(based on Psalm 84)
Our spirits long for You,
long to see and rest in Your dwelling place.
Our hearts and bodies cry out
in joyous song as we consider the wonder of who You are.
Your graciousness and loving care
extend to even the smallest of creatures and creations:
the sparrows of the air
the flowers of the field…
And we marvel that Your love
also extends to each of us –
knowing us so intimately
that You know every hair on our head,
counting them beloved.
The Psalmist proclaims that
a single day in Your courts, in Your dwelling place,
is better than a thousand days elsewhere –
that he would rather be a doorkeeper in Your house
than live and thrive in worldly wickedness.
We read these words, and sing these words,
proclaiming our desire to serve You,
yet fancy ourselves masters of our own destiny,
responding to Your hand of guidance with
the three-year-old’s refrain:
“No! I do it.”
Help us, O God.
Help humility sprout up
in the cracks of our lives
like dandelions in the sidewalk.
Help us to trust in You
to the point of full reliance,
that we might lean on You
look to You
long for You
As that humility grows in us,
help us to hear Your call
and shape our service within the mold
of the prophets and the Gospels –
that we might care for the sick
and the oppressed
with such fierce compassion and tender justice
that those who witness our work
cannot help but wonder:
“Who is this marvelous God that they serve?”
This we pray in the name of Your son Jesus,
who shows us the Way
today, tomorrow, and forevermore.
Yesterday we said goodbye to Chacraseca. It was exciting to head out on our day of sightseeing and cultural experiences, but also a little sad. The Casa de Paz was a good home for us this week, and the people of Chacraseca are wonderful. We’re grateful to say that some have become our friends.
From Chacraseca, we travelled south past Managua to Vulcán Masaya (the Masaya Volcano). The visitor center was informative, but nothing could prepare us for the drive to the top where we could look into the volcano’s crater. Visitors are only allowed at the top for 5 minutes because the gas that escapes the volcano will make you sick if you stay longer. Even with only 5 minutes to look around, we were blown away. When the wind hit the smoky gasses just right, we could even see the glow of lava at the bottom of the crater!
From Vulcán Masaya, we drove to the town of Masaya. This is an area filled with all sorts of artists and craftspeople, and is particularly known for indigenous culture and gorgeous pottery. We went to visit the Lopez Family, who have been making pottery in the traditional way for generations. Just Hope partnered with the family to help them build their own kiln — prior to that, they had to rent space in others’ kilns, and made very little profit to help their family. Now, they are expanding and doing well.
At the Lopez home, we ate a delicious lunch. Then we watched a demonstration of how their pottery is made, and got to try our hand at working the wheel and etching designs into glazed pieces. When the demonstration ended, we went to their shop and browsed their gorgeous work. Each family member designs pieces differently, so the selection was as wide as it was beautiful.
From the Lopez shop, we went up to the top of the hill where we could view the huge lagoon that separates Masaya from Granada. It was windy and cool, and we enjoyed beverages and ice cream from our perch before heading back down towards Managua. At the end of the day, we settled into the Best Western across the road from the airport, ate a lovely poolside dinner, and enjoyed air conditioning for the first time in a week. Bedtime came early because we had to start waking up around 3 am to be ready for the airport.
Today we’ve made it to San Salvador, El Salvador, which means 1/3 of our trip home is complete. The flight to Houston doesn’t leave until 1:20, so we’re here for a while. Plenty of time is available to eat breakfast/lunch, walk a bit before a longer flight, and reflect on the experience we’ve had.
Before we left, one of our hopes was that we would be changed by our experience in Nicaragua. If that was our goal, then we haven’t been disappointed. It’s hard to be among these people without being changed by their stories, their situations, their hopes, and their radical hospitality. In the weeks and months to come, we’ll work to bring these experiences into our wider church and our daily lives. We hope you’ll join us in worship on Sunday, February 19th when we share stories, photos, and tastes from our trip!
Nicaragua is in our hearts, and to our new friends we say “hasta luego”!
Today was our last full day in Chacraseca. The first half of the day was very full. After breakfast, we first visited Ileana. She shared her story with us — that several years ago she lost her young son, who had been born with a variety of health issues. After his death, she experienced extreme depression. With the encouragement of a friend, she began making jewelry to sell to groups that come through Chacraseca. This creative work helped to pull her out of depression and begin living again.
Ileana’s dream was to have a house of her own. As she earned money with her jewelry, she began saving and purchasing supplies as she could. Over the course of the years, she has built and decorated one of the loveliest homes in Chacraseca. Her hard work, creativity, and strength are truly inspiring.
