Archive for the ‘Amigos’ Category

Mooo-ve Over, Superman

Jeremiah probably wouldn’t call himself a hero. But we think Iris and Uriel would disagree.

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“There have been times when our kids only ate from time to time,” Iris, who lives with her husband, Uriel, and their three children in the community of Las Torres, shares. “We couldn’t eat what we didn’t have.”

Fortunately for Iris and Uriel, people like Jeremiah see giving gifts as an opportunity to give back. As longtime members of the Amigos Family, Jeremiah knew his family would appreciate a different kind of Christmas gift. “I told each person they had a certain amount and could choose whatever they wanted from the Amigos [Gift of Opportunity] catalog,” he explains.

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In the end his Mom chose a cow, a gift that provided the exact kind of opportunity a family like Iris and Uriel’s needed so much. “Before, we couldn’t ever give a glass of milk to our kids because, well,we didn’t have any to give,” explains Iris. “But now that we’ve been blessed with a cow of our own, every morning they have their milk and go to school with enough to sustain them through the day.”

And, the milk they don’t consume can be sold, a financial boon that helps cover the costs of purchasing school supplies or any other unexpected expenses their family might face. “One of the great joys of Christmas is giving to others,” concludes Jeremiah. “I wanted to give my family that rather than just a typical present – to let everyone have that feeling of giving.”

There are 7,158 people living in the 17 communities where we work. Many of them have animals that significantly improve their quality of life; however, most of them do not. Our goal is to ensure that every single one of these families has access to the life-changing opportunity to stabilize their income and achieve their dreams.

In Iris and Uriel’s eyes, Jeremiah is a Superhero. This Christmas, #FindYourHero by giving the life-changing Gift of Opportunity to a family in need at www.amigosforchrist.org/hero.

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Everybody Loves a Pig in Uniform

Addie is only seven years old, but don’t try telling her she’s too young to change the world. She should know; she’s been doing it since she was five.

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That’s how old Addie was when she decided to ask her friends, family, and pretty much anyone who would listen to donate chickens, pigs, and cows instead of giving her presents. “It makes me sad that people in Nicaragua have very little food and they don’t have money to buy food,” says Addie. “I want the people in Nicaragua to have food and be healthy and happy and know God’s love.” (Wise words from someone in the first half of second grade.)

“I was inspired by her selflessness and tried to encourage her to spread the word to our family and friends. We even posted a video on Facebook,” Adie’s mom, Kelley, adds. “I was humbled and amazed when God showed up in a big way. Adie started getting money from family and friends at school, Girl Scouts, and church. A few of her friends gave money from their piggy banks and another friend gave $50 of her own birthday money to help Adie reach her goal.”

Overall, Adie has rallied her community to donate enough animals to help six families all over rural Nicaragua, including families just like Vilma’s in the tiny, rural community of La Coyotera. Ever since Vilma’s first husband passed away, things had gotten pretty tough. Nothing was harder, though, than the persistent feeling that she couldn’t really provide for her son, Nersys.

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That is, until Amigos for Christ arrived with a pregnant pig that turned Vilma’s life around, including freshly sown fields, a repaired home, and plenty of food on the table. But for Vilma, all that paled in comparison to her proudest accomplishment: being able to help Nersys build a home of his own for himself, his wife, and Vilma’s first granddaughter. “The pig has helped me in so many ways, but more than anything it’s allowed me to help my son,” explains Vilma. “I fight to support him; as his mother, I’ll be by his side as long as I live.”

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“It is crazy to think that the money we would spend on dinner and a movie or a child’s birthday party can literally change a families future and give them the resources they need to be self reliant,” reflects Kelley. “The beautiful thing about the people of Nicaragua is that they don’t just stop with themselves. When they receive the blessing of animals, they share with their neighbors and friends. What an awesome reminder of loving thy neighbor!”

And what would Adie say to other kids (or parents) who are thinking about getting involved this year? “”If you give animals you can show that you have a BIG heart for others. We have a lot of toys and the kids in Nicaragua don’t have much. They need food and we really don’t need more toys.” Enough said.

There are 7,158 people living in the 17 communities where we work. Many of them have animals that significantly improve their quality of life; however, most of them do not. Our goal is to ensure that every single one of these families has access to the life-changing opportunity to stabilize their income and achieve their dreams.

In Vilma’s eyes, Adie is a superhero. This Christmas, #FindYourHero by giving the life-changing Gift of Opportunity to a family in need at www.amigosforchrist.org/hero.

