A Winnipeg couple is building houses in the Dominican Republic virtually this year.
Brent and Wendy Wong own Shine Dental in Winnipeg. Brent is the lead dentist and Wendy went to school for interior design. The couple has put their passion to use in the kingdom of God with their ministry called Shine the Light.
"A normal trip would take place three times a year. We go down in January, May, and October and we've done these trips for the past 15 years or so," says Brent.
During these trips, the Shine the Light crew offer the local people dentistry and medical services as well as build houses for those in need. All of this takes place in the community of Javier, just outside of Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic.
It All Started with a Missions Trip
"Back in 2003, I went on my first mission trip to Africa and my life was so profoundly changed that I quit my job as an associate dentist. I thought I was going to become a missionary dentist," says Brent.
While he didn't leave everything in Canada or go overseas full time, Brent made helping people part of his business.
"After that, I opened up Shine Dental [in Winnipeg] and ever since we've made a mandate that we would carve out time in our schedule to put aside for doing missions work," he says.
Missions work was actually the bridge that brought Wendy and Brent together.
"After a family member heard that I was going to do a Habitat for Humanity build and Brent was going to Africa, we were set up on a blind date," says Wendy.
The rest, they say is history. The couple got married shortly after and have been running Shine the Light ministry for over a decade, with their two sons. The boys, Jonah and Isaiah have gone on over 30 trips with their parents.
"They love it. They grew up on the missions field doing these short-term trips and every once in a while I start hearing them changing their attitudes, saying, 'What if we took over Shine the Light' and it's heartwarming to see that this might be a legacy," says Brent.
Building Houses Virtually this Year
After March of 2020, they had to shift how Shine the Light ministry operated.
"We were able to do our January trip but obviously we haven't been able to travel there since," says Wendy.
They have built a community centre in Javier, where locals who are part of the team help out all year round.
"When the pandemic hit, just like here, many people lost their jobs. However, they have no social catches there. We started a feeding program which we put on social media that we would be buying groceries and packages of essentials," she says.
Shine the Light provided this for months, feeding 80 families each week by the Dominican staff members.
"We are trying to create some way to connect to the Dominican and still make a difference in the way that we would be if we were taking teams. So in that way, we are doing a virtual build," says Wendy.
Normally the couple takes a team of about 50 people to build one to three homes each trip.
"In lieu of that, instead of us going down and building it, we are raising the funds so that people in the Dominican can still build and create some economy for the builders there," says Brent.
Right now, Shine the Light has raised just over $40,000 of their $50,000 goal for their first virtual trip.
"We have Dominican staff members and have worked out a protocol for families to be short-listed to get a home. The staff there make sure the need is real before a build is agreed upon," says Wendy.
Once a family is short-listed, their need is presented to the board. They look over all the details, pray about it, and then select from there, according to Wendy.
People who want to join their team can go to the Dominican Republic to build homes for a week for $2,600/person.
One other initiative is their side project called far-O Fair Trade.
"We have met some amazing artisans who are very skilled in their craft. Two, in particular, are a leatherworker and jeweller," she says.
Wendy and her friend from college, Kerry, have designed a line of jewellery and leather handbags that are made by artisans in the Dominican.
"All the profits go to supporting the programs that are run out of the community centre in the Dominican Republic," she says.