About 2 years ago, as we were in Belize. Elijah was still quite small and it was the start of the “busy” season of the year. The trip season. I had just finished leading a great trip to Northern Belize and some other staff were wrapping up a trip to the Belmopan area. And we were getting ready to go on an adventure.
For some time Praying Pelican Missions, our organization, had prayed about opening up new opportunities and specifically the opportunity for ministry in Guatemala. God had led us to this country through much prayer, fasting and lots and lots of conversations among our staff, ministry partners in Central America, oh yea and even more prayer.
For the past fall, Pastor Ed (a Belizean pastor) had been contacting a Guatemalan ministry leader explaining who we were, what we wanted to do (encourage them, equip them, serve under their authority, basically build up the local church). All the doors seemed to be open and it was time. After these January trips in 2014, our team was ready to fly out and see what God had prepared before us in Guatemala. Rob (the jefe, boss in Spanish), Pastor Ed (our Belizean pastor, great friend, and translator), Ross (who studied abroad in Guatemala for some time in college) and I (no real purpose on the trip…or so I thought) headed out for about 5 days to explore, learn, prepare, sacrifice.
And to date I believe this Guatemala trip was a catalyst for our organization. Time and time again on our trip to Guatemala in 2014 our team experienced God’s favor. Door after door opened for us and we walked through. Now two years later we have had almost 900 people serve in Guatemala! God is there and we get to be a part of bringing His Glory to that Beautiful country.
About a year and a half later, as our family made the move to relocate from Belize to Winston – Salem, I sat down with Rob and talked about what’s next. What can I do to add value to the organization, how can I serve. We talked about several things and he mentioned the idea of me helping to serve and lead the region of Central America. A region that God had placed on my heart in 2007 after our first mission trip to Belize with Hope Community Church and Praying Pelican Missions.
I laughed at the possibility and Rob was silent (it’s funny he’s silent a lot and let’s me figure most things out). And anyway here we are, with me serving the leaders of our Central America countries! What an honor!
Around the same time of the Guatemala scouting trip in 2014, we as an organization began to pray about what’s next? Where God are you calling us? Where can we serve you next? We prayed. We fasted. We sought out wise counsel. Time and time again the answer came back clear….Nicaragua. The Lord was directing us to Nicaragua. It was time to open another location and it was in “my neck of the woods.”
As a staff team, we laid out our process, started the ministry contact process again. And again Pastor Ed, coincidentally, made the contact and began casting vision on the phone to ministry partners in Nicaragua. I called Rob and let him know of the ministries and he asked me a defining question:
When are you going to organize and take the scouting trip to Nicaragua?
So two years after I was on the Guatemala set-up trip, the trip where “I had no purpose” I was boarding a plane to meet Pastor Ed, our Nicaraguan ministry partner contacts and Trent another PPM staffer. To see what the Lord had before us in a land where I had never been. I was entrusted by our organization with keys to follow God and do what he says, seeking opportunities for ministry in a country we didn’t know. I was terrified and at peace at the same time. Rob called right before I left and said remember that Guatemala trip, you’re now the teacher. It hit me. My purpose all along was to learn, experience, see so at one point I could do the teaching, sharing. Here I was.
Before I left, I sent a note to our staff and some great friends and asked for prayer. I shared my itinerary and asked for (3) specific prayer requests.
- That we are persons, like Stephen in the book of Acts, that are full of the Holy Spirit.
- Wisdom and Discernment – specifically that we can see what / how God is operating in Nicaragua in these communities and that He moves in us / opens our eyes / hearts / heads / hands on how we can serve the people there to further what God is doing.
- Persons of Peace – Pray that we are met with persons of peace in each community / with each denomination.
Every person / ministry / leader we met had the same story – God had called them to serve the least of these, the hopeless, the marginalized. They all had been praying for partners not support but partners in the Gospel to come alongside of them and minister with them, furthering the ministry that the Lord had given them. It was a true blessing to sit and listen as each pastor shared his / her heart and talked about opportunities for the future. It is true that my heart was broken from some of the things I have seen, the poverty, the devastation, the heartache. But it is equally true that my heart is encouraged by these leaders who have accepted God’s call to meet people where they are. God is on the move in Nicaragua. Over the next few posts, I would like to share all He did in Nicaragua. These stories are an attempt to share some of the people, places, things and opportunities the Lord has placed before us.
