Sunday, August 17, 2014

Our Latest Construction Project

We always have projects going on around here...we are 14 weeks into this one so far...


{Hopefully you don't have to be a really nerdy person to notice the pattern.}

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Some Fun (or Funny) Things about Nicaragua

A post in pictures...beginning with food we ate.

This was breakfast at the hotel our first morning in Nicaragua. Some interesting things to note: those are hot dogs in the eggs (not spicy sausage). Bread served for breakfast tasted like what we would eat for dinner. It was mind-shifting! Rice and beans and fried plantains (platanos) were very common.

There was a small food stand inside the CNPEN compound where we slept each night. I was super excited when a Pepsi truck (with real GLASS bottles!) drove up the first day.

I thought it was a little odd when I noticed Nicaraguans walking around sucking on plastic bags, sometimes through straws, and sometimes just out of the corner of the bag. It turns out that because there is a deposit on the return of the glass bottles, vendors will pour the soda into a plastic bag and give it to you, rather than give you the bottle. While I was disappointed to not drink directly from the bottle, I did have a couple turns at drinking from a plastic bag. Interesting, to say the least. (And it was very sad how many plastic bags were in the streets and sewage ditches in the village).


Tip-top chicken is a Nicaraguan fast-food joint you just can't miss. Who would like some red (bubblegum) Fanta?

This is standard fare that we were fed for lunch each day. The meat varied, but the sauce (called salsa, but not anything like salsa...salsa is just the Spanish word for sauce), rice, and beans were the same. The soft tortilla is corn not flour.

Apparently there was some homemade juice that a woman sold out of the front of her home that was absolutely delicious...I'll take their word for it...I wasn't brave enough to try the mystery juice!


When we drove up to the resort/touristy area in the mountains we ate at a restaurant along the shore of the Laguna de Apoyo. I ordered fish, and this is what it looked like when it came:

Actually, it was quite good!

Ground Transportation...

Kids were often clamoring for a turn to ride in the back of Mario's pick-up truck. These guys learned the hard way (by the assistance of a police officer) that they must actually sit INSIDE the back of the truck, not up on the sides.

The rest of us traveled in safety inside this decommissioned school bus (which came years ago all the way from Indiana!).

In Nicaragua, the buses that come from USA do not have to be painted. This one bears the marks of its former school district. There were many buses like this all over Managua. Many buses, even some city buses, were painted with Christian sayings and Bible verses on them. (Oh how nice that would be in USA!).

We saw lots of "hungry" horses. In fact, I only saw one horse that looked healthy and not starved. Horses and carts often shared the roadways with motor vehicles. Nicaraguans also traveled by bikes, motorcycles (I saw a few of those spilled on the highway), city bus (hard to tell the difference between a city bus and a private bus), and also some little motorcycle taxi things...wish I had gotten a picture of those...

Well, there's always the universal mode of transportation, walking.  It made us very dirty.

One day I stood by the CNPEN outer fence and watched traffic for a very long time moving down the main highway. The disparity is amazing. I spent a lot of time pondering and asking questions. How do some in Managua live so well, while so many others live in poverty that most USA'ers (even those under the "poverty level") will never experience? Ok, hold that thought...this is supposed to be a fun post...

BEEP-BEEP  I forgot to mention the honking! I could write an entire post about driving in Managua. It was an experience to say the least. Many roads were narrower than we are used to. Maybe it was just me, but I felt like our drivers drove much faster than we would drive. I think the speed limit signs were just suggestions. But how would I know? The speedometer on the bus was broken. :) People honk frequently. Honking can mean "get out of my way" as it usually does in USA, but it can also mean: I'm not stopping, It's my turn to go, It is your turn to go but hurry up, I'm not picking you up, I will pick you up, I'm passing you, I'm in your blind spot, I'm going through this roundabout, Don't pull out in front of me, I'm behind you, and I'm sure many more things that I've forgotten. Mitch and I both were tempted to use our horns more liberally when we got back to the States. :)

Also, pedestrians do not have the right away. Get out of the way, or get hit. Really.

Experience a taste of it for yourselves:

CNPEN...the compound where we stayed at night.

