813.253.5388 |  Info@HydeParkUMC.org | 

Merge Family Tailgate

Do you love football, playing games, food, or all of the above?


Then join us on Sunday, Oct 24 from 4-5:30 p.m. for our Merge Family Tailgate!


We’ll have all the fun of a tailgate!

All the yard games you can handle? Got em!

Pizza? Got it!

The Bucs vs the Bears? Got it!


So bring a chair, and your whole family if you want to, and have a great time with some great people!


Email Mac Charalambous with any questions!


Support the Children’s Home

We share in the support of the Florida United Methodist Children’s Home, typically in months that contain a fifth Sunday.

The Florida United Methodist Children’s Home (FUMCH) is a refuge and haven for abused, neglected and troubled children. It has been serving residents of the state of Florida for more than 100 years. Children are provided a home-like setting at the main campus or the Youth Ranch. In addition to caring for children under the age of 18, the Home has an Independent Living program serving young adults 18– 26–years old and their families.

In the video below, Michelle speaks about her experiences at the Children’s Home. She came there as a result of an emergency placement, and was blessed with great house parents who worked hard to make them a family. She also worked with a counselor to help her work through challenges in her life. Because of the care and support she received, her life has changed in ways should couldn’t have seen years ago.

Next Fifth Sunday: May 30, 2021

To support their ministry, please make an online contribution. For more information, contact Pat Kelly.

Vision and Implementation Updates

Vision Implementation Team Final Report

Proverbs tells us that “where there is no vision, the people perish.” And the prophet Habbakuk calls us to “write the vision and make it plain.” Three and a half years ago, our church began a visioning process that resulted in a clear framework for claiming God’s future for us. We are called to deepen our commitment to Jesus, widen the reach of God’s love for others, unite together in common purpose, and make adaptive changes to accomplish our mission.

Little did we know when we adopted our vision plan in 2018 that the subsequent years of implementing that vision would prepare us to not only survive a pandemic but thrive over this past year. Even more remarkably, this vision is setting us on a trajectory to meet the needs of a culture that will continue changing far beyond COVID-19, and will enable us to deepen, widen, unite, and adapt for many years to come.

The following is the final report of the Implementation Team, made up of seven lay people and two staff, who coordinated the work of over eighty persons on 12 different initiative teams. This report details all that we have accomplished as a church since the vision plan was adopted, and further adaptations we will be making to live into God’s future for Hyde Park United Methodist. We give thanks to God for granting us this vision, and for the many people whose tireless efforts enabled us to write it down in the following pages, and make it plain.


Worship Team:

  • Worship placed greater emphasis on technology which enabled us to accommodate our COVID reality on fully online offerings.
  • Ministry Leadership Council (MLC) approved reducing the number of worship services to four.

Organizational and Staffing Teams:

  • Revised Hyde Park United Methodist organizational structure aligned along ministry area lines.
  • Staff Parish Relations committee (SPR) hired an Executive Director, to ensure programmatic alignment, supervision of staff and overall communications strategy.
  • SPR hired a new Director of Discipleship, and expanded the scope of the position to better align with our seven spiritual practices and organizational structure.
  • SPR established stronger alignment between the Minister of The Portico and the Minister of Missions and Outreach to establish and advance the missional identity of The Portico campus.
  • SPR hired a technology assistant to better handle the increased scope of media production.
  • MLC Executive Team approved establishing a lay led, more empowered Small Blessings Advisory Team responsible to the MLC. The team will provide policy oversight.

Portico and Café Teams:

  • Launched several fresh expressions groups (Social Justice, Paddle with Purpose, etc.)
  • MLC Executive Team approved establishing a lay-led, more empowered Portico Advisory Team – responsible to the MLC – to provide policy oversight.

Communications Team:

  • Finance Committee funded a website revamp.

Discipleship Team:

  • Bible Project 2020 addressed the desire for diving deeper into the Bible.

Invitation and Connection Teams:

  • Adopted a digital/content strategy to produce a world-class online experience and outsourced the task under Executive Director oversight.
  • Adopted consistent protocols for posting, hashtag use, and identification of major social channels used (with links to Communications) and outsourced through Brand Minded.

Missions Team:

  • Updated Mission and Outreach funding criteria to more closely reflect Vision priorities
  • Consolidated the number of supported missions from 51 to 29
  • Sustained and expanded the Dunbar Elementary School initiative, providing opportunities to engage entire congregation and deeper individual involvement

Debt and Property Team:

  • A 2020 Church Conference approved purchasing the medical office for $1.04 million, and the sale of the Cedar Street property.
  • Finance Committee increased the Capital Reserve account to $473,000

If you wish to receive a copy of the complete report as a .pdf file, please send an email to vision@hydeparkumc.org.

Vision Plan Implementation Team Update

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)

God has uniquely equipped Hyde Park United Methodist for an exciting future: one where we are making God’s love real, in which people will be connected people into loving community, transformed to be more like Jesus, and equipped to teach others how to live life as God intends. Claiming that future involves adapting to the challenges of the present. Just like the early church did thousands of years ago, we must tailor our practices to reach an ever-changing population in Tampa and beyond. Our mission is the same; some of the ways we fulfill that mission must be adapted to the times.

