Archive for the ‘Our Missionaries’ Category

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.

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.

Recuerdo

By: Kali Venable

In July of 2013, on my second week-long trip with Amigos, I worked in the community of La Chuscada digging ditches for their water system.

We were one of the first mission groups to work on the system so we spent the week in a part of Chuscada that was directly off the main road. I remember the spot vividly, I remember the people – mainly the children – and I have photos that serve as reminders when I start to forget.

During these past two weeks I got to go back to Chuscada – where the water system has been on for over a year now and each home has a Modern Bathroom – to help build a wall that will surround a large, model public school for northern Nicaragua.

The work site was in a part of Chuscada I remember walking through two years ago and photographing a few desks covered by a tin roof that served as the community school. Today, there is a six-room school in place of it and 10 years from now there will be an even bigger one.

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The extensive progress that’s been made La Chuscada since I last visited made it hard for me to believe that it was the same place.

Last Tuesday I brought two photos of a few boys I’d spent time with on my previous visit with me to the community. I didn’t think I would be able to find them because I had yet to see them, but I thought I might be able to ask some of the community members near our work site if they knew any of them and could take me to them or at least give the boys the photos to keep.

In the morning I showed my photographs to a family I whose house I was visiting and felt discouraged when none of them recognized the kids. Having pretty much given up on reuniting with the boys, I volunteered to go get bags of concrete mix from the Amigos Complex that afternoon.

When we pulled back up to the school in the truck, I was in awe. Two of the boys in my photographs were standing right in front of me talking to some of the Amigos staff members.

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I hoped off the truck, ran to my backpack to retrieve the photos, and returned to the front of the school where the boys stood. I told them that I played with them two years ago when I was here helping install the piping for their water system and handed them the photos I had. They both smiled and said “recuerdo” – I remember.

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Most of the time the work God is doing in my life is hard for me to understand and requires more trust in Him than anything else. But when I pulled back up to the school and saw them standing there that day in La Chuscada it was so apparent He’d placed the boys in front of me, or I in front of them, so that we would meet again.

Our reunion was a reminder that the relationships I build here are not momentary, that when I tell someone “I’ll see you again,” it isn’t just out of comfort, it is out of trust in God and His ability to bring people back to each other despite the odds.

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.

El Jefe

I was having a bad day. Not a terrible one – the sky was still intact, so that was something – but just your run-of-the-mill, subpar, woke-up-on-the-wrong-side-of-the-bed kind of day.

So in an effort to ward off that sinking feeling a bad day can put in the pit of your stomach, I threw myself into the work at hand: trench digging and pipe installation for our most recent water system in the community of San Pablo/La Grecia. “One shovel full at a time,” I coached myself, “just keep digging.”

As I attempted to lull myself into a work-induced coma, a tap from behind snapped me back to the present moment. “…Ehem, excuse me,” a small voice said, “but you’re not doing that right.” I swung around to see who had interrupted my wallowing, only to realize I’d set my sights a little too high; I dropped my gaze and there he was, a 3-foot-tall, baseball hat clad little boy staring me quite assertively right in the eye.

“What’s your name?” I asked, suppressing my smile to avoid offending how very, very seriously he appeared to be taking this interaction. “Luis Felipe,” he replied, “but you can call me The Boss.”

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For the next several hours, I trailed The Boss (a six-year-old going on 30) up and down the line where we were digging. As he walked, he offered feedback, direction, and critiques to the over 100 volunteers – all at least twice his size and triple his age – hard at work that afternoon:

“Let’s pick up the pace here, we need to get more work done.”

“Everyone over here should take a break, you look tired.”

“The talking over here is much too noisy, let’s keep the volume down, ok?”

(And my personal favorite, the frequent command of) “Back to work!”

As the afternoon wore on, more and more features of Felipe’s personality (besides the general tendency to be just the tiniest bit bossy) began to shine through. He had an irresistible thirst for understanding, for example, asking question disguised as commands (“Tell me how deep this should be,” and then, when I answered him, “Ah yes, that’s what I thought.”) “This kid could be an engineer one day,” I thought.

