Monday, December 31

Sunday, December 30

When Our Big, Lazy, Judgemental Butts Get In the Way of the Holy Spirit...

I received a wonderful, early invitation from my former roommate to go with her and another random church group from Ciudad Sandino to a local hospital for woman and children. Alysha explained we would visit different patients, talk and pray with them, and then give a small packet of needed toiletries. At first, I jumped right on her invitation. "Of course, Alysha, I would love to do that!"

When I received a reminder text message yesterday morning, I felt my stomach slightly creeping to my throat. I didn't send a reply "yes" message until later in the afternoon. As the day went on I began praying and praying for the next day. However, at the same time, I began having a million doubts... Maybe, this isn't the best idea... I don't want to impose on other people... I already feel uncomfortable... my Spanish is horrible... this is silly. The excuses grew in my brain, yet, I continued praying for strength and the great awareness of the Holy Spirit for the next day.

I "woke up" the next morning with my morning brain trying to make up lame excuses as to why I couldn't get out of bed and go help out at the hospital. Finally, I got out of bed, jumped on the bus, and met Alysha near her house. We picked up her friend Cesar along the way and we were off to the hospital...

About 8 other people from Ceasar's church also participated in this outreach event. I still had moments of doubt and judgement while we gathered in the parking lot. The group was discussing whether we had enough cameras- including a video camera, and I bit my tongue as I pictured us exploiting people we don't even know and publishing our "good deeds". Someone also explained we want to share a sermon today and not only give a gift of hygienic products. I held my breath.

We entered the first room with a nurse's lead. 8 beds/cribs lined the small room with women/moms sitting a hard chairs. One of the church member's volunteered to speak first and he addressed the entire room. I was not able to translate everything he said in my head but I did see a lot of finger pointing and heard him ask a woman if she goes to church. I immediately felt uncomfortable and questioned why I decided to come along, but luckily I was also distractedly playing with the precious little boy next to me whose wrist had the tight hospital bracelet tagged to his wrist. In my mind, I "survived" the first room. I handed out a few of the hygiene packets and I spoke with the mother and precious child right next to me and then prayed with them. Suddenly, I became overwhelmingly aware of God's presence in the room. Despite, maybe my disagreements, my discomforts, my laziness, my fear, I suddenly felt I was in the right place.

Also, a great relief came over me when another volunteer spoke in the next room and focused more on how God is with each of them and can do all things, instead of trying to condemn and convince. We all had an opportunity to pray for each patient and I began thinking less about my Spanish and instead feeling more of the Holy Spirit.

We went room to room praying, meeting, and giving to different people. Each room we entered was a difficult site to see, considering the poor, poor conditions of the hospital. I also thought about how these kids and families have nothing to do while they are here and sometimes they wait days just to see the doctor. Yet, I know God is right there with them whether they realize it or not.

Finally, one of the fellow volunteers asked if I would share a word with the next room of patients. At first I said, "No, gracias". However, as we neared the door I was reminded it's not about my ability to speak- it's all about sharing God's love with these wonderful children of God I am only able to know for a split second. To share that they are special and God is with them through each moment. I used my Intermediate level of Spanish and shared.

I share this story of my fear, judgements, doubts, laziness, uncomfortableness, because I think we have all allowed these thoughts and feelings to get in the way of living a life like Christ. I'm not sharing this visit to the hospital not to share a righteous act I accomplished, because even still parts of it I believe were not so wonderful- bringing a video camera, handing out tracks... but for us to remember those moments we didn't follow through with something on our hearts, encouraging us to do something out of our comfort zone which will glorify God and demonstrate love to others.

 I will consider dreaming and thinking of a more sustainable ministry in which a group goes each week to give fun activities or have prayer groups with the moms, etc.  Also, each of those beautiful women and children will remain in my mind and heart throughout this week.

Thanks for your continued support!
May God help move YOUR big, lazy, judgmental butt, too! :)

Friday, December 21

Quien Causa Tanta Alegria?

(Who causes so much happiness?)

(Mary's Conception!)

Alex and I stood in the long bus line wrapped around the small "UCA" bus station, at 3pm on Friday afternoon. December 7 is a day Catholics in Nicaragua celebrate La Purísima, or the celebration of the pure conception of Mary. In order to get the full experience of Purísima, a small group of my friends and myself traveled to the city of Leon, which is the city most famous for it's annual Purísima celebration. Alex and I thought we were going to have spend at least an hour waiting for a bus, due to the influx of people traveling to Leon, but suddenly a new bus arrived in a separate area and within only about 10 minutes of waiting we snugly fit in a micro bus on our way to Leon.

Once we arrived to Leon we dropped our stuff off quickly at our hostel to join the beginning firework display for the evening. We hustled over to the main cathedral just in time for the firework display. However, I quickly realized the fireworks shooting off safety in the background weren't the only fireworks. People standing somewhat near me all of a sudden began shrieking out of fear, yet laughing at the same time and running away from a firework which shot out into the crowd. In almost the same moment, I looked to see Alex running with several other young guys towards a man dancing around with a large card board box covering the top half of his body. On the sides of this box, were lit bottle rockets. The people who were brave enough to face the "bull" would try and gamble how close they could stand near the "bull" until suddenly, the fireworks would light and everyone ran in sheer fear and excitement. I will admit I was pretty shocked to witness such a way to celebrate but it was so much fun.

After the craziness with the fireworks, we began walking around the city to view the different purisima displays. Many people had elaborate window displays of Maria, candles, flowers, fancy cloths, etc. A tradition we did not take part in is people invite friends/family over to the purisima and spend time together in prayer and simply celebrating the holiday. Around the main part of town, there was a long line of people standing with empty bags. The waited in line to view a long row of different Mary's on display and at the same time collected free food; everything from rice to candies.