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Nachos + Chickens = Opportunity

Where does all that money you spend at the concession stand on candy, soda, and nachos end up? At De Smet Jesuit High School in St. Louis, the profits go towards hens, roosters, and a whole lot of hope.

When Spanish language teacher Carmen Bowman, the moderator of De Smet’s Spanish Club, heard about Amigos For Christ’s Gift of Opportunity campaign, she knew it was the perfect fit for the club’s Christmas fundraising program. Each December, Señora Bowman and the students in her Spanish Club gather together their earnings from volunteering at the school concession stand and put that towards making someone else’s Christmas.

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Last year, part of that money went to buy a flock of chickens for a family in rural Nicaragua. “We try to make them aware of their surrounding. That not everybody lives in their bubble, that there’s so many people out there in need,” explains Señora Bowman.

“Before, we didn’t even have eggs to eat,” reflects Ernesto Montoya, who lives in the remote Nicaraguan community of Matilde with his wife, Xiomara, and two daughters Wendy and Ana Francela. However, just 7 months after receiving a loan of ten chickens and one rooster, the flock has grown to over 65 chickens. “Now, we can sell a chicken to buy rice or beans. We even used the profits form other chickens to buy shoes, backpacks, and notebooks for the girl’s school this year.”

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And not only is their flock growing, but so are their hopes and dreams for the future. “Sometimes people out here don’t make plans for their future because they don’t have the means to complete them,” explains Ernesto. “When you don’t have the money to do something it feels impossible. Now that we have these chickens we feel like these things are possible.”

And what’s their biggest goal for the future? Saving as much income from their chickens as possible to prepare for the expense of sending their daughters to high school and college, where their elder daughter Wendy hopes to study to become to a teacher, just like her new hero Señora Bowman.

“Not only do the students form lasting friendships volunteering together,” continues Señora Bowman, “but sharing their earnings also gives them a way to say thank you for everything they have back home in St. Louis.”

There are 7,158 people living in the 17 communities where we work. Many of them have animals that significantly improve their quality of life; however, most of them do not. Our goal is to ensure that every single one of these families has access to the life-changing opportunity to stabilize their income and achieve their dreams.

Señora Bowman and her students might not call themselves heroes, but we think the Montoya family would disagree. This Christmas, #FindYourHero by giving the life-changing Gift of Opportunity to a family in need at www.amigosforchrist.org/hero.

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Hope Deferred

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” -Proverbs 13:12

Finally – after one of the driest years on record and the driest I can ever remember – finally, finally, it has begun to rain.

This year it felt like we waited a million years for the rains to come. It was dry, so dry, and dusty, for months and months after the rain should have started. Day after day we stood, and stared, and watched the sky, and saw nothing but sun and blue and hopes deferred. It felt interminable.

Through it all, I kept thinking about how in Spanish the words for “to hope” and “to wait” are the exact same – esperar. The only way to know which one the speaker is trying to say is context; maybe they’re waiting, maybe they’re hoping. Maybe it’s a little bit of both.

And isn’t life just like that? If we never had to wait for anything, we would have nothing to hope for. So we wait for the little things, and then the big things, and we learn to be patient. With every additional day that passes – every additional day we wait – our hope grows by addition, and it gets bigger, stronger. A more and more deeply rooted tree, though it seems scorched and bare to the naked eye.

My friends here are much better at this than I am. Perhaps because they still have so much to hope for. Their communities and families have waited 100 years, endless generations, as long as history remembers, for something as simple as water, or food security, or a home. But somehow, they do not despair. They are not sick at heart. Their hope grows deeper and wider with every day of waiting, and still they watch the sky for relief.

It is not easy. But without wait, there would be no hope. And a life without hope is a life of despair – we look forward to nothing, want nothing, believe in nothing. Instead, we learn to see a drought not as the lack of rain but the hope for it, and we are all the more thankful when it comes.

I used to hate that Proverbs verse up at the top; I couldn’t get past the “heart sick” part, and it hit way too close to home for me to bear. I just never saw it – never saw the part about “longing fulfilled.” It is what everyone here seems to understand intuitively, and what I never understood until they showed me.

Now I finally see that after all the waiting and the longing, when what we hope for finally comes (in one form or another), it is life. A well-watered tree. A tree that knows the sweetness of the rumble of thunder, the flash of lightening, and that first, fresh, clean drop that splashes down after a lifetime of waiting from a heaven of hope.

