Monday, February 2, 2009

One last roller coaster ride

It's only appropriate for God to throw one more emotional roller coaster at us before we left. For most of the team, Thursday was the hardest day. The team visited a temporary "orphanage" facility that is run by the Nicaraguan government. It is known as HAT. It's very hard to describe this place using words. You pull into the gated complex, drive passed the guards, and park in what seems like an abandoned elementary school parking lot. As you get off the bus the piercing echoes of children yelling and screaming saturates the air. It's been 4 weeks since these children have seen anyone other than the few people that are assigned to HAT. As you walk through all of the buildings, everything is barren and surreal. There are no toys. There is no color. The beds are either filthy or destroyed. There are holes in the walls and broken glass lining the walls from the windows that have been shattered by the children. There is one dim light bulb, if any at all, in each of the dark and dreary rooms. The only thing that comes to mind when trying to think of a good comparison is the orphanage that Oliver Twist lived in.

Currently there are 21 children living at HAT. They range in age from weeks old to 26 years old. Many of them suffer from a handicap such as down syndrome, psychosis, etc. Many of them are runaways or were taken from their families because of abuse. Although HAT seems like a terrible place (and it is) it is a far better place for these children than the alternative (living on the streets). HAT really has a lot of potential to do great things for these children and the countless others that have yet to go there. The problem lies in the Government. Unfortunately they don't feel it necessary to provide funding for food, adequate shelter, toys, or anything else that children deserve. With a little TLC, HAT could really be great. They have enough space to house hundreds of children, have classrooms, a playground etc. if only they had the funding. Fortunately, the government has asked for Forward Edge to help. The extent of that help is unknown, but it is our prayer that HAT will be turned over to an organization like Forward Edge so that it's potential can be realized.

During our day at HAT, our 3 electricians were busy installing adequate lighting in 4 rooms, which drastically improved the living conditions for these kids. The rest of the team spent time raking leaves, picking up trash and broken glass, and played with the children. We gave them the few toys we had brought with us. The children loved them but we still felt like it wasn't enough. There has to be more that we can do. The team also donated a couple hundred dollars so that HAT could buy some food for the kids. There has to be more that we can do for them. Something that shows these children that they're not forgotten.

Before we left, we had a little fiesta. There was dancing, a pinata, and ice cream. The happiness that was created by those small gestures was amazing. It was a truly humbling and awe-inspiring day. God is obviously at work there, but we need to ask ourselves, what does God want us to do? Why did he show us HAT?

Now I'd like to shift gears a little bit. Did you know that Nicaragua is the second most impoverished nation in the western hemisphere? The team got a glimpse of this poverty last week. I'm sure that everyone experienced a high every time they got a hug from a little girl with a dirty face, and a low every time they realized there was nothing they could do to keep that child from having to sleep in the dirt that night. Now that we have experienced those feelings and those connections with the people of Nicaragua, what do we do?

Forward Edge International is an organization that has repeatedly proven their commitment to helping the people of Nicaragua. We witnessed the beginning phase of the dream that is Villa Esperanza. We saw the fruit of that labor in those 16 girls that have been rescued from the confines of the dump. Even better, Gloria, Wilbert, Susie and the other employees and volunteers are teaching those 16 girls how to show Christ's love, just as they have been shown. Villa Esperanza translates to "The Village of Hope". That's exactly what it is. You can't help but have an overwhelming sense of hope when you see La Chureca (where the girls came from) and where they are now at Villa Esperanza. It is a beautiful thing that can only be described as a gift from God.

Vida Nueva, the other orphanage the team visited, is also an Oasis. It is a private organization that is run by an American family. That place is such a blessing to those 30 plus kids that live there. Without Vida Nueva, those kids would probably be in HAT, or a situation similar to it.

El Faro Church is a blessing to the people of La Chureca. It gives them an opportunity to get out of the dump and intermix with other residents of Managua. It gives them a place to take their children while they work, so the kids aren't at risk of being hurt inside the dump. They feed the people of La Chureca every day. They pour out Christ's love on anyone that will accept it.

