Friday, August 22, 2008

Link to Pictures

Below is a link to a slide show of a few pictures from our trip. Check back from time to time as we'll probably be adding more.

As a tip, I accidentally lost about 600 pictures on an SD card, but I was able to recover them using a little free recovery program called RECOVA which is available at There are two keys to being able to successfully recover lost pictures: first, quit using the card as soon as you can, and second, have a good recovery program.



Thursday, August 21, 2008

Map of Our Daily Commute

Our Daily Commute

Below is a map of our daily trip (yellow line) from the Mission Station in Masaya (lower right) to the work site (Salinas Grandes) (upper left @ picnic table symbol). This trip took approximately two hours on the paved roads to the turnoff on the dirt road which was another 1/2 hour. I've also included the Mission Station in Leon which is where we were supposed to have stayed, but it was not yet completed. The big lake is Lake Managua. Over the entire trip we logged over 700 miles .

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Day 8

Friday – Day 8 – 8/15/08

Today was our official recreation day and Adrian organized a very full day of various activities and sights. Our first activity was the zip lines at the volcanic crater. Not all went on it, but those who did had an amazing ride high in the trees through the forest. Personally I wasn't going to do it, but in the end I did and it was simply awesome. It's sort of like an experience that one would do as part of an “Outward Bound” training or special forces. There's something about trusting your life on a 1/2” cable, a pulley and some carabiners that reinforces one's ability to trust in something outside of yourself. The lesson was not missed.

From the zip lines, we headed back to the Masaya market for some additonal shopping. It was good to have some more time there. We then headed for a restaurant overlooking a water filled meteor crater. This particular district is known for their plants and it was quite colorful driving up there. We ate a fabulous meal ($9 including drink and tip) and then spent some time shopping at the little market.

Then it was time to head for Grenada, one of the oldest towns in Nicaragua. In fact Grenada and Leon vied for which city would be the capital. When they couldn't decide, a new city midway between the two was chosen: Managua. At Grenada, we boarded two tourist type power boats and took an hour long boat ride on Lake Managua which included a stop to feed the monkeys at Monkey Island (which was fun) We also had a monkey which boarded the boat and moved among us. While coming back on the boat, we noted a storm forming and no sooner than we were in the vans than the fury of the rain storm hit. It wasn't as hard yesterday's storm, but was still impressive. One of the vans made an espresso stand stop to get some of the best Nicaraguan coffee, and those people were not disappointed. The other van was also reminded of the mortality of life when a dog ran out in front of the van and was killed.

We had planned to go to the volcano, but simply ran out of time and the weather conditions were poor. So we saved that for another time and headed for the mall to see what a Nicaraguan mall was like and to have dinner at the food court and see a major grocery store. The mall was very much like an American mall, but considerably smaller than, say, Southcenter in Tukwila. It was very clean and neat and several made purchases there. The food court had a number of American style fast food options (Burger King and Subway) and there were a number of other choices including Chinese, seafood, Mexican, and a number of others. While eating, there was a couple from ABWE there who were waiting to go to the airport to pick up a ministry team for their group. Also another missionary couple came by that Cheryl knew and that couple had just returned from furlough. Their missionary activity is to provide correspondence courses to the local people and correct them.

Leaving the shopping mall we headed to the mission compound. In the van I was riding in the discussion was a bit subdued as I think we all (Adrian included) were coming to the realization that our week was done. At camp, we assembled as a team and covered a few housekeeping details about our departure and shared what the week meant to us personally. I'll leave that section for a later blog so that we can process for each of us the events of the week. It is worth sharing that one of our teen members threw out the challenge for who wanted to do this again next year!! A number of the team responded affirmatively.

As I am sitting here tonight in the main mission house dining room writing this blog tonight I had a very visual illustration of the seriousness of the conditions that we are working in. The front gate guard walked by me and we greeted each other. He was packing at least a 38 special or 44 magnum revolver in his belt and was willing to lay down his life for us. Let us remember the One who laid down His life for us. May we serve Him!

