Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Nicaragua: The Mission

I know it's been almost 4 weeks since we got back, and I'm just now getting around to blogging about our trip.  Honestly, sometimes it feels like we got back yesterday.  It also felt like we were gone much longer than a week. It's been hard to start blogging about the trip because there is just so much to tell! I feel like I need a whole day to write enough that would do it justice.  And really it can't be expressed in words or pictures anyway, so I'll give it my best try.  It was one of the the most amazing experiences of my life.  (And I'm pretty sure Jeremie will say the same.)

First of all, I want to thank all of you for your prayers during our trip-they were definitely felt--starting with my anxiousness about flying.  If you know me, you know how much I don't like to fly, but I truly felt no anxiousness about the plane ride.  In fact, I actually enjoyed it, especially since we got bumped up to First Class from Atlanta to Nicaragua because one of our team members, Barry, is like a GOLD MEDALLION Delta member.  I suggest taking one on a mission trip if you ever go on one.  

We arrived in Managua, Nicaragua's capital, and met up with Oscar, the missionary we were staying with and another church team from Gainesville.  We hopped on a bus for a 2 hour ride to our destination, Leon.  The dramatic bus ride should have been a hint to how dramatic the rest of the week would be.  The traffic laws there are "recommended" not "necessary" so we had several potential high speed head on collisions.  We were stopped a couple times by the police, cattle crossings, and picking up a bag that had fallen off the top of the bus.  Then as we are trucking down the road, the sliding van door slings wide open, which Oscar was leaning against. Someone grabbed him for a miraculous save.  

Leon is the second largest city in Nicaragua with several old beautiful cathedrals and towering volcanoes as a backdrop.  

The first night we went to Oscar's house to eat and meet the ministry team and interpreters that we would be working with for the week. (And I have to put a plug in for the amazing cooking team that cooked for us all week....authentic Nicaraguan food, like handmade tortiallas, oh yeah.)  Then we got some much needed rest for the big week to come.  Based on Oscar's quick summary of what we'd be doing, we quickly realized the word for the week was definitely FLEXIBILITY. We'd been told this during our mission trip training; but you can't fully appreciate the word until you live it! 

I won't give a day by day play of what we did, mainly because it would take twenty pages; we stayed so busy.  One of the days we went to a soccer/baseball field as there were several tournaments going on.  We mingled through the crowds with our interpreters to minister, which I have to say was quite intimidating.  This was the first time I'd come across a culture where I was the minority.....and it was rare to speak English.  So it was even that  much harder that I was trying to talk about Christ.  But we relaxed a little bit and ended up playing with the kids, which was a ministry in itself.  I'm not sure who had more fun-them or me.  They were SO EXCITED to play with us, and would throw a frisbee back and forth for hours if they could have.  

The first Sunday we were all looking forward to going to the church that Oscar works with.  On the way, Oscar  informed us that he needed 2 people to give their testimony in church, and by the way, while the preaching was going on, we were going to be teaching a few Sunday school classes.  Audible gasps were heard throughout the bus, and only 1 person volunteered a public testimony.  Jeremie had been told he was to give his on Monday evening, so he wasn't feeling quite prepared yet.  But he bravely spoke up and immediately started sweating profusely.  (While I prayed for him the rest of the ride there.)  

We parked the bus and had to walk a few blocks through an open market to get to the church which was really amazing.  I've never had to dodge pigs and donkeys on my way to church, except for experiences with live nativities.  As we are walking, the interpreter tells Jeremie there'd probably be around 50-100 people there, that's including kids.  Well, when we walked in, we quickly realized it was closer to 300 people.  (More sweating.) But God definitely worked through Jeremie as he calmly and courageously proclaimed his testimony through an interpreter. As you could imagine, I was holding back tears.  (Or maybe that was sweat.) Worship there was amazing; not only were the Latino sounds awesome, but it was SO JOYFUL. Some of the songs we did recognize, so J and I just sang along in English. While the preacher was praying, all around us people would be praying aloud, and even though I didn't know what they were saying, it was amazing to  know we were all glorifying the same God.  I do know that I heard "Gracias" over and over again, thanking God for so much.  I was already convicted, being that my prayers are rarely a lot of thanking, but mostly asking.  There were a lot of people that were saved during the service and we even got to see a few baptisms.  I love watching baptisms. 

Teaching the Sunday school classes was definitely a challenge, but again, God just worked through us.  We weren't as prepared as we could have been because we didn't have specific activities in mind.  So we ended up going off the cuff and teaching them Jesus Loves Me in English and doing simple skits, like David and Goliath and The Lost Sheep.  

