Thanksgiving is a wonderful time to reflect on the journeys we have had throughout the year and making commitments to take the next steps in our faith journeys. The following Nicaragua Mission Trip reflection from member Glenn Simpson provides a way to reflect on our own journeys and contemplate our next steps.
This trip began our second decade of missions to Nicaragua. During the first decade, the adult and family trip has encompassed approximately 300 missioners for 2000 nights, building 12 houses, a kitchen, constructing part of a school, medical clinic, feeding the hungry, healing the sick, and educating children.
When you return home, there’s a high probability that you’ll be asked “why not just send a check for $1,400?” A logical question unless you’ve ever been on a mission trip. The Financial Peace University course taught at our church suggests everyone use cash because you don’t “feel” spending when using credit cards. Well, how much would you be missing of a mission trip if you sent a check and not attend? Sending a check no more makes you a missionary than sending a check to the YMCA makes you fit.
My devotion handbook asks a number of questions. After our experiences in Leon, I have more.
What memories will we take home?
Did we hear God speaking?
Did we see Jesus in the actions of people around us?
Did we take the time to listen?
Did we look for and see His fingerprints
How will we remember the foot washing experience?
Will it encourage us to serve others even the lowly?
How did the call to expand our circles resonate with us?
Do we believe that to see Him alone is to not see Him at all?
Will we expand our circle to include the homeless?
The mentally ill or physically disabled?
Gays and Lesbians?
Do we accept that our lives of abundance are fortuitous and not God’s doing?
More importantly, do we understand that our abundance can deter us from God’s call?
If God’s plan is for all to have an abundance of love, mercy, and grace, are we willing to do something to help that happen?
Can we ignore the small differences in people that are magnified irrationally?
Will we look for opportunities to do things “the other way” and be less quarrelsome – even if that means loving those with whom we disagree strongly?
Can we accept that our position may not be consistent with God’s plan and that we might be – WRONG?
Can we accept Pastor Wilbur’s call that all people are children of God or will we continue to focus on the little differences between God’s people?
Did being up close and personal with the people of Nicaragua ignite any flame of acceptance and love of those who are less fortunate?
How will our experiences here affect our lives?
Will we look for other opportunities to serve those in need and thank them for filling a void in our life?
Did we feel the Holy Spirit nudging us to find our reason for being?
Did we reach any conclusions about God’s call?
If we’re entering a new phase in our life, will we turn it over to the Lord?
Did the devotion questions sharpen our focus on an understanding of our life and God’s dominion over it?
Did the daily texts offer meaningful spiritual stimulation to the point that we’ll take meaningful action?
Will we get caught up in our busyness that prevents us from seeing the burning bush God as placed in front of us?
Do we ignore God’s call in favor of our ‘have tos’ or ‘want tos’?
What will leave a mark on our heart?
A child we met?
A team activity?
The tropical beauty?
A nudge by God through someone or something around us?
Will the people of Marananol impact us beyond our return home?
Was their interaction with us an act or did they really care for us?
Will they remember us next week?
Will we remember them?
Did seeing Ebelyn receive the keys to her new house have even the slightest impact on us?
Did the dance in Marananol touch us in any way?
Do we believe they were happy to know us?
Did they act like God is loves them in the same way He does us?
Were our face emotionless during all of their hospitality to us?
Do we struggle due to conflicts between our faith and society?
Will we trust God enough to allow Him to use our struggles to shape us in His own image?
Can we accept that He is always with us – during our struggles, pain, indecisions, as well as joys?
Do we fight to be in control of our life rather than giving it to God?
Can we find our reason for being to the extent that Seth demonstrated how he has found his?
Are our lives all about us?
Do our egos get in our own way?
Did the children at the HCN impact us?
Will their lives serve as a catalyst for us in any way?
Do we look at our own affluent lives as normal or do we acknowledge that most of the world lives like the people we met here?
Do we recognize the responsibilities that our affluence brings?
Do we clearly see the common humanity that we share with others and know that it is not affluence but rather an interconnected web comprised of all of God’s children?
When we return will we ever have a cold shower to remind us of the people who love us in Nicaragua?
How will we remember them?
And when God asks us to dance, will we say yes?
As part of the body of Christ, I will widen my circle.
As part of the body of Christ, I will help others who are less fortunate than I.
As part of the body of Christ, I will trust in the Lord fully.
As part of the body of Christ, I will seek God’s fingerprints.
As part of the body of Christ, I will seek new ways to serve.