Day 7

Thursday, Day 7 – 8/14/08

This is our last day of direct ministry and in many ways it is a difficult story to tell, but not for the reasons you might think. You'll have to wait for that part of the account. Our group was a little slow in getting up (at least the guys) but we were able to be on the bus a little after 7am. It was another traffic-snarled drive through Managua, but the trip went well once we got on the open road. We had our customary bathroom / fluids stop at Navarote before heading down the 11k road to our work project at Salinas Grande. On the drive out there, Adrian confided in me that he was bringing some clothes for one of pastors including some shoes. Yesterday, Adrian had asked this pastor why he wasn't wearing shoes and was wearing pink flip flops (thongs or zorries). The answer was that he had none and he was working in construction.

Arriving there, we could see that the other pastors had been there for quite a while and had constructed scaffolding as the blocks were now at least 4 or five feet high. They had also started laying more blocks and the window openings started appearing in the walls. Various team members climbed the scaffolding and continued putting in filler rocks, more mud inside the blocks. Others picked up filler rocks, sifted sand, made the two different mortar mixes, and played with the children. Toward the end of our time, Dwayne and I helped Pastor Leonardo break into the wall of the existing building in order to create a way to tie in the rebar from the addition to the main building (over each of the doors). Let me tell you Dwayne is one strong dude. He could really work that 30lb bar above his head. It had to be at least a 2 Pepsi Light job (inside joke). For me it was a challenge to work with a light pickaxe. Alas, noon came all too soon and we needed to leave. One of the local church women had cooked up some fish so Dwayne and Racheal decided to sample it.

The plan was for all of the team to go to the beach and Adrian and Tim would return at 1pm so Tim could resume teaching on this final day. The others would stay at the beach for their normal recreational time. But as they say in Nicaragua, be ready for changes in plans.

Adrian, Dwayne, and Tim took a short detour to see the fishing village. Yes, it smelled of fish! When we got back to the work site, the pastors were still laying blocks and had some unused mortar to be used. So we helped them and waited for them to finish up. After assembling in the church sanctuary, the most INTENSE rainstorm hit including thunder and lightning. The sound on the corrogated metal roof was totally deafening: so much so that I needed to postpone my teaching time for a few minutes until the storm passed through. As I began my teaching, I really had the sense that something special was happening. As we worked through the final part on giving and transitioned into the section on borrowing / lending, several of the pastors contributed personal examples of practicing the principles, and it was so good. It was clear that the teaching was penetrating our hearts. As we came to my concluding remarks, I reminded them that we are warriors in a battle and not mercenaries. Some battles will be won; others will be lost. What is important that we set our course to an obedience in the same direction (quoting from the title of the book of the same name by Eugene Peterson). I explained that we are all living sacrifices and the major problem is that the living sacrifice keeps crawling off the altar.

As I shared with them my thanks for the opportunity to come share with them and learn so much, I became teary. I explained that it was hard to prepare as I didn't know them or their conditions or needs and how I had to rely on the Holy Spirit. Each man then voluntarily shared what the week had meant to them, and each was in tears as was Adrian as he translated. I looked each man in the eye as they shared. There was even one piece of sharing that was so personal that Adrian refused to translate it for me. It was so clear that God's Spirit was working. To a man they asked me to return and share more with them which I indicated I would as I would have opportunity. It was so humbling for me to have presented this material through a translator and have the power of God work so mightily. All of the glory belongs to Him.

After an emotional prayer time, I embraced each man as a brother and expressed my gratitude for what they taught me. One pastor later confided that he was going to change his behavior in a certain way during the coming year so as to be an example. More tears flowed. I now definitely have a greater personal appreciation for the passages in Acts where the writer records the emotions being displayed when Paul leaves certain churches.

