5 Things God Taught Me in Nicaragua

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.

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10 Things in 2013 to Thank God For

Last year proved to be full of trials for Kaitlin and I; but too often we dwell on what went wrong and not on what went right. The list of reasons to praise God in 2013 goes far beyond ten items, but it’s a good start (though it is not in any particular order, as always):

10. We have an amazing, loving church to lean on and grow with.
West Rome Baptist Church has become for us the family that every church needs to be, especially within our Growth Group (our fancy word for Sunday School Class). All we feel from the moment we enter the doors is love, and the friendships we have gained are true blessings. Whether we need to be sharpened and reminded of God’s truth or simply need to let it all out in the open and be completely transparent and honest, God has used our church and church family to strengthen our faith and help us feel His love. When I broke my leg in the accident and was out of work for over two months, our Growth Group all pitched in to help us, cooking us meals and even raising money to help pay hospital bills (they didn’t hold back any love either, they raised over $2000).
9. Monk (Also, Netflix (until they stopped streaming Monk (which was too soon, so not Netflix, actually))), Ducks, Reba, and George Lopez.

These guys kept me company for months while I was bedridden and bored out of my mind. I probably would have lost that mind I was bored out of, if not for their help. I’m thankful for clean, funny shows. Why is it so hard these days to find them?
8. Our God, the Provider
I cannot tell you how many times I looked at our bank account in shock because the numbers just didn’t add up. In our favor. The only explanation was that God was providing as He promised. He was not letting us go down like that. There is no other way I could have been without work for 3 months, up to our knees in debt to hospitals, and still be able to afford to care for ourselves. God was in control and provided all our needs, putting money in the account that literally could not have been there, helping our Sunday School class raise over $2000 to help pay costs, etc. Our God was true to His promises to us, though we were undeserving. To say I am thankful is an extreme understatement, for sure.
7. Toyota (because nothing beats Toyota (besides maybe BMW)
We came into 2013 without a car in our name. Both of our vehicles were totaled during the previous month, so we were either using rentals or borrowing from family. In February, we found a Toyota Avalon XLS at an unbelievably great price from the original owners, who took great care of it. In the fall we found a Toyota Tundra Limited (Access Cab), which is also in great shape and an incredible deal. It sounds weird and I hesitate to say that material things can be associated with God’s glory, but I do know this: God knew a need we had and was faithful to provide that need for us through these two awesome Toyota’s.
6. Creation (and our dear park ranger friends who make enjoying State Parks a reality)
 

 

Most of our bestest dates happen while camping. Being totally immersed in God’s creation never fails to bring us a sense of tranquility and awe. God created this Earth and the life upon it and called it good! Why do we spend so much of our life inside buildings and in cities, completely shut off from the beauty in nature? As soon as my leg was healed from my wreck, we took as many opportunities as we could afford to go camping. Black Rock Mountain has been our favorite so far. If you’ve never been, go!
5. Weekends (and jobs that don’t require us to work on the weekends)
I may have to set my alarm for 3:50am every morning, and it isn’t always easy being responsible for teaching Spanish to every child at school, but it only makes the weekends more glorious and special to us. Being able to leave work Friday and know we will have a few days to rest is a blessing that not everyone is able to enjoy, and I am very grateful for that.
4. The love of our families
I thank God for families we can depend on and lean on in times of need. I also thank God that we both have parents who love each other and everyone around them. It’s hard to find marriages that last as long as our parents’ have, and it is a great blessing to have such loving examples to follow. 
3. Owl City
Who can listen to Owl City and not feel good inside? If you find them, tell them to call me. I don’t believe them.
2. The Mustard Seed Mission and our many missionary friends in Nicaragua

 

Not only did Kaitlin and I have the amazing opportunity to serve Christ in Nicaragua, but we did so in the company of a God-centered host family that housed us, cared for us, and prayed for us. I am so thankful for that experience and for the opportunity to return! Visit SendZackandKaitlin.com for more information on our next missionary journey and how you can help us get there!
1. Jesus
Jesus dies for my sins and saves me every single day. Being saved isn’t a one time event, it’s a sanctification process and I’m thankful for every moment of it. I’m thankful for being able to constantly walk in His grace, covered by His blood. I’m thankful He calls me friend and that God calls me son. I’m thankful that no matter what, I have His Spirit in me so that I can do great things through Him and never be far from His guidance or comfort. 2013 (and every year before and every after) was made possible by Jesus.

