Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Road Trip!

ROAD TRIP, 2 words that bring happiness to the boys in our home.  It's a rare thing for us, given the fact that we do not have a vehicle.  And, it's also viewed as an exciting adventure away from the ordinary things we do every day.  A mini-vacation of eating out, strolling through the malls, taking in the sights and sounds of the big city.  Yesterday, we took a road trip to Managua.  This road trip had great significance, we were on our way to pick up our friend and newbie missionary, Leah Adams.  We had to rent a van in order to transport Leah from the airport in Managua (MGA)  to our home in Leon.  So, we utilized the good fortune of having access to a vehicle to include a time of shopping while in MGA.  

This particular trip we invited the woman, Santo, who helps in our home and her teenage daughter, Ana.  Neither of them have ever left the safe confines of Leon.  It is hard to imagine someone not ever going beyond their city. MGA is only 55 miles and 1 1/2 hour drive away.  After retrieving one child from school and allowing 2 others to take a day off, we loaded up and headed south. 

First stop in MGA, PriceSmart!  It is the Latin answer to Costco.  The first time we took the boys they were overwhelmed with the size of the store and the abundance of items.  But, what they really liked was the unlimited refills on sodas with their meal.  This luxury that is second-nature to us Americans, is unheard of in Nicaragua.  Nothing is free!   So the idea that one of their favorite things - "gaseosas" - is available in unlimited supply.    Add to it, fried chicken, well, this just makes the world an absolutely perfect place. 

Next stop was to visit Pablito.  2 months ago he asked to spend some time in another ministry for some additional help with personal issues that he was having difficulty with.   We are not counselors or psychologists, so any help is always welcomed.  We were happy to see him and he certainly was surprised by our visit.  During our short visit, I could not take my eyes off of him, something was not right.  The boy who is usually so vibrant, always with a sparkle in his eyes and a huge smile was not the same boy I remembered.  There were 3 of us women visiting Pablo and when we exited the building, we all had the same impression that things were not going well.  There was so much sadness in his eyes.   It was not the sadness of a boy missing family, we couldn't define it.  We couldn't imagine what had happened to change him so dramatically.    He committed himself to a 3 month program and we cannot interfere.   Before I left, as Pablo walked away to his quarters, I called him back,  held him and told him I loved him.  He looked at me with eyes glazed and said "I know".  

We journeyed on to buy supplies for the house and then went to the mall.  Santo's middle son is being promoted from elementary school to secondary school, the equivalent of high school; we told her we would help to buy the clothing needed so that he would look presentable at his promotion.  Santo is a single mom trying to raise 4 children on the salary we pay her of $100 a month.  I do not know what other sources of income she receives.  It is very apparent that she is poor.   I cannot describe to you the type of poverty that she faces daily.  She has strong faith in God as her provider.   We enjoyed blessing her with a day of fun.   There were moments to remember from the day.  One in particular was watching Santo ride the escalator for the first time; she found it very tricky to get on and off.  We had to steady her several times to keep her from falling.

At last, the long awaited time had come to pick up our guest at the airport.  We all came prepared  with extra clothing because we've learned from past trips that the AC in the terminal is "cranking" and we freeze.  After snacking on  cappacinos to keep us warm while  the more foolish of the group drank the sweet frappes, the boys spent time entertaining  themselves the best way they know how while waiting for the delayed arrival of the plane.

Music and texting is a teen's best friend.

Noel was the first to greet his friend whom he met 8 short months ago.  Leah's return means the world to him and Engel.  Someone kept good on their promise, "I will come back".

Sunday, October 14, 2012


Duglas Abel Espinoza Mendoza is 18 years of age (his name is not a typo error).  He came to us after he left the facility where he lived for many years with his 2 brothers.  In fact, Duglas and our boy, Noel, ran away together a year ago last July.  It's by God's plan that they are both with us now.

His story is one of many typical stories of the youth in Nicaragua.   He lived with his abusive father who beat him and put him on the streets to earn money before he was a teenager.    He was the older of 3 boys and took the beatings in order to spare his younger siblings.   The father is in prison and the other relatives had abandoned the boys.  His brothers are now in the process of adoption by an American family.  Duglas did not qualify for adoption because of his age.

Duglas can be talkative but in a quiet manner. He has no self esteem  and is very self-conscious.  He is teased incessantly about his looks and has the nickname of Chino.  It bothers him that he looks very different from his brothers and tells me that he is ugly.  

Duglas was in school, but was not allowed to return for reasons that we are not fully aware of.   He will have to repeat the 8th grade and will be 22-23 years old when he finally completes high school.  I've been told he was a very good student.   His desire is to become an engineer.  He said he loves numbers.