Dump (Basuero) Communities
It is not possible to discuss the “least of these” in Nicaragua without discussing the communities built around the municipal dumps. While in Nicaragua, I had the opportunity to visit four of these communities. In these communities, anywhere between 50 – 250 people are “working” sorting through the trash for everything they need to survive. The workers range all ages, all genders, all demographics. They are simply communities sifting through garbage for their food, their clothing, recycle-ables to turn in for a small income, materials to construct homes out of; they are searching / scavenging for anything. The conditions are extremely hazardous for their prolonged exposure. Burning trash makes the air hard to breath; broken glass makes walking difficult with the risk of cuts and infection severe as they sift through the garbage. The only food they get: restaurant left overs from the weekend’s trash . Imagine that for a moment, opening up the trash and gnawing on half-eaten chicken, or scooping rice with a half-used napkin. It’s hard to imagine I know. It was for me too, until I saw it.
When the trucks bring in the garbage on Monday and Tuesday’s the bags are immediately swarmed by dogs, birds, flies, and sometimes even cows. It’s desperation, poverty, sadness and hopelessness at it’s peak or at least the peak that I have experienced. Yet the thing I saw in all the communities, the commonality was unity. These communities were not fighting against each other, they were fighting for one another. They worked together, taking care of their own. Adults working alongside children (many younger than 5 years old) making less than $1 / day, yet together.
I stopped and met Pedro Pablo in the Matagalpa dump. He had been working in this community for 25 years. He comes to the dump every day at 7AM and leaves every day 5PM. The day we met was slow, so he took some time to share with us. We asked what would make work out there in the dump better, his answer was simple and shocking, “cold water.” He said they often don’t have enough water for them and they are sharing one bottle of “river water”. I looked at it and immediately was horrified. It was not in anyway clear nor safe to drink. He said it was all they had. He said cold (purified) water would be awesome. I went in the car, grabbed my bottle and gave it to them. I said that we would be back. He saw the look in my eyes and somehow I believe knew we were serious. I left in silence and sobs, my heart breaking for what breaks His. Pedro Pablo and his friends are now my friends.
I stopped in another dump in Tipitapa, about 20 minutes outside of Managua and met a family of 5. Their 7 year old daughter couldn’t go to school because of the need to work. She had worked all day to collect some plastic bottles to sell later that evening at the local recycle center. I asked her how much she made today. With joy in her eye, she said $30 Cordobas or just over $1 USD. I dug in my pockets. Surely I had something that could bring joy. I can’t solve nor do I want to solve any and every problem. I felt the gum package in my pocket. I asked Pastor Rigo if I could share. He laughed and said of course. So I gave what I had and saw the family sheepishly accept. We walked away and I am almost certain as we were leaving I heard bubbles popping, gum smacking, and kids laughing. Oh the laughing. Overwhelmed I pulled down my hat, put on my glasses and cried. Through my tears, I prayed for that family. I thanked God for ministry partners like Pastor Rigo who are reaching out to these communities, who truly see through His eyes. And I thanked God for the blessing it was to meet that family, provide joy and laughter no matter how fleeting and then know that we have a ministry partner in Pastor Rigo who is committed to breaking this cycle and providing life-change.
Finally I had the opportunity to visit Pastor Eduardo’s community of El Limonal and the feeding program at his church. El Limonal is a community surrounding the municipal dump in Chinandega. Pastor Eduardo saw the condition of the people living there and made it his goal to change their lives. He petitioned for support, for help, for anything. Enter Feed My Starving Children. FMSC began to send Pastor Eduardo food, “manna” packs. I thought the name is quite fitting…Manna = food from heaven. Truly this food is from heaven. Every single day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, around 350 people in the community come to receive a meal. The food was the vehicle for outreach. The food allowed Pastor the opportunity to get in homes, work with other organizations, identify and meet needs.
Now in addition to feeding, Pastor Eduardo and his ministry partners have started a home building program. Houses once made with plastic, unsafe for most people were now being replaced with secure, sturdy and colorful cement structures. It was as if the entire community was moving from black and white into color. In fact the government got wind of what was going on in El Limonal and what Pastor Eduardo was doing to transform that community and they have started joining in on the building. While I was there in El Limonal, I saw (3) new houses being constructed. A community full of the least of these, with one pastor who has a heart for ministry. I spoke to Pastor Eduardo and he said the people asked for a pastor but no one would come. They knew the people couldn’t give back to the pastor, support the ministry. Pastor Eduardo said “I came because I trust God” Now Pastor Eduardo is changing his community through the resource of food provided by FMSC and a strong vision from the Lord, one meal, one house at a time.
The trip was amazing, eye-opening, heart-breaking and inspiring. I prayed and asked many to pray for the Lord to open our eyes. Over the course of our 3 week trip, He opened my eyes again and again and again. The Lord is in Nicaragua. I can’t wait to partner with Him in His ministry to the least of these this summer.