True Joy (Tales of a Nicaraguan Missionary Journey: Part 2)

Earlier, I attempted to share my experience as a missionary in Nicaragua, only to discover how very much there is to share! I only got far enough to tell of how God got Kaitlin and I to Nicaragua, I didn’t even begin to tell of our time actually spent there. If you haven’t already read it and are interested in how God provided for our journey to Nicaragua despite great difficulties, check out my previous post.

On June 9th (2013), Kaitlin and I, along with our team members, boarded a Delta flight to Managua, Nicaragua. Before I dive any further, it’s important to know a little background information about Nicaragua and its people. Nicaragua suffers from terrible poverty, with over half of the population unemployed or underemployed, and a fourth of the country without safe drinking water. A quarter of a million children in Nicaragua are illegally employed to supplement the bare survival income of their families, and a third of all children suffer some degree of chronic malnutrition. The poor have little to no access to health care, and child mortality rates are six times worse than the United States.
Our time in Nicaragua was the first in which we had ever witnessed extreme poverty first-hand. Facing that degree of poverty was hard, but also different from what we expected. Most of the people we met with (especially those who already knew the LORD) were joyous, happy people. They may have had lives that were much simpler than ours, lacking the resources we take for granted, but they appreciated what they had and didn’t let anything affect their joy. They were normal people, just like you and I. They didn’t seem to want to be pitied or bombarded with aide. They just wanted to get to know us and let us build a relationship with their community. It didn’t take long at all for God to start teaching re-teaching me another lesson or two…
True joy doesn’t come from stuff, it only comes from Jesus. 
Alternatively, We don’t need stuff, we only need Jesus.
 
Perhaps the perfect example of this that we witnessed was an elderly woman named Santita. She was very sick the day that we met her, but still full of the joy of God. She asked us if we would let her sing to us! Of course, we said we would love that. After praying for her singing to glorify the Lord, she blessed us a song, which I was able to get a clip of:



Her love of the Lord is so evident, and we were so grateful to have met her. Despite living in poverty and facing sickness so great that she felt as though she would not live very much longer, she had reasons to sing to the Lord. Her last words in the song were prayers of “Glory to God,” and “Praise the Lord.” We were all so encouraged by her faith and love for God, and I pray that if Kaitlin and I get the chance to return next year, we will have the opportunity to visit her again. Will you join me in prayer for her? Please pray for her health, and that she would be a light in her community. Pray for her village to come closer to the Lord and be protected from illness and the Enemy.Santita was not the only one. The villages were full of wonderful people that we fell in love with. They lived simple lives, but were okay with it. I’m not talking about neglecting essential needs. These people need clean water and adequate food, and we did take time during the week to hand those essentials out and meet their needs. The book of James is clear on faith being dead without works, and that there is no sense in telling people that Jesus loves them if we were not going to love on them through meeting their needs. However, you don’t see sophisticated living structures, big fancy meals, any cars at all, gadgets/gizmos, etc. They live on the bare minimum. Their lives are simple. But, no matter what my idea of “living standards” and “comforts” were, God quickly changed my heart from an attitude that thought my purpose was to make their lives “better” to one that knew that all they really need is Jesus.

Am I making any sense? I almost felt a little envious of how simply they lived. I get so used to the noise and busyness of the United States, that being in a place away from it all was quite refreshing. I was able to feel God’s spirit so much better. I was able to sleep sounder and wake up with much more energy. My spirit desperately needed that break from the noise, and I am so grateful for it.

I think we have gotten too used to welfare culture, and it seeps into the way we look at missions. If our missions were solely based around taking resources to needy communities and giving stuff out, we would not really doing the people a service. All we would be doing would be setting up a welfare system that the people can become dependent on. Our mission host family even discouraged us from giving stuff away to the children, because none of the families want to feel like we pity them. They want to be treated like normal people. We didn’t neglect their basic needs, but didn’t focus on it the entire week. The focus was sharing the gospel, getting to know them, and praying for them.

There were several instances where the people would even give something of theirs to us, even though they had little. Kaitlin was especially touched by a girl named Kim, who gave her a bow after a church service:

I’m so glad I was able to capture that moment. For the average American, that would be a small gift. Coming from this girl who had so little, though, it was very special.

