Day Five: What You Walk Away With

It’s crazy to believe it’s almost Friday already. This week has gone by super quickly. Yesterday was another great day; still being a day behind in things, I’m going to go ahead and talk about yesterday.

I didn’t take this picture, but these are the lizards we live with!

But first, to talk about some of the creatures that live in the mission. When we first got here, we were warned to keep our suitcases closed and off the floor due to possible mice and rats in the building. The first night here passed without an incident; we were careful and kept everything off the floor, closed, etc. Tuesday night, I was in the middle of setting my alarm for the next day when I heard a loud “squeak” from the other end of the room (at least, it seemed quite loud at the time). Well, the squeaks continued to move around the room all night, and every time I would start to fall asleep, visions of rats and mice crawling up onto the bed (crazy, right?) would wake me up again. Needless to say, I slept little that night. But in the morning, guess what we found out was making that obnoxious noise? Lizards. So, the place we live has more squeaking lizards than mice or rats, and we’ve gone to bed to their squeaks and squeals every night since.

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A nicer portion of the road we drove to get to the hiking point

Well, we left at 7:30 that morning to go to do construction work on a small schoolhouse in the middle of the mountains. The schoolhouse, tin and windowless, was too hot many days for the children to meet, so we were going to help put in windows and then play with the kids a bit. To get to the school, we left the paved roads almost immediately for several miles of serious off-roading on a small horse/walking trail used primarily by traders bringing firewood and other goods from the mountains into the cities. Once we couldn’t drive any further, we got out and hiked the rest of the way – about three strenuous miles of rocky, nearly-pathless jungle. It was absolutely gorgeous. At the schoolhouse, we met our translator, Oscar, and did our best to help with the construction work (it was a little slow). We  helped to cut wood and tin siding, took nails out and hammered more in, and moved supplies as needed. I mainly worked with a guy named Otto, who spoke almost no English. We conversed a little in Spanish, and I basically did whatever he needed done. 

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The schoolhouse

We had our lunch at a little store down the road; while we were eating, kids slowly gathered at the door to just watch us. First, one or two would come in and sit down, just staring at us and smiling. By the end, there were seven or eight kids, so we decided to go play with them. We went back to the work site and started a game of baseball – Nicaraguans vs. the Gringos (they won handily) – in a little cleared-out area on the side of the mountain overlooking a breathtaking view of the range. It was a lot of fun, though we had to dodge some pretty scary thornbushes and rocks in the middle of the field and around the outside every time we chased a ball.

Once we finished, we packed up and hiked back, then rode the rest of the way to the mission in the bed of the truck. The ride back was amazing; from the bed, we could look back and see the mountains, indescribably massive and vast. We ran into quite a few traders, usually spurring on horses loaded down with firewood or bags of goods.

Once we got back to the mission, we decided to walk around the marketplace outside for a few minutes. Some of the girls bought some blankets (I was able to serve as the translator to help them bargain prices, which was a lot of fun). After heading back  to the mission for dinner, we went to another missionary family’s home for dessert and to discuss the day.

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The school church with a bit of the mountain range in the background; we played baseball on the hill about 200 yards behind the church

Overall, one of the most impactful parts of the day happened at the work site. I am not the most wonderful carpenter, and as I was trying hard to nail tin roofing to the school fram (and failing miserably because it bounced so much every time we would hit it with the hammer), I got really frustrated and began to wonder why we were there at all. Work was slow, and at that moment we really didn’t seem to be helping much. The workers by themselves probably could have done the work for us in much less time than we were taking. However, right at that moment of greatest frustration, the lady who lived in the house behind the school appeared behind us. Older and slightly stooped, greying, and primly dressed, she called and beckoned me to her. I set down the hammer and went up to give her a hug, and the first thing she did was to show her appreciation and to thank God for the blessings of the work done with the schoolhouse. This happened at several different points during the day as women from the community would come into the schoolyard just to give hugs and say thank you.