CNPEN is sort of an association of evangelical pastors in Nicaragua (for lack of a better description). They provide support to pastors across the nation. Among others, we met Mario from CNPEN and two of his children and their families. They were a great help to us throughout the week, and it was easy to tell that they were old friends of Carol and Enrique. CNPEN was an interesting place. It was gated and protected by a 24-hour guard. The compound consists of several buildings and a large parking lot. At night trucks would pay to park in the secured lot. I was amazed at the parking solutions (ie: how many large vehicles they could cram into the parking lot, and just how they maneuvered in there). There were often large trucks hauling gravel or bricks, one night there were refrigerated trucks (which ran all night long), and there were always buses (did the city not have a city bus parking lot? apparently not). This was obviously a solution to keep trucks from being vandalized while their owners slept at night. They arrived late at night and left at the crack of dawn (which helped me wake up every morning by 6 am). Since our sleeping area was completely open air (open air does not mean fresh air), we smelled the diesel as we fell asleep and as we awoke. I personally form strong memories when attached to smells, so this will forever be a fond memory believe it or not. ;)

From google maps, here is an overhead shot of CNPEN. I wish there were such a shot at nighttime with the parking lot full! The white arrow is pointing to the main building (hidden by trees) and attached dormitory type area. The showers and restrooms were in the back of this area (no words to describe). The blue arrow is pointing to the open area where we slept. It was a meeting area, like a church. The yellow arrow is pointing to a row of buildings at the back of the compound. These buildings are clinics. There was a doctor's clinic, a pharmacy, an optometrist, and a dentist. There were people at the clinics every time they were open. (Go here to get a feel for how far CNPEN was from Santa Elena. Not far!)



 {Mario and Enrique having a little fun.}

 Meeting for debrief at night before we crash for the night. We each had about 3 thin mattresses, which we tried to place where a fan would reach each of us. Girls on one side of the building, boys on the other.


I know this post is getting terribly long. Sorry about that.

Friends and other random fun photos...

Carolina was always cutting up for the camera. I am going to do a post about her later.

We made friends with David Pavon, who came down to spend the day with us Sunday. His English was excellent, and it was awesome to have another translator helping us out for VBS and church services! Not only that, but I handed over my camera and he took photos for me too, meaning that I actually got to be in a few. :)

The kids in the village adored Darris. They said he looked like a famous soccer player, Messi, so that's what they called him all week long. This actually came in handy for one of the VBS skits where we talked about how the people turned from worshiping God to worshiping idols.


I personally loved having Gabe, the son of Enrique and Carol, along with us for the trip. He is 10 years old. I can't wait to get him together with Zeke and Josh, since they live only about an hour away from us.
 Yeah, if that had been Zeke (and it most certainly would have), I would have wanted to wring his neck too!
 Gabe is such a great kid!! He had a wonderful attitude about the trip and was so flexible.

This is why you should not be the first person to fall asleep. Haha.

The kids loved bringing their "pets" to VBS to show off.
 Love this picture...I bet it made you smile, too...

I forgot to put this one on a previous post. This is the little 3yo sister of Johanna. I tried so hard to endear her to myself. At least she did give me a hug goodbye. <3 p="">

My fingernails would.not.stay.clean.  I laughed and tried to tell the women (in my broken Spanish) that I needed to wash some dishes. It was so unbelievably dirty there.

Mitch, me, Hayley, and Esau (say "ay-saw-oo"). Esau was our bus driver for the week. He is a fellow brother in Christ. Mitch and I love him to pieces.

Hayley and Aaron both celebrated their birthdays in Nicaragua!

Mitch got to preach on Sunday morning at Esau's church.


Esau has five children (so far...grin). This is one of his sons, who is named Abdias Caleb (Obadiah Caleb).  How cool is that???  Such a handsome guy! My brother in Christ. He reminds me of my brother here in the states too.

After leaving the market and preparing to load the bus, all at once I looked down at the ground, which was covered with bottle tops. This is not anything unusual down there, but I can't believe it took me all week to think of this. Zeke collects bottle tops! Excitedly I yelled to Mitch, "Free souvenirs!" LOL We started picking up the best bottle caps we could find.
 What a good collection for Zeke!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Vacation Bible School in Santa Elena

We had five days of VBS in Santa Elena. Since several of the team members had been here before, we had been prepared for the difficult conditions we would need to be flexible about. One surprise (for me) that popped up was that VBS started on Sunday not Monday.  I had created a newspaper for the craft on the last day and had labeled each of the days in Spanish "lunes" through "viernes." Oops! :) Also we found out that the kids had just finished their week of summer vacation (yes, week) and would be returning to school on Monday. About half the kids went to school during the morning (half day) and the remaining half during the afternoon. So Pastor Louis accommodated by saying we would do VBS in the mornings AND in the afternoons. On one hand, we had fewer children to deal with at one time, which made things easier. On the other hand, we had long, exhausting days and our team was split between construction and VBS with many of the young men running between both as needed.