What I'm getting at with all of these examples is, God is on the move in Nicaragua. He's working through Forward Edge, Vida Nueva, El Faro and even HAT. God is radically changing the lives of so many people in Nicaragua as well as the Americans that visit. What is God calling you to do? Maybe it's time to plan a trip. Every team that goes to Nicaragua plays a part in God's plan. When you make a connection with those kids, they remember you. You're not just another Gringo! They really remember you, and are excited to see you again. Maybe God wants you to sponsor a little girl that lives in the Villa. It's a small monthly donation that will completely change the life of a beautiful little girl. It will give her a chance at a better life, living outside of the dump, away from fear and danger, in a place that is full of love. Maybe God is telling you to sponsor a whole house. The cost of one house that will house 8 more girls is a small sacrifice when you compare it to saving 8 more children from living in despair. Maybe God is asking you to donate some diapers, or formula, or money to Vida Nueva. It takes about $10,000 a month to operate that orphanage. However, that facility takes care of 30 plus kids that have been abandoned or even left for dead by their parents. Maybe God is calling you to donate money, your talent, or your ideas to HAT. It is so full of potential to be a haven for the unwanted children of Nicaragua. It just needs the time, money and "know how" to get it there. Maybe God is asking you to pray. The most important ingredient, and the most powerful tool. None of these projects are possible without prayer. God is on the move. God wants us to join him. What is He asking you to do?

We would like to thank each and every one of you that has prayed for us and supported us. Thank you for making this trip possible. You were all just as much a part of this team as those who were actually there. We just pray that you will search your hearts and find what God is asking you to do. Why did he make you a part of this team?

For more information on how you can help visit:

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Play day!!!

We've fallen a day behind due to exhaustion and random power outages. So to those of you that have been faithful in checking the blog, we apologize.

Yesterday was our "day of rest" (if you can really call it rest). Personally, I was exhausted by the afternoon. It started as usual with a fantastic breakfast prepared by the wonderful Flor. Then we packed up the bus and headed for Mombacho (a volcano about an hour outside of Managua). The Nicaraguan countryside is absolutely beautiful, the small towns are quaint and full of character. As you drive thru, you want so badly to stop the bus just to experience them. Finally we made it. We unloaded the bus and proceeded to fill a Land Rover for the slow drive up the mountain. At the top, 5 Nicaraguan men were waiting for us with harnesses and helmets. We were going on the zip lines! The Mombacho Canopy tour consisted of 13 separate zip lines, 5 eager and energetic guides and 4 different ways you can defy gravity as you zip along under the canopy of the jungle. Many team members experienced the "Superman", dangling upside down while praying the harnesses hold, and flying spread eagle and upside down while the guide twists you from side to side. Everyone has lots of pictures to share so they can prove they were really there.

Everyone made it thru safely. Once again, we only had one injury. Any guesses as to who? Yes.... you are correct... the designated injured party for this trip is Amy. Luckily, she hurt the ankle that's on the same leg as the knee she injured previously. She made it all the way through the course without injury, and then to show her appreciation, proceeded to collide with the guide when she landed.

After we left Mombacho, it was a short 20 minute drive to Catarina. It is a beautiful little town that sits atop a hill overlooking a beautiful crater lake. It's quite windy and ridden with hungry dogs, but an experience that is breathtaking.

On our way back to Managua, we stopped in Masaya. Masaya is considered to be the heart of Nicaragua. There is a large market that sits inside an old fortress from the 1800's. Anything Nica that you could possibly want, that's where you're going to find it. We shopped for a couple hours buying souveniers for ourselves and our families. If you're reading this and you don't get something, it's in the mail. =)

Then we headed home to the Villa. Just before dinner we were blessed with a visitor. Many of you may remember the story of Baby Nancy. She was at the orphanage last year and several of our team members fell in love with her and plotted to sneak her home. Well since then she has been living with a foster family from South Carolina that lives here. Cindy, her mom, was gracious enough to bring her by so we could see how she's grown. She's still our baby Nancy, just a little bigger. She's been doing therapy quite often and she's showing signs of progress. She laughs, is able to pick her head up, and close her mouth when we tell her too. Her mom has also taught her how to say "Hey" with a little southern twang! She's beautiful, and the family taking care of her is an answer to MANY MANY prayers.

