Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Photo Gallery with 800+ Photos Coming Soon!

In the next couple of weeks, we will be posting a gallery of over 800+ photos from every point of view of our activities, ministry, services, children's programs and time at the orphanage. Come back soon to view the visual sights and sounds of our Missions Trip to Nicaragua 2014.

Distributing Food Up a Mountainside - By Christie Hollenberg

Today we hiked up a mountain, stopping along the way at each home that we wanted to distribute food to. Each home was not what I would consider a home but more like mud and wood together to make a little hut shelter. At each home we went to, we met the families and were able to pray with them and bring them food. Although the scenery around on the mountain was beautiful, the sight of these people and the conditions that they lived in was heart breaking to say the least.

With each step up the mountain, climbing in the heat, was a reminder of the people’s hard life of daily making that journey while hungry, weak, or in bad health. A few houses we stopped at I will never forget. One, as I approached, had dirt floors, holes all through out the shelter and it looked more like a pile of burning wood than a home. It smelled of burning trash and there were starving, rib thin dogs wondering around aimlessly.

We stopped and asked what we could pray for and a small woman sat down and took off these small pieces of fabric covering her ankles. These pieces of fabric acted as bandages. Her feet were swollen and covered in ulcers. Her husband has been very sick for a long time and almost died. Such pain I saw in their eyes. As we prayed for them, tears flowed. How do they survive? How do they get water or food or get up and down the mountain? Then, as we continued up the mountain, we stopped at another shack with a similar beaten down shelter. There stood a small woman with a little boy who through her weeping, asked for us to pray for her daughter who was taken by an abusive boyfriend and is not allowed to come home. Such broken hearts stood before me. We prayed and encouraged them, letting them know that God sees their daughter and we prayed for her protection.

Another shelter we arrived at didn’t even have four walls. Part of the roof was made up of garbage bags and inside there was a few pieces of wood planks in which served as a bed for a family of three. As I looked around my heart sank. The belongings in the home could have easily been counted on one hand. They literally had nothing. I got emotional and had to walk away from the group and get myself together.

It wrecked me, I had never seen anything like that in my life. How could people live like this? How do they survive? I started thinking if bad weather came, there would be little to no real protection or shelter. I’ve never seen such poverty. My heart sank and tears flowed as I realized how blessed and lucky I am and how much I take for granted.

Another home that we stopped at that impacted me the most. It was a shelter with a small old lady and a little girl who was abandoned by her mother. The old lady was her grandmother and she took the little girl in. I got emotional as I listen to them tell us how her mother doesn’t want her or care for her and I felt that, in a sense, I could relate in feeling that way towards my own mother.

Throughout this whole day, God broke my heart for His people and taught me how to love through prayer. Getting to hear from each family and praying with them created in me a true love for the people of Nicaragua. This process taught me that no matter what the language barrier, or horrible situation,  God loves all his people and through it all, He is on the throne in every circumstance. Above all physical needs, the greatest need of all is the love of Jesus Christ.






Determination Found in a Ten-Year-Old Child - By Manijeh Amiri

It was humid and the air felt thick as I sat by the bus window, embracing the wind. Sunday morning, day 3, and it already felt like day twenty. Physically drained but spiritually enticed, I went through each scenario for that morning’s church service.

“What would God do today?” But what I saw was something I never expected to see. During the service I spotted a little girl, sitting diagonally across the room. She was caring for two, beautiful, younger girls and my eyes could not look away. Following the service was a food distribution for the children of the congregation and I slowly, but intently followed her; hoping for, but a moment of her time.

Her name was Heisel Noelia and she was a woman in a child’s body. In my best Spanish, I crouched down and asked her how old she was and she told me she was ten. She was ten but the infant on her hip and the toddler crouched to her side added ten more years.

Heisel was frail and lengthy for her age. She wore a tight ponytail beneath her ash colored fisherman, hat and her clothes were shrill and torn. Her features were dark and her arms were bare and scarred under the beaming heat of the sun. But beneath her scars and burdens, Heisel shined so beautifully to me. She was beautiful. Her sisters were around the age of four and six months old. They were both so full of life and it was easy to recognize that Heisel made sure their joy came first.