As part of the body of Christ, I will graciously love those with whom I disagree.
As part of the body of Christ, I will let go and let God.
As part of the body of Christ, I will try to remove the log from my eye and see the good in others.
As part of the body of Christ, I will place God in the center of my life.
As part of the body of Christ, I will try my best to be like Jesus.
As part of the body of Christ, I will comfort those in need.
As part of the body of Christ, I will love my neighbor.
As part of the body of Christ, I will say yes to God’s invitation.
The 2016 Nicaragua Mission has returned from El Ayudante in Leon, Nicaragua. View photos of the team’s work below:
by Trish Krider
The final touches were put on the house today. At the end of the day we usually all gather to dedicate the home, pray for the family, and present them with a Bible. But the schedule this year meant that many of us would not be able to attend the dedication, so we stopped by this morning as we dropped the construction team off to work. This gave us all a chance to see the house with four sturdy walls and a strong roof awaiting a coat of paint inside and out. We met the owner of the house who is deaf and mute, but she needed no interpreter as she expressed her gratitude to God for this gift of a home. The children were already gathering, some to help, some to play and all anxious to receive a bit more candy (much of which was left over from what our sweet friend Avy had gifted us with as she came to see us off last Saturday morning!). And as we prepared to leave I hugged the community leader, Gregoria, and told her “Hasta proximo año!” (Until next year!) to which she replied, “Espero que si!” (I hope so!)
Some of us spent this last day distributing the final ten water filters to grateful families. Stopping at the usual place to pick up the community leader, we were treated to some home-made treats – specially prepared for us. These delicious fried balls of dough covered in honey, called “buñulos”, are a specialty in this area – and they were delicious! And we were all so touched that these people who have so little would be moved to express their thanks by preparing this treat for us.
The education team concentrated their efforts this week with the children here at El Ayudante – and the theme for the week was prayer. The lessons were varied using conversation, singing, coloring books, a scavenger hunt and recitation, all interspersed with fun activities. As fate would have it, the two leaders of the education component are both named Debbie which was used artfully to play out a skit about “Good Debbi and Bad Debbie”. Through this the children learned the difference between “wants” and “needs”. When asked to draw a picture of each and place them on the appropriate poster, it was poignant to see their illustrations. While many of the “wants” were things you would typically expect – a puppy, a skateboard, a pretty dress – others were more indicative of their daily reality. How many of our children would place a leg of chicken or a pair of glasses on their “wants” list? The list of needs was even more compelling. There were typical answers such as “friends” and “family” and “a house” – and many used a big red heart to indicate “love”. But knowing the lives and backgrounds of these children one couldn’t help wondering if they all actually had these needs in their life – at least outside the walls of El Ayudante. And the one that touched us all the most was the little girl who drew a picture of a house and a big red heart and wrote next to it, “I want one person to love me”. Our prayer for this child is that she knows that through El Ayudante and the missioners who choose to support her, she will come to believe in her heart that she does, indeed, have that.
The culmination of the week with the children had them decorating pillow cases. These had been sewn and embroidered by Vicki Castells and her daughter, Jill, to fit pillows that were purchased here. In Spanish, one side of the pillow said, “Guard me while I sleep” while the other said, “Rise and shine and give God the glory!” Each child decorated it with bright colors to make it uniquely theirs – just as they are each a unique child of God – and proudly carried them home.
We have bonded together as a group this week and shared so much – prayers, spiritual thoughts, conversations, family concerns, and lots of laughter. And now our week here is winding down as we will head to Managua in the morning to start our long journey home. Our final day at El Ayudante is always one filled with both joy and sadness. We can look back on a week of productive work, meeting people and impacting their lives. And, of course we are all looking forward to getting home to see our families. But we are part of the El Ayudante family as well. We have all bonded with the staff we have met, the translators who have assisted and worked alongside of us, and the beautiful children who spend their days here, and it is hard to say good-bye.
I am sure that there is not one among us who leaves here unchanged in some way. As I read a devotional this week it spoke of “the Valley of Tears” and was followed by this – “There is a good chance you will experience that kind of place today.” My reaction at first was, “Or course we will!” But having seen and interacted with the people this week, and experienced their joy – especially the depth of passion they express in their gratitude to God for all He has provided – I wonder just who is in greater need. Who is really walking in a “Valley of Tears”? Is it the people here who are living in plastic homes with the barest necessities to get by? Or is it we, who live in lovely homes filled with far more things that just what we need? Is it the woman who scrubs her clothes daily in a concrete sink, hauling water by the bucketful from a community well? Or is it we, who push a button and have it done with no thought to wasting God’s resources? Is it the woman who asks for change of a larger bill from the offering plate because she cannot part with the whole amount? Or is it I, who carves an offering amount from my budget after other wants have been fulfilled? Is it the woman who praises God for all the blessings she has and weeps for joy with her love of God? Or is it i, who check the appropriate boxes in life of attending service, reading the word, serving the Nicaraguan people and yet do not feel His presence to the depths of my soul.