“But then again, he’d make a great teacher,” I reflected when he stopped all work so he could deliver a mini-seminar on the importance of potable water to a crowd of wide-eyed, admiring volunteers, occasionally removing or doffing his tiny white baseball cap to emphasize his point. “Or maybe a priest, even,” I corrected myself when he almost brought another group to tears with an explanation of the hope God gives for a better future.

“In any case, he’ll make a great leader one day,” I concluded as the day drew to a close. And then it struck me: he would make a great leader, but a few years ago he may never have stood a chance. Because, in a community like San Pablo/La Grecia, if the preventable diseases like parasites and diarrhea don’t get you, then the crushing burden of poverty will.

But now, once that clean water system is finished and his family’s Modern Bathroom is built, Felipe will never again face the risk of premature death by diarrhea and parasites that kills so many kids his age. Our Education Team will make sure he has the chance to study and excel now, through high school, and beyond. And through the support of our Economic Development team, his family will access opportunities to earn enough money to ensure his health, education, and development for the rest of his life.

In short, he’ll have the opportunity to become everything he might be, and absolutely anything he wants to be. And thinking about that, I saw more clearly than ever before a vision of what it means to do “holistic community development,” and why the nine goals of our 7 Year Vision are so very, very important.

I saw that by focusing not on fixing just one or two “problems,” but rather on bringing healing to the complex combination of factors that make up the reality of families in rural Nicaragua, we can enable someone like Felipe to be everything he could ever hope to be.

So all that to say, when Felipe gets elected President of Nicaragua in 2055, you can say you heard it here first.

Embracing the Uncomfortable

“But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on His behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” –Jeremiah 29:7

Last week we went camping in a community about two and a half hours from Chinandega along the Nicaragua/Honduras border called Nance Dulce. We spent the night to cut travel time and have as many hours as possible to work on installing water pipe with the community.

When we pulled up the Nicaraguans were standing outside their homes awaiting our arrival. They greeted us with open arms and warm smiles, as all people do in this humble country.

While a majority of the group started to dig with community members who were already hard at work, I stayed at the school where we would be sleeping for the night to unload mattresses and help set up stalls for bucket baths. Five or ten minutes into building makeshift stalls for the showers, it started pouring rain.

As my clothes went from dry, to damp, to drenched, and the hours passed, I found myself in a very surreal situation. Standing in the freezing rain, with no overhead coverage, swarmed by dozens of bugs, using my broken Spanish to communicate with the Nicaraguan staff members, I repeatedly asked God, “What is the point of making me this uneasy?”

When I came down to Nicaragua, comfort was something I hoped and prayed to find in this foreign land. I thought that if I was comfortable then my time here would be easier to enjoy and more worth while. However, as the days and nights progressed, I realized that my life here is, and will continue to be, the exact opposite of comfortable.

But faith isn’t meant to be easy. If God wants us to live our lives as exiles, then comfort may often be the very thing He wants us to avoid. When we are comfortable, we tend to settle and not seek the fulfilled and abundant life He planned for us.

Being constantly out of my comfort zone has challenged me to be patient, to take whatever is thrown at me even when I don’t know if I can handle it, to look at things I’d normally complain about in a positive light, and to constantly remind myself that I am here for a reason and everything I am experiencing is all part of the plans He has for me.

God put us here so that we could travel as nomads and follow His callings no matter how far out of our comfort zone they might take us. For in seeking the prosperity of where and who He places before us, we’ll find our own prosperity, too.


 

This post brought to you by Kali, a Long Term Servant Leader volunteer who will be guest-blogging throughout the summer to share her experiences and perspective on what exactly this whole “make Christ more visible in Nicaragua” thing is really about.

Moving Day

Last weekend my roommate and I moved houses. Due to a series of unfortunate events, all of our friends were busy the morning of the move so we ended up spending the first several hours of Moving Day schlepping things from house to house all by ourselves. It was, to say the least, not fun.

After moving our ump-teenth load in the scorching heat, the roomie and I were exhausted, sweat-drenched, and prepared to throw in the towel (not that we had any idea where our towels were). On the verge of those particular kind of irrational but unavoidable tears brought on by overwhelming discouragement, I threw myself into the back of the truck, hoisted up another basket of who-knows-what, and swung around to hand it down.