While I was teaching, Melody led the VBS session and it was very well received. As a craft activity, they had them create the wordless bracelet from simple colored beads and string, Each of the beads represents one aspect of the Bible message we were teaching. I learned after returning to camp that night that we not only left our verse cards but our song sheets. The women who work with the children were so appreciative. The chidren also sang a special new song to the team that was especially moving. The leader then said that our team was different than the others in that a substantial number of team spoke and/or understood Spanish and that helped us connect with the children. Apparently many of the teams are not so blessed with this talent.

The ride back to the mission house was generally a quiet one as the team had given it their all and realized that our trip was nearly over. At our first stop, two members made a dash for the restrooms (remember the fish). Others purchased drinks or snacks as it was still 1 ½ hours of driving to get home. At our refueling stop in Masaya (near the mission station), there was a man selling pudding for 10 cordobas (less than 50 cents). Angela purchased one and we shared some of our pastry bread with his and Carlitos (the other driver) gave him a Bible.

t was just almost a week ago that we began our journey into the unknown. I am confident that God will use this trip to further mold all of us as His servants and especially among to poor and forgotten people. The Bible has much to say about caring for the poor, but there's nothing quite like experiencing it first hand. It is so utterly gut wrenching to see poverty first hand. I am so glad that I responded to Adrian's invitation to teach and I'm certain that the team is also glad to have made the choice to come and work with the children.

May we never forget the poor and forgotten people of the world whether they be in Nicaragua or anywhere else in the world.

Day 6

Wednesday – Day 6 – 8/13/08

Today started out early much like every other day. Alarms went off between 5 and 5:30am, devotions were had and then came our pancake and fruit breakfast. We were on the road at 7am and maneuvered our way through the city traffic of Managua. I should stop at this point and give some of the finer points of driving in Nicaragua:
1. Aggressive driving is the rule; not the exception. All for one and one for oneself!
2. Lane markings, turn signals, and courtesy are just suggestions.
3. If you are riding a motorcycle, its a great idea though not mandatory to wear a helmet. Gloves, protective clothing and proper riding boots have not been introduced yet. Of course, any of the above for your passenger is totally optional and has not been introduced yet. Most passengers on motorcycles are female.
4. Roundabouts tend to be pretty efficient movers of traffic when the above rules are practiced.
5. While travelling on the highways outside of town, passing is expected even with oncoming traffic. With the latter, it just adds to the thrill factor. One just makes three lanes out of two with the oncoming traffic being run off the road.
6. There is clearly a food chain in place when driving with big trucks being at the top and pedestrians being at the bottom. The others (small trucks, cars, donkey or horse carts, people carts, motorcycles, 3 wheel taxis, bicycles, animals and people) sort out their place in between. In order to help with this process it is expected that one beeps one's horn when overtaking.
7. Generally the paved roads are quite good; however, once one leaves them, they deteriorate very rapidly. The non-pavement roads would be a hoot to ride on a dual sport motorcycle.
8. Bridges are also optional. Fording streams is considered customary. And passengers are expected to push when needed.I
9. Nicaragua is where retired school busses and long haul trucks from the USA come to die.
10. Speaking of the school busses, there are hundreds if not more on the road every day and they can be expected to and do stop anywhere including on major highways. Some are colorfully painted and most have the windshield cleverly decorated to reduce the driver's field of vision.
11. Police are scattered throughout and position themselves along side the roadway. If they want you to stop, they just raise their fingers and you are expected to pull over.
12. At night, taillights and reflectors are totally optional (especially on motorcycles) and pedestrians haven't grasped the concept of walking against the traffic nor do they wear light or reflective clothing

While some of the above is intended to be humorous, it's a deadly serious game. I could see that after driving down here and returning to the States, it would be a challenge to unlearn the aggressive driving practices.

