17 players made the trip.

"We'd like to give them that basis of what does servanthood look like," Mike King said.

In taking the Mahomet teens, King hopes that they not only realize how privileged they are to have soccer fields and equipment, but they learn that when they 'make it' in life, that there are opportunities to give back.

Mike King presented the 2018 Dominican Republic trip to MSSC athletes in early January.

The Kings also said there is always room for anyone who would like to serve in the Dominican.

This year's trip will take place between June 12-19. For more information, contact Mike King at king.michael@frontier.com or 217.390.5770.

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