We live in a culture that holds on to things. We seek more and more things to satisfy our itches and obtain comfort or happiness. A 2010 Princeton study even stated that Americans believe happiness peaks at a salary of $75,0001. Nicaraguans like Santita probably won’t see that kind of money in their entire life, but live life with a joy so complete that none can compare.
Jesus says in John 10:10 that he came so that we “may have life to the fullest.” Other versions use the phrase “live abundantly.” He also says in John 15:10, “I have told you these things so that you can have the same joy I have and so that your joy will be the fullest possible joy.”
Life and joy to the fullest does not come from things or a certain salary, but from Christ alone. I am so glad God chose such an incredible experience to reaffirm this truth in my life.

– Zack

1. Data taken from an article in Time, “Do We Need $75,000 a Year to Be Happy?” – http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2019628,00.html

Tales of a Nicaraguan Missionary Journey: Part 1

Goodnight1… it’s been a while since I’ve updated this thing! Writing/blogging is something that I really enjoy, but spare-time seems to have evaded me recently. If I ever do come across free time, I like to spend it with my wife anyway, so the blog unfortunately gets shoved to the back-burner. It didn’t help that until yesterday my computer hasn’t worked reliably, either. My shift at the bakery shifted back to the early morning (5am – 1pm), and I reformatted my laptop, which worked like a charm! Long story short, I now have the time and the laptop to dust off this blog and crank out some posts**. Here goes nothing…

As the title suggests, I have done some missionary work in Nicaragua since my last update. I might as well shut this thing down if I don’t share that journey on here! God rocked my life so much that week that if it doesn’t inspire me to write, nothing will. Kaitlin and I (yes, we BOTH got to go! It was our first time as missionaries serving together. Awesome! Just awesome. Anyway, this parenthetical situation is getting a little out of hand…) served in Nicaragua during the week of June 9th, but our journey getting there began about a year earlier, when God started putting a strong yearning in our hearts to find a mission trip to go on together. Later that year, our church, West Rome Baptist, announced several mission trips taking place during the summer. We just knew God had a place on one of those trips for us. We decided together that day that we would go on one of them, but had no idea of the obstacles in store for us. This brings me to the first lesson God taught re-taught me:

If God calls you somewhere, He’ll make sure He gets you there.

In December of that year (2012), two car accidents less than two weeks apart totaled both of our cars. The second accident sent me to the hospital with a broken leg, and put me out of work for nearly three months. The driver at fault in the second accident was driving under the influence of alcohol, and had no insurance. Not only did we have to buy two cars, but also carried the responsibility of the hospital bills. He didn’t have insurance, and the uninsured motorist policy on my wife’s car did not include medical payments. We were on vacation, and lost the amount we paid in advance for the remaining three nights there. Needless to say, it was a hard situation to soak in. At this point, with all the unexpected expenditures and lost income, saving up for a $2800 mission trip seemed way way out of the picture.

However, God doesn’t really care about any “picture” we conjure up in our minds. He doesn’t see things the way we do.

Our insurance company didn’t budge on covering the medical bills. We couldn’t blame them, though. We didn’t have the coverage. If you are reading this and are unsure if your uninsured motorist policy covers medical payments, FIND OUT ASAP! It’s definitely worth the extra $20 per six months, and the percentage of people who drive without insurance is getting pretty ridiculous. In the United States, 14.29% of drivers are uninsured. That comes to about one in seven drivers! In Georgia, that percentage is about 16% and in Tennessee (where my accident took place), it spikes to 24% (ranking third in the nation!)2. Unfortunately, it is becoming more and more likely that the person who hits you on the road has no insurance, so please, I encourage you to get as much coverage as you can afford.

Our insurance company was very generous, however, in reimbursing us for our totaled vehicles and letting us use rental cars for as long as we needed. We were given more than the cars were worth, and were able to quickly use that money on new cars and medical bills. My agent even listened as I vented about the situation when it was going on, and we were able to carry a great conversation. He followed up and showed he truly cared! If anyone out there is looking for some great, affordable coverage, Liberty Mutual insurance is where it’s at! My agent is Crawford Adam. You should look him up! I don’t usually advertise or anything like that, but my insurance company took care of me when I needed it the most, and that says alot!

