Thursday, August 21, 2014

Nicaragua 2014: New Jerusalem

While we were out in the village of El Tuma (really, somewhere in the mountains near El Tuma) we got to visit Banco Tierra Nuevo Jerusalem (the New Jerusalem Land Bank).

New Jerusalem is a Land Bank sponsored by Acción Medica Cristiana or AMC (Christian Medical Action in English) that lends land to Nicaraguans in hope that they will be able to live with their families and use their fair wages to pay off the land.  Farmers in Nicaragua have to work on a farms that are owned by someone else, and they get payed a very little wage. They must live in a very small home that is far from the farm. The difference between the wealthy land owners, and the poor farmers is very vast in Nicaragua. There is no middle class here.  The land bank gives the farmers and their families the chance to live together, rather than apart. Also, they get to live in their own home, on their own land! This is something that is revolutionary in the country of Nicaragua. 

To understand more, please read about AMC, New Jerusalem and the main farmer Julio here:

New Jerusalem started with 15 families and now services 72 families! It has about 120-130 acres of land (about 5/6 acres per family) spread over 4 farms. The hope is that when people eventually pay back their land, they can buy more. People used to plant just coffee, now it is very diverse. The farmers now also grow coconuts, bananas, cocoa, avocados, plantains, and mangos, as well as sugar cane, corn and a few small tomato and pepper plants. New Jerusalem really focuses on being good stewardships of the land that God has given them. 

A few years ago there became a great need for the children in the Land bank to have a school. They were having to travel long distances in the mountains (by foot of course) to go to school each day, this was especially dangerous in the rainy season, as they needed to cross two rivers (with no bridges) to get there. So AMC decided to sponsor the building of a school building there in the land bank. 

We got to visit this school and speak with the teachers (2 for 68 students grades k-6). We got to hear about their journey to work every day, and their struggle to teach with no resources. (No electricity, no books, very little supplies.) 
This is their 2 room school building. 

We handed out toy cars to the children there. It was all we had left after visiting NCA. I wish we could have given them more. They have a huge need for books and regular school supplies like paper and crayons. 

If you would like to read more about Chrisian Medical Action's work with the school building follow this link:

While we were there we got to assist the farmers with installing water pipelines. They had dug a trench, and we helped lay pipe and cover it up. 

It was difficult because it was so hot out, and the dirt there was pure red, heavy clay! 

After the day's work we had a chance to sit down with the farmers and talk. 

One of them said, 
"We are thankful you came today. It was good working with you today. The work that you did today motivated us to work as well. It is good to work together on God's gifts. It was a great pleasure to have you all here. On behalf of 24 families, thank you, and you are welcome to come any time. "

These are the farmers who were there that day and worked with us. We talked with them and finished by asking how we could pray for them, and then prayed together. 

These are the payer requests from the members of the land bank: 
I want to pay for my land
I want to be a successful man
I pray for health for my family. 
I want to be successful in paying off my land. 
Pray for health in our community. 
Pray for the spiritual health of our community, that they would come to church. 
Pray for God's blessings in our lives. 
Pray for harmony in our families. 

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Nicaragua 2014: El Tuma

On Thursday morning we packed up our backpacks, and loaded up into our two trucks and one jeep for a one night stay in El Tuma. 

Before we left Matagalpa, we stopped at "the lookout". This basically a platform at the top of a mountain over looking the beautiful city of Matagalpa. 

This "small" city is home to around a half a million people. Yet, the community is very tight. I was sad to say goodbye to the city we had been a part of for 3 days. It was such a blessing to us, and will forever be in my heart. 

After taking some photos, we departed for El Tuma. We had to drive through the mountains for about an hour and a half to get there.  The mountains were breath taking. They were filled with jungle plant life and beautiful views.  

One of Nicaragua's major crops is coffee. The shade provided by the jungle trees makes these mountainsides the perfect place to grow coffee. We also saw many banana trees, coconut trees, sugar cane, rice and corn. 

These are coffee plants growing in the shade. 

Here is a cocoa plant from our front yard. 

Our favorite part of El Tuma was riding around the mountains in the truck beds. 

We would stand up and hold on to the roll cage. It was kind of like waterskiing in that your legs absorbed all the shock and bumps. It was much more comfortable than all cramming in the cab of the truck! 

And you couldn't beat the views!!

We stayed the night in a plantation community. 

Here is our street. 

This was the house we stayed in. 

The guys play euchre every night. 