Later in the evening, we participated in Griteria. Griteria is very similar to Halloween minus the scary stuff and minus the costumes. However, you walk to different houses and you can yell out "Quien causa tanta alegria?" and the people at the house should answer "La concepcion de Maria". Then, they hand you some sort of goodie. At one house I received a box of matches and another some hair ties. There are also certain songs you can sing as you greet each house, but no one in my group knew the correct songs.

I'm glad I experienced such a unique celebration. Many Nicaraguans who are not Catholic often struggle with accepting and trying to understand Purisima, calling it a pagan celebration and refusing to acknowledge or support it. When Evangelical Nicaraguans ask me about my time in Leon for purisima, I simply explain my desire to always learn more about different traditions and culture.

Tuesday, December 4

May God Bless You with Discomfort

While having my quiet time with the Big G and J.C. this evening, a paper from my first worship during missionary training feel out of my book. I am blessed to have re-discovered this beautiful prayer....

May God bless you with discomfort
At easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships ,
So that you will live deep in your heart.
May God bless you with anger at injustice, and 
Exploitation of people and the earth
So that you will work for justice,
Equity, and peace.
May God bless you with tears to 
Shed for those who suffer so you will
Reach out your hand to comfort them
And change their pain into joy.
And may God bless you with the foolishness to think that you
Can make a difference in the world,
So you will do the things which others say cannot be done.
 -Interfaith Coundil for Peace and Justice, Ann Arboor, MI

Sunday, December 2

Hello amigos!

I apologize for taking so long to update my blog. I've been pretty busy, as you know, adjusting to city life once again. Quite a lot has happened in the last 15 days, so I will try to summarize my latest adventures.

1. AMC offered a day outside of the office. About 30 people from our office ventured to the city of Masaya to go on a short hike for the day. We saw monkeys, a jungle of green plants, enjoyed each others company and got to spend the day in beauty of God's creation.

My first time to see real-live monkeys outside of a cage. :)

Moises #1

Moises #2

The ladies stretching it out after our walk.
2. Last week was Prayer Week in the AMC office. Scriptures written posterboards lined the different walkways throughout the office; a large banner entitled "Semana Oracion" or "Prayer Week" greeted each person as they rounded the corner from the front office; and the auditorium, filled with new picture displays, flowers, large praying hands, was set up with a "stage" including cameras for video streaming. Each day from 1pm till about 3pm, everyone gathered in the auditorium to partake in a prayer service. Throughout the week we focused on gratitude, unity, compassion, love and each day focused on certain Central American countries. We spent time singing songs of praise and participated in different forms of prayer, as the other AMC offices throughout the country joined us through the inter-web. It was powerful week. A week we were able to take time to be with one another in prayer, when many times we are busy working & working. AMC does have a weekly devotion on Monday mornings, but it was extra meaningful to more intentionally join in as a community in prayer.

3. For Thanksgiving, a few friends with whom I attend Spanish school decided to host and share a Thanksgiving lunch with the teachers and students at our school. I helped Michelle peel potatoes in the morning, which is one of my normal Thanksgiving duties and Sarah thought it would be a good idea to put me in charge of carving the turkey she so graciously cooked for us. -->
A few other people also brought food. We gathered at Viva Spanish School around 12 and we covered several tables with all kinds of food. Not only had our Spanish teachers never tried certain Thanksgiving foods, but we also had Canadians, an Egyptian, and someone from London join the festivities. At one point, a few us even threw a football (norte americana) around in the street. I was impressed when my Nicaraguan friends Jossimar and Marlon threw the football really well after just learning how to correctly throw a football. It truly was a day of Thanksgiving and I felt very blessed to have been surrounded by such a wonderful community.

4. I've also been busy in the office as I begin to prepare for the different Medical International Teams who will partner with AMC in the year. It's a good reminder as to how important the behind the scenes work is for a ministry. Perhaps I can somehow discover the spirituality of... creating budgets.

5. Currently my life in Nicaragua involves simple, common moments. From partaking in beautiful conversation with coworkers during our lunch break

to my Spanish teacher Majorie still teaching me one last thing as I was  walking out the door,

to laughing with friends until it hurts,

to the Christmas lights that decorate the city of Managua,

to receiving a phone call from my hermanito,

to trying to balance clothespins on our noses with my roommate,

to the patience of a vendor when I could not make a decision on what to buy, 

to getting chills listening to a friend describe the lyrics of a Nicaraguan song,

to watching Dona Rosa dance to the rap music blaring out of a car window,

to people "getting mad" and looking out for me for not asking for help when I don't understand a certain thing Spanish,

to a random parrot joining my household, 

to my parents eagerly willing to help me gather any needed resources for my English classes, 

and to so many little things that discreetly reveal the Holy Spirit here in Nicaragua.

Thursday, November 15

San Francisco Libre

On Friday Michelle, fellow Mission Intern, and I, received the privilege of spending the day with two other United Methodist Church missionaries; Nan McCurdy & her husband Miguel Mairena. Nan invited us to attend a big health event on awareness of cervical cancer in the community of San Francisco Libre, a town about 1.5 hours outside of Managua. The event was hosted by Women & Community which is the organization with which Nan & Miguel work.

The event consisted of several speakers explaining the manifestation of HPV, how to prevent HPV, and the importance of visiting the gynecologist at the least every 3 years. Between the speakers, a group of Women & Community Association Nicaragua's promoters and a group of youth performed relevant and funny skits. Always including a very machismo man.There were well over 100 women present at the event. At one point there was a dance contest and man could those winners shake it. After the event, a delicious lunch was served.

