Going and Growing

If you google “Barranca in the Dominican Republic,” you’ll see images of resorts, sweeping villas and pristine pools. That isn’t Barranca.  Barranca is a small town with more plantain trees than running water, more pigs than pools. In fact, it might be the last place in the Dominican Republic (DR) anyone would choose to start Young Life.

But since it’s God who chooses it shouldn’t surprise us when Rafa Alejo and his wife, Charo, ended up in Barranca. It shouldn’t surprise us when they met a young woman named Julia Veloz whom God would use to transform not just one country but two.

For Veloz, growing up in Barranca meant lots of plantains and lots of church. Her family of 14 was involved and known in their church community. Coming out of that she thought she was just fine. She didn’t need more faith or religion or Jesus. But then one night at a Young Life camp while talking with a leader, she began to cry. She knew God had been after her heart, calling her to give over her whole life. She knew nothing would ever be the same. What God knew was that this wasn’t just about her. It was also about her country and His world.

Walking Free!

Before God could use Veloz as an agent of transformation, however, there had to be testing. That testing came as she tried to live a new life with Jesus in Barranca. Tensions often came to a head with her family. “There was one morning when my father said, ‘OK, now you are not being obedient and you have to decide,’” Veloz said. “‘You have to go or you have to stay. Stay and not be a part of Young Life or go and do whatever you want with your life.’”

Veloz decided to go with Jesus, wherever He might lead.

“After that it was super exciting to go back to Barranca, to my town, and to really believe what it is to have Jesus as your friend,” Veloz said. “And, you know, when that is happening, you are so hungry to pray, to read the Bible, and that was me.”

Even still, it was the Bible that continued to make a tense situation worse. In Barranca people didn’t read their Bibles. But as for Veloz and her friends in Young Life they kept reading the Word, trusting and growing because they “were just walking free!”

Over time the Lord started to bring fruit out of the struggle. Despite the tension, the love of Christ began to spread through Barranca and Veloz’s family — including her father. Then her younger sister Diony met Jesus at Young Life’s Pico Escondido camp and became an area director. Fifteen out of Veloz’s 26 nieces and nephews have become involved in Young Life and have gone to camp. Barranca, a town full of plantains, was becoming a town full of God-given fruit that would not only last, but transform the country.


The Lord called Veloz out of Barranca to Santiago, where she worked with college students. Then it was on to Licey, where she started the work from scratch. Like a modern-day Apostle Paul, Veloz kept going and starting clubs in new parts of the DR. Eventually she became the metro area director on DR’s North Coast. Scott Miedema, training director for the Latin American and Caribbean Division, puts it plainly, “There is no way anyone would have chosen Barranca, but it’s what God did. We have these amazing leaders coming out of the ‘middle of nowhere.’”

But from there the story gets even better. In 2012 God made it clear to Young Life’s leadership it was the young woman from Barranca whom He would send to Cuba to start something new. After six years, Young Life is in five cities in Cuba, and the fruit of Veloz's life keeps growing.

In John 1:46, a skeptical Nathaniel asked, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Phillip simply said, “Come and see.” Julia Veloz could say the same thing about Barranca.​