About a month after the accident, our growth group3 at West Rome Baptist got together to fellowship. Ever since the accident, members from our group showered us with love. They took turns bringing us dinner, prayed for us constantly, and never stopped encouraging and caring. We didn’t think any group of fellow believers could ever match the faithfulness and love of ours, until we went to that night of fellowship. There they presented Kaitlin and me a check. It was for $2300. Yeah, that’s $2300, not $230. Two zeros! We were overwhelmed by their generosity and sacrifice. They collected money within the group without us knowing, and were able to bless us far more than they would ever know!

Not too long after that, I got a phone call that turned things around for us even more. At the time of the call, I was helping my friend Marigrace make her wedding invitations. Being out of work and bedridden drove me insane; it was a blessing every chance I got to get out of the house, and I was very grateful for her family, who not only offered to let me stay with them during the day, but picked me up and gave me a ride whenever I needed one. I was sitting at their table, taping pictures to cards, when I got a call from my wife, who told me that her boss wanted me to work at her school until I went back to my usual job. Her boss, Mrs. Shemi Kumar of the Montessori School of Rome, had been diagnosed with breast cancer a year prior and was cancer free, but still finishing up treatment. She had to leave for a while as she recovered so she hired me as her substitute. The very next day, I was grading papers and teaching anatomy to a classroom full of 4th, 5th, and 6th graders. The unexpected income was definitely an answered prayer! Sharing the commute to work with my wonderful wife was an added bonus =]. In no time at all, the doctor cleared me to go back to work, and I returned to my job at Great Harvest Bread Company. My boss was so gracious to hold my position, and I am very grateful for her for that.

Needless to say, God provided for us during our time of greatest need. We knew in our hearts that He was calling us to missions in the summer, and that He would provide for the costs of that as well. There were two trips, one to Mexico and one to Nicaragua. After days of praying, God broke our hearts for the people and nation of Nicaragua. I put in my request off from work, turned in our applications, and paid our deposit. We had NO idea how God was going to provide for the remaining $2500 balance, but we knew He would!

While I was still working at the Montessori School of Rome, Kaitlin and I were contacted by a man who we house-sat and pet-sat for last year. He wanted us to watch his house and animals for two weeks in May and offered to pay us over $1000. Is God not amazing? Our family also provided very generously for our trip, and with a little sacrifice on our part, we brought our balance to zero with weeks to spare before our flight.

Sure, there were setbacks. Major setbacks. Accidents, loss of income. Hospital bills4. I left out the part where we found out that tax increases (and increases in our income) caused us to owe over $400 in state and federal taxes this year. Also, the man didn’t tell us that one of his three horses is a mustang that takes hours to be caught and put in his stall, while another of his horses founders frequently (and did so on our watch). That last setback wasn’t financial, but it still kinda sucked. Throughout the whole journey, though, was God’s reassuring voice of promise, His unfailing shower of blessing, and His passion in our hearts for missions. He never let us go, and certainly provided for us in miraculous ways.

God always provides. Even in the face of extreme tribulation and seemingly hopeless situations, God’s promises are sure. His love never fails, never gives up, never runs out!

The LORD called us to Nicaragua, and He was faithful to get us there, despite everything the Enemy could through at us. How great is our God?

Taken of a storm coming at Fort Mountain State Park5. The view was so much more beautiful in person. It turned out to be a powerful storm, but watching it coming we couldn’t help but be reminded of the power of our Creator. Even in the midst of a storm, His greatness, power, and beauty is evident.

To be continued…

-Zack

**Blog posts subject to change. Mostly grammar corrections, which I usually make as I catch them, which can happen suddenly without notice, perhaps in the time it takes you to read this. If you see changes, do not be alarmed. You are not crazy. This has been a public service announcement.

1. Meant as an exclamation, not a greeting.

2. Insurance Research Council data from 2009. That was four years ago. I am far too lazy to find current data. Does that make me a lazy blogger? Probably.

3. Fancy word my church uses for Sunday School. We do, however, experience a ton of growth together.

4. We still haven’t seen even the tip of the iceberg of those, even 7 months later. But we know God will provide! He is so good!

5. Fort Mountain State Park is located in Georgia, not in Nicaragua. Just for the record.