Dance competition. You go ladies!
We moved our chairs into the shade, but then we encountered ANTS! We spent lots of time trying to keep our feet on rocks. Michelle is showing those ants whats up.

San Francisco Libre is a community located on the northern side of Lake Nicaragua on the southern side sits Managua. Although the community sounds relatively close to Managua in location, once again the roads leading to San Francisco Libre, once you leave the main road, are bumpy and rocky. However, Nan & Miguel did mention the roads are improving and what used to be a trip of about 4 hours is now 1.5 hours. Also, there were times after rainfall where a SUV or truck with four wheel drive couldn't make it all the way to the community. About halfway to San Francisco Libre we arrived to the newly bricked road and flew the rest of the journey. Eventually, in the next 3 years or so, the entire road will be paved leading to the main road connected to Managua. The Nicaraguan government is trying to improve many roads throughout the country and possibly one day it will no longer take 20 hours to reach the opposite coast.

During the car ride to SFL, Nan gave us a little bit of the history about this community. Nan's organization, Women & Community Association Nicaragua, focuses on empowering women through many different programs and improving women's health. SFL houses one of Women & Communiy's offices and the association focuses on the entire municipality in the area surrounding SFL. In 1998, Hurricane Mitch devastated different parts of Nicaragua including SFL. Part of SFL went underwater and many people were strained, also the flooding lake caused SFL to become a temporary island, cutting off bridge access. People like Nan & Miguel helped bring food & resources to the community during this tragedy. Also, they worked with UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief) to receive funding for boats, gasoline, and generators. Then, several people spent each day searching for stranded people. Nan believes they rescued about 1,500 people in the area and some people has been stranded for about 7-9 days. Nan & Miguel helped with the rebuilding process as many people remained refugees for almost 2 months after the disaster.

Then, in 2010 the lake flooded once again due to increase in rainfall. The water flooded homes once again and new rivers were created by the change in water level. The lake's water level never fell back down and experts say it's going to stay at a high level from now on. The event we attended took place in a street right next to the new water level and this specific part is like a ghost town. Many houses and buildings near the water are abandoned and the water is filled with tree trunks jutting out in a row, marking where streets once laid. The government working with Women & Community decided to only rebuild houses on higher ground within the city. Women & Community's office is located on what seems the highest point in town. They bought a huge chunk of land which they will begin to sell off to businesses and provide new housing in the area. Now, most of the town is rebuilt in the "new" part of the town.

It was a wonderful day to spend with Nan & Miguel. Nan has served as a missionary in Nicaragua for almost 30 years. Her first experience with her late husband involved working with people on the war front. She sat and listened to families who lost loved ones in the war, attended many many funerals, and acted as a present of Christ during an extremely difficult time for Nicaraguans. She told us it caused her to grow up quickly and has had a huge impact on her life ever since. Her husband passed away her in Nicaragua when her two children were very young. She married Miguel some time afterward and between the two of them they have 5 grown children. Miguel grew up in a small island in Nicaragua and left home at about the age of 14. He is very handy and worked as a mechanic and he held numerous jobs working his way up within a Jeep company. He began elementary school at the age of 20 through a accelerating program. Eventually, he went to law school in the states and now works with Women & Community providing legal council to women and children.

I am blessed to work within the missionary community alongside two wonderful, humble people ushering God's kingdom and love to the here and now.

Sunday, November 11

"We are not bringing Christ to poor communities. He has been active in these communities since the creation of the world, sustaining them "by his powerful word" (Heb 1:3) Hence a significant part of working in poor communities involves discovering and appreciating what God has been doing there for a long time!
When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor and Yourself

Thursday, November 8

Hey Jesus, thanks for grace!

Hey Jesus, thanks for grace!

Is what Whitney Peters, otherwise known as me, wrote as her Facebook status yesterday. Living in Nicaragua, especially during my times living in more rural settings, my access to internet is not consistent. However; I think many times it's a blessing! Yesterday, when I finally did catch up on my FB news feed after the elections, all I could think is praise Jesus for GRACE. Whether people gloated over a win, "yelled" out in bitter anger or tried to argue through FB, it was ugly reading. God thank you for our undeserving grace when we forget our callings to extend that same grace, love and justice in all aspects of our lives. 

Through the BLAH, I found these two articles I really want to share:
Guess whose back?  Dun nuh nuh Back again. Whitney's back, tell a friend. (As I realize I have written in third person for the second time in this post, I want to apologize for being obnoxious. Only apologize, not change my writing. Another point, I just referenced an old Eminem song for those of you who may be confused.)

Yes, I am back in the big city of Managua. I left La Dalia with hesitancy and a longing to remain in the country side. My office had a little "la despedida," or literally the goodbye for me after my 5 weeks of learning and working in the La Dalia AMC office. It was also a mini birthday celebration for my co-worker Dina & I's birthdays. There was a short frosting fight between Dina and I. Also, I said by to what I now consider my Nicaraguan family. I left La Dalia with a longing to stay, yet with a small sense of joy knowing I will return to work with my first medical team in February. 

On my way back to Managua, I took a detour in Matagalpa to eat lunch with my friend Erich who works with the Mennonite Central Committee. I really like the city of Matagalpa. The weather is cooler. The city isn't huge, but it's also not teeny. The buildings, stores, and houses are built on rolling hills making the landscape at night filled with scattered lights. Little did I know it was actually Erich's birthday, so he offered for me to stay for the day and night. 