I stood before them unsure of what to do, so I decided to play them music. Heisel held my phone and shyly asked, “How Much?” Shame consumed me and I brokenly told her I didn’t know. I asked her to dance, knowing she would refuse; her maturity reigned. I took her joyous, lively sister and spun her around my finger, knowing that Heisel’s greatest joy was found in her sisters’ happiness. So I danced and danced, smiling the whole way through, seeing her youth yearn to escape, but never seeping past the miles of barriers carefully built by the brokenness of her environment.

At her age, I was eating ice cream, playing manhunt and climbing trees; never once having to worry about whether or not I would eat that night. There in her eyes, I saw strength. I saw desperation. I saw perseverance. I saw a life stolen from her; a life that consisted of carelessness and immaturity. Swirling in between the beauty of her eyes was a warm color of chocolate brown and a small but hidden form of theft. She had no option; she was never to have a childhood. Helplessness burdened me. God tore me off my comfortable, self-centered, throne and forced me to see.

I don’t want to forget Heisel. I eagerly desire for her to be a part of me. That every class I attend at Valley Forge Christian College and every test I take may be in dedication to the perseverance I saw in her beautiful, twenty year old eyes. That the theft I saw might spark a fight in me to make a difference. I will fight for my education, and for the love of knowledge so that one day I can give back what the world has taken away. I want to make a difference and I want to do it for Heisel.




Elderly Feeding - By Aubrie McQuown

Today we went to feed the elderly in a remote village. The first thing that impacted me was the generous hugs and warm welcome that they gave us as soon as we arrived. Even though we couldn't communicate, they didn't care. The love they showed made me feel like they were my own grandparents.

Steve Thurston spoke about how through trials, we need to see God upstream as He doesn't work on our timetable. His message was very inspiring and allowed the elderly to visualize that God can't work in a situation until we get out of the way. You could see the genuine look in their eyes as Steve spoke; like their day would be better because we were there.

It sounds selfish, but it made me feel important that I could make such an impact in someone's life within a matter of an hour's time. After the message, we got the opportunity to feed the elderly. The look on their faces as I served them food was priceless. My heart was broken for them. These people had nothing, yet they were so excited to be with us for their lunch. They had walked so far, just to be in our company.

One of the old ladies impacted me the most. She came up to me after everything was over and said, "Dios the bendiga," which means, "God bless you." As soon as she said this, I asked our translator what it meant. When he told me what it meant, I instantly had tears in my eyes. This lady's comment truly opened my eyes. She didn't know me, but was so blessed to have me there with her. As I thought about this, it made me think about what I was really doing in Nicaragua. I was there not for myself, but to be the hands and feet of God. Without this opportunity to serve in Nicaragua, I would have never had this chance to meet this beautiful woman.

I hope this lady was as blessed to meet me as I was to meet her. Dios the bendiga.



Serving in a Small Church - By Courtney Lidke

Today was a long day full of activities. By the early afternoon, everyone seemed to be tired and a bit out of focus. Our second service of the day took place at the church our translator (Abdias) pastors at. The church itself was small, but the people were welcoming and felt like home.

About 90% of those in attendance were kids. While they waited for the service to start, they were climbing trees and running around with no worries in life. Our team was split into two groups. One of them stayed outside the church building to run the children's program and the other group staying inside to run the adult service.

It was funny seeing the kids reaction to our story of David and Goliath. We sang songs, did puppetry and a bible verse. At the end, we all went into the main service and did our cardboard testimonies. Each team member had a cardboard with something they were written on the front. The back had what God had done in their lives. This had a very big impact on those watching.

At the alter call, lots of people came up for prayer. This was my favorite part of the night because it was the first time I felt comfortable praying in the Spirit with the people. After praying for a young lady, she brought over her husband for prayer which made my heart happy.

After the service was over, our translator's daughter came up to me and gave me a long hug. As it got dark outside, we played a little bit more with the kids until it was time to go.