Returning to our blog, we continued up to our destination; however, this morning we decided to visit the new mission station at LEON where we were supposed to have stayed. It's just being completed and is very similar to the MASAYA station except that it doesn't have quite the dormitory space. The Pastor's home, however, is quite nice having been built with masonry, concrete and steel.
Leaving the LEON mission station, we turned off down our 11k dirt road (about 6.6 miles). Last night's rain definitely made the road a bit slippery and shortly we passed the vultures and the dead cow. Oh yes, I didn't mention that from yesterday morning. It seems that a cow died along side the road and there was a band of vultures “working over” the cow. Leaving last night, they were continuing to feast on it. And the same thing this morning although there were fewer of them. But more on this later. Arriving at the work project, I saw an answer to some of the teaching that I have been doing on giving. A number of the pastors had come over to help and that was a tremendous expression of support. It has been gratifying to be teaching and seeing receptive hearts. The weather today was much hotter and more humid, so much fluid intake was needed.

We also had our first encounters with scorpions when we disturbed their little enclave. It was the first time I had seen them in the wild, and I got a great picture of one. Much of the team helped in levelling out an area outside the walls which were being built. By the time we had to leave for lunch, two pieces of rebar had be laid horiontally in the wall which added significant stability. Tomorrow we're expecting to build more blocks higher around the 4 windows. The other pastors are coming at 7am (2 hours before we get there) so we should see quite a change.

Down at the ocean, it was very very hot and many enjoyed the ocean. Angela shared her wordless bracelet with a little boy and he seemed to grasp the meaning of it. Arriving at the VBS location, once again the singing had already started and the team assumed their positions. I was able to take a few photographs of them while I waited for the pastors to arrive for our teaching time. Remember, they were off serving one of their own: Muy perfectamente! Yes, I'm learning some Spanish!

We continued on in a second day on principles of giving. I complimented them on their service to Pastor Leonardo and we did a short review of the previous day's material as a few more men joined us. We worked through most of the material on giving that I had prepared, but there is still a bit more to cover tomorrow before I teach on the last subject for this week. I find it hard to express the joy I have in being able to share with these brothers and provide them encouragement in their pastoral calling.

At the conclusion of our time, Adrian mentioned that we were going to take one of the Pastors and his infant daughter and wife out to the paved road (11k) where they would catch a bus to LEON and a hospital. While my heart was pricked by this, Adrian indicated that it was probaby just a case of the parents being over protective. I suggested that Melissa take an initial assessment of the situtation which she graciously did. She has a kind and gentle manner and put the mother particulary at ease especially when she said that she had a son of the same age back home. We'll check on the child in the morning and if a hospital visit is necessary, we'll see that they get there. As for me, I couldn't just not respond to a need that a brother had especially after teaching on caring for the needy, widows, orphans, etc. So we'll see in the morning how it it going.

Driving back we were running a bit later because of the preceding situation. As we approached the location of the vultures and the cow, we saw smoke. Fortunately, someone had built a fire and was burning the carcass. Again, we'll see how that goes in the morning. We also stoppped and picked the fruit that is used in making moracas. The drive back was one of the more fun ones in that we were really engaged with Adrian and covered lots of topics from movies to music and idioms that we use in our respective languages. Approaching Managua, we met up with Cheryl and her children and dog and picked up the coffee souvenirs she had purchased for us. From the service station we could see the American Embassy which is a tall building perched on top of a nearby large hill. Then it was a traffic snarled drive through Managua and on into camp. The other group was staying at the LEON mission house for the night, so we had the Masaya facility to ourselves. Angela and I watched the mission house staff clean the moraca (jicama) fruit and took a bunch of pictures. We then reviewed Thursday's lesson (Melody has this one) and also reviewed what happened in the lesson today (all positive and apparently there's a part of the skit that we'll do back home. We were then dismissed and team members headed for showers or other end of day activities. And, here I am updating the blog at 10:15pm. This has been another day that the Lord has made, I am rejoicing and being glad in it.

5:30am will come early, so I'm signing off for the night.

Day 5

Day 5 – Tuesday – 8/12/08

This was another early start and late return (7am to 6:30pm). On the way there, there was a dead cow with a number of buzzards giving attention to it. It was still there when we left for the day. We did 5 rows of blocks on the pastor's house along with some ground clearing and rock picking. At our lunch break, we enjoyed a nice trip on the beach, but we subsequently learned that there was crocodile in the nearby river and roaming the banks.