At this point, it seemed that the purpose of the work done here was not so much the tangible quantity of what we could accomplish; the amount of blessing we give is not necessarily proportional to the number of nails you are able to hammer in or how many tin sheets you can cut, and no matter what our own efforts were, the building would be finished. One of the missionaries we visited put it best: often, we come to other countries with a sense of arrogance that we may mistake for godliness. We go into a country with the idea that we are going to change another nation, be its blessing and bring its change. However, we’re often humiliated when we find that, really, we have nothing to give. We come to conquer the world and find ourselves inadequate. Sometimes, in thinking we have something to give, it’s really God who does all the giving. As the missionary noted, that’s how “God’s economy” is different than man’s economy. We tend to think that when we give a certain amount of effort, we are proportionally able to bless the surrounding community. However, sometimes, we give the effort and accomplish little to nothing, but in the end, it is we who walk away spiritually full. Perhaps we did add something physically to bless others’ lives in a small way, but that touch changes us spiritually as well. We may walk away with something greater than we had before, something that will enable us to remember and use the experiences to continue changing communities for Christ long after the mission trip ends. It is the moments like this that allow for individuals to leave and to collectively become world-changers. Sometimes, it really is not about what you can bring, and we shouldn’t assume that it is. Sometimes, it’s about what you walk away with, and what you do with the experiences God gives you.

Day Three: Mountain School Experience

So, I’m still one day behind, but it looks like it might stay that way for the rest of the trip…for now, I’ll do my best to catch up.

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Crossing the swinging bridge

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View from the bridge

Yesterday was amazing, hands down. We got up early again to eat breakfast and head out for a mountain school in Santa Barbara, which was about a thirty minute drive + a forty minute walk from the mission. A group of about seven or eight of us, plus two translators (Harvy and Edwin) made the trip. The view the entire way was stunning.

After getting out of the car to begin the mountainous hike to the school, the first thing we did was cross a narrow swinging bridge suspended over a river before hiking the “trail” – a dried up stream bed – to the schoolhouse. We climbed over and around streams, boulders, and barbed-wire fences, and saw quite a few free-roaming cows and chickens along the way.

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Part of the “trail” we hiked; you can see a few of the wandering cows in the background

The schoolhouse itself was a small, two-room concrete building with a tin roof and open doors and windows, with a small dirt yard surrounded by a barbed-wire fence. I spoke with Harvy a bit, who said that it was not uncommon for the children to walk one to two hours each day to get to the school.

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Getting ready to sing songs with the children at the school

When we got there, we gathered with the children in the larger of the two rooms and sang some familiar songs in Spanish and in English (popular kid songs like “Father Abraham”). Afterward, a we put on a skit of the Bible story from Daniel where Daniel decides not to eat the king’s rich food and is blessed because of it. It was…hilarious. We fumbled through Spanish scripts, wore dorky costumes, and had fake battles in the classroom; one of the more amusing moments involved an accidental faceplant when someone tripped over a robe that was too big. Of course, we all assumed it was part of the act and just kept going with it, which made the act even funnier. The point of the skit, “integridad” (integrity), did somehow manage to get across, though.

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Once this was over, we just played with the kids for a while, ending in a game of soccer (we weren’t too soundly beaten). We then headed back to the mission, washed up, and left again for another school, this time a bilingual private school in town called Paso a Paso (Step by Step). (Unfortunately, things got too busy to take pictures here.) 😦 We split up into different grades, bringing letters that kids from one of the elementary schools in Searcy, AR had written as pen pals to the children at Paso a Paso. My group had the first graders, who couldn’t speak much English at all, so we had to work to translate the letters for them and help them to write letters back to the children in the U.S. (It was a lot of fun to get to use all the Spanish skills acquired at Harding!)888927_4172484365273_1792565462_o

The kids were absolutely adorable. One of them with whom I worked a bit more, Frida, explained that her parents were originally from Germany (demonstrated by her atypical blonde hair), and decided to draw a picture of me on her letter with my ponytail (an “o” above my head) and a heart. I kind of melted by that point.