Here is a reminder of where we have been over the last two years, and an update on where we are heading:

  • The Vision Team synthesized a year’s worth of information from meetings with hundreds of church members and visitors, staff and lay leaders; through ministry assessments; open-invitation visioning chats with more than 200 participants; and a congregation-wide survey with more than 700 respondents; among other outreach.
  • A long-term strategic Vision plan was voted on and unanimously approved at a Church Conference on Dec. 17, 2018. It sets the foundation for deepening our faith, widening our outreach, and uniting together in the love of God (read more). The Vision plan:
    1. Names opportunities and challenges we face as we seek to fulfill our mission in a changing culture
    2. Identifies facts bearing on the challenges we face
    3. Sets the framework and rationale for what, in some cases, need to be major changes in our approach to ministry
    4. Makes recommendations for next steps and follow on actions
  • An Implementation Team (seven volunteers and two staff members) was established by the Committee on Lay Leadership, as part of a decision at the Dec. 17, 2018 Church Conference, to shepherd the process and the work of the lay teams.
  • 12 Initiative teams, made up of 77 volunteers and 10 staff members, were formed in February, 2019 and are focusing on each recommendation from the Vision Team:
    • Worship
    • Communications, Stewardship
    • The Portico
    • The Portico Cafe
    • Organization
    • Staffing
    • Connection
    • Discipleship
    • Debt / Property
    • Invitation and
    • Missions
  • Each team is working on recommendations. Teams are considering a wide range of topics, including ways to enhance our worship services, easy ways for new people to connect with small groups and missions opportunities, better ways to communicate, and how to increase our biblical literacy. (Read more about each team’s focus)  Teams have met an average of four to six times. Some teams will complete their work this summer, and others will continue working through November.
  • No decisions have been made yet. Proposals will first be reviewed by the Implementation Team. Depending on the nature and scope of the proposal, approval may need to come from the Ministry Leadership Council and, in some cases, by a called church conference. Initiatives will be implemented as the overall timeline develops.
  • Next steps in ministry together will be communicated along the way as things become clearer. Your Hyde Park staff and Implementation Team will share information via our website, bulletin, eNews and email.

If you’d like to offer comments or ask questions at any point in the process, you can email the team at vision@hydeparkumc.org.

Vision Team Update

Church Conference Approved Recommendations on Dec. 17

The congregation of Hyde Park United Methodist unanimously voted to adopt our long-term strategic plan. It sets the foundation for deepening our faith, widening our outreach, and uniting together in the love of God.

View Magrey’s statement on the “State of Religion and Culture Today”

Town Hall Gathering recap

For more than 14 months, a team of 16 people representing our congregation has been hard at work engaging all the members of this church, our staff, our programs, and our missions. We have undertaken this sustained Visioning process knowing we have a special and enduring calling in a dynamic and changing world: to make God’s love real in all the ways we can, in all the places we can, and to all the people we can.

The Vision Team has synthesized a year’s worth of information from meetings with hundreds of church members and visitors, staff and lay leaders; through ministry assessments; open-invitation visioning chats with more than 200 participants; and a congregation-wide survey with more than 700 respondents; among other outreach.

In July and August, the Vision team issued a church-wide survey, and your response was truly amazing. 710 people took part in the survey, a sample that well represents every cross-section of our congregation. We had proportionate representation from those who attend each of our worship services and perspectives from both those who are new to Hyde Park and those who have been here for decades. Survey participants provided literally thousands of written responses to open-ended questions, each of which has been thoughtfully read.

So what’s next in this process? The Vision Team is prayerfully reviewing content from the many Visioning Chats that were held in the spring; meetings with small groups; data looking at attendance, demography and community attitudes; and the survey. The team is synthesizing their findings from these efforts, which will result in recommendations to this church. Those recommendations will be widely shared via town-hall-style gatherings, after which we will all be invited to a church conference to vote on them. Please continue to keep this process in prayer.

Vision Survey Recap

Thank you! 720 people participated and responded with thousands of written responses to open-ended questions.

Vision Chat Recap

It is with deep gratitude that we express our appreciation to everyone who participated in a Vision Chat this spring.

Close to 200 members of our congregation contributed openly and generously in these important conversations as part of our sustained effort to discern how the Spirit intends to use Hyde Park United Methodist– its people, its service and its worship – to make God’s love real and make disciples, both today and in the future. We had congregation-wide open chats as well as focused meetings with specific groups (the youth, previous leadership, choir and Joyful Praise Team, 20s and 30s.)

We had chats open to the entire congregation as well as focused meetings with specific groups, including current and former leaders, our 20s and 30s ministry, our youth, small groups, and the Chancel Choir and Joyful Praise Team, just to name a few.

Together, we explored and wrestled with challenging questions about our high calling as Christ’s church in Tampa, asking:

  • How can Hyde Park United Methodist deepen its discipleship?
  • How can Hyde Park United Methodist extend its reach into the community and the world?
  • How can Hyde Park United Methodist adapt to cultural changes?

In response, you shared personal anecdotes, perspectives, meditations, observations, and revelations, all of which are shaping and being incorporated into the next step in our listening phase of this initiative: a congregational survey.

This online survey is being developed now and will be rolled out this summer in June or July. We’ll communicate the survey widely and look forward to deepening this conversation with you.

What are we doing?

  • Engaging a sustained effort to discern how the Spirit intends to use Hyde Park – it’s people, its service, and its worship – to make God’s love real (John 21:15-17) and make disciples (Matthew 28:19), both today and in the future

Why are we doing this?

  • God is calling Hyde Park UMC to an exciting future: one where we are making God’s love real in all the ways we can, in all the places we can, and to all the people we can

Why now?

  • The world is changing, and people think the world is becoming more separated and more divided.
  • Our mission to Make God’s Love Real hasn’t changed. Our goals of sharing the message of God’s grace and forgiveness, bringing healing to our city and the world, and inviting people to follow Jesus are as urgent as ever.
  • We can no longer assumethe church has the same stature, authoritative voice or appeal as it once did in our culture. The world is changing and Tampa is changing, too.
  • Hyde Park can play an important and practical role as repairer and restorer of the divisions we see in the world. (Isaiah 58:12)

What have we done so far?

  • Met with leaders of the church’s ministries
  • Met with the church’s elected committee leaders
  • Met with program staff
  • Asked for the congregation’s “headline” visions
  • Reviewed data on the demographics and engagement of our church members
  • Engaged in focused conversations with nearly 200 church members through Vision Chats

Where are we in the process now?

  • Listening mode and further data gathering – with a congregational survey being distributed in July. We’ll communicate the survey widely and look forward to deepening this conversation with you.

What do we need from the people of Hyde Park?

