People keep asking what I will be doing down there, in Nicaragua, and I struggle with the open ended-ness of my response because I am seeing already how hung up I am at needing a very specific plan. Well, folks the plan is, there is no plan. That’s the plan. That being said, we are doing VBS with the kids, helping the dorm parents however they need us to help, and in general, just loving on children who were forced to face the evil of this world well before they ever should have known of it’s existence.
I find myself excited, nervous, scared and excited again. If I sleep at all tonight it will be a miracle. So I have been praying, but not normal prayers. They are more like the prayers of a 4 year old hopped up on Mountain Dew, trying to cut a deal with a parent for a few more minutes up before having to go to bed. I have been asking for stuff just to realize that an open and willing heart, open and listening ears, and hands ready for the tasks laid before me are what’s needed.
So this is what I ask of you who read this, whether you believe in God or not, pray, however and whatever you feel is necessary, pray.
Above is what I wrote the night before I left the country. Little did I know how much God would use me and not so much use me as push me out of the way and make himself blatantly apparent and obvious, in every moment of every day, in everything that happened.
I found out, late in the game in my preparation for this trip, that Nicaragua has 8 active volcanoes. The country is the same size as the state of New York. So you are never not near a volcano (yes I know I just used a double negative in that sentence, I meant to). Now for most people, this probably is an “Oh gee that’s so cool, an active volcano”…. Um no they are not cool, they are ruthless killers and quite hot. Now I will freely admit I have issues when it comes to volcanoes but I have good reasons. My parents were missionaries in the Philippines when I was a kid for a few years, and within our first few weeks of being on the island of Luzon, Mt. Pinatubo exploded. We were probably 9 miles or so from it when it happened. The sky went pitch black in the middle of the day, pumis rock was falling out of the sky, red lightening lit up the clouds. Oh, and there was a tropical typhoon that was making landfall that day as well. People died that day and as a kid I was vitally aware of how horrible the situation was but how good God was at the same time. Granted we made it and I have the rocks to prove that we were there, but a dead volcano is an awesome volcano as far as I am concerned. So, right off the bat, God is telling me to trust him, because the flight into Managua Nicaragua is over a volcano crater lake and the drive up to Jinotepe there is a volcano visible from the porch of the Arms of Love compound. But I digress let’s start this all back at the airport.
The smell getting off the plane hit me first; the combination of a hundred percent humidity, human garbage, burning tires, and fresh tropical fruit and in that moment standing at the airport, 3 years of living in Southeast Asia came flying back. It reached up and grabbed me by the throat. Emotional choke holds are difficult, in that it’s hard to understand why you can’t breathe, yet part of you completely understands why you can’t take a deep breath. It was like coming home. It’s interesting that when you give that concept of home completely to God, it doesn’t ever matter where you are on this globe, it all feels like home and in the same moment doesn’t feel like home because your soul yearns and craves the eternal fields.
Managua is a city built on the edge of a volcanic crater lake, a city in the second poorest country in the western hemisphere doesn’t offer much in material goods, but its culture is rich, much more so than that of American wants and greed. America is proud as well but not in her culture. There in Nicaragua, however, you see it in their stature, their meals, in the colors emblazed upon street signs. This is a country that wants better for its self.
The drive through the city was typical 3rd world crazy and I have my father to thank for desensitizing me to sharp stomps on the brakes and evasive maneuvering of the wheel in traffic. For those of you not familiar with this kind of driving the rules are as follows:
1) Respect your fellow drivers
2) No knives
3) Rules 1 and 2 do not apply… ever.
Mike Slivka somehow got place up front next to our driver so if you want to double check any of these rules at any given point I am sure he would be happy to clarify any questions that you may have.
The drive into Jinotepe is a meandering one through jungle on ancient volcanic ranges (again volcanoes! I guess God was using psychology 101 – challenge what scares you. I feel like I would have been just fine without this lesson but then again, I am not the Divine Eternal Creator, so what do I know?) The land is fertile, thick, and green beyond anything we ever see stateside. It’s vital and vibrant and unique to the tropics alone and in the tradition of life in the tropics, the bugs are huge and industrious. I have the pictures to prove it.
