Day 1: Our trip got off to a slow start as our flight was delayed out of Denver which would cause us to miss our connection. Thankfully, the airline gave our group a few hotel rooms and we got a good night’s sleep and set off in the morning. It turned out to be a much easier option with only one connection and arriving in Managua 6-8 hours later than scheduled.
Day 2: We finally arrived in Managua around 6pm and the van was there to pick us up for the 1.5-2 hour drive to Nagarote. The heat and humidity was still evident even in the evening. As expected, the traffic is chaotic but at least the roads were paved and made the trip fairly smooth. The rest of the team (who arrived that morning) were waiting for us at Pastor Julio’s house. The women of Igelsia Brazos Abiertos had dinner ready for us & we immediately felt welcomed with open arms. After dinner, we headed back to Hotel Jerusalem to locate our rooms – I think we definitely got the Honeymoon Suite – it was comfortable and air conditioned (such a blessing).
Day 3: After a day of acclimating the day before, it was now church day. The group who had been on the trip before knew exactly what to expect but for Kyle and I, it was hard to know what was coming. We walked into the concrete building, complete with tin roof and plastic chairs set up in rows. Previous teams had helped build the church a few years earlier and we could see the need for an enclosure for the church grounds — to add security. We sat down, white people on one side, Nicaraguans on the other. We felt a little like a spectacle — I could tell they kids were enamored and the adults were searching out new faces. Kyle immediately went over to talk to some of the children & they just stared with wide eyes at this giant guy speaking Spanish. It was pretty cute. We sang a few songs in Spanish, led by Pastor Julio’s son, Julito. And after a short devotional, we split up into groups. Kyle helped lead the elementary-aged kids and I was with the 2-5 year olds. I quickly found out that speaking Spanish with a toddler is very difficult. They are hard to understand (as are English-speaking toddlers) and they don’t fully get why you don’t speak their language … so they don’t help you out … at all. We headed back to Julio’s house for lunch, some time to rest and back to church in the evening for another service.
Day 4: Monday was the hardest work day. It was time to get started on building the wall. The men and many of the women took turns digging 1-meter-deep holes in the ground. Others cut and assembled rebar. We worked well as a team — everyone doing their fair share. The humidity was through the roof so dripping sweat and wet clothing became our normal for the week. The church people regularly supplied us with snacks and purified water (to keep our tummies in check) and we worked all day with a lunch break in between. We left dirty, tired and hungry but we knew that we had given it our all. Each day, we also held vacation bible school for the kids — they showed up excited for singing and fun. The kids were so cute & loved having us there. As I walked through Nagarote, I found myself mystified by this 3rd world country with trash all around, concrete homes, very few cars, and simple way of life but so connected with cell phones or Facebook. It was hard to wrap my brain around and I struggled with the feeling that not only are we very fortunate to live in a country where the infrastructure and freedoms allow us to have opportunity and be successful, but that I just kept thinking: it just doesn’t have to be this way for them. The problems are systemic and it’s a cycle that will continue. I don’t think they need to be Americanized, I just wish for them the same opportunity we have in the U.S.
Day 5: Tuesday, I woke up with a cold that had been making the rounds through a lot of people on the team. I knew my energy would be sapped but I just wanted to push through and work hard again. We got up for breakfast at the hotel and you could see the tempered exhaustion. The humidity was worse than the day before, but people were still pumped and ready to go even after the long, hard day of digging holes on Monday. We headed back to the church for more opportunities to serve the people there. A few of us left for awhile to pray for the owner of a bakery nearby. He is a Christian and a friend of the team so we wanted to stop by and pray for him (and successfully steal some fresh bread, yum!). Later we headed back to Julio’s house where the women had prepared dinner for us again — faithfully, they provided lunch and dinner every day for 20+ people.
Day 6: The day before, Kyle had noticed his leg becoming enflamed but we figured it was just something that happened while digging holes. But by breakfast on Wednesday morning, we could tell something more was going on. He was also coming down with the cold that several others had. We thought maybe a crazy Nicaraguan bug or a spider had bitten him. Either way, he pushed through and we completed another hard day’s work at the church. Throughout the week, the women of the church surrounded me with prayer and encouragement. They are faithful and fervent in their prayers and I began to grow appreciative of their kindness and admire their faithfulness. Their love for our team showed me a new insight to what it means to love sacrificially.
Day 7: By Thursday, Kyle’s leg was getting pretty red, hot and swollen & he had a fever of 101. We called in Nurse Natasha and she wrapped it up, gave him some Benadryl and he was able to rest for some of the day because the work at the church was starting to become less demanding. He spent some time painting and mostly developing relationships with the men of the church and workers who were hired to help with the wall. I was worried about him but sometimes he can get a fever with having a cold so I assumed all was normal and his leg would begin to heal. I saw my courage and ability to speak Spanish grow throughout the week. Our friends in Nicaragua would help me when I didn’t know what to say & I found myself becoming more confident to just try and mess up. On one trip to the local market with the pastor’s daughter I was forced to only speak in Spanish since she didn’t know English. She was patient and kind and laughed at me when necessary. But I was thankful to be forced to do it and learn more. I saw Kyle’s gift of being fluent as such an awesome thing. Where many of us felt like we were just working alongside the Nicaraguans, he was able to build that bridge and fully have relationship with the people there — outside of using an interpreter. It was very cool to see & I know his heart was happy to use his Spanish again. We headed to a guava farm owned by some members of the church to pray for them and tour the farm. It was beautiful.
Day 8: We hadn’t completed the wall but Pastor Julio knew that was probably too much to expect. The masons were working hard on laying the slab bricks. And so we rented a school bus, loaded up the team and a bunch of people from the church and headed to a tourist town called Granada to have lunch, say our goodbyes and play at the lake. It was a great day and an even better way to end the trip by socializing with our Nicaraguan family on our last day. I found myself getting emotional on the bus thinking about having to leave and go back to everyday life. The bonds we had formed with our own team from church are special and the relationships we began in Nicaragua were special as well. Kyle teared up as the kids presented us with gifts made from their heart of thankfulness for what we had done that week. At the beginning of the week, I didn’t expect to have the emotions that I felt by the end of it and I’m so glad that I did. God used this time to really change our hearts and want to serve people even more. We would love to head back to Nicaragua to see our friends again and continue this relationship that has only just begun.
Postscript: It turns out Kyle had a bite or cut that turned into cellulitis — an infection of the skin and tissues that comes on very quickly and causes redness, heat, swelling and fever. Luckily, once we got back to the U.S., I promptly sent him to the doctor for antibiotics and it’s getting better by the day.