Day 6: Teacher Training, Parent Meeting, and More Painting!

Day 6: Teacher Training, Parent Meeting, and More Painting

Today was an important day for our teachers. When the Agape Special Needs program was started here in Nicaragua, teachers volunteered to take on the task of learning about special education. There is no formal school training for special ed here, so they have learned everything from teacher training days and hands-on experience. If you’ve ever worked with students with special needs, you know how huge a task it is to teach them, especially without training. These teachers were hand-chosen by God, though, and they do an amazing job. They’re hungry for more knowledge and are always looking to improve. We were able to train them on several communication strategies for non-verbal students as well as on several new behavior strategies. They asked question after question about their students and seemed genuinely interested in learning how to handle various situations in their classrooms The exciting part about working with these teachers is that it was far more than just training on classroom issues. We spent the day building relationships with them, sharing stories with them, and just being present with them. Special education in this country would not exist if it was not for their willingness to say yes to God. . It is so obvious they are passionate about what they do, they love their students, and they want to make a difference in the lives of those they work with.


Chelsea demonstrating the importance of detailed teaching

While the teachers did their trainings, the rest of the team spent the day finishing the painting in the classrooms and bathrooms. We were able to paint more than anticipated and enjoyed being together. They also installed a misting cooling system at the clinic.


Another amazing part of the day was the parent meeting. I’m told there are around 200 students in the Agape program, and 110 of the parents showed up, in the middle of the day, to learn more about parenting a child with special needs and to be encouraged. They received training on Creating Positive Relationships, they listened to Alec sing his Spanish song, and heard Francois share about their journey raising Alec. A few others from the team shared encouragement as well. At the end of the service, Pastor Oscar presented them with encouragement through an eternal perspective. It fit right in with our devotional topic the previous night about how Nicaraguans are constantly saying, “If God allows” and are constantly thinking about an eternal perspective as their hope for life outside of poverty. Pastor Oscar explained that every person in the room could relate to raising a special needs child, that it’s hard work, and that it can be very challenging to watch your child grow up without the ability to walk or talk or play like other kids. He went on to say that in Heaven, those kids will have no more pain. They’ll be able to run and jump and play with all of the other kids. He encouraged parents to be ready for God, so that they can also spend eternity with their kids in Heaven one day. He ended by having everyone find someone else to pray for, hug, and encourage, and you could really feel the presence of the Holy Spirit in the room.

Bottom line: we had to be super flexible today, but God did amazing things in the lives of both parents and teachers, and we were encouraged!

Estonia June-July 2017

Estonia 2017
June 28 – July 11

Our team of six from Traders Point Christian Church spent 2 weeks in Estonia, a small country below the Baltic Sea, teaching and assisting with a music camp called Fusion through Josiah Venture. Josiah Venture is a ministry working to build up young leaders in Eastern Europe to impact their communities and show the love of Jesus to the people. They believe change starts with young people in their churches, going all in for Christ. The Fusion camp is designed to do just this, through music. Students come and take workshops to learn an instrument or song, which they will perform at the final concert. Some students take drama, art, photography, videography, sports or baking workshops, but everyone sings in the choir and participates in the concert. Students also get to hear messages about Jesus throughout the week. Camp connects them with student leaders who love the Lord and are willing to share their stories. Our team was able to assist the Estonian leaders to make all of this happen. We each had workshops to teach during the week, but as a team we were also responsible for games and activities during free time, hosting Fusion Idol, and teaching the choir songs.

Below is a journal from my [Devan Morris] view of the week. Enjoy!

Friday, June 30th

It is 2:48 am and I cannot fall asleep (most likely due to jetlag and the insane amount of excitement and anticipation). I haven’t had a chance to journal anything since we left on Wednesday from home, so hopefully by catching you up to speed I can wear myself out in the process.

We left home June 28th around 3:30 pm to drive to Chicago. Right now, it is only Josh, Allison and me; Myron, Josie and Kristen will be joining us on Monday night. Our 8 hour flight from Chicago to Stockholm, Sweden was smooth, and left us with a 9 hour layover in Stockholm. We were able to take the Arlanda Express train on a beautiful day into the heart of the city, where we explored the old town Gamla Stan. We met some very friendly groups at our surrounding tables at dinner, one group from Sweden and the other from Australia. Josh asked the men from Sweden why there were so many Guns N’ Roses shirts (we saw too many to count being worn), and they told us there was a concert that night. The two men from Australia helped us figure out how much of a tip to leave our waitress, since the Swedish Krona’s value is so different from American dollars. Our flight from Sweden to Tallinn was only 40 minutes long, so we arrived at our hotel around 12:30 am on Friday, June 30th. We were so tired but so hungry; we asked about ordering pizza but the hotel receptionist said it would take an hour at least. So, we put our stuff in our rooms and made our way through downtown Tallinn to the first open restaurant we found. The sun was just then setting, but even with only the dim light, we felt safe. We ate pizza at an interesting little restaurant called Loca for whatever meal our bodies thought they needed at 1 am Estonia time. Sleep finally came around 2 am, after about 35 hours of travelling.

