Saturday, January 31, 2015

The Nica Post (Pt. 2)

Click here to read last week’s installment: The Nica Blog (Pt. 1)

What are those crazy kids (and Scott) up to now?


We arrived in Matagalpa around 10pm, so the car ride would most aptly be described as dark, something that was a little sad to me because I love to look out the window. However, we arrived-worn out, but joyful-from a successful day doing ministry in the city of Darío. In the darkness, all I could make out was a cross shining somewhere above the city. When we got to the house, we quickly divvied up the beds and crashed.

The next day was Sunday, and we were to attend a service at a local church in Matagalpa. Walking out the door in the morning made me catch my breath, as I realized that we were in a little city cradled by mountains on all sides. Where ever I looked, there they were, green and towering. High above the city, I found the cross I had seen as we arrived.

The church service was wonderful. There was a real freedom to worship God there, and people danced, blew shofars, and pounded tambourines. They were excited by the spirit of the Lord, and His presence was evident. I did my best to translate for Danielle, but the pastor’s accent and way of talking defeated my best efforts, and finally I stayed silent as we soaked up the atmosphere of the place.

Miguel lookin' fly in an
ice cream parlor

After church, Scott took us to a place he knew of near the center of town, a little ice cream shop called Bésame. I would probably have named it El Cielo (Heaven). All of the ice cream was homemade, and the décor was beautiful, AND there was coffee, too. Seriously-heaven. The owners are a couple from California and Costa Rica, respectively, and if you’re ever in Matagalpa, Nicaragua, please go check out their store. You will not regret it.

Monday found us on the side of a mountain outside of the city. Project Hope has a small cafeteria there, in a village called Sol María, where children can come and eat lunch for free. As it was explained to me, they used to only operate it during the school year, but government funding is now allwoing them to keep it open during the summer, as well because of the need in the village. It is a very poor place, where the homes are constructed of metal and wood, with dirt floors and a lot of exposure. Most places do not have electricity or running water, and children are usually the ones dispensed to get the buckets of drinking and cooking water at the well. The children were dirty and loud, but filled with love.

We arrived in the morning, ready to clean up the cafeteria and cook some food, only to find that the pastor had scoured the place in anticipation of our visit and the food was already in the process of being cooked. Because I’m actually a six year old, and prefer to hang out with people in my own age range, I had the opportunity to play with a lot the children. Where ever we went, there were children everywhere, probably because it was their “summer” vacation. The school year runs February-November in Nicaragua, giving everyone a nice holiday off for Christmas. Joe started a baseball game, and we played. We danced, we ran, and we fell down. Danielle and I gave piggy back rides until we couldn’t carry any more kids, and then we played some more. In the middle of their poverty, these children who have almost nothing were so joyful, just because they were playing While we played, I had the chance to talk to them, and what I heard broke my heart.

They told me all sorts of things. How going to school wasn’t always possible because there were no supplies. How they were staying with cousins because mom didn’t have food for them right now. How grandma took care of them because mom had to harvest coffee. How they got new shoes, but they were saving them for school. How sometimes there wasn’t enough to eat. How they had never seen their daddies, or not for a long time.

That’s the thing that gave me the jolt I needed. I remembered that this was what I was made for. Not just for “missions work,” and not to go out into the world and try to change things myself. I am inefficient and ineffectual; it’s a proven fact. But I can serve. I can go out and play with children and tell them about a God who cares for them. I can look hurting kids in the eye and tell them about a God who will never abandon them, even if their parents may have. In the middle of playing with dirty children in the middle of a village on the side of a mountain in Nicaragua, I was reminded of what I was made for, and what I was supposed to be doing.

That night, Scott had decided we were going to host a party. He has a lot of friends in the city of Matagalpa, and the last time he had been in Nicaragua, he had promised to get in contact with a lot of them. Ruth and Cecy planned most of it, getting together the food-Scott ended up hosting a Mexican fiesta, much to the chagrin of some of the invitees. Nicaraguans don’t feel as strongly about picante as Mexicans do. I’m not sure how many people he invited, but about 25 people showed up, and then Earl Rutledge got out a guitar and the party really got started. We all just started worshiping and praising the Lord together, this community of people from Europe, Central America, and North America. We were so far gone we forgot about the food for a while!