She went on to draw her family, talking about each member. She then drew her grandmother and told me that she had fallen and passed away that morning. I asked if she was sad, and she said no without a thought, “porque ella está en las manos de Jesús” (because her grandmother was in Jesus’ hands). This statement of faith, said without a trace of selfish longing or unbelief, was extremely humbling and inspiring. Her grandma was in heaven, and that was that; it was that simple. That moment made it a bit easier to see what Jesus may have meant by becoming like a child when we put our faith in him; we set aside all notions of “what-ifs” and “buts” and just accept his word for what he says it is. In terms of faith, this is to trust completely.

The last part of the day, we went to a Spanish church service next door to the mission. It was really neat to get to worship with the local congregation, even if we didn’t know all the songs or understand everything that was said.

Tomorrow, I will write a bit more about what we did today. It’s so hard to put everything into words that has been happening; for everything written, there are a hundred more things that could be said. But overall, the experience so far has been incredible, and I feel like it’s just going to continue to get better. Coming back may be harder than previously thought.

Day Two: Jinotega

Since internet here has been extremely limited, I didn’t get to put up a blog post for yesterday (although the lack of internet/phone/technology in general has been fantastic). So, today will begin with yesterday.

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The main swimming pool at the hotel

Monday morning (I totally had to look this up on a calendar), we left the hotel a little after 8 am to make the three-hour drive to Jinotega. Once we left the hotel, it was mountains all the way. The entire drive was breathtaking. Along the road, we frequently passed through small clusters of dwellings built into the mountainside or sitting next to the road. Horses and mules were everywhere, either tied up or wandering around freely (we had to dodge a few of them on the road). Bicyclists were also a common roadway hazard.

The town of Jinotega itself is nestled in a valley completely surrounded by mountains. We couldn’t see it until we had crossed over the top of one of the mountains, and there was the city – a mass of low, colorful rooftops that filled the valley. The first thing that strikes you when you go into the city is the busyness; people wander around everywhere, open markets line the streets, and cars will drive anywhere in the streets (taking advantage of the few-to-no traffic laws).

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Jinotega from the mountain we climbed

When we reached the mission, the missionaries took us upstairs for orientation. We were assigned to different rooms and roommates (I’m currently rooming with three other girls, all of whom are great). Our room is right past the kitchen (so we get all the fantastic smells before meals) and right next to the common area, which overlooks an open-air market during the day. After having lunch, we met with a Nicaraguan guide, Efren, who took us to the top of a mountain overlooking the city. At the top of the mountain is a large metal cross, which legend says was put there by a priest after a large earthquake to protect the city. The climb itself is strenuous – over a mile of steep stairsteps and, at the end, climbing. (The symbolism of the hike was hard to ignore as we reached the top, shaking with exertion and out of breath after having reached the cross.) Once at the top, we sung a few songs, and then headed back down slowly.

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Our group at the cross

After eating dinner at the mission (chicken fajitas and beans – amazing!), we went over to the home of a couple of the missionaries, where we reflected on the day, talked about our goals for the week, sang songs, and had a traditional Nicaraguan dessert. Afterward, we played games with some of the kids outside the home – a mix of soccer and dodgeball that turned into a “hit the gringos!” contest.

By the way, the showers here are really funny. Little heaters were recently installed on the shower heads, and to get hot water, the water has to pass through the heaters. So, we have the options of either water pressure or heat. Also, because many of the showers and heating systems are set up with open wires (obviously breaking every rule that says live wires and water don’t go well together). As a result, you can’t turn on many of the showers without getting an obvious shock from the metal (ours is actually safe, thankfully). Some of the girls have resorted to using their sandals or cut-up water bottles to turn on their showers each morning. Also, with the new heating system, the lights flicker and dim every time a shower is used. But at least we end up clean…

I’d like to add more and talk about the awesome day today, but it’s getting late, and we have to be up pretty early tomorrow. So, more to come later. For now, it’s bedtime.

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At the top!

Updates from Managua

 

Well, after a long (long) day, we are finally in Managua! With delays in both of our flights, we ended up arriving a little later than expected. But, like typical college students, we had a lot of fun on the way down.