We slept under the protection of mosquito nets. :-) 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Nicaragua 2014: NCA Matagalpa

We made it safely to Matagulpa!! We stopped by NCA yesterday to meet Carey and deliver all of the supplies we brought. It was fun to finally be there. 

NCA Matagulpa is located in the mountains. It is beautiful here. 

This is Carey, the school's director. She was very gracious to us in spending time explaining the school and what we would be doing thee for the next few days. 

The last group from river rock worked on digging the holes to lay the foundation for three new classrooms. This is a picture of where they are at now! They are building the walls!! So cool to see progress! 

We brought lots of suitcases full of supplies to the school. Also, we brought a very coveted set of whiteboards.  These are great tools for any classroom and will be checked out constantly by the teachers! 

We also brought Mackenzie and Kai (children of Annette, a kindergarten teacher here) some new shoes! 

We got to spend the afternoon at NCA: Matagulpa so we got to work right away. 

Ralf and Gina got to clear a parking lot with Machetes! 

Tab, Meredith, Justin and Bobby got to haul bricks down a very steep hill to the construction site! 

And of course, we beat the locals in a friendly game of fútbol during lunch recess!

Nicaragua 2014: Multiple Gifts

Tuesday Aug. 5: Today was an awesome day. We got to spend the entire school day at NCA Matagalpa. We split our team into two groups, one more concentrated on teaching, and one more concentrated on manual labor/work. It was very evident that God used each of our individual skills in great ways today. 

The work group (Ralph, Bobby, Meredith, Gina and Tab) spent all day outside in the hot sun. Their main job was to clear the top of the hill of branches, bricks, grass and rocks to make a large parking lot for the school. NCA is hosting a school festival next week, and the whole town is invited, so they will need as much parking as possible! While clearing the space the group found many treasures, including geckos, scorpions, and a tarantula! 

While working in the parking lot many people passed by the group. The father and sister of the school receptionist stopped by and talked with Ralph about the work they were doing. They were so appreciative of our time and willingness to work. 

Bobby got to work closely with the grounds keeper at the school, Mario. Mario speaks only spanish, yet, through interpreters, they were able to work well together and accomplish a lot, work that would have taken Mario weeks to accomplish alone.

This group also got the chance to join in on some PE classes and play dodgeball with the students. In the afternoon Bobby, Justin, Barb and Will (VanZoest) also helped clear rocks from the school's new soccer field. NCA is hosting a soccer tournament in a couple weeks, and so they need to clear the field of the large rocks to make it safer. During this time Mario needed help with moving one more large pile of bricks. Tab and Ralph were elected for the task. Feeling very exhausted, Tab was very worried about finding the strength to keep going. But, after a prayer asking for God's strength, Tab was able to take 20 more loads of bricks down the hill with the wheelbarrow! (And he has the sunburn to prove it) 

During lunch time all of us got the chance to hang out with students and staff to develop relationships. We of course, played more soccer (gringos win again!) and held many conversations with people one on one. It was great for us to practice our Spanish, and the students to practice their English! Meredith got to have a great conversation with a woman named Noxie. Her mother is one of the lunch ladies at the school, and Noxie was in Matagalpa on vacation. Noxie and Meredith are now facebook friends. Gina got to teach the younger students how to jump rope during lunch as well. 

The teacher group split up and had many tasks today. Barb spent most of the day meeting with teachers who had signed up for prayer. She reviewed the prayer requests teachers had given to the River Rock group that came down earlier in the summer, updating the Prayer Journal we have. She worked closely with Alma to translate and pray with staff. The staff was so happy to feel supported in this way. It was obvious that this was a huge blessing to them. 

Gordon got to meet with the administrative team for NCA:Matagalpa over lunch. They had some great conversations about vision for the school, and organizational structures that the school could use to move forward. Gordon really felt like God have him clarity on how to share his passion for professional learning teams, and Christian schools. He also spent a lot of time talking with Dan VanZoest about NCA as a whole. 

Shea, Andrea and I got to pop in and out of lots of classrooms today to observe and help in any way possible. Shea spent most of the day in first grade with Professora Suyapa. She had some wonderful conversations. With her about how to manage her classroom. But Shea's highlight of the day was during English class, where the teacher asked Shea to read a story with the kids! They loved it and were acting it out as she went. 

Andrea got to spend some time with the second grade teacher Prof. David. She was able to give him various tools he could implement with a few students of his that are particularly hyperactive. Before the conversation David seemed very flustered and at a loss of what to do, but by the end, Andrea was encouraged to see the peace that filled his face. 