  • Be in prayer that our congregation hears and discerns the Spirit’s word to us
  • Participate in the upcoming congregational survey

31 Days Reading Plan on the Life of Jesus

Pathways of Promise: A 31-Day Journey

Navigate the pathway Jesus paved for us during his life on Earth. This 31-day plan features concise passages for individual or group reading, accompanied by thought-provoking questions to deepen your understanding of the Word. Follow in His footsteps as you gain a more enriched understanding of the Old Testament and how it applies to how we live our lives today.

Click here to download a printable version.

Day 1: Birth

Luke 2:1-21

  1. What do you imagine Jesus’ birth looking like?
  2. What should our response be when we discover what God wants us to do, like the Shepherds?
  3. In what ways can you praise God for Jesus’ arrival into the world this week?
Day 4: Temptation

Luke 4:1-13

  1. Has there ever been a time when you were very hungry or thirsty? What happened?
  2. What physical needs or desires make us vulnerable to temptations?
  3. How can we prepare to withstand tempting situations?
Day 7: Instructions

Matthew 12:16-42

  1. What would you say a great leader looks like (name their character, skills, knowledge, etc.)?
  2. In what ways do you seek to bring justice or fairness to your relationships?
  3. What is one practical thing you could do in your daily life that would be “bearing good fruit” like Jesus said?
Day 10: Marriage Feast

Matthew 22:1-14

  1. What is your funniest wedding story?
  2. Who do you think eventually showed up to the wedding feast? What does that say about God’s love?
  3. What is one practical way you can show God’s love to someone who might not be “invited to the party”?
Day 13: Good Samaratin

Luke 10:25-37

  1. When has someone gone out of their way to help you?
  2. Have you ever “passed by” like the priest or Levite instead of helping like the Good Samaritan? Why?
  3. What is one way you could help someone in need like the Good Samaritan?
Day 16: Stewardship

Luke 16:1-18

  1. In what ways does our culture pressure us to love money?
  2. Why is it so difficult to keep a proper perspective on money?
  3. What is one way you can use money to serve others and show them the love of God?
Day 19: Good Shephard

John 10:1-42

  1. When you hear about sheep, what comes to mind? Do you have any specific images, memories or associations with sheep or shepherds?
  2. In what ways is Jesus like a shepherd? In what ways are we like sheep?
  3. What is one way you could be more intentional about listening to God’s voice?
Day 22: Triumphal Entry

Mark 11:1-11

  1. What is the best parade you have ever been to? Briefly share about it.
  2. What do you think the disciples thought about what Jesus asked them to do?
  3. The Caesars of Rome in Jesus’ day would have had grand “power parades” often, as opposed to Jesus’ humble “one-donkey” parade. What does this tell us about Jesus?
Day 25: Prayer of Jesus

John 17:1-26

  1. Why are religious beliefs divisive?
  2. How is Jesus’ relationship with God the Father a model for how Christians should treat each other?
  3. What is one way you can show love to other Christians?
Day 28: Resurrection

Luke 24:1-12

  1. Do you have a story that is hard to believe? Briefly share.
  2. Why do you think the disciples doubted the resurrection, despite the fact that Jesus told them it would happen?
  3. How can you reaffirm the good news of the resurrection this week?
Day 31: Ascension

Acts 1:1-11

  1. How do you think the disciples felt when Jesus left them?
  2. What do you think Jesus’ final instruction to “be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the Earth,” means?
  3. What is one trait, skill or talent you have that you can use to share God’s love with others?
Day 2: At the Temple

Luke 2:41-52

  1. What would you have wanted to ask Jesus had you been around during those three days in the temple?
  2. In what way should we strive to grow in wisdom and stature in favor with God and others, like Jesus?
  3. What difference might it make to you this week if you prepared for church as if it were a visit to your father’s house?
Day 5: First Miracle

John 2:1-12

  1. What makes an event miraculous or supernatural?
  2. How does Jesus reveal his power to us today?
  3. What is one specific habit or characteristic you will ask God to change in your life this week?
Day 8: Cost of Discipleship

Matthew 16:24-28

  1. What are some ways people try to “find themselves”?
  2. What does it mean to you to “take up your cross” and follow Jesus?
  3. What is one thing you could do this week to “deny yourself” and follow Christ?
Day 11: Christ’s Return

Matthew 24:1-25

  1. Why do people enjoy apocalyptic, “end-of-the-world” stories (Zombie books, movies and games, “The Day After Tomorrow,” etc.)?
  2. Jesus didn’t give us a specific time or date for his return. Is that helpful or frustrating? Why?
  3. Does knowing Christ will return someday give you hope? Why?
Day 14: Prayer

Luke 11:1-13

  1. How do children act when they want something (a snack, toy, etc.) desperately?
  2. Why do you think the disciples needed to be taught how to pray?
  3. What is one way you can apply something from this passage to the way you pray?
Day 17: New Birth

John 3:1-21

  1. Why do you think Nicodemus came by night to Jesus?
  2. What do you think Jesus meant by being “born from above” or “born of the Spirit”?
  3. How can you thank God for sending Jesus?
Day 20: Vine and Branches

John 15:1-27

  1. What do you do to stay connected to friends and family?
  2. What are some ways we “remain in Jesus” like he says in the passage?
  3. What is one way you can commit to staying connected with Jesus?
Day 23: Last Supper

Matthew 26:17-35

  1. In what ways does sharing a meal bind people together?
  2. What would it have been like to be one of the disciples, and eaten the last supper with Jesus?
  3. What does Communion mean to you personally? Why?
Day 26: Trials

Luke 22:47-71 | Luke 23:1-25

  1. How do people typically react when bullied, insulted or attacked by others?
  2. How would Jesus want us to react to criticism (like the guards and crowds) or our friends betraying us (like Peter)?
  3. What is one example of how we can respond to evil with love?
Day 29: Road to Emmaus

Luke 24:13-35

  1. Have you ever been surprised by something you didn’t realize at first? Briefly share.
  2. What is a Christian truth that you didn’t understand at first, or still have trouble fully understanding?
  3. How do you think we can work through our misunderstandings and doubts about the Christian faith?
Day 3: Baptism