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Milkshakes from Ruby’s

We’ve also gotten to know each other a lot better as a group, which has been a lot of fun. (Kinda happens when you’re stuck in a terminal or on planes together for a few hours.)

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Playing a matching game at the airport. I got the new high score (such a proud moment).

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It’s a bit hard to see, but this is looking at the front lobby behind the glass doors. The main hotel is behind us.

We got to Managua at about 10(?) or so this evening (daylight savings doesn’t apply here, so I’m really not sure what time it was). The hotel is beautiful; it’s basically a bunch of rooms that open into covered, outdoor hallways. A restaurant sits next to the hotel; we’ll be getting up pretty early tomorrow morning to eat breakfast, pack the car, and leave again by 8:00 for Jinotega.

This evening before bed, one of the group leaders and I decided to take a quick jog around the hotel. She showed me some of the areas where the group enjoyed hanging out last year. The hotel itself is like an outdoor maze. The rooms are nice; no hot water so far, but we will just have to get used to that. Definitely a good way to wake up quickly in the mornings!

The city so far is very different than the United States. We’ve already been instructed not to drink any of the hotel water (except for the provided water bottles and the water served at the restaurant), and there are animals everywhere, especially dogs and cats. (We saw quite a few running through the hotel hallways.)

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One of the outdoor hallways to the hotel.

 

Tomorrow will apparently be our “Sunday,” since we arrived a day late. After getting into Jinotega, the translators will introduce us briefly to the city, and then take us for a walk, where we will have a sort of church service.

Whatever happens, I’m looking forward to arriving in Jinotega tomorrow. For now, it’s late and time to head to bed!

 

And…Wait for it…

After racing to finish studying for tests and complete projects, then packing hurriedly before the dorms officially closed for spring break, today was a very strange day. Since the dorms closed this morning, the school opened up the campus hotel to students staying an extra night before leaving for various countries. So, I dropped off my bags this morning, went and did laundry on campus, finished up some homework, made a few (more) last-minute Walmart runs, and then just hung out around the hotel for a little while. (It’s such a strange feeling to not “have” to do schoolwork right now – I feel so lazy already.)

This is Jinotega!

Tomorrow morning will be much longer as everything begins to fall into place. First, we will head to the airport a little after 11 to make our 3:00 flight to Houston, where (after a two-hour layover) we will fly out to Managua, the capital of Nicaragua. We will then spend the night before getting up early the next morning to make our two-and-a-half hour drive to Jinotega. There, throughout the week, we will be doing construction work and daily activities with the people who live in the area.

If this trip was exciting to think about immediately after signing up, it’s gotten even more exciting now. It has been a blast getting to know others going on the trip a little bit better, and it seems we will have a great team. Hearing past experiences from those who have already been down to Nicaragua before is even more encouraging.

That’s a lot of money, guys.

Still, one question someone recently posed, and one that I want to be able to answer more fully by the end of this week: Why spend the money to go on a mission trip outside of the country, when there are people in your own community who need Christ just as desperately? Before “the question,” I thought I understood the answer, and could always talk about the merits of going outside the country. However, with each dollar more spent in preparing for this trip, it’s a question I’ve been asking myself more frequently, and one which I would like to be answer more definitively by the end of next week.

After having done both domestic and foreign mission work (well, if Mexico counts as foreign), I do believe that there is something different about going outside of the country. It not only impacts a community in ways that quite probably could not have happened otherwise, but it leaves an indelible and almost indescribable print on your heart. There is a renewed desire to serve, a greater appreciation for your God and your faith, as well as an increased ability to transcend cultures in ministry. You simply become more open to other people in ways cultural boundaries may have prohibited previously.

But the same thing happens here, right? What exactly is it that makes a mission trip outside of the country so worth it, that people continue to fundraise and work their way beyond our borders? After this week, I hope to be able to offer a more concrete answer to such a deep question, and can put that indescribable quality into words.

