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Nicaragua Update #1 - Christmas!
  Check up on this Christmas update from first missions trip of Foundations Ministries by clicking the "READ MORE" link below!

Feliz Navidad de Nicaragua! Como estas? (Merry Christmas from Nicaragua! How are you?)

I pray and hope that each of you are having a blessed Christmas, that Jesus fills this day with His abundant and redeeming love. Here we are in Nicaragua, where we've been for 3 weeks now. I'm going to give you our update; feel free to catch up with us whenever you have the time. Some of this is pretty intense, so be warned that it may not fit with traditional Christmas spirit.

One challenge of being a writer is that a writer wants to capture every experience perfectly with words...and words can't capture experiences. Or, they do so imperfectly, so a writer is never satisfied. Of course, I'm not a professional writer, but I am struggling with this desire to do what I can't. I had hoped to send frequent updates, but between the challenge of depicting this without even being able to wave my hands around and my exhaustion from the daily experiences...

Since we are housesitting and have no hosts here, one of our challenges has been to do our own networking. God has provided this for us extraordinarily. Among the groups we've connected with: Manna Project ( www.mannaproject.org), an opportunity for college students and graduates to come live and serve in Nicaragua for a year or more in a low-cost program; House of Hope, a ministry to prostitutes that presently has brought 75 women and girls out of prostitution and into community and discipleship to Jesus, and will be opening a residential program in January for (eventually) up to 250 women and children; The Nehemiah Center for Transformational Development ( www.nehemiahcenter.net), an organization committed to leadership and community development with a special focus on training and empowering pastors (click "The Timothy Project" on their website); Christ for the City ( www.cfci.org), which supports, empowers, and multiplies local ministries to reach people with the Gospel; and a Vocational School for training Nicas (the Nicaraguans' term for themselves) in blacksmithing, woodworking, welding and automobile repair ( http://www.thak.ca/blacksmithmissions.html). But of course lists are just an overview. I need to tell you a few things about the country, and then I'll try to relate some stories.

Nicaragua has had about twelve to fourteen years of peace and stability since the civil war between the Contras and the Sandinistas. In that time, infrastructure in the country has greatly improved, but distribution of wealth has not. About 5% of Nicaraguans are wealthy, and they live and own businesses as an aristocracy. If the country were to fall back into violence (not inconceivable, considering that Daniel Ortega was just elected President--he was also President when the Sandinistas were in power), they could leave their businesses here and focus on their ownings in the U.S. or Costa Rica or elsewhere. 45% of Nicaraguans are the "professional class," who make between $300-$1,000 per year. One of the biggest problems here is that the professional class cannot earn enough to be a middle class. Effectively, there is no middle class; they are the working poor. Teachers, carpenters, landscapers, construction workers, shop owners. They are trying to raise families, educate their children, sometimes maintain a car, and afford a few luxuries. 50% of the population are impoverished. Not American standards of poverty (about $10,000 for an individual, $20,000 for a family of four www.census.gov/hhes/www/poverty/threshld.html), but people living on $2/day or less. I'd always wondered how that was possible, physically. Now I have the picture. In Nicaragua, one dollar=18 cordobas. This doesn't meant that Nicaraguans' dollars go 18 times further than ours, or even that their prices are all cheaper than ours (though many are, some are much higher, depending on how availability and scarcity); it does mean that an American with a little money feels rich in Nicaragua. If you own a scrap tin and scrap wood shack with a dirt floor, in which you may or may not be able to tap into the local power supply (only 15% of Nicaraguans actually pay for power) and have no car or schooling or medical or dental (and thus no expenses), then you spend everything you make on food and used clothing. But not everyone is this well off.

April is the wife of the pastor at International Church Fellowship, where our hosts, Halle and Kathy August go to church. She also founded House of Hope. I discovered the ministry when I noticed some beautiful, hand-made greeting cards displayed in the back of the church. --Now I have to interrupt myself, because what you just pictured when I said "church" might not be an open-air shelter with a roof but only one wall. Nicaragua has a funny lack of things like window panes and walls. A country that never gets colder than about 65 degrees has little use for these things.-- Making the cards is part of House of Hope's vocational training. The women are learning job skills so that they can support themselves and their children. In Nicaragua, most in prostitution have children; we met a 19-year-old who has six children, and a 13-year-old who is expecting her second. These children need to be loved and treasured and healed and restored and trained in a job skill so that they can support themselves and their children. April started House of Hope with contact evangelism to the girls three years ago, and now they have daily Bible study, prayer meetings, and job training. Soon they will have 15 girls and women move into safe homes for likely the first times in their lives. Sixty more are waiting (with many children); House of Hope needs $30 (U.S.)/month to sponsor the girls. We saw the ministry and got to hear some testimonies from women in the program, who spoke of what their lives were like before and how God has redeemed and restored them. I'm not going to tell you about some of what we heard, because it is too intense (and I tend to think people grow more when they face and don't hide from reality, which gives you an idea), but I will share more if you would like to ask me personally. I think in all my life this is, possibly, the most redemptive ministry I've ever seen.