I'll catch everyone up with the last day of the trip tomorrow. It's 11 pm and we haven't even started tonights round of skip-bo. Even though everyone will be back stateside, I hope you'll read the next entry and share it with everyone you know.

See you tomorrow!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Day 5 in Nicaragua

Today Team 547 packed up right after breakfast and headed to Vida Nueva Orphanage. Vida Nueva is run by Tim and Chris Bagwell. The Bagwell’s gave up their lives in South Carolina to make a life for malnourished children in Nicaragua. Currently there are 30 children in the orphanage, ranging in age from 2 months to 6 years old. Team members delivered boxes of clothing, diapers, formula, and toys. We spent our time there weeding, raking, pruning flowers, cleaning walls, moving stuff to storage and most important, loving on the kids. Since September, the donations that Vida Nueva receives has decreased by 50%. This equals $5000 per month. They have had to cut staffing by 25% and food by 20%. Because of the decrease in staffing, it leaves little time for anything but caring for the children. When the team was ready to depart Vida Nueva, they gathered around Tim, laid hands on him and prayed for his financial situation.

After a bit of free time, we ate dinner, had a debriefing and then gathered at the playground for the long awaited dedication and ribbon cutting. The girls have had to see the playground since Saturday, but have not been allowed to play on it. Tonight was long anticipated and exciting. Gloria’s family joined us for the dedication, as the playground was dedicated to her father, who passed away in November. As Wilbert said, God decided that it was time for her father to be home. Rick told the girls that as in life, they would experience pain, joy and happiness on the playground. The girls and team members played with all their hearts. Screams of laughter and joy could be heard throughout the Villa.

Heather and Trevor help with feeding time at the orphanage.

The girls getting ready to break in the playground.

Julie cleaning up the backyard at the orphanage.

Monday, January 26, 2009

The long anticipated day...

If twenty strangers walked up to your front door at 10 AM on a Monday morning, would you invite them in? Most of us, if we answered, would feel annoyed and quickly find an excuse as to why your guests should not come in. Whether it be “my house is dirty”, “I haven’t showered yet”, or “the kids are napping”, a majority of the population would not graciously invite those people in.

Today we visited La Chureca. For some of our veterans, it was a long anticipated and joyous reunion. For the rest of the team, their eyes were opened. As we unloaded the bus we were immediately greeted by Wendi, the young girl that touched so many hearts last year. Pastor Ramon, from El Faro (the church we visited yesterday) and his assistant Marcos, gave us a tour around the dump. He introduced us to several families, who graciously welcomed us into their homes. As many of us found last year, these people don’t have much of anything. What they do have, however, they are proud of. The families showed us their homes, introduced us to their families, and shared their stories with us. How many of us show that same grace to strangers at home?

For many families, the only source of income is sifting through acres of garbage for recyclable products that they can sell to the merchants. However, with the shift in the economy, the value of recyclable products like plastic and aluminum has plummeted. In most of the homes we found huge bags of plastic and metal that probably took weeks to gather. They are holding onto it in hopes of the sale price going back up. They said that one bag, the equivalent to a regular sized dumpster, would sell for about 50 cents right now where in the recent past they would have sold it for a whole $2.00. The average family living in La Chureca earns about $2.50 per day. Imagine if your whole family worked an entire day just to be able to make the amount it would take to buy a large cup of coffee from the local Starbucks.

This information may shock you. Frankly it should. However, more importantly, what every one of the team members saw today (once they got passed the initial shock to the senses) was a village of people that work hard to provide for their families, just like we do. They live in despair according to our standards, but they don’t realize it. The children run and play all day long. They have an enormous sense of pride for their homes, their families and their friends. In ways it is beautiful in others it is terrifying and absolutely heart breaking. There are generations that live within this dump and the prayer is that this cycle can be broken. The hope is in the children. We’ve all heard the saying, “It’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks.” If we focus our attention on the children and teaching them that there is a better way of life and that God has more in store for them, we can save them from the Hell that awaits.