The next day, we were working again with Project Hope. This time, we went to another village, up the side of another mountain. When we arrived, there was already a line of children standing outside of the door of the church. This was the day they were getting new shoes. We came, with our boxes of shoes, and readied our things. Ita grabbed her camera and began snapping shots as we filled basins of water and pulled out chairs. As the children came in, they each received a pair of shoes in their size. We pulled off their dirty, sometimes broken shoes and sandals, and carefully washed each little toe on each little foot. As we washed, we prayed over the lives of those children, often asking if there was anything they needed prayer for, sickness or parents, anything. Then we slid their feet into their new shoes, and away they went, as we prepared for the next child.

When all of this was over, someone told me I was doing a good job. Those words kind of gave me a pause. For the life of me, I couldn’t remember the last time someone had told me that and I had believed it, without qualifying it either verbally or mentally. We’re so quick to tear ourselves down that we rarely ever even seem to hear the words when someone compliments us. And I get it-the bad stuff is easier to believe, because that’s what we’re confronted with and what we confront ourselves with. But just those little words-You’re doing a good job-I actually allowed myself to feel, and accept. And that compliment made my day. We spent the afternoon taking in the sights of Matagalpa, and rocketing ourselves down a zipline on the side of one of the mountains. It was, without a doubt, completely awesome!

Wednesday was our last full day in Nicaragua. We were supposed to be driven to the neighboring city of Jintega in Earl’s van, but his youngest son Luke came down suddenly with appendicitis and had spent Tuesday night getting his appendix out; needless to say, Earl was a little busy. Pastor Raul, who lives next door to Earl’s house in Matagalpa, volunteered to take us in his pickup, and so five fearless adventurers piled into the back while the other four members of the team climbed into the cab. Here’s a note to you guys: when crossing mountain passes in a pickup, I would highly suggest riding in the cab, as it can get rather cold and wet in the unprotected back of the pickup as you climb higher and higher into the clouds.
Note the death grip on the cup of coffee!

Our day in Jinotega was restful as we bummed around the city, looking (and failing to find, for the most part) souvenirs to bring home. We did find a lot of good food though. After Earl’s wife Beverly fed us the best enchilada’s I’ve ever had, some of the team went to climb up to a lookout point just above the city. I stayed behind, and got to spend some time talking with Beverly and washing her dishes-at least until nine-year-old Esperanza pushed me out of the way, explaining that I wasn’t washing them correctly. Having been thoroughly chastised, I occupied myself with serving ice cream for the rest of the team.

That night, we held a service at Pastor Raul’s church, La Fuente. Jim preached, but what it really was was an initiation to come and be ministered to.  As the people came and were prayed for, I was amazed by the gifts that God had placed in my fellow teammates to minster to the people. For me, what that time really drove home was the necessity of being in close relationship with the Lord, because the closer you are to Him, the more He can minster through you. It was an amazing night; the Lord really began to work in the church, and His presence was palpable.

After all of that, I couldn’t sleep. Joe, Danielle and I ended up staying up pretty late into the night, talking about ourselves and the things God had done and was doing in our lives. Once again, I was floored by these people I had just recently come to call my friends. One of the things I took from that three hour conversation was the conviction that I needed to change the way I was living my life. Because it was very evident to me that my life was not giving the same testimony that I had been witnessing all week from the two of them, and it was more evident to me that that was what I needed. Not just words. Not just saying I loved God, and not just saying I was serving Him. Not wandering through the motions of it all in the office or in the dorm but missing the real heart of it. What I really needed was a real touch of God in my life, and a passion to pursue holiness. What I needed was a revolution.

Which more or less brings us to today, a few weeks after coming back. I’ve spent a lot of the past couple of weeks processing my trip. Where I went, what we did, who I was with-it all seems to me like something of a divine appointment, exactly what I needed for where I was at that point in time. I’m a work in progress (aren’t we all?), and all of those things that I realized about myself and the things God is calling me to while I was in Nicaragua are only just starting to germinate and really take root in me. So I’m going to mind the plants and weed as necessary, and pray to start showing some fruit in me soon.

That’s all I’ve got for you today. Stay tuned for some fabulous children-related blogs, a rant about how much I love Oswald Chambers and who the heck he actually was, anyways, and a new What You Don’t Know installment, all coming this February! More Poverty Becomes You, coming your way!

Photo Credit LHI Missions, Ita Hernandez and Joe D. Lope

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