As many of you probably know, Kaitlin and I returned to Nicaragua this past July to minister to and serve the people of El Bongo and Los Cedros. It was only our second time visiting, but it already felt so familiar and home-y upon arrival. God showed up in brilliant ways, and I cannot wait to share some pieces of that with you all. One thing I have discovered about blogs on the Internets in the last few years is an intense fascination with lists. I’m not sure if it is a good idea or not to contribute, but here goes: five things I learned from God in Nicaragua.
1. Our mighty God answers big prayers. Towards the middle of what we consider the summer months, the rainy season begins in Nicaragua and other parts of Central America. However, almost immediately upon arriving, we could feel how dry the weather was. We soon found out that there hasn’t been much of a rainy season at all, and they hadn’t seen a major rain in nearly 2 months. With nearly a third of the workforce in agriculture, and with coffee, sugar, and other crops being their major exports, a drought puts a huge strain on the economy and people.
That night, and for the rest of the week, we prayed for rain. We felt a few sprinkles here and there, but no major precipitation lingered. Friday rolled around, our team’s last day of work in the village of El Bongo. We were split up into two main groups, as usual: some of us were painting the church and putting the finishing touches on the new fence, while the others played with the children and read them stories. I remember hearing a loud, rolling thunder and looking up to see a dark, cloudy sky. I remember thinking: This is it. It’s finally about to rain.
But it didn’t.
It poured! Praise God! God’s answer to our prayers will not always be “yes,” but it was very clear to us that day that God recognized His people in need and heard our prayers to help them out, answering with a brilliant and refreshing afternoon rain shower. I may not always understand the way God responds to my prayers, but I do know that He desires and cherishes my prayers. I am so grateful I saw the power of prayer at work through us in that community.
2. Missions are not about handouts. Before I dive deeper into this one, let me make one thing clear: God wants us to meet the needs of those who are without, and there is nothing wrong with doing that. However, what I love about the relationship my Church has built with the Nicaraguan people and the approach we have on missions is that we don’t just drop in, hand out supplies, and leave. Sure, we spent some time giving food & supplies to needy families, but if that is all your mission is about, the cycle of poverty will not change.
What I have learned in these past few years visiting the community is that these people don’t want us to feel sorry for them, and, in fact, are joyous people who honestly don’t feel like they need much. Giving them lots of food and tools and supplies could even hurt their pride – the heads of the households want to provide for their families and work hard to try to do so. Giving material things is not always (or hardly ever) the answer alone.
Instead, the ministries we work with try to teach them skills they can use to create income for their family and community – which help them for far longer than the small amount of time in the weeks we can spend there. One of the owners of the mission house we stayed at meets with a group of women every week and teaches them how to make jewelry, which they sell for an income:
The neat thing about their work is that instead of spending their income on themselves, they all agree on a project that they want to complete for their community (for example, building a well), and pool all of their revenues towards that goal. How awesome is that? You can find out more about them by visiting their website. Another pastor we work with is trying to gather the resources to teach his community skills such as sewing and baking (If you know of a sewing machine that can be donated to his ministry, please let me know!).
3. Missions are about relationships, not about salvation or baptism numbers. Again, let’s be clear: witnessing salvation is a great and glorious event; there is honestly nothing in the world like the joy shared in the moment somebody decides to place their faith in Jesus. I just think it is unfortunate how too many ministries and churches base the success of their trips on the number of people who “got saved” or how many baptisms were performed. We prayed with a few people last year who came to know Christ during our visit, but that did not happen this year. That’s perfectly okay.
What good does it do a community if you dive in with the mindset of getting as many people to pray a certain prayer and sprinkle water on them and leave? Even if those decisions are legitimate and heartfelt and faith-based, it is just as important (if not more) to help those new believers grow and become leaders in their community so that the Kingdom builds after you leave. It’s important to build a relationship with the community, which is exactly what our church is focused on doing.
We worked a lot with the children in the villages, and it was so rewarding seeing the same kids we made a connection with last year. We were able to communicate and fellowship on a completely different level, and we are so excited to continue to grow those relationships during future trips. Those kids bless us far more than we bless them.
One of the most inspiring moments for Kaitlin and I happened when a young man came by while we were reading Bible stories to the children, and not only stuck around to listen, but also took it upon himself to help a child read through a story on his own.
It seems like no big deal, but to that particular village, it was a big moment for us. The men are rarely ever involved in Church, leaving the women with the sole spiritual responsibility. I don’t know this young man or his story, but the way he reached out and took initiative really spoke to mine and Kaitlin’s hearts. Seeing that felt just as good as seeing a new believer.
4. Missions are about obedience. Period. Last year, one of the pastors on the trip asked us at the end that if we still would have gone and spent the thousands of dollars if we knew ahead of time everything that was going to happen during the week. It raised the question of what makes a mission trip “worth it.” God almost immediately spoke the word “obedience” to my heart. It was worth it because we obeyed God’s command. Anything else “good” that happens, I consider a bonus. The bottom line for any decision or event I am involved in is this: Am I obeying God in this moment?
I hear it said that there are no “big” or “little” sins; sin is sin, and all sin is equal in God’s eyes. I totally believe that to be true, and I think the same can be said concerning obedience. God calls us to do a lot of things. Some things seem like “big” things, like hopping on a plane and flying to a third world country. Others seem “small,” like asking someone how we can pray for them. I believe that in the eyes of God, all acts of obedience are also the same, because they have the same fundamental requirement: trust and faith in Him. Obedience shows God that our faith in Him is true. John MacArthur words it this way:
“External obedience provides external evidence as to whether or not an internal transformation has taken place.”
5. I need fellowship. I’ll be completely honest: When I first found out that the trip this year consisted of nearly thirty team members (including young children, teenagers, and adults), I wigged out a little. I tend to get lost in crowds and big groups of people. I’m introverted by nature, and being social wears me out sometimes. It’s just who I am and that’s okay. Needless-to-say, I was a little apprehensive about how the trip was going to go and how much I would enjoy it.
I was completely wrong.
One of the most important take-home revelations for me was that I need to surround myself with people like them more often. It was a blast and a blessing to be around such Godly friends and examples. I was inspired by the energy and faith of the children, the determination and boldness of the youth, the companionship and Godliness of our peers, and the holy examples of the *slightly* older adults. God showed both Kaitlin and myself the importance of getting more involved with our church and getting to know our brothers and sisters.
I truly believe part of the purpose of Kaitlin and I going on the trip was to realize this need of ours. We as believers need each other. We need to gather and commune and refuel. We need the support and accountability of each other. We need to share wisdom and burdens and grace and laughs with each other. That’s essentially what the church body is all about, and I feel like God has called us, through this trip, to stop missing out on everything it has to offer.
I have a church that I always have felt a true pride in, but the trip just really helped me appreciate more all that my church does. I love being part of a church that not only boasts a Godly mission statement, but lives it out. Visiting Nicaragua really helped me see how big a heart my church has for missions and helping people find and follow God’s will for their lives.