There is a city in Nicaragua called La Chureca. La Chureca is within the city dump. One hundred seventy families live in La Chureca. Fifty percent of the people who live in La Chureca are under 18 and there are at least 260 children in a school there. There are two churches in La Chureca, and someone who ministers there told me that 70 families go to church on Sundays. Walking into La Chureca scares me because, as an educated American, I'm look at the squalid conditions and breathe the acrid fumes and I know that I could contract countless diseases and parasites in this place. Fires smolder everywhere, continuously, spontaneous combustion from layers of composting and continuous heat plus chemicals and ooze too nasty to consider. But I'm not barefoot, I'm not digging through mountains of trash, and I'm not raising my children here. Barefoot children everywhere, beautiful and grime-layered and just trying to be children. The first day we visited La Chureca, we walked around for an hour or so, simply trying to take in what we were seeing and feeling and smelling. Picture a landfill that isn't dug into the ground, simply piled higher and higher into hills and valleys, and right in the center, rows of hovels with barbed wire strung everywhere and scrap metal pieced together for fences. And many of the Nicas greet you and smile and wave, and many look away, and many are stoned from sniffing glue. We stopped to talk to a woman with her baby; she was 23. Her baby was 18-months. We talked about her children (she also had a five-year-old) and my children. And every day she goes into the hills of trash and digs through to find plastic or metal or paper to recycle, to find food that could be eaten. If one does well, one can sell the trash to a recycler for about $10 (180 cordobas) every 3 or 4 days. To support everyone in the household.

But here again, God is redeeming! There's a school and tutoring program and clinic and prenatal and infant care in La Chureca, all provided by Christians whom God has called to love these people. . Right now is their school's long break (equivalent to our summer break), but they have a daily meal and playtime at the school. We arrived at the perfect time to be play with the kids, by which I mean they mauled us and climbed all over us and we gave piggyback and horseback and camelback rides to three, five, six kids at a time--however many we could hold before we collapsed. Then when we grew exhausted, we'd sit down and just hold them. Melissa, who is twenty-one, has been helping direct the school and run the scholarship program for the past two years. She described trying to help these teenagers, whose families pressure them to stay and pick through trash, to complete school and find decent work outside of La Chureca. Planning ahead is an acquired skill. Even imagining life tomorrow is foreign for people in La Chureca. But a few students are graduating, and children can go to class and be loved and hear about God instead of spending ten or twelve hours diggint into garbage mounds. On our way out, Melissa told me, "This is the best job in the world! I love getting to do this!"

This past Saturday, we joined our friend Dan from Manna Project (he's been our best networker!) to help organize and shuttle kids to a restaurant, where a church was paying for them to have a special Christmas meal. The Nicas who owned and ran the restaurant were wonderful and really felt good about serving the kids. And it really was a great time. We brought 120 kids to the restaurant, lined them up, and gave them containers with a chicken and rice meal, which they ate sitting out on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant. But for them, it really was Christmas, and when it was done they didn't want to go back.

One more story about La Chureca: we met a man named Brad Corrigan, who turned out to be the leader of a band that was called Dispatch. Brad loves La Chureca and he passionately loves Jesus. He loves the children of La Chureca, and has developed relationships with many of them, flying back and forth from the U.S. during breaks from his touring schedule. His present band, Braddigan, shares music and pictures and stories about Nicaragua and the people here. I thought that was cool. Then I discovered that Dispatch was a hugely popular group (am I with it anymore?), drawing 110,000 (yes, that's four zeros) for their final concert. We had dinner and an amazing worship time with Brad and Dan and Mike (the blacksmith who started the vocational training school) and Brad told us about God calling him to give up Dispatch and his falling in love with Nicaragua, with La Chureca, how here he feels at home and hopes to move here within the next two years. He walks around the dump, singing to the children, following around Ellianna, a 14-year-old girl he's befriended. "I sees Jesus in her smile, but sometimes she's shrouded with evil spirits because she prostitutes herself. Her eyes are dark and she won't look at me or talk to me, so all I can do is follow her, singing praise toward her. It really scares me. But the evil can't bear it, because God is more powerful, and I can see the evil disburse and then she'll come back hug me and talk with me."

When we were praying, Brad said, "Jesus was born into La Chureca. God is redeeming that place and he's going to make it a beacon of light."

I've been to some poor areas, but I've never before seen anyone living in conditions like these...and Eric from Nehemiah Center told me that the Nicas in rural areas are even poorer and have less. Nicaragua has challenged what I understood about Incarnation. Praise be to Jesus.

I'm going to end here for now. Today we're going to the beach to celebrate Christmas! I'll try to write again soon to describe our daily lives here and the physical work we're doing. The students are doing very well on most fronts, struggling to integrate what they've seen and learned and done--everything I've just described--into their concept of discipleship. We've discussed which ministry we could picture ourselves joining as each of them continue to pray about where God is calling them.

I'm homesick and miss Kim and my girls terribly, but Kim and I are both glad we're doing this. Thank you for your part in helping me to be here. A special and most grateful thanks to all of you who have helped Kim at home--Dan and Ben and Ed and Maureen and Donley and Sue and Chrissy and Andrea and everyone else! You folks really are answers to my prayers; I hope you know how much it means that you have stepped in while we are here.

Oh, and for those of you who are wondering: Yes, I've been successfully communicating in Spanish--LOTS--the entire time I've been here, and yes, I am actually getting better! More miracles of a Mighty and Redeeming (and Humorous) God!

With Love and blessing you with God's Peace and Joy,

Mike and the Foundations Team
  Posted by timd on January 22, 2019


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