We were able to sleep until 11 am and take it slow this morning. It was rainy and 58 degrees, but nonetheless we made our way through Tallinn with our new wonderful friends, Tuuli and Elis. We stopped for lunch, and Allison and I got amazing salads with shrimp, steak, peppers, cheese, and an awesome dressing. We met up with two Josiah Venture interns from the states, Cora and Jeanene. We stopped in a beautiful Russian Orthodox Church, went to a look-out to get a view of the entire city and found a medieval style coffee shop with a narrow, stone, spiral staircase. We enjoyed coffee and cakes overlooking the city (while fighting off some very brave pigeons). We took a break at the hotel to dry off and rest before the three of us met up with Tuuli, Elis and her older sister, Emili for dinner at St. Patrick’s (I loved my salmon soup!) We took a tram to a mall and shopped around a bit before getting dessert at Mrs Waffle. They took warm waffles and you chose the toppings (fruits, whipped cream, chocolate or caramel sauce, ice cream, etc) and they were amazing! I was so tired when we came back, yet here I am, having tossed and turned for 5 hours now. Tomorrow is training from 8 am to 4 pm, so I’m really praying that God gives me peace of mind so I can get to sleep and have the energy to make it through tomorrow on several hours of sleep. But, I am so happy, thankful and excited to finally be back here in Estonia!

Sunday, July 2nd

Guess what time it is? Yep, 2 am on Sunday. I woke up after about 3 hours of sleep and just can’t get my mind to stop. Our training yesterday went very well! We learned so much about Estonian culture, Josiah Venture’s mission, and how to interact with Estonian students. King Josiah was called to move in his community at the age of 16, and began impacting others to lead them to Christ. Josiah Venture’s aim is to raise up young leaders, a whole new generation to impact the spiritually dark communities in Eastern Europe, like Josiah did for his people. It is such a cool mission and amazing ministry to be a part of.
After our training, Irina (our wonderful camp director) took us back to Rakvere, which is where camp will take place. We got sushi for dinner and then settled in at our host home for the evening. I was exhausted from getting only 3 hours of sleep last night, so I fell asleep by 9 pm, only to wake up 3 hours later. Praying for God’s faithfulness and for Him to abide with each of us, and us in Him, as we prepare for camp.

Monday, July 3rd

Our first day of camp went very well. Josh, Allison and I were prepared to jump in to any situation that presented itself, and we made a great team. The students are all super excited to learn and supportive in the workshops we are teaching and in choir rehearsal. They have such an exciting energy and are so fun to be around! It has been a challenge because the voice workshop leader got sick, so I taught all of the solo songs. But it went well, the students were easy to work with, and we got through it.

Tuesday, July 4th

I went with Taavi last night to pick up the rest of the team from the Tallinn airport. I was able to get them filled in on our way back to camp. Today, it has been so cool to see our team get stretched in so many ways. It is very clear that God brought each of us here for a unique purpose. Kristen had to come up with a dance for her workshop within an hour of it starting, because the person teaching it was injured. Myron and Josie jumped right in and taught an amazing choir lesson; their energy was infectious and everyone loved it! Josie taught two students in the voice workshop, and did so with a smile and while having fun. Myron’s talent was noticed immediately; he had planned to teach the drum workshop, but throughout the week was asked to play piano for several different songs and did them all beautifully. Allison has been coming up with extra art projects on the spot to fill her workshop time, and is starting awesome conversations with the students. Josh has been working so hard on videos and powerpoints, but has also been the life of the party among the students. They have all been so amazing, and have taken on all of the last minute projects with enthusiasm and without complaining. It is evident God gave us true talent and called us each to share it here. We have remained flexible and have been able to say yes to everything needed of us.

