TOPSHAM — Sharley Moreland’s journeys to aid communities in the Dominican Republic have been as much spiritual as they have been physical.

The 18-year-old Topsham resident, who will graduate from Mt. Ararat High School next month, took her first mission trip to the Caribbean country two years ago. She’ll travel there a fifth time in October.

Although funds for her first trip were too tight to go any earlier, “my pastor knew that I was really passionate about going, because I just felt this urge to go there,” Moreland, who attends the Pathway Vineyard Church in Brunswick, said in an interview May 20. “Somebody in the church actually paid for half of my very first trip there.”

A desire to help the children shown in promotional videos about the trip inspired her to make the journey.

“We would go door-to-door and pray for people. And that’s very widely accepted in their community; even if they’re not followers of Jesus, they were like, ‘yeah, come pray for us!” Moreland said with a smile.

The mission work also includes community dinners and medical clinics.

“My favorite part is just playing with the kids,” she said. “There are kids that are child prostitutes, there are kids who don’t have parents who live at home, because they’re off making money in the capital.”

“These kids who don’t feel loved in their everyday lives, besides from their other friends in the community, they just want it,” Moreland added. “They just want hugs, and they just want kisses, and they just want to play games.”

It’s those relationships that have kept her coming back. October’s visit will mark her second time in Port au Plata, where “I just fell in love with the kids.”

Although a bit of a language barrier can exist between the English-speaking visitor and Spanish-speaking native, “in a sense it doesn’t matter,” Moreland said. “We always say, ‘the language we speak is love.’ We’re just there to love them.”

Still, since her first trip, Moreland has been taking Spanish classes to prepare for a career as a Spanish teacher who also teaches English as a foreign language. Her interest in all things international has also been stoked by her family, who has hosted exchange students for the past two years.

While the trips tend to run a week, this fall’s will be for two months, taking place during the gap year Moreland is spending before enrolling at the University of Maine at Orono.

No matter where life takes her, mission work will continue to dovetail with that direction, Moreland said. She would like, someday, to have a house in the Dominican Republic, to be used as a community resource to fill regularly what needs arise, and “to be all the time, what we are for that one week we go each year.”

And to keep that cycle of mutual soul-nourishment going strong.

“I think like with anybody who goes on missions trips, they come back and they (feel) like, ‘I got more out of this trip than I gave,'” Moreland said. “And that’s what I think keeps me coming back … because no matter what I do, it always reminds me that while I’m insignificant in terms of the entire world, in the life of a child who you hold for two hours, 20 minutes even, that’s a big part of their day.”

Particularly when it comes from a new friend from nearly 2,000 miles away.

“They’ll always remember that,” Moreland said. “And be like, ‘wow. She actually cared enough to be here.'”

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

Sharley Moreland of Topsham, who graduates next month from Mt. Ararat High School, will embark on her fifth church mission trip to the Dominican Republic in October.

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