We first went to lunch at an awesome Italian restaurant with stove oven baked pizza. After eating "gallo pinto" (rice and beans) and tortillas for over a month, pizza was wonderful. I do love my gallo pinto, however; it was simply nice to have a break. Then, we sat on a stoop in front of a grocery store and people watched for a while. Later, we grabbed frappuccinos at this fancy coffee shop which is home to the fanciest bathroom in all of Nicaragua. We went to what Erich called "a monkey petting zoo" but I believe it's more like a mini zoo within a nice park, excluding the deadly playground equipment. Playgrounds here are most often metal, rickety, and pointy. They scare me a wee bit. The park has monkeys, crocodiles, rabbits, and random birds. Before arriving, Erich had told me sometimes the bigger monkeys take peoples hands and slam them against their cage, so I gained a sense of distrust for the monkeys. For the first time in my life I was afraid of a monkey. Therefore, we it came time for me to take a picture while holding a monkey's hand I think I'm almost crying in the picture. Not really, but almost. 

That evening Erich's host family threw a large birthday party for him. Complete with a family friend mariachi singer and a pinata. Erich danced with almost every lady present, we ate yummy pizza, and everyone had a turn at smacking the pinata including myself. Sure, I've had my fair share of pinata but they actually had a pulley system hooked up where they could move the pinata up and down and back and forth. It was a very entertaining thing to witness. Erich's host family allowed me to sleep in a spare room and once again I am witness to Nicaraguan hospitality. 

I arrived back in the city yesterday morning. It feels weird to be back. I have running water, electricity that doesn't give out, everything is really busy and noisy and I have a variety of foods. I know transitioning is going to be a continual part of my job and I will just learn to adjust and rely on my community and the Lord to help with the transitions.

Thursday, November 1

I believe it is impossible to feel unloved on your birthday ever since that one guy invented Facebook. A rewarding part of my mission experience thus far is the overwhelming support from others. I want to continue to say thank you for your support! You continuously surround me with the presence of Christ even from a distance.

Yesterday, I turned 24. I will admit as recent holidays approach I try to mentally prepare myself. "Okay, in training we talked about how these times can be really depressing and cause you to be homesick... Okay I am ready. Ya, I got this." Yes, I was a little nervous about my emotions during my day of birth, but I truly enjoy the day and felt very blessed. 

My day was actually very laid back and nothing flashy. I loved the fact I got to spend the day assisting with two workshops for two different communities about HPV, the PAP test, and how to correctly use a condom. My friend, Lauren from the Peace Corps, snuck in singing happy birthday to me during an interactive activity. I enjoyed the opportunity to spend the day educating others.

A common birthday tradition in Nicaragua is getting eggs thrown on your head. Luckily, no one decided this was actually a good idea for my birthday, people just teased me about it. 

My Nicaraguan family cooked a simple but extremely delicious chicken dinner, followed by some scrumptious birthday cake.

My birthday in Nicaragua was lovely!

Tuesday, October 30

“What you see and what you hear depends a great deal on where you are standing. It also depends on what sort of person you are.”
― C.S. Lewis, The Magician's Nephew

Monday, October 29

I helped and participated in an Intercambio or exchange of ideas between the youth volunteers with Accion Medica Cristiana and the Municipal for Development in Boaca, Nicaragua. The youth spent the day discussing ways to improve their communities and environments. It reminded me how much a miss working with young people.

Tuesday, October 23

We Were Created for Community

AMC's land bank project, or "Los Bancos de Tierras"  aims to support communities to work together in order to get out of poverty. The banks are large chunks of land purchased by AMC and people in the nearby community may apply to be a part of the land bank. There are socios and associados and each bank has about 8 socios and each socio helps "manage" 2 associados. Overtime, as a community, the participants work to pay AMC back for the land. The community works together to grow crops, take care of animals, take care of the community, and build a latrine for each family. Also, the participants are expected to aim at achieving certain tasks/goals for example own two different types of animals (chickens, pigs, etc.), maintain certain crops, provided three meals for their household each day, volunteer each month on a bank, etc. I spent this past week working on and visiting the different land banks. Miquel and Francisco I am attempting to explain the land banks as much as I can using what I learned and experienced this week. There are 4 land banks.
1. San Benito (Esperanza)
2. Progreso
3. Nueva Jerusalem
4. La Bendicion           

1. San Benito (Esperanza)
The very first day I arrived to this area for my first time in August, we went straight away to the corn festival at San Benito and the place was filled with the families from the community. When I went this past week, the only other people present besides Francisco and I were Dona Zayda and three of her kids. Each land bank usually has a woman who is the main person in charge of managing the kitchen. If people are visiting or meeting at the land bank, usually AMC will provide a meal, which is then cooked by Dona Zayda. San Benito is located close to the rocky road passing besides the land and a large gate welcomes visitors. Francisco and I zoomed up the steep entrance on the motorcycle and as we pulled up to the front porch Elir, Dona Zayda's 12-year-old son greeted us. This land bank has a small covered front porch, which leads to the kitchen and two rooms; one room for storage and a bedroom. There is small covered walkway between the kitchen and other rooms leading behind the structure. As you exit, the first building you can see the meeting space or a covered and fenced in space. There are two latrines located a little further away from both structures. In front of, behind, and next to the structures are many, many plants. There is everything from palm trees to papaya to cafe. Francisco and I spent the day planting palm trees, pear plants, Lora de India's and some sort of vines with flowers (I always think of Jumanji when dealing with vines). Franciso and Miquel are in charge of helping to maintain the crops and plants located on the main property of the land banks. The area is sometimes used to train associados about certain techniques or good locations to plant certain plants. Before leaving Elir and Francisco led me down the path through many cafe plants and down into the wooded areas. We followed this nature trail around the back of the property and Francisco explained many times monkeys can be spotted from the path, but to my great disappointment the monkeys were no where to be seen. Our good looks probably intimidated them.  However, right before we left, we could hear the howls from the monkeys carried to us by the wind. The sound is eerie.  Finally, San Benito is also the oldest land bank and is often used as an example for the other banks.