Matthew 3:13-17

  1. How would you feel if the world’s leading expert in your field asked you for help, like Jesus asked John the Baptist?
  2. Why do you think John felt awkward about baptizing Jesus?
  3. What do we tell the world by being baptized?
Day 6: Sermon on the Mount

Matthew 5:1-48 | Matthew 6:1-34  | Matthew 7:1-28

Questions primarily focus on the Beatitudes, Matthew 5:1-12

  1. What are some ways people typically try to find happiness or fulfillment in life?
  2. Which of these promises mean the most to you? Why?
  3. What is a practical step you can make this week to more closely follow Jesus’ example set in the Beatitudes?
Day 9: Vineyard Laborers

Matthew 20:1-16

  1. Who is the best employer you have ever had? Why?
  2. In what ways does God’s grace seem unfair?
  3. Can focusing on God’s grace in our lives help prevent us from becoming jealous of others? If so, how? If not, why not?
Day 12: Sowing Parables

Mark 4:1-34

  1. Do you have a “green thumb”? If so, share a bit about how you care for your plants. What do they need?
  2. What things can get us “off-track” from following God, like in the Parable of the Sower?
  3. What do you think Jesus means when he talks about the “Kingdom of God”?
  4. How do these parables help you better understand what the Kingdom of God is?
Day 15: Lost Parables

Luke 15:1-32

  1. Was there ever a time as a child you got lost, or as a parent have you ever lost one of your children? Share about it briefly.
  2. What value was placed on the “lost” thing in each parable? Why do you think Jesus placed that value on those lost things?
  3. To what “underserving” person can you extend God’s love to this week? How?  
Day 18: Holy Spirit

John 14:16-31 | John 16:5-15

  1. When you hear of the “Holy Spirit,” what do you think?
  2. How does Jesus describe the Holy Spirit in these passages?
  3. How do you think the Holy Spirit works to guide us?
Day 21: Lazarus

John 11:1-57

  1. In what different ways do people respond when a loved one dies?
  2. How would you have responded differently than Jesus to the news of Lazarus’ illness?
  3. In what ways is Jesus’ response to Lazarus’ death a model for us to follow?
Day 24: Washing Feet

John 13:5-29

  1. Do think our culture promotes being served instead of serving? Why?
  2. When and why is it difficult for you to serve others?
  3. What is one way you could serve someone this week? Briefly share.
Day 27: Crucifixion

Luke 23:26-56

  1. Have you ever helped someone when they were hurting? Share briefly.
  2. In what ways was Jesus helped by others in the passage?
  3. In what ways did Christ “help” us through the crucifixion? Can we learn from that to help others? 
Day 30: Great Commission

Matthew 28:16-20

  1. What do you think of when you hear words like “missionary” or “evangelism”?
  2. What does Jesus mean when he says to “make disciples”?
  3. The mission of the United Methodist Church is to “Make Disciples of Jesus Christ for the Transformation of the World.” What is one way you can participate in that disciple-making mission?

What’s Next?

Now that you have completed this reading plan, be in prayer about what your next step might be:

  • Consider joining a small group to continue a deeper dive into the Bible with others searching just like you. View our open groups on the Adult Groups Page or contact John Barolo, Director of Discipleship, with any questions.
  • Contact a pastor if there is some pastoral matter for which we can be of care to you. Contact Kim Harcrow, Pastoral Staff Assistant.
  • Find a way to serve out of your passion and giftedness, to make a difference. Explore serving opportunities.


* Questions adapted from “New Testament Lesson Maker,” © 1992 from NavPress.

Homeward Bound

So our work here is done and we have headed to Managua to begin our journey home to our loved ones.  We will spend one more evening enjoying, breaking bread, having devotions and recapping this week which has flown by way too fast.

We have learned so much here, about ourselves, about each other, about working as a team, and about the people here.  We know that family is so much more than blood relatives.  We are all part of the greater family of God and we are so grateful.  We appreciate that having things is not what defines happiness and that living in a home with dirt floors doesn’t mean you don’t sweep daily.  We have learned to take a good look at what we take for granted – clean water, enough healthy food for your family, access to good health care and social services, the importance of an education. And that tears can’t fix anything – only hard work and continued dedication can do that.

So many things have sent us into peals of laughter.  When foul weather headed towards the construction site they joked that they would all be safe since they had Glenn with them – tall enough to be a human lightening rod.  At one point on the Rhino Rally – our primary means of transportation with an open back and bench seating along the side – a sudden, unexpected stop meant Stephanie was thrown forward and we had a four human pile, where we remained for quite a few minutes because we were laughing too hard to recover.  But that was just indicative of this entire week – we were always there to catch each other.

We have memories etched in our minds.  People doing their first-ever devotional – and hitting it out of the park!  Watching people step out of their comfort zone and pray aloud for the first time. The generosity of the Nicaraguan people with whom we worked who, having so little, still shared their food with us.  The infectious smiles of the children and their joy in singing their hearts out.  Seeing families be almost as excited for the gift of the box it came in as they were about the filters inside.  The young mothers nodding their head as we shared new information.  And Dr. Medina thanking us, time and time again, for the time we spend working for and with his people.  The pride in the voice of the little boy who shouted out to us as we walked the barrio, “Hello, my friends. How are you.”  We believe we are making a difference in Marañonal – it feels like a hand up, not a hand out.

We made rubber glove balloons and have a new appreciation for Miss Hawaiian Punch and Bozo the Clown.  We know how to adapt – while one group has no basketball, they used a soccer ball instead, another had no soccer ball, and used a basketball.  And we can tell you that what has been said for years is true, the chicken crossed the road just to get to the other side.

Goodbyes were sad because we know that the workers of El Ayudante are our family now.  We will miss so much – we already do.  The morning quiet time, the love we have felt here, the new friends we have made, both on the team and on the ground, and recapping the day together in the dim lights of the ranchero – with our quiet voices somehow always being audible even over the blaring music of the nearby Pentecostals.