Walking through the market to church

A Nicaraguan home in the country
We did several feeding programs, which usually consisted of going out (to the middle of nowhere) to and feeding 80-100 children. The ministry that we worked with has over 50 pastors that work do similar feeding stations daily to feed a total of almost 10,000 childern PER DAY. That is amazing and something only God could accomplish! We would take the food with us, which consisted of lots of vegetables and potatoes and cut up everything when we got there. The ladies with the ministry team just kept piling up stuff on the tables and we just kept cutting.....but stopped in our tracks when they threw the bowl of chicken heads and chicken feet on the table.  At first I thought they were just playing a joke on the poor Americans, but quickly realized these parts were seriously included in the soup.  They use EVERYTHING except the beak, comb and trachea.  So I took a deep breath and let them teach me how to cut it properly and went to choppin!  Jeremie couldn't believe I did it; he was proud.  The funny thing is that the chicken was a treat to the kids that day, because they typically just get a rice type soup.  the soup was cooked in a HUGE bowl over a fire. The kids had to bring their own bowl for the soup, many of which we would consider throw away Gladware.  Definitely made me think about the TWO sets of china I had at home.  Seeing the kids line up behind the big iron pot with their tattered plastic bowls made me just choke back tears. While the soup was cooking,we would play with the kids.  We played ball, blew bubbles, painted faces, fingernails, etc. We also told a story from the Bible, sang songs, made salvation bracelets, and prayed together. Another tear-jerking moment was at one station while I was painting a little girl's fingernails. I noticed she was wearing a bracelet, so I pointed to it and told her "Muy Bonita" (very pretty) just to give her a compliment.  Later she came up to me and put the bracelet around my wrist.  I tried to tell her no, but she was so joyful and proud to be giving me something.  Another one of my favorite feeding stations actually had a small church on the site. We did our usually routine of cutting up veggies and chicken heads for the soup and played with the kids.  One little boy I played with would copy everything I would do.  We were playing with a nerf football and I'd through it under my legs, over my head, or spin and throw it, and he'd attempt the same move.  So cute.  We also blasted some awesome Latino music and one little boy would just bounce to the music; so of course I had to join in and we shook it to the Latino worship music together.  Jeremie also had QUITE the following after teaching the boys how to play American football and taking pictures of them doing the Heisman pose.  After eating, we piled into the church complete with pews made by 2x4's, and many of the family dogs joining us in the church to hear the Word. (So adorable)  Doug, the leader of our group, preached with an interpreter and there was more worship music and dancing.  These people were ALL ABOUT incorporating dancing into their worship, which I was totally down with.  I have never sweat so much in my life, but it was so much fun to be glorying God without refrain.  Another feeding station was located inside the city dump, which is the home for over 200 families.  This place really made my jaw drop, as it was definitely the most poverish area that we went to.  The landfill was really unbelievable and we learned that the people that live there actually fight to determine who gets to go through the first trash delivery of the week.  They dig for anything with any value; for example 22 pounds of plastic earns the $1.  It was really unbelievable.  Unfortunately, I got pretty sick to my stomach at the dump and spent the rest of the time on the bus while everyone cooked and played with the kids.

Visiting the feeding stations was so eye opening.  Of course, it made me realize how MUCH we have and take for granted. I know this sounds so cliche, but you really don't know how much we have until you see how much others don't have. But in contrast to their poverty and lack of "stuff" they were gracious, and full of hope.  They were ecstatic just to be loved on and would literally hang on us all the way to the bus when we would leave. 

One of the churches and feeding stations we attended

Cuttin chicken heads! 

Little boy who lives in the dump

Jeremie's fan club

My little buddies....the one in the blue shirt stole my heart, cause he liked to dance!

The newest load of trash coming into the dump

Another day we went to visit a couple high schools and by donating 4 soccer balls, we were allowed to go to several classrooms and share the Gospel.   I thought it was amazing and such a blessing that it is actually "allowed" for the teachers to stop class and let a mission team talk about Christ---can you imagine asking permission in America to walk around the school and talk about God?  This was another flexible moment as we were quickly teamed up into small groups and asked to share our testimony with the students. I don't think I've ever even shared my testimony in front of a large group, so the fact that my first time was in front of a large Nicaraguan group was a quite intimidating.  But again, God provided the words, and after a few times, I got more comfortable with it.  During our visit, we invited the students to attend a youth service that night, and a few actually came and accepted Christ that night!

That day we also visited the hospital, which was quite a sobering experience.  It was far from the white, clean, pristine hospitals we are used to.  If there was air conditioning, I didn't know it, and there was no such thing as a private room.  We went to several rooms and prayed with people there and handed out clothes and toothbrushes, which were a HOT item.  The nurses were thrilled to get them. 

Our last day, we took the day off and went shopping in the market and to the beach, which was absolutely beautiful and a great way to kind of decompress and reflect on the week before we came back to America.  The beach was beautiful, and of course, J and I had to represent MSU on the Pacific.  Taking it to the People. 

I don't know who was more blessed on this trip, the people we came across, or ourselves.  I learned so much.  There were a few main realizations to me though: one was that God is glorified to the ends of the Earth; you can't stop it.  A majority of the time, it felt like we were out in the middle of nowhere---but communities were still worshiping Him.  The other main thing I took away was that joy cannot be suppressed or defined by circumstances.  It is not an emotion; it's a decision and a skill that God teaches us, like Paul talks about contentment in Philippians. The people we came across had next to nothing but were still thankful for anything. 
 I also was absolutely amazed at God's power on this trip.  There were so many things I was so anxious about: the traveling itself, staying healthy, giving my testimony, and sharing the plan of salvation to people that didn't even speak my language.  And before this trip, I wasn't even sure I was ready to go on a mission trip, because I didn't feel like I was an adequate or an "experienced" enough Christian to do this. But WE weren't the ones doing the work anyway-God was.  I realized that God WILL use you-everyone has a different skill set that He will empower.  His Word will not return void. 

I know this post was long, and I really feel like I am just skimming the top of the trip.  We literally have over 2,000 pictures, so these are just a select few. I'm sure I'll be posting more with stories I left out!  But I'll wrap up with a verse that I use to help communicate my testimony, and one that really came alive to me on this trip:

Romans 5:1-2  "Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God."