Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Viva Nica '10!

So Nicaragua was AMAZING :) I am so grateful for all of the prayers and support that enabled me to even be a part of this trip. It was such an incredible week! This post might be ridiculously long...but I LOVE talking about my experience in Nicaragua and want to have a record of the trip anyway. And I unfortunately did not take a single picture the whole trip, but our team photographer Clint Brewer is really gifted and got some incredible photos of the week. So most of the pictures you see are his.

It's really hard to put into words all that the Lord taught me while I was there; I am still processing a lot of things. I just felt so blessed to be a part of the trip to begin with- to be a part of the ministries for the week and have the opportunity to serve with the missionaries from our 20s group and those that we met throughout the week. And just being able to spend time loving on the kids was a joy to my heart. Being able to laugh and play with them and share Christ's love was a really humbling opportunity.

I was frustrated at the beginning of the week because of the language barrier. I was disappointed in my severe lack of Spanish-speaking skills, but God still chose to use me despite my shortcomings. Mostly I was just upset with myself for not being more disciplined in remembering/practicing my Spanish skills. Señora Portillo would be so disappointed…But the Lord really worked on my heart early in the week to essentially get over myself- haha- and just focus on Him and the tasks He set before me- language barrier or not.

We spent the first day helping the One by One staff host a summer camp for kids. We were able to play Luz Rojo/Luz Verde (Red Light/Green Light), Tiburónes y Pescaditos (Sharks and Minnows), Pato, Pato, Ganso (Duck, Duck, Goose), and other fun games. We sang songs (some of which I actually remembered from my mission trips to Mexico way back in middle school!), had a craft time (courtesy of the lovely and talented Kelsey Jensen), and just had fun playing with the kids for the day.

The second day we spent as our rest day as a team. I know it seems too early in the week for that- we had just arrived! But we were trying to work around the missionary schedules so that they all could be a part of a day of rest. We spent the day at the beach, which was really fun despite the fact it rained the whole time. We hung out under the cabana, played Mexican Train, ate a yummy lunch (I ate a fish that still had its head- haha), and some ventured out into the rain to boogey board and ride horses. It was fun to hang out with the Russells and our 2 translators- Kathy and Gerson. They were with us the whole week, so it was a great opportunity to get to know them and see how the Lord is going to use them for His glory in their own country.

We spent the next couple of days at House of Hope, which is essentially a refuge home for women and young girls who have been victims of human trafficking and prostitution. House of Hope not only goes into the brothels to get girls out of desperate situations, but it provides a safe place to live, food, an education, and training to find an alternate source of income through jewelry- or card-making or sometimes a microgrant to start a tortilla or fruit business. They offer Bible studies and classes on sexual trauma, and more than that, they share the love of Christ and hope. They have such an incredible ministry, and I feel so blessed to have been a part of it and help even in a tiny way.

While we were there, we did some work projects. Their ministry is growing, so they need to extend their dining hall. So I helped work on the project for that. For 2 days, we installed rebar and mixed/poured cement. Another group worked on building a cover for their trash pit, and I was able to help paint lacquer on it to finish the project. It was hard work, but definitely a blessing to be able to help them with their project.

While we were hard at work most of the time we were there, we still had moments where we could steal away for a break and play/talk with some of the kids. I was really blessed by a little boy named Dilan who thought sunglasses were the coolest thing. Whenever I could, I would sit with him and let him play with my glasses and attempt to talk with him in my broken 5-year-old Spanish. It was a good thing he was only 5 :) I definitely wanted to bring this little boy home with me haha. I will try to find a picture of me and him to post later.

At lunch, we were able to hear some of the testimonies from the girls living at House of Hope. I can't even describe in words the stories we heard of these sweet ones. Just to hear of the evil that lives and breathes in this world made my skin crawl. And my heart just broke as girls told their stories. One girl was kidnapped from her home and forced into the trade; another was told to begin prostituting herself because she needed to help feed her brother; yet another was being sexually abused by her mother's boyfriend- and when she finally had the courage to tell her sister about what was happening, her sister sold her into the trade; and another was found chained up. A lot of times, these women/girls feel as though they have no other choice but to prostitute themselves just so they can feed their families.

Although child prostitution is technically illegal in Nicaragua, there is still a high demand for it. The "legal" age is 18, but it really translates to about 15. And the system is so corrupt- police and important heads of state are often the best customers. Even typing this information out makes the anger well up inside. The founder/director of House of Hope, April, mentioned how groups come through all the time and look around to see how young the girls are and think "surely not that one." And yet the heartbreaking reality is that they wouldn't be there at House of Hope if it were not the case. The youngest living there is 7. Again, the reality of sin and evil hit me in a new way while I was there. To look into their sweet eyes and think about the horrific things they have experienced...my heart literally ached. But to know that the love and power of the Savior I follow and serve can heal those wounds and still provide abundant life and hope in such immense darkness is completely overwhelming.