Sometimes our tasks mean pushing ourselves through the uncomfortableness, doing the unfamiliar, and participating when we would rather not, because we are here not as individuals.  We came as a team who help and encourage each other through the tough times.  We were there to lighten each other’s load.  We shed tears together – but we shed as many tears for joy as for sadness.  We had crazy moments together, and we laughed when we felt moved – even if we were in the midst of praying.   And we leave here as family.

Since this country has an election this Sunday, there were often times when trucks would drive through the streets, blaring music and shouting through bull horns.  Each time we heard music some of us danced down the street – much to the amusement of the local residents.  I would like to think they were laughing joyfully with us, and not at us, as we adopted the attitude of “Why walk when you can dance!”  But there was one time when the tune was a familiar one.  We were standing in the courtyard area of a home, having just delivered a filter to the homeowner. She said she is all alone and asked that we pray for her health as she is not well.  Then Vicki called our attention to the song in the distance, Chris Tomlins’s “God of This City” – Greater things are yet to come, Greater things area still to be done in this city…..  We believe that to be so.

I wish all of you could have been with us every night to hear our stories.  This blog could have gone on daily for pages and pages, but even then it would be impossible to capture everything, and it shouldn’t try to.  This is so much more than a trip – it is part of our spiritual journey, and can’t be fully captured in words.  And it’s sometimes hard for us to put into words what this week has meant to, and done to, each of us.  For me, the answer to “How was your trip?” is always, “Life changing”, for it affects me profoundly each year.  Many of us will be back next year, and anyone who feels called can do this. Is God calling you?


Compassion and Dedication

Today started with the water filtration team accompanying Dr. Medina and our medical personnel on a house call – or perhaps a “community call” would be a better description.  We ventured out to an area quite farther away where health problems are of great concern.  Using a simple table as the intake, triage, and examining area, the medical team spent a few hours seeing, diagnosing, and treating ailments as they were able.

The water filtration team did not know until yesterday that we would be accompanying them, and that Doctor Medina had an added activity for us.  You see, Dr. Medina knew that, as an ice-breaker activity this week at the clinic we had taught local women how to turn a t-shirt into a tote bag, and he thought it would be a wonderful idea for us to do the same with the 10 people in this community to whom we would be delivering the filters.  While we were happy to oblige, we had not planned on this and did not quite have enough shirts.  But that was no problem!  So now there are some tote bags in this community that, yesterday, were missionary’s t-shirts! Oh, and we were pleasantly surprised to see that one of the families was represented by the father, not the mother as was the usual, but he eagerly joined in – and so did Omar, our bus driver, Oliver, our translator, and, not to be outdone, Dr. Medina himself!

We had two teams educating this week.  One worked with the kids at the HCN, and the other, affectionately known as “Team Preggo”, taught pregnancy classes to expectant mothers in the nearby barrios.  A highly abbreviated course in “What to Expect When Expecting”, we covered such things as body changes during pregnancy, how to care for oneself when pregnant, labor and delivery, and newborn care and breast feeding.  Many of these women were not on their first pregnancy, yet they all seemed to appreciate the education that they had not been afforded prior to the birth of their other children.

In two days of classes we taught almost 30 women, many of whom brought their small children with them.  At one point as Lissa taught some breathing exercises, one little girl stood behind her mother and imitated everything Lissa did.  The conditions weren’t ideal.  We taught the classes on an outdoor porch and at one point the rain was pounding so hard it made it hard to talk and almost impossible to hear.  But whether it was the noise of the pounding rain, the blaring of speakers from trucks selling their wares, or the lilting of the children’s voices as the sang together while they colored, we raised our voices or took a short break and carried on.

Like young pregnant women at home, they were attentive and interested, oohed and ahead at the pictures of babies at each stage of pregnancy, and at times blushed and giggled when discussing uncomfortable topics.  But we know we made a difference.  At one point Lissa consulted the doctor – who had requested this program – and asked if there was anything we should change.  He adamantly said no and thanked us for what we were doing.  And this was especially brought home by our translator – Yordanka.  She has been our translator for 3 years, so she has heard the lessons.  What she did not know when she was with us last year is that she, herself, was pregnant.  Now the mom of a beautiful baby boy, Odsyll, she told us how much she appreciated what we had taught her.  She assured us, “You gave — so much!”

This year at El Ayudante they have a different theme each month for the children of the HCN.  This month it was compassion, so that was the theme of our education piece.  All the activities tied together to culminate in a visit to a local nursing home.  The meaning of compassion was reinforced in ways such as making a “hand of compassion” – an outline of a hand on a wooden stick on which they wrote one word representing compassion on each finger.  The children were highly entertained when the adults did a hilarious re-enactment of The Good Samaritan.  In an attempt to bring home the idea of just how important compassionate people are, the Good Samaritan was labeled a super hero and thanks to one of our faithful supporters back home, Vicki Castells, and her creative sewing talents, each child was given a cape of their own to decorate with words and picture illustrating the theme.

The culmination of the week was a visit to the local nursing home where the children could put their understanding of compassion into play.  They had prepared gift bags for each of the residents and learned two songs with which to entertain them.  These gift bags consisted of such things as cookies which the children had baked earlier in the week, a coloring book, beaded crosses that the children had strung and a laminated copy of the Lord’s prayer in Spanish.

As we walked in to the inner courtyard you could see some of the children were uncomfortable.  Many residents, most in wheelchairs, were already seated around the perimeter of the area.  The children stayed close together and then gathered on a raised area to sing.   While they were happy to sing, they were apprehensive when told they would go in small groups, along with an adult, and speak to the residents.  One young girl was close to tears and did not want to participate.  She told me that she was scared, and I assured her that sometimes adults are, too.  So she wrapped her arms tightly around my waist and we walked to a nearby resident.  I told her to just say hello, tell him she had a gift for him, and that God loves him.  She needed a little prompting, and she hid slightly behind me when he reached out with his deformed hand, but I grasped his hand and spoke a few words and we moved on.  I suggested we walk to the back of the courtyard to one man who was sitting alone, and she was not happy when someone beat us to him.  After that she grabbed my hand and aggressively looked for someone else to whom she could share a few words – and her words were few – and this small gift.  We had been told to stay in the courtyard area, but she saw a gentleman in the distance with his walker.  When I told her that we were to remain here, she stood still and held her ground until her reached us.  Nobody was going to beat her to it this time!  His smile was radiant and he grabbed me for a hug.  When I told him that the gift was from the children, he smiled at her – and she beamed right back!

