Sunday, June 10, 2012

Back in the Sham

Just over 24 hours ago, we landed in the ATL after seven days in Nicaragua. Strange feeling, being gone for a week, living in an absolutely unusual environment and then coming home to luxuries that mattered not in Matagalpa. There are mixed emotions of guilt, gladness, shame, appreciation, joy and sadness.

The most important remnants from the mission field likely vary depending upon which team member is asked. Memories are sweet and very personal. As always, I still see the faces of innocent children that do not yet know what "poverty" means. Most Nicaraguan children are small for their ages due to chronic malnutrition. Yet they love and trust us, returning our smiles and laughter.

As these children age, they are not always as loving. Trust me, 13-years-old appears to be the same regardless of the culture. Teenage boys can have an attitude, as did the young man who flashed a finger my way that did not translate to "you're number one." These kids can be harder to love. But they need it the most. Their world of hardship and deprivation is now obvious. These are the difficult times when youth make decisions that will impact adulthood - including whether or not to trust and follow our God.

Life can improve in Nicaragua. Leadership may develop that will transform this lush, tropical paradise to compete with the tourist-friendly Costa Rica. Outside forces such as the small group from FBC Cornelia and parts thereabout will continue to fight disease through clean water systems and health care. The majority of believers in Nicaragua are now Evangelicals. We all know what the Lord may do through His believers.

All of the possibilities lie in the future, and the future is in the hands of today's youth and very young children - although most don't even realize the responsibility that is upon them. We must continue to forge a close and permanent relationship with this group of Nicaraguans above all others. Teach them that we love Jesus, too, and that He is the same Jesus that lives in the hearts of Central Americans. Show them compassion by sharing lovingly everything from money to medical attention. Personally visit their country so that a face can be attached to the notion of the United States of America - and when the media or some opportunistic national politician attempts to denigrate our nation, there will be Nicaraguans who will openly disagree because they personally know Americans.

String together several of these relationships between Americans, Nicaraguans and the good Lord and we could witness some real change in our lifetime.

Personally, the nation to our south and its people has altered me beyond repair. I am unable to blindly disregard third world nations which are absent the many opportunities we in the U.S. barely consider. Jesus said the poor will always be among us. It's hard to understand why this must be so. There is a lot about poverty that's hard to grasp. But when a toddler has hold of your finger while she waddles along the dirt floor of a open-air structure that serves a church, you pray one such as this might escape to a better life and take others with her. At least, that is my prayer.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

How to grow the church

For several years, a mother and daughter - both members of First Baptist Matagalpa - would take the time to teach the word of God to the people of Trentino. This village is located approximately 40 minutes outside the city of Matagalpa. These two ladies developed individual relationships between themselves and villagers. Others from FBC Matagalpa became involved, including the daughter's boyfriend.

The boyfriend became a fiance' and now a husband. The couple, married about a year and a half, now manage a nutrition center located just off the same road that leads to Trentino. The center provides rehabilitation for severely malnourished children. Also at the center is a church building where the young man, after leaving his occupation as an accountant,  is now pastor. The couple continue to spend time in Trentino, and also transport villagers to the church located at the nutrition center.

I am unsure if the people of Trentino, who attend church in their community or at the nutrition center church, are counted by FBC Matagalpa as church members or worship service attendees. I also do not know how this multi-year ministry was budgeted for, or which FBC Matagalpa committee was in charge of the mission. But it is apparent that the work which began with a mother and daughter several years ago has expanded His church. Without a doubt, souls have been saved and lives have been enriched.

There was probably more planning involved than I realize. For example, transportation from Matagalpa to Trentino is not a simple matter. There is a river which runs across the dirt road leading to the hamlet - too much rain prevents entry or exit from the community. Yet, the simplicity of making time to visit, teach, pray and love these people was just a matter of doing it.

As we begin to wind down another successful week of missionary training and discipleship education, my prayer is that FBC Cornelia will find ways to implement this same model for church growth back home in Habersham County. While the expertise of FBC Matagalpa will be lacking from our efforts, I am certain the Lord will guide the work of novices.