Saturday, March 15, 2014

Working Side-By-Side With a Medical Team - By Emilee Slingerland

Today was really awesome! Last year it was hard moving from place to place so quickly because it was hard to just sit and talk with the Nicaraguan people. This year, our schedule has been a lot more relaxed and today was a perfect example.

We traveled to a school where a medical team from Hosana was holding their clinic. It was a nice open space there were kids sitting and waiting to be cared for, waiting for their parents, or were sons and daughters of the clinic volunteers. We prayed with the kids, painted their faces and made balloon animals with them. My favorite part was when we had time to talk with them, play tag and eat lunch with them.

I met some new friends: Said, Caitalyn, Simon, Asach y April. They ate with me and we had conversations as best as we could, despite our language differences. They taught me some Spanish words to help me understand. We also presented the David and Goliath children's program that we had prepared. We also played the "cookie face" game, sang songs and danced.

After lunch we had new kids come in for medical attention, so we did our second program…Jonah. We played games and sang songs. Rebekah and I presented and had the kids act out the Jonah story. We prayed with them and then played games with them.

One thing that really stuck out was some of the hugs we received during one our songs. The song invites to hug those around you, and we got some lovable hugs. During the program, Loren brought out a hilarious character, Karate Girl, to help with the verse we were teaching the children. The kids loved Karate Girl and laughed as they repeated the Bible verse.

After spending the morning and early afternoon working with the medical team, we had some free time to spend at a beautiful lake lookout at Lake Managua. We also got to go to a street shop for ice cream.

Our last event of the day was returning to Hosana Masaya church for a youth service. We had a great time singing and worshiping with them. Liz performed an incredible karate dance interpretation and then shared her testimony about her strength in Christ. Our team also did a human video about the love of Christ and then Christie shared a message about our identity in Christ and how to see ourselves and others through God's eyes. We did cardboard testimonies that were our own personal testimonies of how God has changed our lives.

We finalized the evening with an alter call where youth that had connected with our testimonies came up for prayer. As we were leaving, we connected with some students who remembered us from last year's trip to their church.

It was a great day full of fun and ministry!







Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Reaching a Remote Church - By Macy Poore

It was our first day and we were pumped! We were ready to do what we came to Nicaragua to do. We worked hard for about a month, preparing children's programs and services and discussing the culture. Now it was time to put it into practice.

We were up and ready at 7 am for breakfast and devotions. And guess what our breakfast was? Rice and beans (called gallo pinto) and pancakes. Ha ha! After a delicious meal from the orphanage, we loaded up on the bus. We arrived at a remote mountain that we have never been before. It was a hot day. We walked for about 15 minutes in the blazing sun. The sun was beating on our skin and several of us got sun burns. It was such a shock for our bodies. But it was all worth it.

I wish you could have seen the view. These people live out in the middle of no where in this mountain with a few animals and a few belongings. Their houses looked like a shack and it broke my heart.

We did our children's program about Jonah which went great and had a blast with the children playing with the parachutes, giving them face paint and animal balloons. Candy was a big hit too. The people there were very welcoming and receiving.

The other thing we did on the first day was a church service in the evening with Pastor Omar.  We did the same program that we did earlier in the day but in a more formal setting. Instead of being at someone's house, we were under a pavilion in the countryside.

The extra time we had we spent it with the children in the orphanage. It was great to reconnect with them and just to hang out with them there. They just wanted our attention and we gave it to them. They love it! They laughed, and smiled, and talked to us in Spanish, and stuck to your sides everywhere we went. They were precious. I never want to leave them!







We Have Arrived in Nicaragua

We have finally arrived in Nicaragua! What a blessing it is to be back here once again and be a blessing to this country. Our internet is very sporadic so we have not been able to post anything yet, but we will have access tonight so we will post more photos and other information this evening.


Thursday, February 13, 2014

Nicaragua Missions Trip 2014 Team


Team Nicaragua 2014: Matt Rosen, Rebekah Rosenberg, Aubrie McQuown, Courtney Lidke, Michaela Ball, Elizabeth Whitman, Amy Thurston, Christie Hollenberg, Manijeh Amiri, Loren Metallo, Limaris Mendoza, Emilee Slingerland and Steve Thurston. Not pictured: Macy Poore.