On a little lighter note, that evening we were able to spend with the Russells at their home. It was Kristina's birthday, so it was fun to celebrate with her with cake and a game of Catch Phrase. I was incredibly blessed to spend time with all of the Russells- David, Kristina, and little Beckett, and Chase and Julie. I wish I could have spent more time getting to know them while I was in Nicaragua, so I am excited that they will be here in the states for the next few weeks. Here is the group with the Russells!

On Friday, we visited La Chureca- the city dump. I am not even sure I can describe what that was like. We started driving in, but the mud/muck was too thick for our van, so we had to hop out and get into a different vehicle. When we got out of our van, we were hit with a wall of stench that I can't describe in words. The absolute worst thing I have smelled in my life; it literally burned my lungs to breathe. And it's not the kind of smell that you would get used to after awhile. As we drove through the dump, there was just mounds of trash as far as the eye could see. Those who had been on the trip last year said that it looked better and was improved in a year's time; from what I was seeing, it was hard to imagine that things were better. Buzzards filled the sky, and all around adults and children were digging through the trash looking for things to salvage, eat, or recycle. Families are drawn to live here because of extreme poverty and lack of employment in Nicaragua.

From our way of thinking, it's hard to imagine people living in a dump. But it's not an unreasonable option for them, considering that it's what they feel they have to do to feed their families. Along with the filth of La Chureca there is a strong presence of drugs, glue sniffing, alcohol abuse, and prostitution. It is such a picture of the utter helplessness and darkest depths of despair of humanity. And in the midst of this dark world there is a sliver of light- of hope- that exists inside La Chureca: a school that provides food and schooling to the children who live there. This school is run through a ministry called Open Hearts. It operates like any other school, with bells and class and recess and a principal who wears dress pants and heels.

At this point in the trip, I had already begun to get sick, so this day was really difficult for me, even aside from what I was seeing and smelling. While we were visiting the school, I was literally willing myself and desperately praying that the Lord would prevent me from vomiting (haha- sorry for the gross details). But I share that with you because, while my stomach hated me at that time, it was the most memorable moment for me on the trip. The Lord answered my prayer and allowed me to sit and hold and love on a little girl named Maria. It was only a short time, but she grabbed my hand the moment I walked into the school and just wanted to be hugged. And despite where she lived, she was all smiles. I again attempted to talk in my broken Spanish, and I was completely blessed and broken in that moment with her. Nothing else mattered at that point. And while I eventually got worse over the next couple of days, I can say that that one moment was worth being sick; meaning, if it meant me getting sick to have that moment, I absolutely praise the Lord for it. It was so hard to leave that sweet face, and I know that I will never forget it or the experience of La Chureca. It's impossible to walk away from that unaffected or unchanged. It's been really difficult to come home and go back to "normal" or life as I have known it. That's a part of what I am still processing.

Saturday I was really sick, so I was unable to join the team as they went to the Camino de Vida kids program that One by One does every week. I was really bummed I couldn't be a part of it. I was able to venture out and attend the youth program later that evening, which I was really grateful for. I was able to see and say good-bye to some of the House of Hope girls that we had spent time with throughout the week, and I got to hear my friend Laura give her testimony in Spanish. While being sick was not exactly how I had planned the trip to end, the Lord was incredibly good to provide in so many ways. It's hard to understand the purpose in getting sick, but the entire week was an incredible blessing from the Lord, and I wouldn't trade any part of it.

I am just so grateful I could be a part of this trip and serve. Being able to go to another country to share Christ's love is just different from doing that here. I was blown away by all of the stories I heard this week...it made a lot of things in my life seem so trivial, just hearing and seeing the sufferings of others. My heart was broken a little each day as I witnessed the poverty, heard the stories of the girls at House of Hope, and just learned more of the things that are on the heart of God. Definitely humbling and convicting as I examined my own heart to see if they matched with the Lord's. It was such an encouragement and blessing for me to see each of the One By One and House of Hope staff serving in the places that God has obviously called them to serve. And it is such a challenge to me of how much they have each been willing to sacrifice in order to follow God's leading and share the gospel in Nicaragua. I feel as though the Lord is working in my heart, trying to reveal the things that I would be willing to do for Him. It's a little scary and humbling, but I am confident that the Lord will continue working on my heart as I seek to follow His leading in my own life. I think I have more questions than answers now on what that actually looks like, but He's working...

Viva Nica ;)


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