2. Progreso

In order to reach El Banco Progreso, we parked the truck at the top of a steep, rocky hill and walked for about 20 minutes through muddy and rocky paths. Miquel opened a wooden gate and across a large open pasture sat the auditorium for Progreso. As we walked across the muddy field, Miquel pointed out the lines formed in the grass. Many times the community or socios use the land to play baseball or other large games. The only structure sitting on this bank is an open, yet covered and fenced in area where meetings are housed. Chairs for meetings are fetched from a nearby house across the open field from the meeting space. When we finally arrived to the meeting area, about 20 men and women were gathered at the land bank. I had the chance to introduce myself and share that I know God is here in the country and working with these people. Then, each person gave me a brief introduction about themselves and how long they have been working on the land bank. After the meeting, Miquel had to take some phone calls so I kicked around a soccer ball with three other young guys in the large field as the sun set in the background.

3. Nueva Jerusalem
I would say Nueva Jerusalem is the poster bank for all the land banks.  This is simply because Nueva Jerusalem has some pretty neat features. All the banks are equally important and great, but Nueva Jerusalem is just so pretty. It's also usually where groups go, if they want to visit a land bank. Once again in order to reach the land bank you must take a bumpy road, which goes up and down several hills, has several curves and leads through two different rivers. Along the way barbed wire gates need moving in order to pass through the road. As the truck nears the land bank, plants, some with blooming flowers, line the road and the road begins heading downhill. Then the road turns into the running river and right away the gazebo with a leaf covered roof and the building housing the kitchen come into sight. There is space to park in-between a small tin roofed office and a fenced in area housing several goats.  The river is heard in the background and a small waterfall exists on the land bank by a short hike down the river. I spent the day with a small group of the socios and associados re-roofing the leaf covered gazebo. Roofs using leafs need to be replaced about every 4 years. We used large palm leaves from trees related to banana plants. It was a joy to work with a small group and joke around with everyone. At the end of the day, I also sat in on a meeting with Miquel. At one point, Miquel brought up the issue of money and how as a group they are accountable for paying back AMC. He also brought up the fact there has been tension in the group and how they can best work out issues and problems as a team. I got to see some more of the tough parts for the participants.

4. La Bendicion
La Bendicion is the youngest land bank, only two years old, and the farthest away. It takes about a 45 minute ride in a truck and then either an hour hike or horseback ride to the land bank.  Miquel, Francisco, and I rode horses to the land bank and one of the local young men, Jose Maria, accompanied us on foot. I acted quite confident about riding a horse but I had a slight moment of panic when I realized really the only other time I've ridden a horse was when I was in YMCA Princess and my dad was also on the horse... I remained confident; however, and thought I've seen enough movies and heard enough people talk about how to ride a horse it can't be too bad. I did survive, although I did talk aloud often and to my horse named Satan. Yes, Satan. He was wonderful, though. The trail was really rough for him the whole time, too, with lots of deep muddy and steep slopes. I felt sad for him and they also strapped spurs to my boots but I pretty much refused to actually use them. Once we arrived to the land bank we "parked" the horses in the shade and headed into the large building on the land. Two women were working in the kitchen and they welcomed us with large smiles and kisses. After resting for a little bit in the kitchen, I received a tour of the second floor with bedrooms and a porch with a breathtaking view of the landscape. Then I went with Francisco to take inventory of the local pharmacy. The pharmacy for this new community is in two cardboard boxes in Dona Francisca's humble house. As we walked to her house, Francisco explained to me many of the socios live together in very temporary homes since the bank is so new and many people have only been a part of the land bank for a few months. Dona Francisca's house is fairly small with large palms for a roof and plastic sacks acting as walls. She gladly welcomed us into her home and as Francisco and her worked on counting the medicines, I played and laughed with the kids present in her home. Later that afternoon, there was a meeting with updates on the land bank and I had the opportunity of meeting each of the participants. They are a humble community, yet there is hope growing as the land bank grows. We decided to walk back and give the horses a rest for the day.

After this week I am blown away by the power and beauty behind a community working together to live and prosper. Each land bank consists from anywhere to 24 families (Nueva Jerusalem) to 12 families (in La Bendicion). These groups of people work hard and the growth is small, yet significant. I believe we are called, as God's children, to constantly be within our communities and "live" with one another.  The land banks are a beautiful example of God's kingdom here on earth.

Monday, October 15

I think one of the most humbling things a person can experience involves another family opening up their home to you for a significant amount of time. As an intern at University Christian Church in Fort Worth, a wonderful family allowed me to live with them for an entire summer. When I moved to the Netherlands, the Vrenken family gladly welcomed me into their home during my 3 months in Holland.  And here I am now, in La Dalia, Nicaragua, living with an abuela for 5 weeks as I learn more about Acción Médica Cristiana's ministries in this area of the country. A home is a scared place and when willingly allowing an "outsider" to partake in the home's sacredness I think something wonderful takes place.

As you enter the small town of La Dalia, go pass the only gas station, turn on a street lined with small stores, which lead to the bus station, and there, stuck between the store fronts and kiosks you will find the small gate leading to my Nicaraguan abuela's house. As you walk in the gate there are a few concrete blocks leading over the mud and dirt to the front door. My abuela shares the small piece of land with the two other houses. The houses are owned by two of her children. I have my own room and share a large bathroom with the abuela's daughter and grandson, my Nicaraguan hermanito (little brother). Also, one of my co-workers from AMC, one of abuela's sons, lives with us as well. Now, I call him Tio (Uncle) Javier. I really feel at home here in La Dalia.