Nicaragua 2013 Photos are Now Available


CLICK HERE TO VIEW PHOTOS

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

My Most Amazing Day of This Mission Trip


When I woke up the other day, I thought it was going to be a typical day of dramas, skits, puppets, dancing, testimonials and sermons. Well, the day initially started out that way, but after lunch, my world was turned around.

I had met a young girl who was sitting, somewhat uncomfortably on a plastic green chair by the entrance of a building that we were going to be speaking to pastors and leaders that afternoon. She was greeting everyone that entered the Center. I'll be sharing more about her in just a bit.


The Center had cinder blocks cemented together like old legos to form thick walls. The holes where windows would have been were bare allowing the wind to flow through, yet covered with metal bars for protection. It had a soil floor and no door with the exception of more long oxidized metal bars to control the flow in and out of the Center. Even though the Center appeared a bit rustic, it was called the Center because it was a centralized location for gatherings of all people in the community. This Center was started by Hermana Ruth and the help of local and international folks. Ruth is a woman that has an imminent heart and passion for children and the elderly in far-out communities that lie in the hills and mountains. Ruth had invited us to the Center to connect with the local community. So here we were. Ready for action.

The girl sitting by the entrance on the chair met my gaze with beautiful large eyes and a sad, yet forced smile. "Hola, buenos días" she said to me as I walked past her. I turned and said hello in Spanish and kept walking into the building, as if she was unimportant to me at that moment. I was too busy rationalizing the long bus drive to this remote area and my intense hunger for lunch.


The next day, our team was given the instruction that we would be trekking up a steep mountain. Throughout that journey, we would be stopping by and visiting some of the locals that lived on the mountain. Our mission was to deliver food and pray for them.

The dirt floors underneath my feet had gotten my shoes and pants all dusty and dirty. I had forgotten to pack tennis shoes for such a trek so I was wearing my brown leather work shoes. As we started to walk down this dusty path full of rocks and debris, we finally approached the bottom of the mountain where we were going to start the ascent. The view of the valley and trees was amazing. It was never-ending greenery every where you looked.

I could hear the musical performance of birds chirping in the air. It was surreal to see such untouched beauty of the land. Although the land was arid due to the dry season, you could still see the menagerie of green life reaching out of the ground searching to be seen by our eyes.

The cool cloudy weather was refreshing as we followed the path up the mountain. Our ankles and calves were tightening with fatigue as the path started to incline drastically. We headed up the side of the mountain through thick brush towards the first home.

When we arrived at the footsteps of the first home, what we saw was not what you would typically consider a home. It was a crooked box made out of lanky sticks, wood planks and thick adobe with black plastic tarps as a rooftop. This home was no larger than ten feet in diameter. A small wooden bed with no mattress and a blue mesh laid inside. This mesh reminded me of the African mosquito meshes you would typically see in a National Geographic magazine photo. No electricity or running water. The home was distilled down to its basics.


A frail man, sitting on a red plastic chair, wearing a stars and stripes bandana and a plaid shirt rolled up to his elbows, greeted us in unintelligible Spanish. His daughter quickly appeared from the side of the entrance and also greeted us with a big smile and open arms. We were there to bring him food but our attention was focused at his health that was deteriorating. Our team gathered around him and prayed for him. This was such a powerful visual I had to take pictures to document such sadness in the man's face.

When the prayers from different members of our team were done, they all mobilized themselves to another room that had a tin roof metal sheet that separated the sleeping area from the obscure kitchen that still had burning embers glowing in the corner. In this other room, the man's daughter sat there with large open sores on her foot.

I stayed with the man and asked him in a quiet reverend voice if I could take his picture so that we could take his image back with us and continue to pray for him. He agreed with a big smile, showing only three frail teeth he had left in his mouth. As I got the camera ready to take a close-up photo of his face, he promptly grabbed his bandana off his head and hid it under his leg, fixed his tousled hair with his fingers that had cracked groves and dirty fingernails. He gave me a deep stare.