The teaching and VBS times went well. The team is becoming more and more confident in their presentation abilities and Carol did a great job today. Coming home we drove through a rainstorm that was harder than the hardest Seattle rain storm. This was only a short heavy rain, but it was wet through the rest of the trip home.

After dinner we had a little excitement when group of us went to the little internet cafe. It seems that a common thief was intending to steal Angela's shoulder purse and she had no clue about what was to happen. Adrian, however, is very street savy and called the thief on his intent. So the thief decided to steal a bicycle and the bike's owner took out after the thief and and caught up with him. The thief then wanted to fight the bike's owner, but fled when Adrian yelled at him and came running also. The thief took off running without his sandals. Adrian then gave the sandals to a one-armed beggar that was hanging out around the cafe. As an aside, I wasn't able to get on the blog this night but will try it again tomorrow.

It was good to fellowship with Adrian while riding with him in the van and get a glimpse of his vision for ministry especially among the forgotten people. Our discussions have taken a direction that I should consider returning in a teaching capacity to a wider group of pastors as it appears that the material being presented is striking a responsive chord. We'll see how that develops.

Day 4

Day 4 – Monday 8-11-08

This day began early with a contest between Pastor Scott and I to see who would wake up at 5:30am so we could have devotions before 6:30am breakfast. Pastor Scott won but I was a close 2nd place. My time was spent in Galatians and Psalms and a chapter in “Wild @ Heart.”

akfast was pancakes and fruit, including the papaya we bought at the market yesterday. One piece of TMI, don't plan on eating lots of purple fruit without consequences. It was rather shocking for several of us this morning.

We departed the station for a fuel stop in Masaya and then took a 2 hour drive up north (great vistas of the volcano) and west before turning off on very potholed road for another ½ hour towards Salinas Grande. Just short of the Pacifc Ocean we came to the church and the work project. The footing for the addition had been previously poured and we moved two piles of concrete blocks (several thousand blocks) from one side of the building to the other side where the addition was being built. This we did fire brigade bucket style. Others sifted the sand, some mixed mortar, some hauled mortar, some filled holes in the blocks with small rocks. Adrian and Pastor Scott even took short rides on the local pastor's motorcycle (a little 125cc kick start import). Pastor Scott laid the first block. It was hard and physically challenging work in the 90 degree heat. I even began to experience early symptoms of heat exhaustion (blurred vision and dizziness), so I took a break in the shade and the pastor's wife brought me a cold soda which was refreshing to say the least.

Soon it was time to head down to the Pacifc Ocean where we enjoyed our lunch and shared some food with the local children. There were also a number of the familiar very skinny dogs that we have come to see everywhere. It brings very new meaning to the expression,
“it's a dog's life !” Their life is definitely hard. After lunch, many enjoyed swim or frolic in the ocean and I elected to stay in the shade and update my blog. While there I shared some of my trail mix and cookies with some young children and they were very appreciative. Leaving the beach we headed for the VBS location where we were greeted by over 150 kids. The team took over with Adrian's introduction, were able to present the lesson and see about 15 responses. He then assembled the pastors who were there and we headed across the parking lot to the pastor's house where I was able to share my introduction to money which revolved around God's love for us and what that means. The pastors were extremely receptive and seemed eager for session number 2. Little did I know what the response to the intitial teaching was going to be.

Leaving the area, we headed back to the station which took around 3 hours due to a traffic accident and some road construction. It also rained hard for a few miles. At camp we were greeted by the other team from North Carolina who so graciously allowed us to eat first as we had been traveling so long and far. Following dinner, we once again met as a team to practice the next day's program.

Again, it was a very rewarding day interacting with the kids, the pastors, and laying the initial blocks. The plan for tomorrow is to get the walls as high as possible. The lumber for the roof trusses was being delivered as we were leaving, the cost of which was fully paid for by the generous contributions of the two churches who will have worked on this project. It is hard to explain the long term positive implications of your partnership with this project.