My favorite room is the kitchen. My abuela's ministry to others starts and ends everyday in the kitchen. It's the place I first met her. The first night I walked in and she immediately had me sit down as she served me hot beans, rice, and tortillas directly from the pan on the stove to my plate. There is a simply wooden table with two wooden stools, a small stovetop, a large concrete washing slab, and another large wooden table. Metal pans line two walls, small coffee cups hang from a row of pegs on the wall, and in the morning sunlight peeks through gaps in the brickwork behind the concrete slab providing some light to the dark kitchen. At different times, different family members or friends come and go from the kitchen and abuela is always ready to serve with love.

As for my time learning and observing the programs, employees, and ministry of AMC's Project Matagalpa, I've already participated in so many different programs and events. The second day after my arrival, I went with Margini to the small, rural community of Granadio. Margini every few months teaches a group of "enfermeras" from the community about new topics or issues regarding health. AMC equips women from the community, the enfermeras, to help their communities with health issues and provides continuing education throughout the year. Doctors and hospitals are not easily accessible in these communities, also they are expensive; therefore, AMC wants nurses in the communities for basic health needs.

Later in my first week, I took a microbus to the community of Coyolar where I met two "prometeras" for AMC. Prometeras are young volunteers who help AMC educate and communicate to people within their own communities.  In general, I appreciate how AMC uplifts the leadership of many young people. I went with the two young ladies to the local school. They brought a beautiful mural and taught the students about dental hygiene. Dental hygiene is a big health problem for many of the communities here in the Department of Matagalpa. My favorite part, and something I actually led, involved singing a song about using a toothbrush. After teaching three different classes, I had the blessing of going with Xochil to eat lunch at her grandma's house. We sat a large kitchen with chickens and dogs sharing the space with us at different times; however, this occurrence is becoming quite normal for me while living in Nicaragua. The family makes tortillas twice the size of my head and I received a refreshing fresh fruit juice. I ate with this beautiful family and reflected on the dental hygiene program. What a simple, yet important and impactful program. Also, I love that AMC empowers young people from the actual communities to help make positive impacts.

During my second week, I went with part of the team out to the community of La Cieba. Violeta taught a two-day workshop talking about the demographics of the community and climate change. Volunteers from the community participated in the workshop and Violeta actively involved the community’s insight and opinions. Each day we served lunch to the participants. The meeting took place in the community's school and the local kids were so curious about the workshop and new people visiting the community. Some kids chose to sit in the back of the classroom and simply watch what was happening while others stood in the doorway or peeked through the windows. For a good length of time the children sat quietly and observed. It was neat thing to witness, considering the fact most kids in the United States will whine and cry if they have to sit still in a grown up meeting. Also, there are two little girls who are actually apart of the volunteer group in La Cieba and at different times Violeta would direct questions towards the little girls. Once again, I witnessed AMC bringing a community together to help their own community.

In the afternoon, after the second day of the workshop, we headed back to the AMC office where we assisted the rest of the office with preparing for the Forum, which was to take place the next day. People made copies, stapled papers, stuffed folders, and worked till about eight that night to finish up preparing for the big event. The next day the team loaded two trucks with tons of supplies and rented tables and chairs for the event. There were banners, posters, fancy tablecloths, and the AMC tent. The event took place in an outdoor auditorium at a local hotel in La Dalia. I got to help behind the secnes and see how hard the AMC team and volunteers worked to put together this forum. The Forum was aimed at the larger community of La Dalia and Matagalpa. Pastors, community leaders, and other people interested in learning about the predicted climate change for the world and for this area in Nicaragua. A little over 100 people participated and the audience was able to ask questions to a group of 3 AMC employees and 1 local pastor. Then, after each presenter shared and answered questions the participants formed small groups in order to write out actions they promise to fulfill after the forum.  There were groups for each community's pastors, CAPS leaders or people who work to help communities have safe water, young adults, people from different communities and a miscellaneous group.  A person from each group shared their intended promises. The paticipants seemed to really gain something from the forum as seen in their strong desires to actually do something with their new information. Overall, I think the Forum on Climate Change went really well and I commend AMC for the hard work spent on preparing and organizing this event.

As I adventure and learn with the AMC team in La Dalia, I carry your support and spirit with me.

Dios te bendiga!

Thursday, October 4

Spent the day in the La Dalia office today. Tranquilo day but I got a lot of STUFF done. Margini made a beautiful sign for the dental hygiene workshops for kids. Tomorrow, I'm going to observe one of the workshops. I practiced new dental vocabulary in Spanish.

Tuesday, October 2

5 Weeks in La Dalia



Today I leave for La Dalia! 

It's the same city I visited during the corn festival and my short trip to el campo. I will am going in order to learn more about the Accion Medica Cristiana project in Matagalpa. You can check out some past photos here. 

I'm excited for the cooler weather due to the higher altitude and meeting an entirely new community. It's crazy to think I will be away from Mangua about the same time I've been here. Leaving the busy, dirty city life also gets my blood pumping, because I LOVE nature and open space. I challenged myself, during training in NYC, to seek God in the happening city life and I know there is beauty within a city... However, hearing about these moments before my arrival made me the most excited about my time in Nicaragua.

The reason I'm living in La Dalia for 5 weeks is so I can be totally immersed into the program and therefore be able to better communicate and share with future brigadas who visit Nicaragua. When medical teams or volunteer groups arrive to Nicaragua, they spend a day or two, at most, in Managua, going through orientation. Then, the groups stay and work within the El Tuma & La Dalia area. My role is to act somewhat as a cultural bridge for the groups and act more as an expert on Project Matagalpa.

I'm leaving with open arms, open ears, an open mind, patience, and flexibilty. Also, I pray for a sense of awe and wonder.

Monday, September 24

Last week, I experienced many what I would call "identity questioning or identity challenging" moments..... Also, I got to go salsa dancing!