I came here expecting to see need, and poverty, and wanting. Rather I have learned new meanings for those words. “Need” and “poverty” and “wanting” are so much more than lack of things. The Nicaraguan people have shown me that not having does not mean not happy. And I thank them for sharing that lesson with me.
My favorite moment of the week came as we said goodbye to Alonsa, who had led us from house to house all week to deliver the filters. He looked at us and said “Gracias por tu amor!” (Thank you for your love.) And isn’t that just why we all came – to Make God’s Love Real.
by Trish Krider
Our team this year includes one nurse and one doctor. Medical facilities are limited here and the one physician, Doctor Medina, handles quite a large caseload of patients. He is well known to all of the families in the barrio and handles all the medical issues of the people in this and the surrounding areas. Each day Janni and Rick head over to his clinic in Ruben Dario to assist in any way possible. Whether it is in taking vital signs as patients check in or taking some of the load for seeing patients off of his plate, Dr. Medina is grateful for the assistance. A modest structure whose “waiting room” is an open porch, patients come to his clinic for everything from illnesses, to pregnancy, to well-baby check-ups. We have had teams work with Dr. Medina in the past doing both clinic work and home visits. What a surprise it was for Janni when a woman with whom she had shared time in a home visit came in as patient this week!
The conditions are far from sterile, and the supplies are extremely limited and outdated, but Dr. Medina is loved and respected by his patients and provides for them to the best of his ability. One room of the clinic is the pharmacy, and although it is called the pharmacy, this does not in any way imply that the drugs that are needed will be what is available. The supply of medicine is provided by the government. How much of each and which type is available is based not on need, but on how many families are served by the clinic. The pharmaceuticals are scheduled to be delivered on the first day of the month and when the supply is gone there is no replenishment until the next month’s supply is delivered. This means that those who visit the clinic earlier in the month have a better chance of getting medications (if, of course, the medication one is seeking is one that was supplied that month). The things we take for granted at home are true hardships here even down to the method of distribution. Who would think that the little orange bottles that we toss when our prescriptions run out would be precious to someone? Through our donations we were able to provide this clinic with hundreds of these bottles as there are no handy containers in which to send medications home.
You can tell that Dr. Medina truly cares for the families he serves. When asked a few years back how we could best serve his clinic, he suggested providing education to the women in the community on pregnancy, breast feeding and child care. The need for this education here is dire as the rate of 10- to 14-year-old girls having babies in Nicaragua has shot up almost 50 percent over the last decade. One in three teenagers here has a child before she turns 18 years old.
This request gave birth to what we affectionately call “The Preggo Team”. In our third year now, we spend a few hours with women, who have been personally invited by the doctor, providing a comprehensive seminar on how your body changes, what to expect, and what is normal during and after pregnancy. Dr. Medina feels so strongly about the value of this information that, as we were ready to begin, he asked us to wait as he knew there were many more women who should be in attendance. Rather than sit and wait and hope they arrive, he got in his car and on his phone and rounded up many more “students”. While the women listen, the older children they bring along with them sleep in their strollers or entertain themselves with the coloring pages we provide to them. The women seem appreciative (and sometimes apprehensive) of all the information we provide. Janni interweaves personal stories in her talk so these women know that we understand just what they are going through.
The care with which this team puts together their presentation is evident in the details – down to the very lifelike baby doll that is used for demonstration, and the amazingly comprehensive booklet that each woman gets to take home. And although it adds a time-consuming task to the team’s work, each page is encased in a plastic sleeve as we know the kind of damp, dirt floor home in which these women likely live. Having some protection from the elements gives this booklet a better than average chance of being around long after we have gone home.