This is What the Kingdom Looks Like

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By: Sabrina Bland

Friday, I saw a glimpse of the kingdom of God.

When you are stuck in a cycle of poverty you don’t feel lack of things. You lack hope that things will ever change. Lack of hope leads to desperation and giving up. Which brings out the worst in humans. No hope means an attitude of …whatever. Who cares. I will just take what I have today. In Nicaragua, this leads to despair.

But surprisingly the fruit of Amigos slowly and faithfully working side-by-side with communities has sown an unexpected crop. Hope.

Gently it has grown in communities. They see what is possible. Abundant water, cleanliness, children in school learning, leaders working together to change their communities, sickness and despair snuffling out the door, energy and creativity born in their lives.

So when one community couldn’t see this, when it was stuck, seeing what happened last Friday was like a blooming of Hope.

The community of El Moto is hard. Hard rock. Hard dirt. Hard clay. One well dry, another well not good. For three years the community has hoped. But difficulties and roadblocks were wearing this thin.

So when other communities (both near and far) heard about what was happening in El Moto, they decided to help. No one made them. They loaded onto buses, and four other communities dug somewhere that they never been – during their busy planting season, during a drought – when their own worries and work were heavy on their minds. They offered hope to people that they never met. And we dug some of the hardest dirt I have ever seen.

I asked why? And the answers I received are what lifts me up… “We heard that they were working so hard…our dirt was soft.” Or, “We have water and bathrooms now, we just wanted to help.” One community is waiting for Amigos to START their system, and still 27 men came. The leader told me, “We wanted to help, to see what this will look like for us. We had no idea how hard their dirt is. We are so lucky, our dirt is softer. Maybe someone will help us too if we need it!”

Today I saw loaves and fishes. I saw friends lowering their friend through the roof to be healed. I saw the acts of apostles in action. I saw the spreading of Jesus’s love to us all….I have come not only that we can have life, but life abundant.

And I also have Hope.

Dulce Nombre de Jesus has clean water!

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Why A Well Is Not Enough

I want to tell you about the day I realized a well is not enough.

It was the spring of 2013, and we had just spent the day digging trenches and installing water pipe for a water system in the small, rural community of Miguel Cristiano. Because the trip from the Amigos Complex to Miguel Cristiano is fairly long, we decided to spend the night in the community to save travel time and to have a little extra bonding time with the families there.

It was my first time “camping out” in a community, and I loved every minute of it. I loved kicking around a soccer ball and chatting up new friends as we watched the sun set over the hills. I loved the thick, smokey smell of the grill as we waited for our dinner of chanhco asado to finish cooking. I loved stringing up my hammock and watching the stars as they popped out one by one until there were millions, because in such a remote place there is no light to interfere with all the beauty of the heavens.

And then it came time to wash off the dust and sweat at the end of that long and happy day. Miguel Cristiano was lucky in the sense that, when we met them, they already had a clean water well. Like many water projects, whoever drilled it had installed an old-fashioned hand pump on top and considered the job done. And, certainly clean water you have to pump and carry is better than none at all.

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The problem that night, of course, was that without a water system there were no showers, so in order to bathe we had set up makeshift showers (think little stalls made of tree branches stuck into the ground with black plastic trashbags stuck on the sides) and each person was responsible for pumping and carrying a 5 gallon bucket of water to the stalls where they could then take a “bucket bath.”

So, ready to be done and showered and sleeping peacefully in my hammock, I got to work filling my bucket. And let me tell you, it is a lot of work. As I stood there, huffing and puffing and heaving and pumping, I thought my back would give out before I could possibly fill just one bucket. When it was finally full, it came time to carry the bucket just 20 feet to where the showers were, and I thought I’d never make it. I lugged and jerked, foot by foot, swinging and dragging and making slow, exhausted progress as my already sore muscles cramped in protest.

And that’s when I realized; a well is not enough. Even a small family would need a dozen buckets like the one I filled every single day to take care of their most basic needs – drinking, cleaning, cooking – and a large family or one with livestock would need even more.

It suddenly made perfect sense why severe dehydration and the chronic kidney disease it causes are so common in rural communities (in fact, Nicaragua is the only country in the world where chronic kidney disease kills more people than any other disease). If I had to pump and carry my water myself, I thought, I wouldn’t drink as much either.

And that’s why Amigos doesn’t just drill wells; we builds systems. Because no one should have to decide between lower back problems and hydration. No one should weigh the pros and cons of spending half their day collecting water and chronic kidney disease. Because water can – and should – be piped right to their doorstep so they can put the buckets down and give their weary arms a rest.