When we finished visiting with Ileana, we began the long trek to Miramar — the farthest sector of Chacraseca. It takes an hour on very rough roads to reach Miramar from our home base of Casa de Paz. When we arrived, we met Doña Fatima, who is the head of the women’s microcredit bank in her sector. She introduced us to two women who have received micro loans from this program. They have used the money to purchase cattle, and either make money by selling the milk to a distributor from Lèon, or use the milk to make a variety of foods for their families.
The women who have benefitted from micro credit are deeply grateful for the opportunity. These small loans of $200-$300 dollars help them to begin achieving more for their families, while also building self-confidence. It was a joy to share in their hopes, joys, and dreams, and also humbling to share in their struggles and sorrows (one woman’s son died only 10 days ago, so her grief was very fresh).
This afternoon we had down time to clean up (Miramar isVERY dusty), rest, and begin packing. Then, before dinner, we met with Juan for some final debriefing and discussion about our time here. This included brainstorming ways to share this experience with people at home. After dinner, Juan Pablo (our fearless and faithful driver) shared some songs with us, including a song he has written for visiting groups from Just Hope. We gifted Juan and Juan Pablo (as well as our other translators) with FCC Smithville Christmas ornaments as a way of saying thank you for everything they have done for us this week.
It is hard to say goodbye to people you’ve come to think of as friends. Thankfully, we aren’t saying goodbye — we’re saying see you later to partners and friends in the struggle for justice and hope.
How is this week flying by so quickly?!
Today, we began with breakfast and then a lesson in making tortillas on a wood-burning eco stove. It’s a good thing we did an ok job, as the tortillas we made were part of our lunch later in the day!
After tortilla-making, we met the women of Cosiendo Esperanza (Stitching Hope). These talented and business-savvy women dye their own fabrics and then use them to create beautiful clothing, bags, stoles, and more. They also sew high quality school uniforms and sell them at reduced prices throughout the sectors of Chacraseca so that parents are better able to afford their kids’ school expenses.
This week, the women of Cosiendo Esperanza are under a deadline on the uniforms because school begins on Monday. In order to help them, our job was to dye t-shirts in bright colors so that they can use them for screen printing and then sell them. They taught us the dyeing technique and then let us at it — this saved them half a day of work, and we had a great time. We also purchased some of their gorgeous inventory, and some of our own quilters spent time discussing techniques and equipment with them via the excellent translation of our friends Francis and Juan.
After lunch, we went into Leon to meet with Kara, who is Program Director for Just Hope. She taught us about the history, purpose, and projects of Just Hope, and she helped us to process some of what we’ve learned this week. She also helped us to begin thinking of ways we can continue to build this partnership after we return home to Missouri. When it was time for her to go to a meeting, we got in the van and headed to the ocean for some time at the beach.
It was wonderful to walk along the beach and wade in the waters of the Pacific Ocean. We wandered, collected shells, and took lots of pictures. Then we ate a magnificent (and VERY reasonably priced) dinner of fish, shrimp, and lobster at the seaside restaurant. On the way back to Chacraseca, Juan Pablo stopped the van so we could look at the stars — without the light pollution of the city, it was quite a sight!
Now we’re winding down and getting ready for bed. It’s been a great day, and we’re excited to see what tomorrow will bring. ¡Hasta mañana!
It was another full day here in Chacraseca. We began by walking over to the local Catholic Church in Chacraseca for a quick look prior to our appointment with the head doctor at the health clinic. Then, when she was done with staff meeting, we had our tour. It is mind-blowing how much the medical staff is able to accomplish with greatly limited space and resources. Each day the line of patients starts forming as early as 4:30 am, and each day the team does everything they can to improve the health of the community. They are amazing.
After our clinic visit, we travelled out into the sectors for a very important appointment. We arrived at the home of one of the Nicaraguan half of our 20 Women of Hope group (the group of Smithville and Chacraseca women who provide a scholarship and other support to a college student. First, we met with our original student. Then we met with our new student, and learned all about her hopes and dreams to become a nurse.
After these meetings, we spent time doing a cooking exchange with the other 20. Women of hope. The Nica women watched as we cooked, and the uS women awkwardly made our way through the wood stove kitchen…
After meeting with our 20 women of hope group, we went back to our home base and met with the president of Chacraseca. He was very passionate about his community, especially regarding education.
Today was all about getting our feet wet in the communities of Chacraseca, which is a rural county outside the city of Leon that is marked by a lack of resources. Our morning was filled with home visits, where residents (mostly women) were ready to share stories about different aspects of their lives.
One woman told us about her life as a high school teacher. She teaches civics, social sciences, and artistic expression in a school of 120 students. Resources are thin, but her passion for teaching is strong, and graduation rates keep going up year after year.