As we arrived back at El Ayudante we thought it would be a good idea to debrief with the children and get their reaction to their visit.  With shouts of “sharing”, “compassion”, and “giving”, they talked about the infirmities of some of the residents and the long discussion some of the boys had had with a man who explained that he could only see shadows.  But I think one little girl summed it up best when she told us that one of the residents had said to her group, “You children are angels sent from God”.

As anticipated, the house was completed today.  It went right down to the wire as the doors were delivered, on a horse drawn cart, at the last minute.  Estebana beamed as she accepted ownership of her brightly colored house and much of the community joined us, as we once again stood together with our family from Marañonal and dedicated her new home.

Building a Home and Relationships

It was such an honor to once again be able to walk with women through the streets of Rubén Darío today and be invited into their homes so we could share with them this gift of clean water.  But I cannot help but feel a deep sense of humility that in every home into which we were invited, we saw tears of joy for the gifts that we brought.  We were doing what we were called her to do, and the gift itself, in the scope of our lives, is a small one.  But to them it was potentially life-changing. We stood in these humble homes having the residents look at us through tears and, without exception, when asked what they wanted us to pray for them, they said they prayed for us – that we should be blessed as we have blessed them.  That they would ask for blessings for US, when they themselves have so little was overwhelming to me.  It showed me again that their priorities are in the right place, as they don’t quantify their blessings by the things they have.  And at one home a small boy appeared at the door just as we were about to pray for the family.  We invited him in to join us and, as he took our hands, he closed his eyes and tilted his head to the side with the most peaceful expression I had ever seen.  I had no doubt that he was filled with the Spirit as his faced glowed like the face of God.

After delivering many filters within the community, we returned to Dr. Medina’s clinic to deliver one more.  As we were standing on the porch, a bunch of children appeared in the street, clearly returning from school.  They saw us standing there and came running over to say hello and we recognized them as children from the HCN at El Ayudante.  They said hello and giggled and then ran off to play.  A few moments later we all circled around the woman who was to receive the filter and started to hold hands.  The children saw this and came running back to join in prayer with us.  As we prayed in English, Oliver translated what we said into Spanish, and these sweet young children of God repeated everything he said.  It was truly one of the best moments our day.

We are truly made to feel like family here.  This is evidenced from the comfort of El Ayudante, to the homes in the barrios, to the community in which we have built a new house.  While we bring grapes to share with the children, they provided our workers with Coke and homemade sweet bread.  With a slightly crispy, sugary outside, these treats are like communion between friends – made with love, by love and for love.

This year our construction team was tasked with building a home for Estebana, a grandmother in her 70’s who will share her home with her daughter and two grandchildren.  One of the first lessons our team had to learn, however, was not how to dig a hole or wield a hammer, but how to pronounce the name of the community in which they will be working this week.  Much to the delight of the residents (and with much amusing frustration amongst ourselves each evening), we are still not sure that any of us correctly pronounce Marañonal (and my guess is that most of you readers just made a valiant attempt to do so!)

Our first contribution to the construction involved moving dirt.  With no wheel barrows available, dirt was moved one bucketful at a time until the hole created became a playground for the children.  What child can resist jumping into a big hole and then climbing out just to repeat – over and over again.  To the amazement of our team, not only did they enjoy climbing in and out of the hole, one boy also climbed a near-by tree.  It was not the climbing that was amazing, but the fact that he used the barbed-wire fence for assistance – and he did it all bare footed!

Often the local Nicaraguan men did the house building while our missioners, in the interest of building relationships, spent time playing with the children.  Kicking a ball around the street and sitting on a man’s large foot, riding along as he walks, are both universally enjoyable to kids.  And like kids everywhere, they were delighted to don the baseball caps we had carried with us.

We have just one day left to finish this house, but we know it will get done, as the entire project has been accomplished so far with the barest of supplies, efficiency not being in great supply this week.  Not only was there no wheelbarrow, there were only three buckets and two trowels (which are used to place the mortar between the blocks). Yesterday’s work had to end early as they didn’t have enough cinder blocks, and the roof was just delivered at the end of the day today.  In a place that we affectionately say “runs on Nica-time”, we have yet to have a house not be completed on time. So we have complete faith that, by tomorrow this house, a simple 16 by 16 one-room structure with two doors and two windows, will be completed so that tomorrow afternoon we can dedicate the house and present to Estebana and her family our housewarming gift – a new Bible that bears the signature of each member of this team.

This evening we ended our day at the Pacific Ocean.   Although the surf was pounding making it too risky  for swimming in the waning sunlight, this was our opportunity to enjoy a meal at a Nicaraguan restaurant while also enjoying a spectacular view from a black sand beach. In such a setting, as in all the lush landscape of this country, it is easy to feel the presence of God.

From Clinics to Chickens

Today’s forecast was for 100% chance of rain, but we awoke to sunny skies.  But even with the forecast amended to indicate rain later in the day, we splintered again into various work groups – we had work to do – work that would be accomplished with or without a cooling shower.

Two members of our team, a doctor and a pharmacist, have spent their week working at Dr. Medina’s clinic in Rubén Darío.  The clinic is not like anything you would see in the states.  The “waiting room” is an open air porch on the back of the facility with a few wooden benches on which the patients wait their turn.  The clinic serves the three surrounding barrios (neighborhoods) in which approximately 3000 people.  Dr. Medina is the primary physician for all of these people and his clinic is also a teaching clinic for the local medical school.  The modest brick structure includes a pharmacy – one simple room with minimal supplies.  We were actually pleasantly surprised to see medicine on the shelves, as there have been years when there was none.