But this left me asking myself questions because I was hurting with 18 year old memories. Dear Lord, how can you expect me to be present and interact with these kids (who are amazing by the way) I want to listen but am not sure that I am? So day one left me breathing this prayer incessantly, Lord keep me in the here and now, your will be done.
That night I started reading in Psalm, specifically 40 and 41 God never really led me to read any of the others and that night I read this
Blessed is the one who considers the poor!
In the day of trouble the Lords delivers him;
The Lord protects him and keeps him alive;
He is called blessed in the land;
You do not give him up to the will of his enemies.
The Lord sustains him on his sickbed;
In his illness you restore him to full health
I wouldn’t know until Sunday why God had planted this seed of scripture in me.
Arms of Love
The compound of Arms of Love is nestled outside the town of Jinotepe in the Jungle. You look over the chain link fence with barb wire stretched across the top and you can disappear into the deep green fairly easily.
The kids welcomed us with open arms and more than the kids the staff did as well. They have it set up like the dorms at a boarding school. A younger co-ed dorm, older boys, older girls, and the more college age kids, with house parents in each dorm. I started talking to an American who has been helping at Arms of Love for a few years, we discussed that the kids don’t like be referred to as orphans because most of them do have family. That family either can’t provide for them and these kids were forced to the streets to survive or their home situation was so horrible that the kids were removed. In essence, these kids are given a more stable family environment where they can have the privilege to go to school and learn English which increases their chances of being able to independently be successful by getting a good job. However beyond that they are introduced to the gospel and the true freedom that comes from God’s redemptive grace.
In talking with my new friend, we discussed the trauma that is involved in living in absolute poverty. When every day is a fight for survival, you don’t know where your next meal will come from or even if it will exist. So, to curb your appetite you find some styrofoam mix it with gas to make a glue-like substance that you can huff the rest of the day to curb your appetite. We, in America have no idea what this is like, and in fact have recently made a movie idolizing fighting for survival. The Hunger Games was written by a woman exploring what it would be like for kids to have to survive in war-like poverty situations. She wasn’t wrong in saying they would kill to stay alive. We, however, have been way wrong in how we have embraced that movie. Instead of cries of outrage that any child would be faced with those choices, we wonder when the next movie will be coming out.
So we show up and the kids are outside playing and with no questions asked they drag us into their games. Chasing each other around ant hills, dodging giant avocadoes as they fall out of trees and in general, laughing because I can’t understand what they are saying and the only Spanish I know I learned on Sesame Street (this means I can count to three like The Count, which is scary for children looking up at a 6 foot tall gringo chica, so I didn’t do it). This is childlike faith, trust and love, when they have no reason to trust me and what I have to offer. It was a beautiful and blessed way to enter into our time at AoL.
That evening, after traveling for the better part of the entire day and then playing with the kids, we were greeted by Javier and Elizabeth, the director for AoL Nicaragua and his wife. These were people who didn’t need words. Their mere presence was one where you just wanted to be near them. Elizabeth is one of those women who exude the aroma of Christ. You know that if anything were to go wrong her just being there would make it better somehow, something that would come into play later in our stay. Javier greeted us and then went on to say that even already our presence there was a blessing to these kids, an encouragement because they know they are not alone.
I was floored, being a nurse and a doer, it is hard for me to accept at times, that just being with someone is what they need most; just that acknowledgement that what they are going through is rough but more than that, they are not alone. I went to bed that night apologizing to God for getting it wrong yet again and praying that my ears would be up to whatever task he had planned the next day. Even then I was beginning to sense what God would be teaching me throughout the remainder of this trip. That I have been living like Israel, the wayward bride, the unfaithful bride; trying to convince myself that my pride is humility, that my self- righteousness is the act of servitude. Only to be faced with the reality of my humanness, something I should remember every morning as my head leaves the pillow.