For now, it’s just been amazing to look at God’s provision for this trip over the past couple of months, and to enjoy the anticipation of everything to come.  After months of fundraising, meetings, and talk about spring break, it’s finally happening tomorrow. Guys, it’s getting real, and I’m definitely looking forward to it.

The Rebellion of a Valentine’s Day Single

Single. It scars our identity like the black spot, like the A in The Scarlet Letter, like the wrong half of Two Face Dent’s, um, face. We avoid it like a plague, and may either remove the title from our Facebook  profile to avoid the shame and “perhaps” trick someone into thinking otherwise, or blatantly flaunt it in an attempt to display our availability.

And then there’s Valentine’s Day. *Deep, wistful sighs.* The day where the couples come out in droves to occupy our favorite swings, slowly meander through the student center, hands intertwined unnaturally, as we try to rush around them to our classes. They make out in chapel and even during classes (if they can get away with it), much to the disgust of other around them. They flaunt the abundance of flowers and chocolate they receive in their mailbox with excited squeals (well, mainly just the enamored ladies). They gush to their friends about all the doting that their beloved has already deluged them with that day.

Hah. But we’re not bitter, are we?

Yet, others continue to lay on us feel-good platitudes that really don’t do much. “Oh, but God loves a single person! He can use you sooo much!” “You just have to wait for the perfect one. He/she will come!” “Just be you; you’re just as wonderful single.” “Don’t rush or worry; it will happen someday. Just you wait, Henry Higgins!” I mean, they even created “Singles Awareness” to assist all those poor half-souls out there, right? (Ahem. But I digress.)

So, here are just a few random thoughts to all the singles out there who feel the twinge of Valentine’s Day, hopefully minus the platitudes.

There’s a lot for you to do. Really. And you are privileged in a way that an enormous amount of people will never be. Out of the average seventy or so years of life you will have, the first 20 plus years – your prime in potential and statistically most productive time – are the only time you will have to yourself. God has given you gifts that you will never, ever be able to use in the same way once you’re married. Take advantage of this exciting time. You’re living solely for God and the tasks He’s given you, and in that respect you’ve got it made. Don’t waste that.

Next – life’s purpose extends beyond a relationship. Seriously, if having a significant other is all you’re good for, you’ve left much to desire from humanity. Also, if you allow a relationship to become your primary desire and purpose, subsequently pushing aside genuine focus on God and desire for him, you will never be happy. You have to be comfortable and satisfied being single – being you – before you can ever expect or hope to be satisfied in a relationship. Speaking of personal development, this is also a time of enormous personal, spiritual, and social growth – growth that you can stunt if you choose to focus on your lack of “the other half.” You have to learn how to be a whole person by yourself. It’s not two halves that make a whole; it’s two wholes that make…another whole. Adam and Eve were two separate but very-whole people, joined together as one. (Maybe that’s why marriage is so hard?)

Last, don’t feel sorry for yourself, and don’t compare yourself to others. That’s just…sorry. Why focus on being single, really? Why are you any better, any more of a person, in a relationship than you are now? If you spend all your time feeling sorry for yourself, you will never reach your potential outside of a relationship. You won’t be bettering yourself, growing closer to God, becoming a stronger Christian and a better man/woman. Aside from the university “marriage mill” and microcosmic cultural expectations, aside from an abundance of wistful thinking, why the pressure and heartache we allow ourselves to go through?

So, fellow Singles, what do we do?

Can anyone say, rebellion?

Don’t submit to longings that steal away your life. Don’t  sit in your dorm or apartment and post lonely statii all over Facebook and Twitter. Don’t adopt cultural norms, but seek after God’s expectations for you. Realize the gift of time that you have been given – moments that cannot be recaptured or even guaranteed tomorrow – and then use it to fulfill the potential you’ve been given. It’s not worth your time to feel sorry for yourself.

Yes, Singleness can be difficult and lonely. We will continue to receive platitudes and sorrowful looks. But we choose how to respond to that. We decide whether or not to allow ourselves to live lives in sadness while longing for the “right” one, or to choose to create productives lives that exemplify what it means to be a Single after God’s own heart. Ask God to show you His purpose in this moment, and align your will with His, no matter what the end destination. Only when you truly delight yourself in Him – truly surrender yourself – will He fulfill the desires of your heart. And in that you will never be dissatisfied.