I was too slow to capture that perfect moment. As I lifted the camera to my eye to focus on his face, the wonderful smile that I had discovered seconds ago was gone. I tried to make him smile but all I got was the same face he had when we first saw him twenty minutes earlier. I snapped a couple shots, trying to catch a real glimpse of his persona. I thanked him and he replied back by saying, "Dios le bendiga". That was Don Pastor Sanchez Perez. I chuckled a bit because his actual first name was pastor.


The prayers from our team for his daughter in the other room had already started. I quickly found a tiny hole through the tin roof metal sheet just large enough for my lens to fit through. Santa Perez, the daughter of Don Pastor, was positioned away from me but my camera caught a beautiful view of our team of students with their arms extended praying over her and her foot. I snapped a couple of photos of Santa but I could not fathom staring at her foot. It was a disturbing sight. Large gaping ulcers and sores invaded her foot. As the students finished praying for her, I could tell by looking at their faces that the tension in the room as uneasy. The staleness in the air and the unpleasant view of her foot encouraged others to quickly vacate the room after hugs and goodbyes were said.


As we got ready to leave, Tyler, one of our team members and I went back to say goodbye to Don Pastor. Tyler told him that we would be praying for him. Don Pastor looked up, smiled at Tyler and said, "I will see you in heaven." That was such a touching moment that I will never forget. I'm sure Tyler will never forget that face and those words either.

We continued our trek up the steep mountain to our next destination. The heat was now suffocating. Passing through barbed wire fences, fallen trees and walking by dogs that were just bones and skin growling in fear as we walked by…we could now see the next shack up ahead. This house was smaller than the first one. To the left side of it, coffee beans laid out to dry by the hot sun. To the right of it, a pig stye. The foul stench overwhelmed me. The snorting noise of the pigs was an imminent reminder of the unclean surroundings. As I got closer to the pig to photograph it, I could see the filth of his own feces hanging from the hairs around its snout as it made a horrible squealing noise.



I walked towards the house and we were immediately stopped by Hermana Ruth and our translator. She quickly asked the men to turn around and walk the opposite direction because they were not sure how the family would initially react to all these men. The family we were visiting had a young child who had been sexually abused. This young girl has been living in dreadful fear this past year, not being able to play like a normal child.

The women of our team went to pray for her and we remained on the other side of the house. We waited for about ten minutes while they prayed for her and her family. Finally, the men were called over for some additional prayer with the girl and her family. Our team loved on her and comforted her. I peered over the shoulders of one of our team members and I could see the girl smiling as she looked up at one of them. She seemed to be comforted by the embrace of our team members. This connection was amazing to see. Their love and embrace on her was a sight that I had to photograph.



We continued to visit a couple more houses in the surrounding mountain. My heart sank once again after I started to compare the comfort of my own life with the filth and desolate shacks that these families lived in. I was grappling with my own challenges of my comfort and security we have over here in the United States. I unconsciously and unintentionally reacted in disillusionment. I had so much, yet they had so little…and still praised God.




How quick do we complain when our food is not good, when our showers are too cold and our clothes dirty with sweat and dust. These families are so poor, that they did not have much to eat. Their homes, crudely built, shanty and with very little refuge. Enough to protect from the elements but nothing more. It felt like these people had been living in the thick jungle with no running water, electricity or any kind of technology…as if those commodities never existed…or were of no importance to them.



We continued to trek up the mountain and visited several other families and brought them food and prayer. When we reached the next home on the side of the mountain, we saw an elderly lady that we had encountered several hours earlier that day. She walked out to greet us, but immediately interrupted our welcome by telling us that she had just gotten notice that day that her son, who was in jail, might have been killed. She talked and we listened to her desperate voice. She was asking us for prayer for her son. We prayed as a group for her son and for her as well.



We reached the last home where an elderly lady and her grand daughter quietly rested on a wooden bench inside their house. Her frail sunken eyes turned toward us as the team entered her house to pray for her. She tried to stand up and give her seat to my wife Amy, but we quickly assured her that she needed to remain seated. We were here to pray for her, not for her to share her hospitality with us.