When we arrived in Santa Elena there were happy reunions between old friends. The "Norte Americanos" (North Americans) easily drew a crowd of children and a few adults. One of the first things we did was tour the grounds of the church and get some idea of what we had to work with and what work needed to be done. The first order of business was very evident--the yard in the back needed to be cleared in order for us to have any area to play.


Well, that didn't stop the kids from coming up with their own game right away. Before I knew it, a team of boys was chasing Josh and a few other young men on our team...they rounded them up and locked them in the schoolroom...we said it was like Daniel in the lion's den.


Another thing that was evident immediately was how many older siblings were caring for their younger siblings. It remained a theme throughout the week...often children would bring their siblings (even babies and toddlers) to the church and care for them the entire time they were there (running them home as needed, of course).

This picture makes me so happy...see the little girl on the far right in the pink tank top and her little brother in front of her in the orange tank top?
 I posted a picture of them in one of my first blog posts about the trip. It was taken 2 years ago. I had no idea I would have the blessing of actually meeting them!
Photo Credit: Andres Almarza 2012
See how they've grown!!  Not only did I get to meet them, but I met all their siblings and their mom. They have a 2-month old baby brother. There are 7 children in all. The mom said that 5 are old enough to go to school, but she can only afford to send 3. In a heartbreaking moment for me, she asked me for help (which I could not provide). It was hours later, at 3 am, that I realized what my first response should have been--to encourage and affirm her role as a mother and her ability to give her children what they need most, the Bible. As a homeschooling mom, I should have thought of this immediately! Unfortunately, I didn't get the chance. :( I will be praying for Norma and her beautiful family, though.

This picture also makes me smile. Micah doing what he knows best.  This little boy with the million dollar smile was cut from the same mold as Malachi, if that's even possible. His mom brought him to church every day. But he was naughty!! Mitch fell in love with his older sister, Johanna, and I fell in love with his 3-year old sister (but that wasn't returned, lol, she was very wary of me!). This boy, though, I kept both eyes on him as often as I could...

Singing at the beginning of VBS...
 Drama/story time...our teens did such a great job at this!! And Hayley did a wonderful job teaching the kids in Spanish every single day (twice a day for 4 of the days).

One of the crafts...

After some work with a rake, that back yard is looking usable!

It was so dusty...
 Soccer was one of the most popular games played!

 Two days it rained. The second day it rained a LOT. Everyone was muddy. Yet still the kids and our teens played on!


Craft time...

All of VBS was at best organized chaos. Kids were coming and going. There were often kids sneaking in the back door and even crawling through the windows to do craft again or get a second pack of juice. There was not a registration process. We didn't meet most of the parents. Children came and went as they wished. Babies were taking care of babies. Still, there was love, much love. The children loved being there and our teens loved loving them. We did the best we could in the midst of the chaos, the heat, the dirt, and our exhaustion. 17-hour days and hot nights meant that we had little physical strength to work with, but we did. On one particular day we had divided our children into two groups. One group stayed inside to practice the memory verse and do craft, while the other group went outside for games. The inside group was taking a long time to finish, and the group outside was restless. The leaders inside grew frustrated with children sneaking into the church. I set up watch by the back door to try to keep children outside and in the back yard. Frustrated with my lack of Spanish I finally just told the kids in English that they needed to wait outside until it was time to switch. It must have worked...they walked away...

One of the crafts we did for VBS was we took pictures of each student who came. There are over 200 photos! We had the photos printed at a mall in Managua, then gave each student their photo on Wednesday. I had time to do "make up" photos of the children we missed so we could have them printed and give them out on Thursday. Once we began handing out photos, word spread quickly. Some boys came excitedly trying to get my attention and led me to the street in front of the church. I met a woman who was quickly making her way down the street with a 6-month old little girl in her arms. She was smoothing the little girl's dress and her hair was damp from a recent bath. With my broken Spanish I knew exactly what she wanted. It was a conundrum...if I started taking photos of everyone in the village, where would it stop? But I could not say no over a 20-cent photo. (I don't think they even cost that much!).

It was a joy.

Here I am with part of Norma's family, see that adorable baby!

The Good News...newspapers we made on the last day...

Mitch has the touch...Micah did this too with another kid...so sweet...

Seriously, the humble furnishings of this tiny church (which was packed out--standing room only, people hanging in the windows--at the evening services) should be a lesson to ALL of us in the United States, but especially those of us at Calvary Community Church!!

Children present after the afternoon session on our last day (Thursday):

Eden and one of her favorite children, Jorge:

Mitch...Johanna is in front with the white t-shirt...


 This sweet girl, Jenifer, brought me a letter on the last day...

If this picture doesn't break your heart, you have a heart of stone...



There are many, many more photos on flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/stephtheis/sets/72157646199645554/