I’m home! Again! I’d only been home two weeks, thrown into the tornado of Christmas and holiday spirit, and I don’t think I adequately processed my four month Gringa Fest before I found myself back on a plane, back in line for customs, flirting for a passport stamp, and slammed back into the wall of heat that is Nicaragua. What a quick, amazing trip that was….It felt so right and normal to be back in Nicaragua, sticking my head out the window of a traffic-weaving, horn-honking, chicken bus to drink in the smog and humidity and chaos of a Central American capital.
The nutty thing about this mission trip was that the one I go on every year to Mexico is a team of about 70-90 people, from ages 11-70ish, but this was a team of 13, with only one person that I could honestly classify as “grown-up and fully adult” (Ian, Tim, Ashley…you know what I mean!) doing the same intense high volume kind of programming. And we were really just a bunch of kids, with a lot of passion and ideas and determined to shine a light into a country that desperately needs it, with two suitcases of materials, and a loooot of faith. And it worked, of course. Things were crazy, things did not go according to our plan, but there was a bigger plan at work. So rad.
Nicaragua, just to give you some background on the desperate situation in the country, is similar to a lot of its Cen Am brothers and sisters, but still unique and so easy to fall in love with. Most of us probably lump Nicaragua together with all of Central America, a third world, Spanish speaking country, heavily influenced by Catholicism, US involvement, and scarred by decades of civilian casualty heavy civil wars. This is all true and the remnants are ever present.
Nicaragua also holds the title of second poorest country in the entire Western Hemisphere, behind Haiti, with 80 percent of the population living on less that 2 dollars a day. To give some perspective, the average American family spends 127 dollars a day, and spends more on alcohol and tobacco products daily than a Nicaraguan family spends just to survive. The civil wars and revolutions century have left many homes without parents, especially fathers. The concept of a faithful husband and father is almost completely foreign for a lot of people.
All this puts the vast majority of the Nica population at a great disadvantage in a worldly perspective. The Nica women are of a nation plagued with deeply ingrained machismo culture, where nearly two thirds of all women reporting that they have been or are victims of domestic violence at some point in their life, where women are facing the highest pregnancy rate in Latin America, with teens 15-19 accounting for 27% of these births annually, where our sisters live in a country where prostitution for those ages 14 and higher is legal and often the highest paid occupation for a Nicaraguan female, the easiest way to provide for your family; where children and women are constantly trafficked to other countries, such as the United States, for sexual exploitation; where one out of three girls is sexually abused in her childhood; where 20 percent of the population is illiterate, and even in the urban areas, a pricey education system forces most to drop out before even completing junior high, Nicarguan women, our sisters, are somehow surviving.
With all these alarming statistics, we just knew we had to have some sort of youth program to encourage these young adults in Nicaragua, and we had a night of small group talks. Knowing that this was not a culture that encouraged open honesty and sincerity about personal matters, we just sort of dove into the conversation. It was really awesome to see the Nica girls talking equally openly to us, about how school, the pressures of participating in the family home, in church, working, balancing with personal dreams, with watching their girlfriends have boyfriends, or husbands, or neither, getting pregnant and having children, and wondering what our own place was, what Gods plans for us were.
When preparing to lead this group talk, I tried to think about how life was like for these girls. Imagine while growing up, no one ever asked you what you wanted to be when you grew up. No one ever entertained your wild ideas of being the first female President, or being on Saturday Night Live, or working as a whale trainer at Marine World. These were all dreams of mine at one time or another, and no matter how fantastical they are, my parents and family never mocked me or told me I couldn’t. I was always encouraged to follow my dreams, wherever those might leave me, and grew up with the confidence that I can be whatever I want to be.
Knowing how much women, especially girls and young women, are generally ignored in this culture, have very little encouragement to pursue a career that interests them, in a place where the only thing you can really aspire to be is a mother, and hope you dont have to raise your kids alone, where people don’t even really bother asking you what your dreams are, so you might not even think to have them, it was awesome to hear these young Nicas talk about, for maybe the first time in their lives, their dreams of becoming a missionary, of being a child psychologist, or of writing praise songs for the church, of a young woman who had found God, and while attending school and working, realized she had no time left for Jesus, and took a leap of faith and quit her job, asking God to help her find one that allowed her to continue working in the church. Can you imagine anyone in the United States ever quitting a job because it interfered with church? That is amazing faith. A young woman talked about how she felt, unmarried at age 23, like she was looked down upon in society, but she had faith in God, and was slowly going to university while working, hoping to complete her degree in eight years.
These teens were way more responsible and had more faith and more determination than most people I’ve ever met, and with the least favorable circumstances. I’ve never been so inspired.
We got to stay at homes of Nicaraguan families, which was really neat. We got very close with our mom, Emma, who ran a pharmacy of sorts out of her home. Before we left she stationed us in different parts of her pharmacy to pray over her business. She had a 14 year old son with jerry curl hair that was somehow stiff and gooey with gel at the same time, who I never tired of teasing about how lucky he was to have suddenly found himself the man of the house with three gorgeous older sisters! We also had a Toto-like dog named Princesa, who liked to hump your leg and had fleas. Lots and lots of fleas. The heat in the house was suffocating and water was come and go but it was a really nice house by cen Am standards, so we were really lucky. we watched Simpsons and Friends with Spanish dubbing, and the only thing funnier than the Simpsons is the Simpsons with Spanish dubbing. Such good times.
The food was aaaawesome. There was just so dang much of it! We could never finish our plates, beans and rice fried in lard called “gallo pinto,” and tortillas instead of silverware, and fruit for days and all kinds of meat. My mom accused me of having eaten before I came home from the church because she thought I wasn’t eating enough, when I was really on the verge of throwing it all back up.
The crazy thing about helping others is that you usually end up being the one who is served. You can go with all intention of serving with all your heart, and “teaching” people things, and reaching out to the poor and oppressed, and loving on everyone you see, but ultimately I came away from this last mission trip feeling like I had been the one who was saved. Like Nicaragua and the team from Hope Center I was with had a mission to fill up my heart, to calm my fears about the future, to hug me unexpectedly, to remember the simple things, and to feel my sense of purpose in this world.
There’s still so much to understand from the mission trip, but I know that right now, I’m really happy, I’m really at peace, and I really love God and the world he’s made for us to work and play and meet each other in.
Amen y Amen.
ps if you would like to learn how you can help out the church we worked with, or the american missionaries we worked with that are living full time in Nicaragua, email me or visit Christ for the City Internationl at cfci.org