Like most of the boys that have lived with us here at La Casa de Restauración, during his first days and week, he was on his best behavior.   Once the honeymoon period subsided, you might say his real personality began to surface.    All the boys seem to have the same "DNA", which is the inability to tell the truth and always trying to find ways to circumvent the system.  He's a wonderful boy, but he can be a challenge in trying to figure out what he is all about.   Most of the time he stays to himself listening to his iPod and you wouldn't notice he was in the house.  Then, there are times when he will use his imagination to escape some of the responsibilities that are part of his daily routine.  

Duglas is dealing with the eventual loss of his siblings to a place where opportunities will abound for them.  They will live with an affluent family in West Virginia and can provide the best of everything for his brothers.   Right now he does not talk about his feelings.  I can only imagine that he may be experiencing emotions of abandonment all over again.

The path ahead of us will have some rough spots as we get to know Duglas.  Each boy lives here by the same rules, but each boy is "handled" differently; their past histories dictate this.  

We could not take care of Duglas or the other boys without God's guidance and the constant wisdom that He pours into us.  We are way in over our heads.  I listened to a message today from my home church in NC.  Pastor Mike said  "there is no way that we can do the job that each of us has been called to, but HE can".  It's only through God's strength that we are able to do the near impossible.  We take no credit for this, it is all HIM.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Repentance and Confession

The last month has been especially difficult in our home and in our ministry.  Actually, I guess we could say that the home and ministry are one and the same.  Right now, God has us ministering to young men in our home.  We have encountered battles on every front; in our finances, in our living conditions and most destructive - in the behavior of the boys.  

Recently, I (Sandra) have been asking God a lot as to why He called us to this ministry and to this country.  I never received the answers to the questions I had been asking.  And just when the pressure, disappointment and pain were getting to be too much to bear, God gave His answer in the most unexpected way.  He spoke through one of our boys.

We have known all the boys who live with us prior to their residency in our home.  They were former students in our vocational school.  We did not solicit them to leave the institution where they once had lived.  Each one had personal reasons for leaving the facility and finding their way to our doorstep.  The fact that we did not turn any one of them away has created division in our relationship with the institution.  

The boys are not addicts, they are either abandoned, rejected or orphaned youth.  Some of them have lived on the streets for a time.  Some of them have suffered extreme physical and sexual abuse at a very young age.  Some of them have behavior that is learned only by living on the streets.   They know how to manipulate and lie to get what they need or want, that is essential to the survival of a street kid.

We did not come here prepared to raise these boys.  We came here to teach vocational skills to young men of this nation who otherwise would not have the opportunity to learn a trade in order to become self-sufficient.  We are not psychologists or social workers.  We are two people who have a supernatural love for boys that society has neglected or forgotten.   We came here to start a school, God brought us here to parent this "forgotten generation".

After supper each night, the boys take turns preparing for a devotional teaching.  Each boy is assigned a night.  Tonight, was different however.   The boy whose turn it was to deliver the teaching said he was not going to teach from the bible because  "He had something to say".  

He started by saying that he had been thinking a lot about his behavior.  He talked about the thoughts that come into his mind and how they prompt him to do bad things.  He said he did not want to lie or deceive us any more.  He wanted to change, he wanted the strength to change.  And he wanted to be forgiven.

Yes, God answered my questions and my prayers tonight.  Through the confession of a child and his deep repentance, God told me what I needed to hear.   We are being used to make a difference, the boys are listening to us, our efforts and our words are not in vain.   I cried through the entire confession and I know that none of the boys had a clue as to why.   They have no idea how low my spirit had been sinking in these last few days.  They have no idea that God threw me a "lifeline" through one of them.  

I went to the dinner table with misty eyes from earlier tears and left with tears of relief and gladness.  I went to my "son" after his confession, hugged him and told him how much I loved him.  I received the same words back.   I thank God for his love and faithfulness to work all things for good.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Rebellion, Hormones, Habits or Independence

To say that the last couple of weeks have not been a challenge, well I don't know if the word "challenge" accurately describes our day to day experiences.  I was reading this morning in the book of Isaiah "He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak".  It's only because of this promise that we can do our work each day.

We currently have five boys ages 14 - 21 and one 30-something male living in our home.  The boys are either orphans, abandoned / rejected youth or the recipient of unimaginable abuse. The adult male is in the midst of a long battle to live without the dependency of alcohol.   Each one has their own personal inner struggles as well as learning to live with new found freedoms.