Taming the Tyrant

There is a time for compromise, and there is a time where compromise remains unthinkable. Passions fly wildly, accompanied by volleys of verbal shrapnel and heavy blows of opinion. But each side prevails, blood-stained but still fighting, with neither willing to acquiesce, because each recognizes a situation whose gravity itself demands no compromise, but necessitates resolve. This battle can be exemplified in the continuing Congressional combat over raising the debt ceiling, the Republicans’ uncompromising prerequisites for doing so, and the consequential barrage delivered upon their refusal to back down.

Such hatred for the Republicans’ stance is stark as the Washington Post’s Katrina Vanden Heuvel opens her opinion piece, “Those Reckless Republicans,” with a view of this battleground and the message that the political Right must at last negotiate. She remarks,

“This Republican Party is addled by an extremist ideology and cankered by a vengeful partisanship. In a time of national crisis, it is locked into ideological litmus tests — no new taxes — and opposed to anything the “Kenyan, socialist” president might propose.”

This “extremist” ideology can be defined as nothing except willingness to defend party principle. Both sides do it. But since when is there no such thing as a pure Republican (or Democrat)? Every unapproved act of principle or party conviction becomes extremism – and every standard a mere “litmus test.” The article continues:

This makes the routine difficult and the necessary impossible. Republicans threaten to blow up the world economy by refusing to lift the debt limit without getting drastic cuts in the deficit. Puffed up with locker-room bravado, they set a high bar — more than $2 trillion in deficit reduction over 10 years, a dollar or more for every dollar hike of the debt limit. But Cantor detonates the talks because, in fact, Republicans won’t negotiate on how to reach their goal. They will accept no new taxes, no closing of tax loopholes, no crackdown on overseas tax havens.

Though rejecting to raise the debt limit would reveal an open wound, lifting it would be akin to hiding gangrene with a band-aid. Republicans recognize we must deal with the problem, and its gravity necessitates resisting compromise. We must stop reaching for more bandages. These “puffed up” Republicans set a high bar because, for so long, we’ve set no bar; a severe wound may require an amputation, but it’s better than festering gangrene, and at least begins the road to recovery. The article states next,

The richest 400 Americans enjoy a lower tax rate than their cleaning women, but their taxes cannot be raised. The biggest corporations, such as General Electric, pay little or no taxes on billions in profits, yet their loopholes cannot be closed.

The wealthiest are the ones who most invest in society through charity, job creation (Donald Trump employs over 22,000 people), and capital production. If it’s said that economics is all about the money, and unless the poor or middle class present some sort of previously unidentified cash cow, why take it from those who can – and do – invest most in society? But the article marches on.

Sen. Jim DeMint adds a new litmus test for any presidential candidate: He or she must not only embrace the no-tax pledge but promise to pass a constitutional amendment to balance the budget. This inanity, left over from Newt Gingrich’s 1994 “Contract With America,” will now be a feature of Republican presidential debates.

Every single American state has a constitutional balanced budget requirement. Should we not require the federal government to implement something to which every common individual, household, and state is expected to adhere? The article concludes,

Given the Republicans’ threat to blow up the economy over the debt limit, their opposition to any sensible measure to boost the economy and put people to work, their efforts to gut even weak financial regulation, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that Republicans have moved from rooting for a bad economy to use in running against Obama to actively committing to making it worse.

Here, the position seems so starkly pitted as Democrat v. Republican, while forgetting that we’re all trapped in the same cesspool. Expanding its boundaries but failing to stem the rising waters only condemns us to drown. Those ideas so quickly decried as ludicrous on account of their source may just have a point. You can only appease a tyrant for so long before falling to its tyranny. America, confronted with soaring national deficit and no means to pay it back, faces perilous unknown territory, and compromise remains only another submission of power to an insatiable hunger – a submission we can no longer afford to make.