And ever since Miguel Cristiano finished their water system a few months after our trip, it is (not to mention the fact that their spiffy new Modern Bathrooms have made a refreshing shower just a turn-of-the-knob away).

But there are still countless communities just like Miguel Cristiano all over Nicaragua who spend long mornings walking, gathering, carrying. Many don’t have a clean water source, but even if they do, their lives are still controlled by the ever-present task of obtaining the water their families need to survive.

We want to change that. And a well is the start, but it will never be enough.

Hallelujah for the Valle Los Morenos Inauguration!

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Affirming, Not Giving

By: Kali Venable

Alberto Parrales, a 76-year-old man from San Pablo/La Grecia, was the first community member I met this summer. During the weeks we’ve spent in San Pablo/La Grecia he has become a close friend, daily digging partner, and big part of God’s plans for me here.

Alberto has lived in the community for 51 years; before Hurricane Mitch in ’98, before the Sandinista Revolution of the 70s, he planted his family’s roots there and never left.

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As a farmer, he gets up every morning at 4 a.m. to attend to his chickens, cows, horse, and seven manzanas (12 acres) of rice and corn before beginning work on the water line at 7 a.m. with a number of other community members.

Alberto took me too his house one day to give me a tour of the farm he’d told me so much about. With pride, he walked me through the yard behind his home where plantain, mango, avocado, and a plethora of other trees were heavy with fruit; each tree was introduced by name,each fruit was plucked for me to sample.

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>We crept under a wire fence when we reached the back of his yard where rows of rice began andcontinued into the distance. He posed for photos with each crop; never had I seen a man hold himself with so much dignity in his work, his life.

A week prior I’d spent a whole day asking him questions about farming, his family, his values, and what it was like to see the piping for water completed in front of his home. In the middle of giving me detailed answers he told me that he appreciated my interest greatly, but didn’t understand why I was so curious about the way he lived. He expressed the same confusion at his house after he’d given me a grand tour.

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It hadn’t occurred to me until then how forgotten people in this community must feel at times. I can’t make the assumption that all Nicaraguans feel like their nation, and maybe even God, has left them in the dust of a few families’ prosperity because the people I’ve met and spent time with here are such a small portion of the whole. But at the same time, I don’t think it would be too unreasonable to make that assumption in a country where the wealth distribution is so bafflingly uneven.

Having Alberto share his life with me and give me the chance to tell him that he not only matters in my eyes, but in the eyes of the Lord, made it clear what I was called here to do which is not to give people dignity, but to affirm it.

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Alberto has shown me that we shouldn’t seek to be anyone’s saver – Jesus already was that person for all of us. Instead, we should seek to show people the love that He has for us by standing beside them, affirming their value and helping them create better lives for themselves, their children, and the many generations of their families to come.

I Saw a Man Walk Today

I want to tell you what I saw today. In short, I saw a man walk.

Well, not just walk: walk upright, without leaning on a walking stick or limping from the pain.

Of course, it wasn’t just any man. It was a friend of mine, a fixture in my barrio, my elderly neighbor Alonzo. For as long as anyone can remember, Alonzo has lived on the same corner and run the same tienda that sells the same little candies, chips, sodas, and about a million other things you’re so glad you can buy just one block away.

The other thing everyone remembers about Alonzo is that for almost a decade his ability to walk had gradually deteriorated, year after year of standing behind the counter eventually wearing his right knee down to the point that he could barely stand.

But today, as I sat at my desk, I glanced up to see something that made my heart swell. I watched my friend, our neighbor, walk right through the Amigos office door without limping, smiling instead of wincing from the pain, stopping to say hello to everyone as he easily navigated the sprawl of desks and chairs.

The difference, the moment his story (and his stride) changed forever, was a knee replacement surgery he received when an orthopedic surgical brigade came down at the beginning of this year. Taking on a challenge many consider impossible, they have come down two years in a row to implant dozens of state-of-the-art knees and hips into the aching joints of people like Alonzo. People who could never afford a surgery like that selling Ranchitas and Coca, people who were well on their way to losing their mobility and, perhaps as well, their livelihoods.

But now, thanks to the sacrifice and hard work of our friends in that brigade and the companies that sponsor them, Alonzo – and so many others – can walk right down the street and into our office, and you would never guess that not so very long ago that simple task seemed like an impossible dream.

And so I saw a man walk today, and I will never, ever forget it.


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