When we came out of the dump we all went to El Faro church to eat lunch. We ate PB&Js and ham sandwiches. Afterwards, Georgia, Trevor, Heather, and Jeremy all went back to La Chureca to feed the children and hand out pink lemonade. Kris, Jen, Dan, Julie, Paul, Rick, Amy, Wayne, Kelli, and Ben all painted inside the El Faro church outside the dump and played with the toddlers and babies. During the weekdays the church has a daycare where children from La Chureca can come while their parents are working. There they are sure to have a good breakfast, lunch, nap and play times. El Faro’s ministry is not just taking care of babies. It is a true example of what loving the unloved is. They are providing opportunities for residents of the dump to come out and intermix with people that they otherwise wouldn’t ever talk to. It provides opportunities to show them life outside the dump.

The people of La Chureca need prayer more than anything. More than food, more than clean water, and more than a nice pair of shoes. God can and will change their hearts. He will show them that there is a better way of living. Pray that those people will listen when God calls and that they will turn and run towards Him.

Just for you Judy....

Sunday, January 25, 2009

A day of worship, a day of rest

Two nations that speak two different languages came together under the same roof today and worshiped the same God. Many members of our team were reminded today that God doesn’t care that we speak different languages. God doesn’t care that we don’t look the same. We are all brothers and sisters that He loves equally. The church may have been packed with residents of La Chureca and team members, but even more so, it was filled with the overwhelming sensation of the Holy Spirit’s presence. Unlike the stereotypical Christian, our brothers and sisters in Nicaragua are reckless in their worship and their praise. As team members stated tonight, “they have their priorities in order.”

Sunday at church is also a “Family Reunion” for most of the 16 girls that live at Villa Esperanza. The girls were so excited to drag team members by the hand around the church to introduce them to their family and friends. For some it was an emotionally straining time, and others a time for joy.

The rest of the day was spent finishing the playground. We filled in the holes, painted until we ran out of paint, and cleaned up our mess. Then, for hours, we played like we haven’t played before. Rick enjoyed learning how to jump rope. Dan got so caught up in a game of duck, duck, goose that he just about got “clothes lined” by an actual clothes line when he was “it.” And Kris was leashed and walked, like a dog, by a nine year old.

The night ended with an emotional roller coaster. After dinner Susie shared a devotional that she prepared for the girls at the Villa. She talked about the fruits of the spirit and related all of them with examples that fit with the daily lives of the girls. Tears of sorrow, sympathy and joy fell from most of the eyes in the room, as Wilbert closed with a further explanation and the laying of hands on all of the girls and house Mom’s. After we prayed and hugged everyone goodnight, the team gathered for the debriefing. Once again, the Holy Spirit moved through everyone’s heart, which led to a raw and vulnerable conversation. Once again, the tears of sympathy and joy fell from many of the team member’s eyes.

In closing, we ask that you pray for each of us and each of the girls, that God would help us to exercise the fruits of the Spirit. We also pray that each of you would open your Bibles and open your hearts to Galations 5:22-26. God has wonderful things in store for each and everyone of us. As we begin this new week, let’s reflect on Him and strive to be more like Jesus.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Team 547... reporting for duty.

After six months of preparation fifteen people put on a brown shirt, left for the airport, and boarded a plane headed for the unknown. Although many members of this team were here before, none of us have any idea what God has in store for us this week.

The trip began flawlessly. The flights were smooth, the layover was rather short and seamless, all of our luggage made it here, and everyone made it through customs without a problem (except Rick, but we’ll pick him up from the airport holding cell on our way home).

We were greeted by Summitview’s own Susie Miller (FEI’s field coordinator) and her sidekick interpreter Mario. (For those of you that came last year, we have the same father/son bus drivers, the famous Juan Carlos and his father, Don Juan Carlos. They say “Hola!”)