The examining rooms offer little privacy as they are partitioned with partial walls and to say supplies are limited would be an understatement.  There is little thought to sterilization as the supplies that they do have are shared.  Unlike our experience with medical services at home, there are no gloves, no clean sleeve to place over the thermometer, no sinks in the examining rooms, and no clean white paper sheet to pull up over the examining table between patients.  The examining table itself is often not much more than a wooden table or metal table with little to no padding, and surely no little pillow for one’s comfort.   When Dr. Medina gave us a tour of his clinic, he indicated a new intake area that has been carved out of the corner of one room, but this room has yet to be used as they have not yet figured out how to connect electricity to it.  We can assume that electricity would be for lights, because it most definitely is not for computers, as those don’t exist in this clinic.  All of the records are written by hand.

But that doesn’t deter Dr. Medina from taking care of this community.  Somehow, regardless of the lack of supplies and resources, they get it done, and get it done well. Considering their lack of supplies and sanitation, our pharmacist was actually surprised at how healthy the people are here as compared to her expectations.  Perhaps this is due to their internal constitution and fortitude, or perhaps they keep going because they have to.  When you live in these conditions and need something done, you have to get up and do it.  Life is not easy here, and perhaps that, by necessity, gives them strength.  This is not to say that they are in good health.  Kidney problems are rampant here because of the lack of clean drinking water.  But they don’t lie down and complain – they keep pushing on through.

This doctor is rather like the old time country doctor, only he covers a larger territory with far more people.  There is no question that he is not only dedicated to his patients but, even if he doesn’t know each of their names, he does seem to really know each one of them.  Prescription renewal here is an arduous, labor-intensive process and chronic care medicine is filled with only a one month supply.  At one point there was some confusion regarding one patient’s prescription refill as it was nowhere in his chart.  Dr. Medina had only to look at the patient and he immediately identified and listed each of his medications.   The members of our team offered what supportive assistance they could.  Clearly spending time at a clinic like this would give any of us a new appreciation for all that we have, not only in terms of sanitary conditions and modern medical technology, but the most basic of health care needs, clean water.

Four years ago while working with a local community, an idea was born in an attempt to help them to be more self-sufficient.  What good does it do to provide a new home for a family if there is no food to eat or means by which to support themselves?  Thus began the birth of our gardening project. The thought was that if we assisted a community with tools and supplies to plant gardens, perhaps they could not only feed their families, but potentially sell the yield to provide an income for their family.

Realizing that this would take a long-term commitment and continuous assistance and guidance, we have partnered with a church in Illinois that has had success in this area.  Working through them and assisting in the financing of local support, some members of our team toured these gardens in two different communities were pleased to report that they are now beginning to see success in this endeavor.  In addition to this, an opportunity was given to two communities to raise chickens – one for the eggs and one for the meat.  Felix, who is raising the egg-laying chickens, now owns 114 chickens who are laying 105 eggs every day, and in less than a year he has almost reached our ultimate goal, self-sufficiency.

It is our prayer that perhaps one day these food producing families can sell their wares to the local organizations that feed hungry families.  This goal cannot be reached until one huge obstacle is overcome – transportation.  With no means by which to get the goods to market, there is no way to fully succeed.  Felix has a son who uses his motorcycle to deliver eggs for him.  But this has only limited success – not just because using a motorcycle for delivering eggs can be limiting, but because half the year here it is the rainy season, making it not only impractical much of the time, but impossible due to road conditions.  We pray that with continued support, hard work, and dedication we will be able to assist with a long term solution to this not un-surmountable obstacle.  We are a pretty dedicated bunch – and obstacles are slow us down, but they will not stop us from doing our best to make this dream a reality.

Clean Water – a Life Saving Gift

We splintered in many directions today, construction, medical, water filtration, kids’ education and pregnancy education and each has a story to tell.  It would be impossible to share in words everything one experiences while serving here.  To do so would take far too many words, and, as colorful a description as I may give it, reading this account cannot possibly embody the entire experience – as that involves all of your senses.  Here every sense is alive and touched and assaulted from all directions.  With our group serving in so many ways, and clearly unable to experience each firsthand, I do my best to do justice to the stories others share with me.  For today, my heart has been moved by so many things that it is hard to know where to begin.

Unsafe drinking water is a grave problem here, causing serious kidney problems in both young and old.  Although many homes do have water in them, it is only good for washing and not safe for drinking.  At the request of Doctor Medina, the doctor in the local clinic who is primarily responsible for the care of the people in three barrios that border El Ayudante, we have included in our mission for the past few years the opportunity to distribute water filtration kits.  The simple kits are comprised of a ceramic pot placed within a plastic bucket with a lid.  Water is poured into the ceramic pot in the evening, slowly seeping through into the plastic bucket and by the morning clean water can be poured out through a spigot. After breakfast this morning a number of us set out on the first of four forays we will make into the barrios to share this gift with families in need.

Our first stop was at Dr. Medina’s clinic where we met 5 of the women who would receive the filters.  After demonstrating how to use them, we loaded these women into our truck to drive them, and their new filters home.  As we prepared to leave, the daughter of one of the recipients, a mentally challenged young woman of 24 who had the mind and exuberant enthusiasm of a child, grabbed Vicki and pulled her to the truck.  It was clear that she was overjoyed at the opportunity to ride along….overjoyed and perhaps a bit scared as one would be when waiting on line for the first time for the world’s fastest roller coaster.  Unable to speak in a way that any of us could understand, she made herself clear – she was going to hold on and enjoy the ride … and that she did!  With squeals and utterances of joy, she giggled and glowed and held on – to the supports and to us – as we bumped along the rutted road.

Once we arrived at the home she shared with her mother, she couldn’t get off quickly enough.  I then wondered if her excitement was the ride, or the fact that we were coming to her house.  A small concrete structure that serves as the home she shares with her mother and a small store that struggles to support the two of them, two dogs and a cat, she excitedly welcomed each of us with a bear hug and then ran inside to grab chairs for us to sit.  Her mother shared with us her joy that we had come to her home and given them such a gift, explaining that things are difficult for them as she is the only one who can communicate with her daughter so she cannot leave the house to earn any money.  Her meager store is all they have, and yet she expressed gratitude to God for all of her blessings.