In the evening was Survival. Everyone is divided into teams, and each team had to complete a series of tasks and obstacles. The first thing we all did was get on a bus and drive about 45 minutes away from the school, which brought us to a park with beautiful trails. We had to go down the steepest set of stairs right next to a small natural waterfall, taking us deep into the forest. We eventually hiked out onto the beach of the Baltic sea, and completed our tasks on the beach. Oh, did I mention the sun was setting throughout this time? The location, timing of the sunset and all of the fun tasks made this experience so memorable. We ended at a big bonfire, with food and marshmallows to roast. Us Americans (our TPCC team plus the two interns, Cora and Jeanene) decided to commemorate our nation’s Independence Day by singing our National Anthem. When we finished, our Estonian friends surprised us with fireworks to celebrate July 4th. Mixed in with the sunset, the whole experience was amazing! I don’t think we will ever forget July 4th, 2017, even if it was in another country.

Wednesday, July 5th

Today, we are all pretty exhausted. We’ve all been averaging 5 or less hours of sleep this week, with half of our team still experiencing jetlag. Choir was rough for me personally today, but I now know that I need to do some extra prep work when I am this sleep deprived.
I love the way our team looks out for each other. Between yesterday and today, we were able to step up and take some extra responsibilities so that those who are lacking sleep can have some time to themselves. We were also able to take time to prepare for Fusion Idol, which we are hosting tonight.

Fusion Idol was a blast! Our team kicked it off with the Glee mash-up “Hit Me With Your Best Shot/One Way Or Another” which really got everyone pumped up. Josie hosted, Myron, Allison and Josh were our judges, and Kristen and I hosted the commercial breaks (Minute to Win It type games). We had many beautiful and serious acts that were very moving, but also had many joke acts that gave Josh a chance to put on his “mean judge” act. It was a perfect balance, and a very entertaining night!

Thursday, July 6th

We started having small band rehearsals today to get everyone ready to the concert on Saturday. Everyone is doing so well, it amazes me that some of these kids are playing these instruments or singing in front of people for the first time this week, and now we are putting them together!

In the evening there is something called Labyrinth, which is designed to be a time of reflection on what Jesus did for each of our lives, and it gives students a chance to ask questions, talk with their small group and leaders, and maybe even accept Christ.

Friday, July 7th

Last night was so amazing and moving. The speaker at the evening session was Gunnar, the pastor of the local church that supports the JV Fusion Camp. He is so real and energetic, yet serious when talking about who Jesus is and can be in the lives of these students. One girl accepted Christ before she began the Labyrinth! While travelling through the maze, each student had a cup of vinegar water. At each station, they received a drop of food coloring, representing theirs sins that keep the water from staying pure. At the last station, they were given a bleach mixture that turned the water in their cup back to clear, giving a visual example of what Christ did for us. So many students were touched, tears rolling down their faces as the Holy Spirit began to move. Out of 100 students, 6 of them gave their lives to Jesus that night. The number may seem small, but as each of these students shared their decision with their friends, they received hugs and joyful tears. It was incredibly moving to watch one girl announce excitedly that she’d accepted Jesus as her Lord and Savior, and to see every person who hugged her begin weeping and laughing with pure love and happiness. I will never forget watching this, feeling the tug of conviction that this is how we as Christians should rejoice as the angels do with every single life saved.

We finished up band rehearsals in the morning and then had a huge rehearsal with band and choir in the afternoon. It all went fairly well, especially after learning everything in 5 days. We cleaned up the school, took a group picture, and everyone headed home to rest before our concert tomorrow.

We were taken to our apartment for the next few days, and we all had the same thing in mind: FOOD. We had eaten pretty light all week, and the meals consisted mainly of carbs, which we burned very quickly. So, we were all in agreement that Grillers, the local grass-fed burger place, was a must for dinner. I don’t think any of us has tasted anything so wonderful in that moment when we finally got our food. We were accompanied by Cora, Jeanene, Allan and Kaur. That fellowship over amazing food was so nice and refreshing at such a busy week.

Saturday, July 8th

It’s concert day! We arrived and got to work setting up an outdoor stage using pallets and choir risers because the stage inside the church is too small. Luckily, the day was gorgeous, sunny and around 70 degrees. We practiced through the whole show, including the drama part of it (scenes happened between songs, creating a storyline and an Estonian translation of the English songs in case some audience members had trouble understanding). The students were having a blast and everything sounded amazing. Of course, at the concert itself, everyone sounded better than they had all week. The choir was focused, watching me or the other teachers for cues during their songs, and watching the student leaders who led them in motions for the song. I had a blast and everyone else did, too. So many of my students in the vocal workshop conquered their fears and stepped out of their comfort zones, and every single one of them nailed it.