They are 6 males that have spent most of their lives lying, cheating, and manipulating.  This behavior is as natural to them as breathing.  These boys have survived growing up in a 3rd World Nation, need I say more. But, as Christian young men, they know what the Bible says about these works of the flesh. 

Until recently, it was easy for the boys to cover up their behavior because they could tell us anything and we "believed" them.  We did not know the spanish language. What most of our supporters and friends don't know is that we have been taking care of these boys when we have no understanding of or ability to speak Spanish.  Now, as we begin to understand the conversations that flow between them, our eyes are being opened and opened WIDE. They can no longer hide behind our lack of understanding the language.  What is fun for us, they forget that we are beginning to understand. They will sit in our presence and carry on conversations as though we were no where near them.  We may not be able to speak it well, but Preston is grasping an excellent  understanding of Spanish.  I've told him, we should continue to play dumb so they won't know how much we know of the language.  See, we are all prone to forms of manipulation.

We are discovering behavior that is inappropriate and with disobedience comes consequences.  They are not liking correction or discipline.  As we try to make the proper decisions in response to the learned information about their conduct, we ask ourselves:  are we dealing with rebellion, hormones, habits or a desire for independence.  Anyone who has raised teenagers, knows that one or all four of these traits are exhibited everyday.

In recent weeks, we have experienced an increase in fighting between the boys.  I'm not talking about verbal encounters.  The fists have been flying and tussling on the ground. As we observe their responses to our questioning and think over recent events prior to the altercations, we see a pattern of behavior. Someone has either felt slighted or they are dealing with jealousy or they are just plain angry at the world for the time being.

Oh, I have failed to mention that there are other issues that are displayed by the boys: OCD symptoms, aspberger type symptoms, ADHD.  We are not psychologists so we do not have the ability to accurately diagnose the boys.  However, there are traits in their character that require attention and the ability to understand and work through them.

We also have to remember we were teenagers once, too.  Let me tell you a funny story.  Freddy was in school last week.   While the teacher exited the room for a brief moment, our boy decided to leave also before she returned.  There was a soccer game being televised of his favorite teams - Barcelona & Madrid.  He claims a friend talked him in to leaving school so they could go watch the game. Who among us as never skipped school?  Skipping school, we can live with, watching the game in a bar - well, we have to draw a line on that one.  A 16 year old hanging out in a bar is not good.  When he came home from "school",  he acted like nothing unusual had happened in his day.   He had not been drinking from all indications; he always comes in to talk to me and/or give me a hug when he gets home and I would have detected the smell of alcohol.  It was several days later that we found out about his escapade because he was talking to his housemates.  When we confronted him, he was sad because he got caught; but he did not appear remorseful for having pulled it off.   The reason why I call it a funny story, it is typical of something that Freddy would do.  

Freddy is our child with a very adventurous spirit.  We categorize this particular stunt of leaving school and heading off to watch sports as someone wanting to exercise some independence.  Each boy is so totally different from the next.  We have spent a lot of time studying their personalities and behavior.  How we talk to and discipline one boy would not work with another.

Rommel is the name of the man that is living with us.  He has known the boys for a couple of years when they were all living in Remar.   For as long as he will be with us, he will be a great asset in helping us understand and care for the boys.  Boys are boys,  but growing up in Nicaragua is not like living in other nations.  The environment creates differences in their behavior that is not typical in many cultures.  

We ask for prayers for us, for all of us.   Preston and I desire to have increase in our understanding and patience to better care for the boys.   We ask for prayers on behalf of the boys to have patience with us as we learn about them and understand life in this nation.  Prayers for Rommel as he continues in his quest for peace and rest in his life.  And, wisdom for all of us to make the right choices in everything that we do.



Saturday, July 14, 2012

Once a Month Play Day

We are challenged daily by life in Nicaragua. Not only for us, but the boys as well.  It cannot be easy living with 2 senior citizens that barely speak their language and the constant daily learning of the most basic  skills.  Yes, life is a challenge for all of us.  But one Saturday each month, we get away from it all and treat ourselves to a day of fun at the beach.  And this particular Saturday, the boys had a guest accompany them.  Our former student Michael had spent the night and was going to be with us for the day.  Our good friends and fellow missionaries were to meet us for lunch.

Everyone was up before 6:30 which was very unusual for the boys; but it was a sign that they were excited about the day's event.  The egg man did not come by, so it was biscuits for everyone, again.  Biscuits fill their tummies and there is not a lot of clean up; these boys were anxious to get going.

