Monday, January 27, 2014
On January 18-25, 2014 a team of Christ UMC educators joined a team from Ringgold UMC to participate in a mission trip to Leon, Nicaragua. Our education team united with a medical team and construction team for a total of 32 from 9 different United Methodist churches throughout Georgia and Tennessee.
We arrived Saturday afternoon at our home base, El Ayudante, a Christian humanitarian organization based in León, Nicaragua. This center is dedicated to partnering with the Nicaraguan people to transform the nation—one child, one family, and one community at a time. El Ayudante means “the helper” and the organization works with 25 to 35 short-term missions teams each year from the states to work with local community leaders to help bring tangible change to people’s lives in the areas of education, medicine, construction, and training. Teams are provided with an itinerary, meals, translators, and transportation.
Our “home away from home” was a beautiful, tranquil setting where we could sleep, eat, refresh, and re-energize each day before we set out to minister to the Nicaraguan people.
On our first full day we boarded our “Rambo” trucks and headed out to the country through pot-holed dirt roads.
On our bumpy dusty drive we encountered people on all sorts of transportation: people on horseback, entire families on mopeds, a few trucks, lots of bicycles, and many people walking. The distance from the highway to the churches - as the crow flies – was only about 15 miles, yet it took us nearly two hours to wind down the dusty path to arrive at our first destination: Salinas Grande Church.
This congregation met next to the pastor’s house, a primitive structure with dirt floors, a few tables and chairs and no running water or electricity. The “church” was a small homemade tent with folding chairs.
What these folks lacked in material things, they made up for in spirit. They sang their Nica praise songs with all their heart, soul, and mind. When word spread in the community that children were playing with a huge colorful parachute, children came from everywhere eager to play and sing and hear about Jesus. We received word later in the week that they have great hopes for ministering to the families of the children who came to VBS that day. Their need is for a US church to become a sister church and help them in their efforts. Two of our team members plan to present that possibility to their churches.
Our next stop was at Las Percelas, a sister church to Ringgold UMC. Our drive took much longer than expected but this sweet congregation waited patiently for us to arrive. Once again we shared the Gospel and had a VBS for their children. It was wonderful to see the growth of the church since the early days of the partnership with RUMC and gave hope for what could come to the little church at Salinas Grande with a sister church coming alongside them.
For the rest of the week our team divided into our specialty teams: education, medical, and construction. Our medical team held workshops and clinics, our construction team worked on a women’s prison, and our education team held staff development for teachers and a conference for students. Our CUMC team, Dr. Kim Nichols, Janet Phillips, and I, focused on education.
What a privilege to be able to speak of the Gospel, give Bibles, and reference God in all of our presentations. Each of us was partnered with a translator who was as eager and excited as we were about our work. The Nicaraguan teachers were most gracious and appreciative of all of our help. They are eager to learn ways to manage their classrooms and strategies to engage their students. Forty percent of all Nicaraguan teachers do not have a college degree. Many of them have 50 – 70 students in their room. Most of them have no books or supplies. Yes, they are eager to learn effective ways to teach! When I asked each group if they love teaching, they all responded with an enthusiastic, “Si!” Even under deplorable conditions, they love what they do! We saw the classrooms firsthand and marveled how these teachers could accomplish much, yet they wanted to learn as much as possible and eagerly embraced our suggestions.
Our week culminated in the 6th annual teachers’ conference with 500 teachers in attendance. They came from all over the area and travelled great distances for many hours to be a part of a unique opportunity. Our team of 8 educators was joined by our medical team and Nicaraguan educators for a total of 19 leaders – “profesores” - who conducted 7 sessions over a two day period. The rest of our team worked as support staff on registration, food, and a host of administrative areas. Church donations allowed us to feed each teacher, give them classroom supplies, door prizes, a Bible, and Gospel track. We were so fortunate that the Curriculum Director for the Ministry of Education in Nicaragua attended our conference and has asked us to offer this conference in additional locations in the country. We are in prayer that God will guide us and make provisions if this is an avenue where we can have an impact.
Our mission team theme for the week was Jeremiah 29:11:
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
God has the same plan for all of us where we live in wealthy country like the USA or a third world poverty-ridden country like Nicaragua. He wants to give us a hope and a future. I believe part of the plan he has for those of us who have much is to share with those who have little. As we read in John 15 Jesus commanded us to love each other.
“12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command.
16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit —fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other.”
I look forward to “bearing more fruit” next year in Nicaragua!