Only this time, I stared in surprise as I deposited the basket not into my roomie’s hands, but into a pair of hands I didn’t recognize waiting beneath a smiling face I’d never seen. As I watched in mild confusion (“Is this a hallucination?”), this friendly stranger grabbed the basket and brought it inside. Then, with more energy than I’d been able to muster all morning, she continued to make countless trips from truck to house until every last thing was unloaded.

When we finished, she smiled, introduced herself as Xiomara, and after a few minutes of small talk retired to the shade of her front porch two doors down. As I watched her walk away my eyes stung with tears, but this time of a distinctly different variety. This time, they were those particular kind of insistent and unavoidable tears brought on by the most profound feeling of gratitude to someone – even (or especially) a complete stranger – who picks up your burden at the exact moment you feel you can’t carry it one step further. Not because you could not, in fact, have done it without them; because you are at risk of forgetting that you could.

It reminded me of something our Executive Director, John, says to new groups as they get ready for their first day of digging out in a community. “It’s kind of like if you were out in an enormous yard raking leaves alone, and all of a sudden a big bus of strangers pulled up, piled out, and just started raking alongside you,” he explains. “Just imagine how that would feel; they’re not saying you can’t do it, they’re just saying, ‘Hey, we’re here to help.’ ”

The same day that Xiomara helped my roomie and I move, Amigos welcomed its very first group of the summer. From now until the end of August we will host over 1,000 short term missionaries, and the amount of work they’ll accomplish will be tremendous. But perhaps nothing will have a bigger impact than the feeling they’ll create when they pull up along side the community, jump out with shovels in hand, and say, “We know you can do this; we’re just here to help.”

Have you met Nick yet?

Allow us to introduce Nick Johnson!

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Nick is our newest employee at the Amigos for Christ office in Buford, GA. As the Director of Collaboration, he has already done an incredible job working together with our Stateside partners to help them get involved and stay connected to the work of Amigos in Nicaragua. Haven’t had the chance to meet him? Learn a little more below!

 

How did you first get involved with Amigos?

In 2001, as a donor and fiesta participant, I helped with Pedal for the Poor. We had met John and Sabrina Bland while involved with Cursillo, and we knew many Prince of Peace members due to the proximity to St. Lawrence.

 

What made you want to keep staying involved?

The personal relationships I built with the participants, and the fact that it is an obviously good cause.

 

What is your role with Amigos?

I am the Director of Collaboration. I work to increase the resources that Amigos has available for our work; people, physical resources, and financial resources.

 

What is the most important element of your job?

Meeting with people and sharing our story as it relates to the mission of the Body of Christ.

 

What is your favorite part of your new job?
Meeting with people and sharing our story as it relates to the mission of the Body of Christ.

 

How do you feel like God is using you in your role with Amigos?

God is using me to encourage and enable people to live out the Gospel. Because I enjoy the dialog, I am very comfortable talking with individuals and groups about our obligation to live the Gospel. That obligation can be a particular challenge for Americans but the work of Amigos creates an environment that invites and encourages us to step out in faith and meet that obligation.

 

What were you doing before you started working for Amigos?

My career had transitioned from building design engineering to software sales in the construction and utilities industry.  I came to Amigos from Trimble Navigation, where I was responsible for sales of  system control and maintenance software to the water industry in the eastern United States and Canada. Prior to that, I held a similar position selling software to the design and construction industry for Autodesk.

 

Why would you leave a job at which you were so successful to do this job instead?

Truthfully, because Christ told me to. Not in a bolt of lightning, not by blinding me for days, but rather by gently prodding me for many years to do what we say to do on the back of our shirts: “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”  I had a plan to work my way into something more meaningful. My plan was not God’s plan; He had a different timeline than I did, and God usually wins this arguments (just ask Jonah)!

 

How do you hope to grow in your new role, or see Amigos grow from the work you are doing?

My goals are to provide all the resources our team needs to operate at peak efficiency and maximum effectiveness. If I do my job well, and if my goals are aligned with what Christ wants for Amigos, I will work my way out of a job or into a new role after 3-5 years. Once we can truthfully say we are doing all we can with our current structure, then we can determine if we grow, expand, or maintain.

