This weekend has been such a heart-opening experience– that’s the best way I can think of to explain what our team and I are feeling. On Friday, after a delicious breakfast and enlightening morning devotional with Cecil, our team split up for two main purposes. One group of us packed “blessing bags” full of food and necessities. Our sister church in Ciudad Sandino will be able to use those for outreach. Literally being the hands and feet of Jesus!
The group I was a part of went to Tabernaculo Agua Viva, a school where there are TPCC sponsored kids. First, we heard from the school principal, Pastor Belcer’s daughter Xiomara. She explained how Pastor Belcer felt God’s call to move to Nicaragua in 1990, despite having a comfortable life in Guatemala, 4 young kids, and Nicaragua’s problems with a war and post-earthquake difficulties. Though his wife and mother weren’t on board originally, Xiomara explained that the Holy Spirit touched their hearts to understand and support him. Pastor Belcer’s family slept on the floor, among rubble and drug addicts. By the time they built the school in 1994, Pastor Belcer had hired 7 teachers– but they had 0 students for a month! He sold his pick up truck to pay their salaries. What faith!! For a reason still unknown, the next month a school in the neighborhood shut down and all the students came to Tabernacula Agua Viva. Now Xiomara is the principal and fights for the school EVERY day, despite the poverty, abuse, family problems, and hunger that most of her students face. What faith their family had! What perseverance! It was so moving to hear how God provided and continues to work through this school.
We were able to do about 30 interviews and take pictures of students that still need sponsors. For all those reading, if God has been tugging on your heart to sponsor a student in Nicaragua, NOW is the time! These kids are SO cool, interesting, and have such personality. So many of them have such difficult issues at home. It takes up to an hour or 2 to get to school EVERY day for some, despite possibly not having food at home, adequate shelter, safe living space, or a healthy family. Two members of our group, who are studying school counseling, met with the TAV school psychologist, who really acts as a psychologist, counselor, social worker, and educator. She is an amazing Christian woman who is passionate about helping these children.
I also got to see my little Arellys, the girl I sponsor. She had shared the gifts I gave her with her cousins and classmates! How sweet and generous these little ones are. We got to play with them a little while at gym class as well. 🙂 Being a teacher myself, it was so amazing to see the care, energy, and strength those teachers and administrators put into the youth. They truly believe in the power of prayer and that their students are a light in their dangerous neighborhood– a brighter future for Nicaragua. How inspiring! This school was truly a special place.
In the afternoon, we left for the COLLEGE RETREAT!! Our team of 21 welcomed 25 Nicaraguan university students to a beautiful retreat center in the mountains (where it’s a lot cooler). Here, most students start university at about 17 or 18 and choose a career path (after passing their qualifying exams). Then they go for about 5 years. At first, it was pretty awkward with the language barrier and trying to force friendships… but we played some pretty goofy games that ended the awkwardness really easily 🙂 The students grew up in the 3 different Christian schools and are all sponsored in college through Nicaragua Resource Network (NRN). It was so cool to be able to see the little kids we sponsor in the morning, and then the other end of the education system– young people fighting for their future and the future of their family by gaining a college education!
We had 4 teams and got to know each other better that way, playing games and other fun things. 🙂 We all had a prayer partner too, so we got to know them first! Jamie, John, and Olivia led us in some bilingual worship. It was so encouraging to see young people coming together from 2 cultures, and even from 3 different high schools, worshiping and praising God together. We had discussion groups in our 4 teams about the theme of: “Identity: Who are we in Christ?” At our young ages, we’re trying to figure out who we are. Maybe we put our identities in school, our intelligence, relationships, pride, beauty, others’ opinions, and more. But really, we are free, created by God, and forgiven in Him.
Throughout the night, we could see God using each of our gifts as the full body of Christ. We watched a movie together and had fun putting on goofy costumes at our photo booth. On Saturday, we were surprised at how early and how joyfully the students woke up! As Kyla said, under “normal” circumstances, we might be annoyed to be woken up by giggling at 5 a.m. in the morning, but it was so inspiring to see young students waking up with joy and in community!
Throughout the day, we played more sports, did Zumba (YAY!) Some of the students actually even led some songs instead of just me, and connected with our new friends. We heard some amazing teaching via our translators Aaron, Lindsey, Brian, Zach, and John and had some intimate discussions in our small groups. As the awkwardness had already faded away, we were able to touch on some students’ problems with studies, families, and struggles to maintain their faith among many distractions and temptations.
I was lucky enough to share my testimony of faith. It was so special to talk about how I had lost my identity for many years, and to be there with Lynette and faithful brothers and sisters who didn’t give up on me despite my years of wandering and seeking my identity in so many other things and people. I got emotional in sharing a lot of my past with the group, but I really feel like the students (and our team) were able to relate to my story. It was touching to feel so welcomed and able to be vulnerable with new people. The Holy Spirit anointed my words, and even though I was so nervous, a lot of us ended up in tears.
Finally, we said our goodbyes and shared prayer requests and one big “take-away” with our prayer partners. I shared some rubber band bracelets that my elementary school students in the States made, so that we and our new prayer partners could remember to pray for each other. Overall, we all felt so impacted and changed, and I know that God’s hand was on this weekend. We were able to affirm and lift up those students in ways only God could have done.