For years I heard about Leslie. Then I heard from Leslie when she spoke at our church. Finally I had the opportunity to know Leslie when we visited her in the Dominican Republic. Five years ago my family participated in a mission trip from our church to the DR and, despite my quaking anxiety about being a parent and participant, God used that trip to change us, as individuals and as a family. The ministry Leslie and her family lead has created opportunity and hope for countless of Dominicans, and I am thrilled that today YOU get to hear from Leslie. Maybe one day you’ll also have an opportunity to know her.
Create Challenge # 28: Leslie Trautwein
Create? That’s a tricky word.
I am the oldest of three girls. When we were young, my youngest sister excelled in ballet, creating beauty with disciplined and well-practiced movement. She possessed an incredible vocabulary and ability to wield those words with skill. And my other sister created hilarious stories and illustrations of her pet gerbils. Skillfully, she drew horses rippling with muscles which evoked deep emotion and even awe. My horse renderings at that time appeared more like hot dogs on toothpick legs, and I happily quit ballet in exchange for a ball and field. I never viewed myself as creative, but something in me yearned for an outlet.
With some encouragement I eventually learned to enjoy playing with watercolors and returned to the calligraphy I had learned in junior high. My greatest creative outlet, however, I found behind a camera. I followed in my dad’s footsteps and he blessed me with his old Nikon EL, which weighed a ton but faithfully endured many travels and much abuse. I don’t know if I ever became a good photographer, but I am not sure that was my goal. I love capturing moments, natural beauty, expressions, relationships. I don’t create them, I just capture an inadequate image of something awesome that God created.
When I think of the word “create” and ask myself, What do I create these days?, my thoughts and answers fall far from the artistic definition of the word. It’s easy to conjure up some of the ‘things’ I create, things that at the end of the day I own, by choice or by force. Some of those things are not pretty or inspiring, in fact they are rather embarrassing… like conflict, stress, unrest, and even pain. But that is not the desire of my heart. That is not what I was created for. That is my fallen, selfish self exerting control.
In my heart, I desire to follow the One who made me, in whose image I myself was created. I want to daily be more conformed to the image of Christ, and glorify my Creator in all I do. Sometimes, by God’s grace, I think I manage to stay focused on Him and shut out the lies the world and my own flesh so adamantly want me to embrace. Sometimes, I think I let God use me to create opportunities for people around me to see Him, to know Him, to experience His love.
I find that my soul rests and rejoices in God’s creation, the wilderness… and the wilder the better! God blessed me with a spouse who enjoys the same. When dating we were dubbed “outdoorsy” by dear friends who consider themselves “indoorsy.” Taking others along on our outdoorsy adventures has created the opportunity to introduce others to the awesome Creator. In our eagerness over the years, we have fortunately survived what some might call ‘poor’ judgement, such as miscalculating tidal shifts on kayaking adventures or overestimating our ability to beat the setting sun on back country ski trips (yes, the list is LONG). It is not uncommon for “How the Trautweins Tried to Kill Us in the Wilderness” stories to surface at gatherings. Sharing time outside has afforded great conversations about creation and the Creator.
More recently we have created opportunities for kids at risk in the Dominican Republic to get out into God’s creation. Even though there are amazing waterfalls and mountains within minutes of our mountain town, most of these youth would not get to experience such power without an opportunity… transportation is costly, care-givers are tired after a day’s work in the fields. Some of my greatest joys in these past years have been sitting with the teenagers from our orphanage and our own kids around a campfire on backpacking trips up the highest peak in the Caribbean (one access trail is only an hour from our town) talking about God, His power and faithfulness. Leading groups of youth up Pico Duarte creates an environment for great growth. What a privilege I have seeing these young people experience God in the wilderness through pushing their bodies, interacting first-hand with His creation, and hearing about His faithfulness from their peers. Creating opportunity for relationship, horizontal and vertical.
As a missionary involved in developing and running schools and orphanages for kids who likely would not be in school at all and/or be living on the street, I get to be part of creating an opportunity for education and breaking the cycle of poverty. In the seven schools we oversee in the Dominican Republic, over 1800 children are not only given an incredible education, but most graduate from high school (national rate is less than 20%) and are also offered Kids Alive scholarships to go to university (less than 5% of Dominicans graduate from university). These children and young adults receive hardy nutrition, appropriate love, healthy guidance, and a faithful family in these ministries.
As a pediatrician, I also get to create the opportunity of preventative and urgent health care to these children and families who would otherwise have minimal access to such privileges. What a joy to pass on my education and experience for the well-being of others, from vaccinations to machete wounds. Through creating opportunities for North Americans to come work alongside nationals to help achieve these educational and health goals, many lives of all nationalities and ages have been impacted and changed as language and cultural barriers fade in the overwhelming glow of God’s all-powerful love.
I love creating opportunities for people to meet and know each other, transparently sharing life’s hardships and victories, encouraging each other along the road. With the desire to allow others to own and share their stories, I treasure opportunities to share how God has powerfully and faithfully carried me through challenging places and circumstances, such as miscarriage, raising third culture kids, and breast cancer.
Blessed with deep and growing relationships with both young and old, in Spanish and English, I count the opportunities I have been allowed to help create as a great gift. Years ago a young man from our school gave me the opportunity to be his madrina at his graduation, and several years later he asked my husband stand up as the padrino at his wedding. Recently, as he acknowledged his Heavenly Father, he spoke about being the father to his newborn daughter that his father was unable to be. Stories like his make every moment of ‘creating opportunity’ worth all the work. My hope is that I leave people feeling loved and knowing the love of our Father after having spent time with me.
In the end, I am a small cog in a big wheel. It is an honor to work alongside Dominicans, Haitians, Columbians, Europeans, and fellow North Americans to create such opportunities. I count it a privilege that God can use even me, broken and fallen, to help create opportunities that allowing soulful health and healing. Opportunities to be in right relationship with God’s creation – both the natural world around us as well as people – and with God Himself.
And I will continue my feeble attempt to capture glimpses of God and His creation through my camera lens.
I am a daughter of the Lord Most High, the original Creator, wife of the most amazing and devoted guy I know, mom to four awesome individuals who challenge and stretch me (three of whom have flown the coop!). We just completed 14 years in the DR serving with Kids Alive International, where I work in the aforementioned roles of wife and mom, as well as pediatrician and homeschool teacher. I still LOVE being out in God’s creation, especially in the snow. I praise God for the plans He created for each of us! Jeremiah 29:11