After we cleaned up from the concert, all of the American and Estonian leaders went to Helis’ house for an after-party and debrief. The encouragement and love that was shared in that circle of people was unforgettable. Every leader was called by name, followed by all of us chiming in on what we loved about that person. Everyone was so thankful and kind; I’m sure all of our hearts were incredibly full after that time of fellowship. Myron and Josie went home with Josie’s family after the party (her brother lives in Estonia with his wife and kids, one of which was at camp with us all week). The party went well into the night, but the sun remained glowing until after 11 when me, Josh, Allison and Kristen left.

Sunday, July 8th

We had the privilege of sight-seeing today with Irina, Evelin and Anita. The took as to a beautiful little sea-side town that reminded us of Michigan, and we were able to enjoy the Baltic Sea and collect sea glass. We also walked in a nearby forest and out onto a peninsula surrounded by the sea. Kristen took some amazing pictures of all of us. We found an old Soviet-time bunker, and a mound of rocks that remains from that time. It was a beautiful, relaxing time with our new, beloved friends.

We went back to Rakvere just in time for church. Gunnar spoke again and invited us up to share some of our experience. Kristen shared some kind words about the Estonians and the way the youth celebrated each other and the students who accepted Jesus. Josh had a small sermon prepared, and it moved many in the congregation as they listened. Allison genuinely thanked the parents for raising respectful children that were such a pleasure to teach. After church, several came to us expressing their thanks in Estonian and giving us hugs.
We went to the Pikat’s house (Irina and Madis, with their adorable children Mona-Lisa and Joosep) after church for dinner. Joosep and Mona-Lisa were so excited to show us around their yard, share strawberries from their garden, and play on a homemade zipline that their neighbors shared with them. Their German Shephard puppy, Frida also received lots of attention from all of us. Madis prepared the best grilled meats we have ever tasted, and they even surprised me with an early birthday celebration and candles for the cake! We laughed and talked and shared stories, and just enjoyed each other’s company around one more table.

Monday, July 9th

Today we headed back to Tallinn, but took our time sight-seeing along the way. We began at the Rakvere Castle, which is gorgeous on the outside but so fun to explore on the inside. We shot arrows, went to prison, threw coins into the wishing well, watched reenactments, and more! After the castle we went to a marshland, where we hiked and viewed amazing trees and vegetation. They explained to us that people are free to come and pick berries from the marsh when they are in bloom. Our last stop before Tallinn was a waterfall, which was beautiful and shallow enough that we could stand right on the edge of it.
In Tallinn, we got dinner at a delicious Indian restaurant before shopping and hiking to the lookout at sunset. The view of the city with the golden lighting was breathtaking. We ended the evening with gelato from Gelato Ladies, before our friends took us to our hotel and said goodbye. The friendships formed in just a week is truly amazing; these people gave so much and loved us so well. We will forever be thankful for everything they shared with us these past few weeks.

Tuesday, July 10th

Our flight was at 7:20 am this morning, so we woke up around 4 am. Time stood still today. We landed in Sweden around 7 am after a 40 minute flight, because Sweden is an hour behind Estonia. We said goodbye to Kristen, who was travelling on to Ireland, and heading back in to Stockholm to sight-see. It was a gloomy day, but we spent our time finding a coffee shop that was open and shopping around in Gamla Stan. We flew out of Stockholm around 4:30 pm and arrived in Chicago around 6:30 pm after an 8 hour flight (again, time basically stood still). We arrived home around 11 pm after our drive back from Chicago. The time changes and amount of time awake had us exhausted, but Josh offered to drive and we made it home.

Our hearts are full as we process through all of the amazing things God did this week and the people He brought into our lives. We were deeply touched by our time in Estonia and grateful for the blessings He poured out on us. Until next time, Estonia!

Day 5, Teacher Appreciation and Graduate Vocational Student Celebration

Today was very special, as we got to honor our teachers who work with the Special Needs kids.  In addition, we had quite a few of the graduates from our Vocational Program.  It was great to see the students reunited with  their teachers.

Our celebration took place at a private park named El Salero.  It is absolutely beautiful.   Most of our graduate students would not have been to a park with a full sized grass soccer (Futbol) field.  In addition, it has volleyball, basketball, and a swimming pool.

Our day included ice breaker games like Terremotto (Earthquake) and some fun games that we brought from the U.S.