Situations/conversations which got me thinking/praying this past week:

1. Listening once again to the history of Nicaragua and the United States ugly role in much of the past injustices and violence.

2. Sitting in a meeting with representatives from UMCOR who are traveling around Central America learning from organizations and asking the best ways for the Methodist church to be most helpful. One of the major responses from AMC is "TRUST US".

3. Meeting a new friend who worked with Doctors without Borders and traveled to some of the most impoverished and war stricken areas in the world.

4. Meeting a local Nicaraguan who  one day when studying in New Orleans was almost deported and publicly humiliated simply because he had on a Nicaraguan shirt and looks Nicaraguan.

5. Hearing a Nicaraguan friend's perspective on all the missionaries who visit this country. He mentioned many times they come wanting to help but then still live rich separate lives.

6. Reading about how Texas and TCU are doing well in football and I am considering what this means for my liking and respecting University of Texas.

I will go into more details later this week. As I am being challenged, I still feel happy, blessed and humbled to be here.

Dios te bendiga!

Thank you for your continued support, mis amigos!


Friday, September 14

I've been busy with school this week. Yesterday, I celebrated my "roommates" birthday with her. Alysha is also a missionary taking classes for about 6 months before she begins teaching in an international school. Tomorrow is 1 out of 3 independence days celebrated by Nicaragua. I am spending today relaxing and studying a little bit of Spanish.

Earlier today I stumbled upon the fact that one of my favorite bands, The Avett Brothers, just dropped a new album. As I sampled the songs on iTunes, a few lyrics from this song jumped out at me. I decided to search for the rest of the lyrics. Here is the song:

The Once and Future Carpenter
The Avett Brothers

I ain't from Texas, but I made my way from Dallas
And I know the lonesome sound is following
I ain't a gambler, but I can recognize a hand
And when to hold, when the queens are staring back at me
Once I was a carpenter, man my hands were calloused
I could swing a metal mallet sure and straight
But I took to the highway, a poet young and hungry
And I left the timbers where they lay

Forever I will move like the world that turns beneath me
And when I lose my direction I'll look up to the sky
And when the black cloak drags upon the ground
I'll be ready to surrender, and remember
Well we're all in this together
If I live the life I'm given, I wont be scared to die

And I don't come from Detroit, but her diesel motors pull me
And I followed till I finally lost my way
And now I spend my days in search of a woman we called purpose
And if I ever pass back through her town I'll stay

Forever I will move like the world that turns beneath me
And when I lose my direction I'll look up to the sky
And when the black dress drags upon the ground
I'll be ready to surrender, and remember
Well we're all in this together
If I live the life I'm given, I won't be scared to die

And my life is but a coin, pulled from an empty pocket
Dropped into a slot with dreams of sevens close behind
And hope and fear go with it, and moon and the sun go spinning
Like the numbers and fruits before my eyes
Sometimes I hit, sometimes it robs me blind
Sometimes I hit, sometimes it robs me blind

Forever I will move like the world that turns beneath me
And when I lose my direction I'll look up to the sky
And when the black cloak drags upon the ground
I'll be ready to surrender, and remember
Well we're all in this together
If I live the life I'm given, I won't be scared to die


Monday, September 10

Just Be

When we over schedule ourselves in the belief that we can do everything, we stop being human and try to be godlike- not only impossible but also incredibly arrogant. Most of us are living at a pace that is not only unsustainable; it's also unbiblical. 

You have enough time to do everything God wants you to do. 

When something small loudly demands all our attention, its noise often drowns out the whisper of what's enormously important. 

-Weird: Because Normal Isn't Working by Craig Groseschel 

Sitting around a simple, green, plastic table draped with a tablecloth adorned with pictures of reindeer and an elf-like character; resides two of my missionary friends, Nicaraguan grandparents and me. For at least two hours we sat, ate, laughed, watched Alex's chicken named "Capitan: Whachew mean?" run around the yard, and simply enjoyed each others company. In Nicaragua, I never set my phone on the table awaiting for it to light up and I find myself worrying less about things I "need" to do. I sat and actually felt fully present with all of these beautiful people and got to discover more about the lives of these two older Nicaraguans who live in the cooler climate of San Marcos.

Whilst training for my Mission Intern ministry, we often discussed the ministry of presence and how many times the most powerful gift you can give to someone is simply being. We mentioned the difference between "doing for" and "being with". It makes me reflect on how many times in my life I strive to do for others. Fix things. Give MY talents. Do stuff. Stay busy. When perhaps, as Groseschel writes, I am trying to be "godlike".

I am living in Managua, Nicaragua. 2,250 miles away from my family (Yes, I am boss on Google Maps). Following a call to ministry abroad. And yet God is curently calling me to BE. To be patient. To seek the small moments. To seek ministry in the simple. To be with others. As a person who LOVES to be busy and LIVES like a crazy person, this is scary to me but for now I've felt the blessings that come with this calling. As time proceeds, I meet more people and find more things to do, I hope I remember the importance of not filling my life with DOING but instead remember to BE.


Thursday, September 6

Whirlwind Week

As I sit down to write this blog post and I reflect on last week, I feel completely overwhelmed. This feeling may also be due to the fact I spent 8 hours today in Spanish class. Class has begun! However, I think I mainly feel overwhelmed in a positive way because of all the things I participated in last week. I received a taste of my experiences to come during my 5 weeks of learning and training in Accion Medica's Mataglapa area. Then on Saturday, treated myself to a day of surfing en la playa de Pochomil.