But sometimes our medical reach goes beyond what we have planned. Yesterday on the construction site Glenn had a conversation with a Mom whose child has rheumatoid arthritis in her knee. She shared with him that although her daughter has already had surgery, they are unable to afford the additional surgeries needed. Today our doctor, Rick, visited the construction site as Dr. Medina’s clinic was closed. He met this young girl and two other children with serious problems, one with scoliosis and the other with a serious heart problem. All of these children face bleak futures as the medical care they require is either too expensive or non-existent here. While Glenn, who used to work with Shriner’s Hospital, has obtained the application forms to see if the Shriner’s can assist two of the children, both he and Rick are committed to looking for resources to assist the boy with the heart problem. We have no doubt that God sent us to this place. We have no doubt that God put our team and these children together. We now put it in His hands to care for these families as we have faith that He will.
by Trish Krider
Our construction team has been hard at work. The houses that are built by El Ayudante are simple, one-room structures which are built from the foundation up by Nicaraguan workers assisted by mission teams. This year the house is in a community called Marañonal, the same community in which we attended church on Sunday. Bordered by a busy highway (well, busy by Nicaraguan standards!), it is spread deep and wide into the rich countryside and houses about 200 families.
The work had already been started when the team arrived yesterday with the foundation having been dug and the beginning of the framing in place. The work for the morning consisted of filling wheel barrow after wheel barrow with dirt, transporting it to the structure, and dumping it in. As is common here, the local children like to assist in such efforts and many of them did so – glad to wield a shovel or help push. But after each load of dirt was in place and the wheel barrow headed back to the pile of dirt to be filled for another run, the wheel barrow would still not be empty. Instead it was filled with smiling children who piled in to enjoy the ride back to the dirt pile – only to then hop out and repeat the process endlessly.
There was also rebar to be tied. For those of you who are unfamiliar with “rebar”, these steel, ridged rods are joined in either a square or triangular pattern and used to reinforce concrete. At home rebar would be manufactured, but here the rods are cut, the square or triangular bands are bent by hand, and rusty wire is used to tie the bands to the bar. It is a tedious project but one that is easily mastered. Well “mastered” may not be the exact word to use, but you can become passably proficient pretty quickly. Of course none of us would want to challenge any of the kids to a tying contest. They are better and much faster than we – and we never quite know if they are joining in to help us or to show off!
Supplies for use in construction here are quite different from what we are used to. Tools are limited and basic, and much of the process uses techniques that we would consider improvisation. For example, a “scaffolding” is not something that is prebuilt (or considered sturdy or even acceptable by our standards), but is made from what is available. On the one side was one made of piled up blocks with a board across. But it was the one on the other side that had me stunned. It was literally a board, balanced on an upright board that was braced by sticks. The worker walked along it as if he were on the sidewalk while adding bricks and mortar to the wall while we stood and watched amazed. And when a block is too large and needs to be sized, there is no fancy machinery to break the block. A measuring tape, a hatchet and some muscle are all that are needed.
The kids are always a highlight of the construction site. Since the younger kids go to school in the mornings and the older ones in the afternoons, there are usually some of them around. While we always have candy or gum to share and take time to throw a ball with them or toss them in the air, they are always there with a warm smile and hugs and make the day so much more enjoyable.
El Ayudante strives to improve the lives of the people in this part of Nicaragua, not just by giving them things to make their life easier, but in assisting them in finding ways to help themselves. A few years ago we did this by planting gardens in a local community – Mt Sinai. Our hope was that this would allow these families to not only provide food, but, if tended well, perhaps use the yield to earn money to support their families. In returning to this community we have found that far fewer gardens were thriving, or even still existed, than we would have hoped.
This year, one member of our group, Joe, has made it his mission to research the idea of this project to see how it can be done again to achieve its fullest potential. We know that here has been another group that has found success in this endeavor, so Joe has been meeting with leaders in the communities we are visiting to get their feedback on whether they feel they would like to participate. These leaders seem enthusiastic and are asking many questions so that, should this project go forward, the gardens they planted would indeed prosper. By working with the leaders, sharing the successes and pitfalls we have seen, and by talking with the potential recipients of the gardens, he is gauging their interest and level of commitment. All of this will determine whether we as a group, or in conjunction with El Ayudante, will pursue this further.
There is no doubt why this land is so lush and green as, once again, the thunder is rumbling. Hopefully tonight the rain drumming on the roof will be just the sound we need to lull us to sleep.
by Trish Krider
We left Ayudante shortly after breakfast headed to our assignments for the week. While we each felt called by God to serve here, we also each have our unique talents that determine where we will be serving and we have many options to choose from. By the end of this week we will have built a house, taught children about prayer, led classes on pregnancy and childbirth, assisted a local doctor in his clinic, and delivered water filtration systems to many homes.