More Than I Could Ask or Imagine

By: Paige Seymour, missionary

 

“When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing but Christ and him crucified.” 1 Corinthians 2:2-3

 

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When I first was preparing to move down to Nicaragua, I knew that one of my biggest desires was to get to know the women in the communities because I really enjoy having conversations with them and hearing about their lives, their hopes, and their struggles. In my preparation and in my first few months down here, I had been praying about what it was going to look like to get to know women in the communities and to possibly start some sort of women’s discussion group or bible study.

 

For the first several months, it was difficult because there weren’t many women digging in the ditches with us. My strategy was to dig with women if they were digging, and if not, then to make some house visits of women I had met previously to spend time with them and usually to cook and eat with them.

 

A little over a month ago, I was hanging out with my friend Matilde in La Chuscada on a Monday, just catching up during lunchtime at the house of Sebastian, the community leader. Matilde and I were chatting about our week, and she informed me that she had a meeting on Wednesday with Carla, the leader of our education team at Amigos for Christ. I told her I had just talked to Carla that morning about coming with her to La Chuscada on Wednesday, so I assured Matilde I’d see her again in a few days.

 

On Wednesday I hopped in the van with Carla for La Chuscada, having no expectations of what we were about to do. All I knew was that my friend Matilde would be there, and that was enough reason for me. What I was about to take part in was “immeasurably more than anything I could have ever asked or imagined.”

 

I arrived to a circle of about 12-15 women from various parts of La Chuscada, many of whom I already knew personally through my time there this summer. Maria Lydia who taught me to make tortillas, Victoria who fed me tamales at her house, Lydia who I joked around with each day she checked off workers, along with Matilde and several others. I sat as a spectator, watching Carla speak with authority yet gentleness as she described the Mission, Vision and Values of Amigos for Christ. She then proceeded to ask the women what they thought the strengths and weaknesses of their community were, what opportunities and resources they had, and where they thought they needed help. Each women contributed valuable thoughts, and Carla listened intently, reaffirming them and encouraging them to continue sharing. I was overwhelmed with the vulnerability and openness that was taking place in this meeting of these wonderful women. I had nothing to do with setting up this meeting, leading the meeting, or even playing a part in it, but I was so thankful to simply be present.

 

After the meeting, I asked Carla how frequently she held these meetings. She told me every Wednesday at 2pm for the next 3 months they would have them. She invited me to come again the next week, and I gladly accepted, especially considering Wednesday is the only afternoon in my schedule that I have free during the week.

 

The past 3 weeks of these Wednesday Women’s meetings have been absolutely incredible.

 

The first week was about the family and how to build up your children through positivity and words of encouragement. Carla said “todos somos iguales porque somos los hijos del Senor” (we are all equal because we are all children of the Lord).

 

The second week was about how to prevent drug abuse in your family. Carla said “ustedes son ejemplos para sus ninos y si tiene la luz del Senor en su corazon, va a tener la luz en su casa, y los ninos van a tener la luz en sus corazones” (you are examples for your kids and if you have the light of the Lord in your heart, you are going to have the light in your house, and your kids are going to have the light in their hearts).

 

The third week was about how to deal with abuse in the household, whether verbal, physical, or emotional. Carla was talking about how you can’t remain silent if it happens, even though many people do because they worry about what they should say or what they should do in the situation. Carla explained that when she comes to talk at these meetings and present difficult topics, she doesn’t always know what to say. She didn’t study for this specifically and she’s not the most knowlegable person, so how does she do it? “Pido que el Senor me de las palabras para decir por Su Espiritu, y entonces lo hace” (I ask the Lord to give me the words to say through His Spirit, and then He does it).

 

I have been so encouraged to see the way Carla has led these meetings that have been biblically centered on Christ, and to see the way the women in the community have made themselves open and vulnerable to share their thoughts, hopes, and struggles. These meetings have far exceeded any expectations I ever had in my head for what they would look like, and I thank God that He has perfectly orchestrated the meetings, the people involved, and the timing. I am so blessed to simply be a part of the work He is doing in this community, and I can’t wait to see what else He has planned for these women.

 

To read more from Paige, visit her blog at http://paigeseymour.tumblr.com/.


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