Hers was just the first of many houses we visited.  They ranged in size from a small gathering of homes in which four generations of one family of 30 people live, to one that was two small rooms in which the ten of us were barely able to stand toe-to-toe in a tight circle to say a prayer.  But they shared a commonality in that they needed the life-giving water this would enable them to have, they blessed us for having brought it to them, and they understood and acknowledged that we were but the vessels that delivered it – the source of this gift was the God who led us here.

Since those who will not be working with our education team may not have the opportunity to see where the on-site work of El Ayudante is done, this evening we were treated to a tour of the HCN (Hogar Nicaraguense Nicaragua – The Nicaragua Children’s Home) here on the property.  This mission house was originally started as a home for children who were taken out of their homes because their family either could not or did not provide a healthy environment in which for them to live.  A number of years ago, the government began a program called “Project Love”, which required that, if there was a family member available, the child must return to them, regardless of what the home situation was.  This caused El Ayudante, which had not only grown to love these children, but cared for their welfare as well as their futures, to rethink how they were structured.  This is how it came to be as it is today, a place where these children get two meals and a snack, transportation to school, and the medical and emotional support that they need during the day while returning to their families in the evening.  In addition there is a library, a computer room, and a sewing room. Ainsley, the team liaison, shared with us all about each of the children who currently benefit from the services here as well as the 6 new children they pray they will successfully to raise the funds to add to the program in January.  This home, and all of the programs in it, are funded solely by the sponsorship program in which a number of us participate.  And each of us who are sponsors will tell you that we have received so much more than we gave – in love, in hugs, in smiles, and in knowing that this kind of investment was what God was calling us to do.

The Spirit is Alive and Well Here

As we leave our rooms this morning and the sound of the whirring fans which lulled  us to sleep last night, we step outside and are assaulted by the sounds of God’s creation, as a myriad of crowing roosters, cooing doves, chirping birds and barking dogs greet the new day.    I’d like to think they are praising God and exalting in the beauty of this place.  But as our day begins, we humans don’t add our voices to the symphony, keeping our thoughts and praises silent, sharing only with our Creator, until we come together for breakfast.

The beauty of this place cannot be overstated.  The landscape is a lush green, dotted with bursts of vibrant colors.  The grass glistens with dew and glimmering drops of last night’s rain dangle daintily from each hanging leaf.  With the blue sky peeking through the clouds and the steam rising from the volcano in the distance, one only has to take in the view to see God’s handiwork.

We headed out after breakfast to Marañonal, the community in which our construction team will serve this week, to attend worship service.  Rarely have we ever received such a colorful reception at church.  While their church was little more than a metal roof supported by poles on one side of a building, with dirt floors and  plastic chairs, it wasn’t the simplicity of the sanctuary, but the colorful welcome that we received that struck our hearts.  Entering along a walkway which was festooned with streamers and balloons, we were greeted by the community leaders with hugs and blessings and gratitude for having joined them this morning.  Knowing the financial plight of this community, I could not help but recognize the sacrifice they must have made to have invested in these decorations in our honor.

Our mission teams have visited this church in years past, so many of us were familiar with this preacher and his charismatic delivery.  The rookies among us were expecting an uplifting, memorable service and they were not disappointed.  Beside the streamers and balloons, the altar area was also specially decorated with a hand-lettered sign of welcome – offering blessings to us, their brothers and sisters in Christ.

Seated in what was clearly considered the best seats in the house, the two front rows, we had a ring-side seat to appreciate the fervor of the pastor and talent of the young lady who led the singing.  Seldom are songs sung without some level of congregational participation, so following the direction of the pastor, we stood and raised our arms, we touched our ankles, knees and shoulders, we jumped, we hugged and we praised God with all of our being.  And not to be outdone, we presented a song of our own.  The gathered congregation smiled as we sang the first verse of “I’ve Got That Joy, Joy, Joy, Joy Down in My Heart”, but they beamed when we raised posters with the words in Spanish so they could sing along.  It would not have mattered if they didn’t know the words, but it was meaningful to all of us to share a song in the same language.

This pastor who is also a member of, and leader in, this community began his message by telling us that his people follow what happens in our homeland and that they pray for us.  To be in a place that has such need and know that they care enough to follow Jesus that they pray for us, was an overwhelming thought.  He thanked us for our commitment to follow God’s call and assured us that the Spirit would be with us to do whatever it is we set out to do.  We believe that he could have preached for hours – and we would all have remained spellbound with his conviction and charisma – but he promised to keep the service to the allotted time.  It was a God-inspired, Jesus-affirming and Spirit-filled, 90 minutes during which he claimed the gift of grace and affirmed our bond as one body in Christ.  At one point he moved forward and touched some of us – and spoke to us of concerns and prayers we carried in our hearts.  His arm trembled with power as he laid his hand on my shoulder and I knew we were enveloped in the Holy Spirit.  There is no doubt that, although his hand could not rest on every shoulder, he touched each of our hearts.  We all left there feeling refreshed, renewed and loved – by God, and by this community of brothers and sisters in Christ.

For dinner this evening we had some special guests.  On the property of El Ayudante is the Nicaraguan Children’s Home which provides food, tutoring and counseling for 30 children.  The mission of El Ayudante is to bring change to this country – “One child, one family, one community at a time”.  The support for these children comes solely from sponsors – most of whom have served here on a mission trip.  There are a number of us on this team who have become sponsors so, this evening we invited our kids to join us for dinner.  Typical kids, some were shy and others never stopped talking but for both the kids, and those of us who sponsor them, it was the one time each year when we can actually hold them in an embrace and assure them that, even though we are not here all the time, they are a part of our lives and we love them.

Our work today concluded with prepping for tomorrow by filling food bags.   Including such things rice, beans, coffee and toilet paper, these will be distributed tomorrow to families in local communities.  With the prep work done, we have settled in for an evening of group bonding – better known as some serious game-playing.  And tomorrow the real work begins.