There are many serious health problems here that are either caused by or exacerbated by the lack of clean drinking water. In order to address this problem, El Ayudante has worked with community leaders here to identify those in the most need and it is these people to whom we provide the water filtration systems. Seven of us headed off this morning in the Rhino Rally with ten kits and ten bags of food for these most needy families. We first dropped our construction team off at Marañonal and then headed off to another community – Los Cocos. Just as we arrived at our destination we realized that we were supposed to have left half of the filtration kits in Marañonal. Oh, well. With so many moving parts things like this occasionally happen!
The water filtration kits are the epitome of simplicity and come in a number of parts that must be assembled. The filter itself is a large clay pot which sits in a large bucket that has a spigot on the bottom. Our concern about how we were going to manage to carry all of these pieces – enough for 5 families – in our trek through this neighborhood were quickly allayed when a young boy with his bike that is similar to a pedi-cab rode up and offered his assistance.
Piling a few kits at a time on his handy vehicle, we headed to our first house. Situated adjoining a tire store on a very busy road, the woman greeted us at her door and asked if we wanted to meet her son. We accompanied her around to the back of the house where we saw him, swinging in a hammock. He did not want us to approach him as she explained to us that he has Down Syndrome and lives his life in that hammock. He eats there, sleeps there, and spends his day swinging there – and she is his sole care giver. After explaining to her how to filter her water, she asked us to pray for her family. So we moved as close as was comfortable for her son, leaving an opening in our prayer circle so, in our hearts, he was with us as we prayed for this family.
After darting across a very busy highway to the remaining homes we would visit, we got a message from El Ayudante that they wanted us to share the remaining kits with others in this neighborhood. We were struck by the dire need in this community, illustrated not only by gratitude for the gift we were providing, but by the fact that each family requested to also be allowed to keep the box from which the filter had been taken. Even used card board boxes are valued here and recycled for many creative uses.
After visiting the home of a woman who was bedridden, and another that was actually the local store run by an elderly, severely arthritic woman who glowed with her faith in the Lord, we made our final stop for the day. In a house that was in far better shape than others we had visited, we met Maria, and instructed her on the use of the filter. We knew she was a woman of faith as she had said as we approached her that we were sent from God – and she was grateful for this gift that was so unexpected, and yet so appreciated. But what struck us all was when she began to pray. And through her tears she thanked God for all of the blessings in her life. It was clear she considered herself blessed, despite her station in life, because she is a child of God. And we knew that it had been no “mistake” that we had not left the last of the filters at Marañanol.
Our final stop this evening was a tour of the child care center here at El Ayudante. The HCN (Hogar Cristiano Nigaragűensa – Nicaragua Children’s Home) is the real center of this place. El Ayudante was originally started as a home for children who had been taken from their families by the state. In 2010 the government here decided that all children should be reunited with their families, despite what the home conditions may be. The people who are the heart of El Ayudante knew they had to find a way to follow this new rule and yet still offer some protection and future for these and so many other needy children here. In order to address this challenge, the children of El Ayudante no longer live here, but they spend most of their daylight hours either in school or in El Ayudante’s care. The children arrive here at 6 each morning. They are fed breakfast and then taken to school. After school they return here and are given lunch, led in devotions, provided assistance with their homework, and offered tutoring and counseling. El Ayudante is committed to these children until they are self-sufficient. By not only giving them a God-centered environment in which to grow up, but assisting them through career choices, schooling, and providing homes, El Ayudante is well on the way to fulfilling their new mission – Changing Nicaragua – One Child, One Family, One Community at a Time.
All of the work we do here is funded by the money we provide – whether it is buying construction materials, paying for our food, or providing the filtration kits. But the children’s home is supported solely by sponsorship. There a number among us who have chosen to be sponsors and it has provided us with a joy that is difficult to explain. Even across the miles, El Ayudante provides many ways for us to interact with our children. Yes, if we come on a mission trip we actually get to see “our kids”, but even if we don’t, we skype and exchange cards during the year so the kids get to know us and our families. We saw these faces and fell in love – and followed God’s call to assist. With the many levels of sponsorship – from $30-$285 per month – those of us who have made this commitment found a way to do so that was comfortable for us. If you are reading this and feel called to share in this joy, we would invite you to visit their website – eanicaragua.com.
The thunder clouds are rumbling overhead so it looks like we will get a storm tonight. That won’t stop this group from some game-bonding on the porch. Even if the lights go out – we’ll just laugh right through it – our game works on batteries!