Nicaragua – Thursday, 7/16 (Day 7)

Sorry, Ben, this puppy is long, but I had lots of time on the plane. 😉

Our final day with our Nica friends came faster than anyone expected. As each day passed, I found myself needing more and more time with the children. Somehow, it just doesn’t seem to ever be enough. Ben’s buddy, Leonel, said it best when he told Ben, “No amount of time with you is ever enough.” Ben’s quite a special young man. I don’t doubt Leonel’s feelings for a minute.
Walking through the halls of La Quinta, each person I passed was sharing stories of the kids and planning their next moments when they see them – making sure not to waste a single minute. It’s like getting every last drop of water from your bottle on a hot day. We brain-stormed with each other so not a drop was missed. Our team has been planning this day in our heads since the beginning of the week. It was sponsor day, and we got to treat our sponsor children to a very special day.
Personal note: **Sydney and I were lucky enough to sponsor Jearim, a 9 year old beautiful Nicaraguan girl, who has been claimed by a sponsor two times in the last 6 months, but neither sponsor had followed through with the paperwork. This only makes us even more committed to making this experience like nothing she has ever known or been able to dream of. Not a second would slip by without wrapping Jearim and her family in our love so that she will never know a day where she is unsponsored ever again.
The bus arrived at Rey Solomon and we filed out of the bus searching the halls for our children. Sydney looked in every classroom hoping to see Jearim until finally Juan Carlos found her and asked her to come out. The shy Jearim saw Sydney across the room and recognized her immediately from seeing her in January. Her perfectly bright white teeth were exposed as she smiled and sprinted into Sydney’s arms. She is gorgeous! She stood with her arms close to her sides clothed in a flowing hot-pink latin-style shirt, gathered at the very top of her waist, with a white laced collar and with the same lace thinly trimming her short flowing sleeves. She wore dark blue skinny jeans with leather boots. This girl was dressed to the nine’s. Her flawless skin and shiny hair just added to her beauty. I wish you could have all seen her and the happiness she tried to contain within herself.**
We all filed on the bus and headed out to a lake (a “short” bumpy, steaming hot, 90 minute ride – not that I was paying attention) where we took a boat ride and toured the outer surroundings of Monkey Island. As the name says, wild monkeys hang from the trees screaming at each other. If you get the chance and want to know exactly what they sound like, ask Jake Johnson. Beware, it might freak you out a bit- but I promise, just as the monkeys on the island, he won’t bite.
Sydney and Emily shoved fear aside and climbed to the front of the boat and hand fed the monkeys. Their sticky hands took the sugar coated cashews from the girls and jumped back into the trees to eat their snack. It was like straight out of Disney World and we all laughed and enjoyed the day taking pictures – both on our cameras and mental – so as to never forget the experience and time. After the ride finished, we stopped at Tip-Top for another chicken lunch. Sydney and I loved getting to treat our sponsor “daughter/sister” to lunch as she carefully selected her small meal. Many of the Nica kids refrained from eating their whole meal in order to bring it home to share with their family. Jeannie and Cody even bought extra food so Jonathan, their sponsor child, could get more to eat and still bring it home to his family. He was going home hungry just so he could bring some home for his family. Their love that they carry just puts me to shame.
The bus returned to Rey Solomon so we could walk the halls and visit more with the kids. I loved running into the girls that I played basketball with the day before as they recognized me in the halls. Several of them reached through the small opening in the wall of the classrooms to get my attention and just laughed when they saw me. They probably think of me like the crazy uncle that’s in every family. I’m okay with that title. They probably aren’t that far off.
The day was running long so we prepared to head back to La Quinta. Tears started to flow, yet again, as my breath was taken away as parents collected their children filled with gratitude. I watched as many of the sponsors received gifts themselves – baked goods, handmade cards, photos, and Sydney even received a beautiful silver flower ring, with each petal colored a bright purple, green and pink. Thinking what it must have taken to give them to us – no gift has been as special.
We gathered as a team for our last dinner together and quickly got ready for our final church service with the Nica kids. The children walked in the church wearing their Sunday best – two sisters were clothed in the most vibrant bright light blue matching dresses that would put most of the fanciest outfits in the states to shame. As always, the kids came running to find their “buddies”. Of course I walked by Anna who had been tackled on the cement floor by some kids and Caroline didn’t have enough arms to embrace her fans. Emily went through the line of children waiting to have her hold them. As she picked them up smiling from ear to ear, the next one pulled at her legs waiting for their turn. Jeanie teared up with each child that she held that wouldn’t unclench from her neck, and Ben, Brendon and several of the boys were chased around until they were out of breath and drenched with sweat. But quickly the service began with the entire congregation began singing with their hands raised, giving praise from the bottom of their hearts.
The multiple hour service continued with prayers and beautiful songs and even a couple dance routines that were quite amazing. David was honored with a personal song for all he has given this community. Embarrassed of the recognition, he wanted the team to have all the credit, but there is no question that in his 7 trips, David has impacted the world in Managua and is truly a “King David” to these families. Praise God for the gift of David to the people of Managua, and to our team.
Afterwards we concluded with wide open hugs and long good-byes. Rivers of tears flowed through the streets and we had to step away and finally leave.
That’s how our trip ended. A heavy emotional goodbye and a quick departure. The bus ride home was sad, but we all were completely blessed to have experienced the amazing trip. I, personally, was touched by these children and the experiences we shared. But, even more than that, I was honored to serve alongside of David, Tyler, Jeannie, Sarah, Mark, Nick, Brendon, Peter, Cody, Anna, Caroline, Emily, Jeanie, Spencer, Dustin, Jake, Ben, Brianna, and my unbelievable daughter Sydney – all of which honored me by welcoming me and sharing their friendship with me. I’ve never served with such loving and fun team. To each of you, please accept my deepest thanks for this past week. My prayer for you is that the Lord blesses you 10x for each blessing you were to me. I love each of you and hope that I showed you that love each day this trip. I am proud to be your friend. May God bless you, your families and all the dreams you have. God certainly has prepared a path for you to transform the world, as you personally have transformed mine.
Forever yours, and His,
Mark Kowal

Personal note: **Please accept my apologies if I was unbalanced in the coverage of the different team members. I tried to balance stories, however sometimes certain team members’ spiritual gifts were more up front and center than others. None less important than the other, just as 1 Cor. 12:20-22 describes, but just different. And, having such limited time to write and post on the Internet, I tried to squeeze as much as possible into the team blog. I’ve received feedback that I wasn’t always fair, but I didn’t want to take away sharing amazing stories of some in fear of not having enough stories for everyone. Please excuse and forgive me where I fell short. I’m so proud of my team, your children, spouses, parents and friends. I am certainly the least of these amazing team members and the gifts of which they shared.**

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