After lunch, the teachers were presented with  Certificates of achievement for their hard work in working with children with Special Needs.  Our day with the teachers and students ended with a dip in the pool.

As with  every other day, we still  had work to do.  Back to Quinta Primavera to regroup, eat dinner, debrief,  do devotional and start planning on tomorrow’s schedule.

Day 4: More Food Distribution and Speech Evals, and Lots of Kids!

Today we did food distribution in a different community, much different than working in downtown Managua! We went to Los Brasiles, a much more rural and spread out community. In Managua, where we were the previous day, homes touch each other and share walls. In Los Brasiles, homes are more spread out and most have the tin roofs with bricks or logs holding them on. The streets are dirt with drainage water running onto them. Horses and goats roam streets freely. Quite different from city life! We were able to visit 16 families of special needs individuals, pray with them, talk about God’s love for them, and just be present with them. You really feel great love for each other when you take time to be present.


One of our team members (Jill) wrote a beautiful summary of what we saw during our day of food distributions today. She wrote, “In the midst of severe poverty I still see joy, smiles, generosity, hospitality, a sense of community, exuberance, friendliness, and a love for God. In the midst of the most dire living conditions, there is still hope, strength, patience, goodness, kindness, and faith. Some of the best things this world has to offer cannot be quenched by the most difficult living situations. Love and laughter is a universal language found everywhere.”

While part of the team was distributing food to families in the community, the other team members spent their time keeping children busy while they waited in line to receive speech evaluations. They played with balls, bubbles, and anything they could find to keep them busy! Kids have the ability to bring such joy every time we see them!

We returned back to LaQuinta for quick showers and dinner, then we headed to Ciudad Sandino, Traders Point’s sister church, for an evening worship service. We were able to bless them with 32 new chairs for their congregation! We performed a skit to the song “Oceans” by Hillsong, Alec sang a song in Spanish, and our whole group performed a Spanish song. We were blessed once again by worshipping with the congregation and enjoying their enthusiasm and joy for the Lord. I can only imagine we get a small glimpse of what Heaven will be like when we worship with others cultures!


Day 3: Food distribution and Painting

We started out our morning today with a great worship session on the porch. Let me tell you, starting the morning by singing worship songs with 20 other people sure makes for a great day!

After breakfast, we headed to Rey Solomon where we divided into teams for the day. Several teams went into the community for food distribution, and the rest of us stayed back and painted classrooms and offices at the school.

During food distribution, we were able to go into the community and meet with a few families in their home. Every family we met with was a special needs family. While we were there, we spent some time getting to know them and praying for them. This time is always when reality sinks in; up until this point, the poverty is well masked by the Nicaraguans through smiling faces, serving hands, and gracious hearts. But when we enter their homes, we are able to grasp the gravity of the situations they are living in. Some homes only have one bed for 5 people to sleep in, and others only have a piece of tin as a roof. We were able to provide the families with a bucket of food and necessities to help alleviate the worry for a short period of time. Through all of this, God was able to show us that He truly provides every single item that we need….all we have to do is trust Him.

Back at the school, we worked all day painting classroom walls and enjoying fellowship with one another, as well as with other community members. A few families even got to see their sponsored children today, even when they weren’t expecting to! God showed up in so many ways throughout the day and it was truly another great day.

Praying with a sponsored child and family.

Day 2 Continued.

Work never ends.  While part of the team was out buying food for our lunch tomorrow, the rest began getting  our food buckets ready for delivery.  Each food bucket contains rice,  beans, pasta, laundry soap,  hand soap, seasoning packets, sugar,  oil, toilet paper, ketchup, and other essentials for a family of 4.  It will normally last them 1 to 2 weeks.

Day 2

Day 2 started early with breakfast and then our morning Devotional.   Ginny Campbell helped us get ready to attend church by reading the following verse from the Bible:

James 2:5  Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him?

After Devotional it was off to Pastor Oscar’s Church to worship, and I mean Worship.  Church in Nicaragua is not on a time schedule.  They worship until they are comfortable that God has heard all of their petitions, requests, and prayers.  Today was about 2 hours of glorious music, prayer and fellowship.

Pastor Oscar is bilingual and delivered a great message on using your God Given Talents. It was wonderful to know that although the service was in  Spanish, we were all there worshiping the  Same God.  Although many of us did not know exactly was was being said, we all could feel the Holy Spirit’s presence.

The rest of the day lets us unwind a little.  We went shopping at the Mercado for gifts, then came back to sort our materials for the rest of the week.  Believe it or not, we finished with Pizza Hut for dinner.