[This post was originally written by Trevor Plankenhorn for his personal blog—you can find his missionary blog here.
Trevor and Kathy Plankenhorn are on their third year serving as missionaries at Doulos. Trevor is the Finance Director and Kathy is the PreK 4 teacher. They have two kids, Luke and Emily, who are students at Doulos. This post was originally written by Trevor for their supporters, but we felt it did a great job of painting a picture of our ministry from two different perspectives; behind the scenes and loving on kids.]
To be honest, I struggle with what to write about when sending the monthly missionary update letter. I totally understand that our supporters, friends and family want to know what’s going on with our family. They also want to know how to pray for us and what needs we have. I sometimes wish the work I did more easily translated to these types of updates you see all the time. For example, “Here’s a picture of me loving on some kids.” Or “Here’s a baptism in the river.” “Here’s the new church building we renovated.” Funny thing is, we’ve actually done all of those things in the last year (the baptism was my own son :)), but that doesn’t represent the majority of my time as a missionary in the Dominican Republic.
My wife’s day is much different than mine. Kathy loves on 4 year olds every day. Half of her class of 20 is in the Doulos sponsorship program, where this year the families earn an average of $491 US per month. The lowest income families earn less than $200 US per month. She’s teaching them to read and write (in English AND Spanish), how to get along with their new friends, how to walk in a straight line, and to go to the bathroom in the bathroom. She offers them an option every morning before they come into class of a “hug, handshake, or high-five,” and I don’t have the actual numbers on this, but most of them opt for the hug. It’s truly the cutest thing you’ve ever seen in your entire life.
My day is very different from hers. For example, yesterday I spent every minute of my day finishing up fiscal year end budget reports for the school. I have to prepare them for this month’s board meeting and they have to be accurate. That meant combing through a years worth of transactions (in Spanish) and making sure they were properly categorized and accounted for. I then had to turn that information into a narrative about the financial health and success of the school. For a highly analytical (nerd) person like myself, it was a long task with a great feeling of accomplishment at the end. It’s also a job that’s really difficult to communicate with any sort of emotion or story. But I’m going to try and pull some nuggets from my “financial year in review.”
Doulos Discovery School operates on a budget that comes partly from tuition fees and partly from donations for the students in the sponsorship program. Half of the staff at Doulos are North American missionaries, and the other half are local Dominican staff. The average cost of “Educating and equipping servant leaders through Christian discipleship and expeditionary learning to impact the Dominican Republic” (Doulos’ mission statement) is $139/month per student. By comparison, the public school system in the USA spends $1,000/month per student. (Which is crazy.) One of the ways Doulos can do so much with so little is because of our missionary staff. All of our missionaries raise their own support through their family, friends and churches back home. If Doulos had to pay these salaries from it’s budget, we would have to spend almost $600/month per student to operate the school.
Knowing that Doulos has limited funds available is key to this next part. Our School Director, Danae, and I just finished meeting with all of our local Dominican staff this week. We were so honored to tell them that salaries were increasing for every single staff member. We also got to share with them that Doulos will be covering 100% of their private insurance costs and that all of their school-aged children can now be a part of our scholarship program and their cost for that is 100% covered. In the past three years, we’ve increased total Dominican salaries by 40%. So not only is Doulos giving back to the students in the community, but we’re working hard at making it the best place to work in all of the Dominican Republic.
We also made significant advances in our resources available for students this last year. We added 10 iPads, 24 laptop computers and we now have a projector for every classroom. I’ve built new schools in the US and I know this is commonplace for schools there, but for the DR and Doulos, this is huge. Our students are learning to work with technology that has escaped them for years. We just had a meeting last week where we discussed the 2-3 year plan for the technology curriculum and it’s only going to get better.
These are the wins that I get to see on a daily basis. If you dig through the numbers and can understand the significance of what’s happening here, it’s truly special.