Another woman has had her life changed by being chosen to receive an ecological stove. Rather than inhaling the smoke of an open fire, risking frequent burns and declining health (a plight common among women here), she now uses significantly less wood in a stove that stays cool everywhere except the cook surface and that sends all the woodsmoke out of her kitchen through a metal chimney. She has become a strong leader in her community, and uses her influence to encourage others to try these stoves in their own homes.
Yet another woman currently lives in a shack constructed of wooden beams and black plastic sheeting. She raises her son in that small space, but is on the waiting list for a new house and continues to hope for the day when it is her turn to have a new home built on her land.
Both a man who spends his days farming the land through increasingly dry years and a woman who is too sick to work spoke about la lucha (the struggle). In this part of Nicaragua, life is struggle. But the struggle is not something they do alone. Instead, leaders in the community volunteer their time to work for the good of their people, and generally strive to do so in an equitable and fair manner.
After lunch, we visited the local hardware store — a small business created by women to meet the community’s need for a place to purchase building supplies locally. This business, which as expanded to include a cafe, was initially the recipient of a microcredit loan. These loans, offered to women by women, enable individuals to get start up money for small business ventures without providing collateral. The microcredit banks are initially funded by donations that come via Just Hope.
After the hardware store visit, we attended a special performance at the brand new Chacraseca Cultural Center. Students from their music and folkloric dance groups wowed us with traditional dances and songs about Nicaragua. The performance was wonderful! There are very talented kids here in Chacraseca.
At the end of the day, we spent time reflecting, listening to Juan Pablo singing/playing guitar, eating dinner, and hanging out. We’re all deeply moved by the things we’ve seen and people we’ve met today. Now we’re headed to bed so we can be refreshed for another very full day tomorrow!
Friends, it’s been a busy two days! Yesterday was our travel day from Kansas City to Managua — a long day that was made even longer by a variety of delays. Ultimately, we all made it to Managua by 9 pm (with no time difference between here and home).
After getting our luggage loaded on the van, our driver (Juan Pablo) and the director of Just Hope (Leslie) shepherded us to Hotel Gueguense for a night of sleep and the beginnings of adjusting to our new surroundings.
This morning we had breakfast at the hotel, which included the staple dish of beans and rice — known in Nicaragua as Gallo Pinto. After breakfast, Leslie began our introduction to Nicaraguan history by explaining the gorgeous murals that decorate the central corridor of the hotel. Included in that explanation was a description of a panel that shows many local dishes all made from corn. Corn is both a staple food and a powerful symbol of perseverance because during Nicaragua’s colonial past, the common people were cut off from most food sources other than corn. Their ingenuity allowed them to survive when their oppressors expected them to starve.
As we traveled around Managua, our history lesson continued. We visited various landmarks including their earthquake-damaged cathedral, national palace, and highest point (which once held the Somoza dictators’ residence). Through these landmarks, we learned the history of persistence, strength, and revolutionary spirit that is characteristic of Nica culture.
Just before lunch we beat an our journey from Managua to Leon. On the way, we stopped for pictures near two volcanoes, and had a lunch of quesillos (tortillas, soft cheese, sour cream sauce, and pickled onions). So tasty!
Once in Leon, we visited the office of Just Hope. There we were split into three families, given profiles and given the task of shopping in a nearby market for food. One family had 30 Cordova ($1), another had 60 ($2), and the third had 90 ($3). Using information about normal expenses for families in Chacraseca, like the cost of firewood for cooking and the cost of school uniforms and books, we had to decide how much we could spend to feed our families for a day and decide whether or not our kids could attend school. After making those tough choices, we then went into the market with our translators and decided what food we could afford to purchase.
The market was full of fruits, vegetables, grains, condiments, and the like — but we left with precious little food. Two groups were able to purchase food for the day, and the 30 Cordova group discovered that we had so little to spend that we could only afford food if we chose to cook twice a week and make those meals last for days. A pound of rice, a pound of beans, and one tomato would have to last a family of 5 for the whole week.
The exercise was difficult on many levels. We went back to Leslie’s home to discuss and process the experience. In each of the family groups, we discovered there was no feasible way to both keep our kids in school and feed our families. This meant that school was not an option, and that realization hit people hard. We’ve come back to this reality multiple times throughout the night.
After we finished our discussion, Juan Pablo drove us the final distance to Chacraseca. On the way we saw many interesting sights, including a man on a bicycle carrying a large statue of Jesus under his arm, and a clown climbing into the bed of a pickup truck. We settled into our space here at the peace house, ate a delicious dinner, debriefed the day, and now we’re headed to bed.
It’s been a hard day and a good day. It’s difficult head and heart work to hear familiar history told from a perspective that doesn’t favor your own nation. It’s also good work, for deep listening is one of the most central facets of friendship.
Tomorrow we have an early day, so tonight we’re off to bed. Goodnight!