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.