As we drove through the streets of Managua on our way to Villa Esperanza the eyes of many of the team members were opened to a whole new world. Eyes filled with tears and mouths fell open as we passed by garbage filled streams and children selling whatever they could on the side of the street. As Americans, when we view these things for the first time, we often can’t see passed the despair, but for many of us our eyes have already been opened. We pulled off the main road, onto a small rural road, and a block later we pulled up to a gate and Juan Carlos honked the horn. The gate was opened to what seems like Heaven on Earth. The Villa has completely changed since we were here a year ago. There are 4 team houses completed (which are probably rated nicer than many hotels back home), a Rancho (which is the huge common area for meals and team meetings), and 2 amazing homes for 16 beautiful girls. As we got off the bus some eyes were once again filled with tears, and every heart was filled with joy as the overwhelming sense of peace rushed through the group.

After claiming our beds and getting settled, we all came together in the Rancho and received our orientation and a tour of the grounds. Everything here is so beautiful. The plants are lush and green, the homes and buildings are beautiful and filled with love, and the laughter of 16 little faces fill the walls of this compound. After the unpacking party (which involved a LOT of organization, and then repacking) we took some of the toys we packed and spent some time playing with the girls. Many of us worked on puzzles, and played games with many of them. Then we cleaned up and were blessed with a wonderful meal where we each sat with one of the girls on each side. After we ate, several of the girls got up in front of the whole group and recited poems, written by Nicaraguan poets). The night ended very early for most of us except for those diehard skip-bo players. (You know who we are)

Breakfast was at 8. Many of us didn’t make it until a little later. (I guess they didn’t get the memo) We ate pancakes, bacon, and fresh cut pineapple (I don’t even eat that well at home in the morning!) Then we retreated to our secluded spots for a few minutes of devotion to prepare ourselves for the day ahead. The agenda for today was to build the playground (It’s larger than what most of us call a city park back home). The pieces were already assembled, we just had to dig the holes, pour the cement, and paint the cement walls and planters in the playground. We worked alongside 5 local workers who mapped out where our holes would be and made sure they were level. About an hour into today’s project our team suffered it’s first casualty. Amy accidentally tripped and fell into a hole (that David dug in the wrong place!) and hurt her knee. She limped around for quite a while, trying to help where she could, but once the swelling had more than doubled the size of her knee we decided it was best to go to the hospital and have x-ray’s taken. She’s okay! Don’t worry, they didn’t amputate! The rest of the team, after mourning the loss of Amy, continued on. A lot of the girls excitedly helped the team members paint, move wheel barrows and mix cement (They were better and faster than most of us!). All of the painting is done, all of the holes dug, and all of the cement was poured. All that’s left is moving a little dirt (old team members know that we’re the best at that!) and a little grooming. Then the girls will finally have the long anticipated playground that has been teasing them for weeks. (It was put together but they weren’t able to play on it) Then we all played for hours. Jeremy held a private concert for a few of the older girls (he’s like a rockstar), Trevor was a big hit when he pushed 4 girls at once in a wheelbarrow, and Rick got his butt kicked in a water fight. Then it was the long awaited SHOWER TIME! We all got cleaned up and started to wind down from our busy day. We shared another great dinner prepared for us by the wonderful Flora (Wilbert’s sister).

Most of the thoughts already expressed here were gathered by tonight’s debriefing (I took notes since you missed it). The debriefing seemed to open several hearts to a new level of vulnerability. As one team member shared, “the joy I felt today skipping rope and playing Frisbee with the girls we just met has reminded me that we have the same thing at home with our own families, but we get caught up in the daily tasks and don’t always see what is right there in front of us.” For those of you that don’t like country music, I’m sorry, but a great song writer wrote “You’re gonna miss this, you’re gonna want this back, you’re going to wish these days, hadn’t gone by so fast. These are the good times, so take a good look around, you may not know it now, but you’re going to miss this.”

That leads us to our message for all of you. Don’t miss what’s in front of you. Don’t get so caught up in providing for your family, that you miss our on enjoying your family.

Some of the favorite things we heard today were from the youngest members of the team. Jeremy said, “It felt so good to work so hard and accomplish so much for somebody else.” And Trevor said, “How am I ever going to leave this place?” (That’s one for the scrapbook Mom’s!)