While the team prayed with her, I made my way to the back of the house. It was dark and moist. Some time passed before my eyes got accustomed to the darkness. The wet dirt floor seeped into my jeans as I kneeled down to take a picture. The moment I took the picture, I heard a rustling sound to my left. As I glanced over to see what it was, my eyes focused on the dimly lit corner where a large rat seemed to be staring at me with a vicious glance. The rat quickly made its way across the ground in a desperate run towards the side wall of the house. Its tail disappeared through a hole between the sticks that comprised the wall. I turned around and snapped a couple more pictures of the woman and the team praying over her from a different vantage point.


Time was running out so we were told by our translators that we needed to start heading back. We gathered all of our back packs and started the descent down the mountain. We stopped at a large ravine and took a group picture. We had just experienced things that I will never forget and this group picture was a way for us to recompose and smile after an afternoon of tiring work. We laughed and nervously positioned ourselves for this picture. Standing on the edge of this ravine, looking down at the camera, our translator said, "Digan frijoles" which means, "Say beans". I'm guessing that was Nicaraguan's cultural way of smiling to a camera, just as we gringos say 'cheese' as we pose for a picture.

Past the ravine, we came across one more house. I thought we were done visiting homes, but we were told we needed to visit this home as well. I was surprised to see the same young girl that I had met hours earlier at the entrance of the Center. This time, she was not sitting on a chair, she was crawling on the ground on her knees. She was a little shy as her mother explained to us that she had contracted polio when she was young and had lost most of the mobility in her legs. Thick dark calluses had formed on her knees where she used them to crawl around. Her gangling legs danced to her side as she dragged them along when she shifted her body towards us. I was overwhelmed.

Food was delivered to them and subsequently we prayed for them. We took one last group photo with her and her family.


Hugs and goodbyes were shared as we left their dilapidated home. Exhaustion had now hit most of our team members. We still had a long tread back down the mountain. Thorns, barbs and prickles were scratching at our legs and arms. Sharp rocks were pounding underneath our shoes every step of the way. Our bodies were drained from any kind of energy--the sight of the base of the mountain was a delightful reprieve to all of us.

Great things are happening here in Nicaragua. God is undertaking amazing things through our team, but especially through the work of Hermana Ruth, the ministry of Metanoia and the awe-inspiring and life-changing work of Missionaries Eric and Shanna Ferguson. Most of all, God is performing astonishing things through the communities and people of Nicaragua.

This remarkable feat became alive in my life when at the end of the day, as I gazed down the dirt path, I saw the same girl crawling her body across terrain. She was dressed in her Sunday best; a white skirt and a tight tan top. Her thick black hair pulled and pinned back away from her face. As her large bright eyes caught mine, she must have noticed I was taking a picture of her. I could tell that embarrasment overwhelmed her as she covered her face with her hand.


I slowly walked towards her, knelt down on my knees as my eyes caught her gaze. She lowered her hand to showcase her eyes again but continued to cover her mouth. I could tell she was smiling behind her hand as the dimples on her cheeks escaped the protection of her hand. I reached over and gently grasped her hand away from her mouth. As I held her hand in mine, I spoke in my best Spanish, words that I hoped would be transforming to her. "Te ves muy bonita hoy. Para donde vas?" I said. She replied, "Para la Iglesia." She was on her way to church.

My eyes teared up, making it difficult for me to see through the moisture that had accumulated on my eyes. This girl was the symbol of hope. It was a nourishing experience to find out that she dragged herself down that mountain every day to go to the Center to greet guests or to attend one of the many weekly services in a nearby church.

I was astounded by the strength and determination of this girl. Here I was complaining about how difficult it was to go up and down this mountain and here in front of me, was a girl who traversed this mountain multiple times a week on her knees.

When I embarked on this journey to Nicaragua, I had expressed to our team that we were there to bless others, but after this experience, I was the one being blessed and transformed. Sometimes things don't always go as planned, however, I recognized that I should be having the kind of determination that this girl had. Nothing, not even her lack of mobility with her legs was going to hamper her passion and determination at achieving the ultimate goal: to be a servant leader at the Center and to praise and worship her God at church no matter what the circumstances of life brings her.

I will never forget her. I will never forget this day. I will never forget this trip.

- Steve Thurston