Dalton T. Sirmans

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

What a great week with a wonderful group of fellow travelers (both in the literal and spiritual sense).  Last Saturday I knew 2 of the 26 people that met at the airport in Atlanta to leave for Managua, Nicaragua.  However, 5 days into this experience I feel that I have made many new friends, have been welcomed into the group with open arms and that I've had the opportunity to see God's people sharing His love with each other from both sides of the equation. Some of my favorite memories of the week are: pats on my face by a 6 year old boy as he rubbed the stubble of my beard and starred me in the eye with a look of compassion, as if to tell me that God was with me - looking me in the eye at that very moment,  told me God loves me; watching grown men let down their guard to allow their hearts to be humbled by the people of Nicaragua, told me God loves me; seeing members of FBC Matagalpa volunteer their time and to serve along side us and to see the compassion and respect they showed to the people in the villages, told me God loves me; attending worship services and prayer services at the First Baptist Church of Matagalpa left me with no doubt that God loves me as I knew the Holy Spirit was there with us;  the list could go on an on, but I guess the point is God Loves Us all and He has used a bunch of folks from North and Central America to tell me that once again....Thanks to First Baptist Church of Cornelia and First Baptist of Matagalpa for allowing me to be a part of God's plan to share His love  - Blessings, David Roberts

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Today was a very special day for me.  A small group of us began our day by participating in a prayer walk with our friends from FBC Matagalpa.  We left the hotel at 5:30 am and watched as the city came alive.  We began on our knees in the church, then divided  into small groups.  We selected 2 major roads through the city, some walking on each side of the road and praying for each business we passed, all the owners and people who would enter, and specifically the people we passed on the street.  As I walked and prayed, I sensed God beginning a new work in me:  a new love for the people of Nicaragua and a new appreciation for the culture surrounding me.  I also became very aware of how little I really new about a city and a people that have visited for 7 years straight.  Some of the things that jumped out at me were:  there are many casinos and farmacias; many "mom and pop" stores (I wondered how all of them could stay open - each one seemingly selling the same things); many people working very hard (manual labor); people literally carrying heavy loads - usually on their heads; many older (as in OLD) people working hard - it dawned on me that there was probably no such thing as retirement and wondered how they managed to make enough money to live.

I was suddenly very ashamed at how little I knew about the people I had come to serve.  But God in his great mercy and grace reminded me that when I pray for others, He gives me his heart for them.  So, I gratefully walked the streets, took in the sites and prayed for his Nicaraguan children.  I'm beginning to see things in a new light and my heart is full.

This week is my first hands-on experience in a third world country. The problems Americans face each day seem minuscule and insignificant compared to that of any given Nicaraguan I have come in contact with this week thus far. As the week has progressed I've realized various other differences in American culture versus Nicaraguan, or I assume any other third world country compared to ours. Some of these include, but are not limited to, the preparation of food, the sanitation of the people and the water, or even the obvious difference of language. However, I've also noticed a similarity in the two cultures raised a myriad of miles apart: love. Throughout the week I have been frustrated to notice something and anything meaningful. In this struggle I found that love is universal no matter what you look like or how you talk or what you wear. The love that we give to the Nicaraguans is louder than any words they speak which I cannot understand. I do understand their smiles, and their laughter, and their returning love for us. Discovering in a hands-on environment that love is universal and people are the same everywhere, despite the conditions they were raised in, is the most humbling experience I've yet to have encountered. I look forward to new revelations throughout the remainder of the week, and also will be looking for new signs of love. 

Ansley Dundore


This little joy loved everyone who would give her half a chance in a village when translated means "The Deep Ditch."
Yesterday I worked in registration at the clinic in Santa Emilia.  It was an amazing experience to talk to the people and counsel them about their problems.  I had an amazing woman named Adriana helping me in this position.  At first I was a little hesitant to use my Spanish with her there--was I not good enough to talk to them myself?  Would no one understand my gringa Spanish?  However, after several patients, I realized that Adriana was not there to judge my Spanish or to correct me, but to help me negotiate meaning among these amazing people.  There is something intimidating about speaking to a foreigner about your problems, she told me.  When I put myself in their shoes, I knew that I would not want to talk to a stranger either--how would I feel if some strange person tried to talk to me about my problems or about my baby?  Together, we helped many people and I learned so much from her about compassion and patience.  No teacher has ever been so patient with me.
When we were done with registration, Adriana asked me to go on a walk with her.  On our walk through the village I learned so much from her about the nature and the people of this village.  I am excited for this new friendship and all that I have and will continue to learn from this amazing, compassionate, and patient woman.
--Elsie Ratliff