On Wednesday, Alex and I jumped on a bus from Managua to Matagalpa. Then, we traveled from Matagalpa to La Tuma. In La Tuma, Don Jorge, one of the drivers for AMC, picked us up at a local tiendra where we awaited his arrival. From La Tuma we went straight to the San Benito Land Banks where a corn festival took place on some bumpy roads. I will explain the roads more in depth later. It was quite the day of traveling! However, during this long commute I saw beautiful sites and witnessed many new cultural differences between Nicaragua and my own country. For example, I discovered many people, mainly boys in their youth, use the buses as a means to make money. As the buses speed up and down the mountains, well mainly down because they struggle to go up the giant hills, different boys literally hop on to the bus carrying a bucket of different foods and drinks to sell. They stay on the bus for a little while squeezing their way through the small aisles, many times filled with extra people who overflowed into standing in the aisles, with their large buckets or baskets. Then, when they sell out or people are no longer interested the boys or people quickly exit the bus at a different stop.

Corn Festival at San Benito Land Bank
Once we arrived to the corn festival at the San Benito Land Banks, all the families from the entire community, all the families who own land banks or "associates" who help with the crops and animals were gathered at this place with a small building for storage and a kitchen. A small covered structure also existed which I assumed were for workshops, meetings, and different gatherings such as the corn festival. Accion Medica Cristiana purchases large chunks of land and allows people to apply for about 5 acres of land in order to grow organic crops. The families slowly pay for the "land banks" over time with no interest. The reason the area is called a bank is because the money goes into a "bank" which in turn allows the program to continue helping others as well. 

Esperanaza is another name given to this particular land bank. The different sections represent the areas owned by different families and/or people.

We arrived right before the service began in which everyone honored and praised God for not only the abundance of corn but also the many other crops grown in the land bank. How miraculous it is that food, which provides economic and health stability for all the families simply grows straight up out of the ground. Some of you who grew up around farms may laugh at this obvious fact and I knew where my vegetables and fruit came from before. However, to participate in a worship directly thanking the Lord for the crops, while many vegetables, still dusted with dirt, covered the table up front and hung from the ceiling as celebratory decorations is a powerful experience. It is indeed miraculous! Which when already aware of the negative aspects of processed, inorganic foods, adds another level of almost sadness and concern that we as people "hurt" and "ruin" what God places right before us; ready to eat. After singing, praying, and celebrating, corn was served prepared in many different ways. Atol- pudding made out of corn; guirila- similar to a tortilla with more corn and thicker than a tortilla; tamales; and corn on the cob covered my plate. After eating I had the chance to giggle with some of the little girls and have short conversations with them. They were so curious as to who I was and simply giggled and stared at me. Later, I got to follow a young gentleman out to the fields and witness how to gather yucca. I stood next to a tree and all of a sudden the young man yanked the tree over and began chopping around the roots of the tree with a giant machete. The yucca grows as the roots or at the roots. I'm unsure of the specifics at the moment. Totally fascinating! I hope I get to use a giant machete in the near future. :)

Overall, the corn festival allowed me to taste many new and different Nicaraguan foods, gave me a glimpse at the different things I will be learning, and made me smile as I felt the spirit of the Lord move through all the children and families in the San Benito community. 

The first night Alex & I stayed in town and decided to attend Sandra's church. Sandra is one of the women who works for the AMC office in La Dalia.  The tiny church is perched right next to a main road in town and we spent about 2.5 hours worshipping in the small wooden structure.  Although the congregation & building are small, the heart of this church is LARGE. I'm still astounded they worship about 4 days out of the week. What?!

The next day we once again traveled outside of town to Santa Luce, which is where the sleeping quarters are for groups/teams that help out at AMC.  The dorms/kitchen/meeting room/offices are located right next to a coffee plantation and it is located at quite a distance in one of the mountains. Beautiful! My favorite part of the site is the large porch, which spans the front of the property.  All the AMC staff in the area gathered for a workshop on interviews. Part of everyone's job, at times, involves interviewing and documenting the different life stories surrounding the work of AMC. Bethany & Estefan, two outside parties- I currently cannot recall the organization Bethany works with, led the staff in the workshop and suggested a format for phrasing questions. Ultimately, we want to narrow down on the greatest change that has occurred in the interviewees life after participating in an AMC workshop, receiving a land bank, receiving medical care, etc. I think it was neat to meet in the location where I will be staying with future teams.

The last day we headed to another land bank, New Jerusalem, where our two separate interview groups met with two different men. The trip from Santa Luce to New Jerusalem allowed me to understand why AMC goes through trucks about every 3 years. Everyone piled either into the front cab or stood/sat in the back of the truck as we traveled through the rocky, bumpy roads. At times we had to come to s complete stop before driving over a large rock and at different occasions we drove through rivers. The first day I arrived and we drove to the corn festival I proclaimed, "that was fun!", however; as the journeys continued the journey itself was still fun and adventurous, but the ride became tiring and almost nauseating. 

Don Orlando is the man my group interviews. He has a big, warm smile and he radiates the fact he enjoys life. Orlando applied for a land bank in New Jerusalem and received land about three years ago. The biggest change for him was receiving the land and being able to work for himself instead of being, the word he used, a "slave" for a wealthy plantation owner.  Now he has food and some prosperity. Orlando also mentioned enjoying the different workshops hosted by AMC and also workshops by the government on water. I'm grateful Orlando was willing to share his story and I think my interview team did a marvelous job of honoring Orlando and capturing his story.

I had an amazing time in the Matagalpa area and am excited to spend 5 weeks learning from the staff in La Dalia and learning from the different people I will encounter during my time beginning at the end of September.

Michelle, Alex and I concluded the weekend by renting surfboards in Pochomill- a small beach town.  The waves were pretty rough with strong undertow, but it was super fun to learn and try to improve my surfing skills.

Thanks for all your care and support!

I almost forgot! At the New Jerusalem Land Bank, we went on a hike to this gorgeous waterfall....