I got to spend most of the day in Kindergarten with Professora Annette. It was so fun to practice letter names and sounds with them, as well as assist during English class! I also got a chance to work with some first graders on double digit subtraction with regrouping. Talk about a challenge with a language barrier! #spanglish. 

At the end of the school day Andrea and I met with a group of middle school teachers who had some concerns with a couple students with learning disabilities, particularly in math. We got to encourage them by giving them some strategies to use in the class to help include and encourage those students. We also got to pray with these teachers for patience and strength for them and their students. It was a very emotional and beneficial conversation. It was great to see God use Andrea and I's love for math and students with disabilities. 

After school Gina joined the track practice with the 2nd grade. They are training for a 2k coming up in a couple weeks. This presented Gina with an opportunity to talk with and encourage two of the girls in the class. Gina felt blessed to be able to lift the spirits if the girls. 

It is clear God brought all of us together for the differences we have in our gifts and talents, but commonalities we have in our goal to live for Christ. 

Monday, August 4, 2014

Nicaragua 2014: to Matagalpa!

We are about to leave our guest house in the capital city of Managua and head out for a 3 hour drive to the mountains. We are going to one of the Spanish speaking schools called NCA Matagalpa. We will be staying out there for the next three days. 

We brought a ton of supplies for this school and we have all of our personal supplies. So we had to load all our suitcases atop our bus! 

Prayer requests: 

1) that we make it to Matagalpa safely

2) pray for the team as we do not yet completely know what we will be doing in the school there. 

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Nicaragua 2014: La Playa

After church we loaded up in our van and took an hour ride to the west. After passing a Volcano, road construction and lots of sugar cane fields, we arrived at the Pacific Ocean. 

We ordered lunch from the restaurant there and explored while we waited for it to be cooked. 

Of course we played a little futbol! 

Lunch was very delicious! 
Kenzie got fish and chips. 
This is Hauen (our guide this week) and Lester (our van driver) enjoying lunch!

After lunch we went swimming in the ocean. 
Justin enjoying the waves. 
We caught lots of sand dollars! 

Kenzie got good a catching them too!! 

Ralf and Shea found a sting Ray!

And Bobby caught crabs!! ;-) 

Nicaragua 2014: Worship at Verbo

We had a very fun day experiencing Nicaragua. After waking up from a wonderful, restful night of sleep, we gathered on the porch for devotions and breakfast. 

We started the day off by going to church at Verbo, a bilingual church about a 20 minute drive from our guesthouse.  
It was very fun to experience worshipping God in both English and Spanish. 

We sat in the middle of the room and felt very much a part of the group while we talked about God giving us the victory in our lives and becoming a "shield around us" (psalm 3:3) 

There was a English translator that stood up on stage with the preacher and she would speak right alongside of him, with just as much energy. It was awesome. The preacher would ask if the congregation believed that God was going to hold them up, and the Spanish speakers would yell and cheer, then the translator would ask and we would yell and cheer. It was a good reminder that God's people, everywhere, need to be reminded that the battle has already been won. That Satan is a liar, and he has no power in our lives when we claim the name of Jesus Christ. 

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Nicaragua 2014: Travel Day!

The alarm went off at 3:00am, we we're out of the house by 3:15. We stopped on the way to pick up Justin, and were to the airport by 4:00am! After juggling some items in a few of our checked bags, we got each under 50lbs.  Before we checked our bags we prayed over them, hoping they would all make it to Nicaragua. 

We checked through security and as soon as we made it to our seats in the plane I fell asleep. We made it to Chicago and had time to get some breakfast and Starbucks. So we were all much more cheerful. 

Bobby and I even had time for a short nap. 

We then boarded the plane to Houston. 

When we got to Houston we found out our flight to Managua had been delayed, so the sprint we did to our gate was all for naught. We took advantage of the extra time and got some lunch, and soent time getting to know each other better. 

Finally, after another hour delay, we boarded our plane to Nicaragua. 

We only had a small hiccup getting through customs in Managua. But all our bags arrived, and we found our ride to the guest house we are staying at. 

The guest house was a short half hour drive from the airport. On the way, I almost had my sunglasses stolen from my head through the bus window. Thankfully Bobby and I reacted quickly and I yanked them back. I think we will leave the windows closed the rest of the week. :-) 
 We had a wonderful dinner, and are now all ready for bed! We are excited for the week and what God has planned! So thankful to be all here safely.