We headed for the bus stop to wait for the 9:30 bus, or whatever time it would show up; there is usually a half hour window either side of 9:30.  Today, the bus was 9:30 sharp and it was an unusual sight to see.  There was a man standing on the roof of the bus who seemed to be watching over a lot of parcels that were loaded on the top.  When the bus pulled up, the boys went towards the rear door and we adults were ushered to the front door by the "conductor".  Wait a minute!  There was a reason why the man was on the roof, there was no room in the bus and now they were going to cram us into it.   The conductor kept shaking his head "yes" and motioning for us to climb aboard.  So we stepped into the bus standing on the bus steps with 5 other people while the conductor hung half out of the door AND away we went.  We hadn't gone one mile when the bus stopped to pick up one more person.  You've got to be kidding!  The person was a female, so she climbed on the step next to me while Preston and the conductor hung half out of the bus holding on to the folding doors.  This is where it starts to get interesting.  Preston had his arms above his head because there was no room to put them and he had to hold on to the upper part of the door. Visualize, we are like sardines in this bus and my nose is up inside the sleeve of my husband's shirt and I have a clear view of his armpit as well as able to smell. Fortunately he was freshly bathed.  We have an 8 mile drive to the ocean and luckily without picking up another passenger.  But, my mind keeps focusing on, "where's our boys"?

As we neared the beach, the passengers started unloading here and there.  Each time, Preston had to step off the bus to let someone off and one of those times I heard him talking to Freddy.  Freddy had walked around to the front of the bus to get on to be near us. He begins to tell us the story that he and 4 of our boys had been hanging off the BACK of the bus the whole trip.  There are 12" wide ladders on each side of the rear door and that's where they had been standing and holding on, while Aroldo was sitting on the floor of the bus with his feet dangling outside the door.  I've seen this kind of thing before, but never experienced it. Next time, I think we will be taking the 10:30 bus, at least we never had to hang out the back of that bus.

Once at the beach, we have our special place where we like to spend the day.  It's quiet there and away from the other heavily populated restaurants that cater to tourists.  The owners are nice, treat us very well and are good to the boys.  We spend the rest of the day soaking up the sun, the boys play in the surf as well as play their version of soccer, we eat and we nap.

It's a day of relaxation and indulging ourselves with hamburguesas and gaseosas; no cooking, no cleaning up, a welcome break from the everyday. Life is good.  We all love the sea and are blessed to live so close.  We do not take our day to the beach for granted, it is a gift from God.  He loves to give us the desires of our hearts and He is faithful to provide the extra finances each month to cover the costs. In March, when we first started the beach trips, the cost was $25 for a day of fun, food, and transportation.  Now with the addition of boys the cost has doubled to $50.  A real strettttttch for our very limited budget.  

Perhaps there are "padrinos" (godparents) out there that would like to sponsor monthly our outing. 
Donations can be made to the general fund at

We are developing traditions in our Nica family and going to the beach one Saturday each month is one of them.  The boys are coming to depend on the traditions.  It's not only fun but the traditions are therapeutic.  It's an established routine in their lives, it's something they can count on, it brings a sense of well-being and security.  All our traditions represent home to them and more importantly they represent  family.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Culture Shock in Reverse

I (Sandra) am still decompressing at home in Nicaragua from my recent trip to North Carolina.  It had been 2 years since I had visited my home church, New Day Church at High Point.  At times when I reflect back, it seems like a long 2 years because of so much that has happened to us and the changes to the ministry; and yet, it seems like time had just flown by.  The trip was arranged for me by my church for a time of rest and also to reconnect with my church family and others.

Every 6 months, because we do not have our permanent residency status, we are required to vacate Nicaragua for a minimum of 72 hours.  Due to our busy schedule, this mandatory requirement is really an inconvenience to us.  However, we are realizing that a break from routine is absolutely necessary to remain focused and refreshed to handle what we do.

My first realization that I had been out of touch with civilization as I once knew it and the everyday conveniences that we once cherished, hit me during my long 7 hour layover in Atlanta.  I walked around the various concourses trying to decide what I wanted to eat.  Choices, so many choices - I was truly overwhelmed.  It gave me a strong sense of what our students and the boys that live with us go through, the inability to decide.   I have gotten accustomed to not having choices.  I'm sure I looked odd to anyone that might have noticed that I walked by the various eateries at least 3 times as though I was on a field track.  EVERYTHING looked so good, it was a feast before my eyes and I could not decide what I really wanted to eat.  What did I finally eat?   A pesto pasta salad filled with sun-dried tomatoes and a side of hummus with bagel chips.  Hmmmmmmm, oh so good.

The 2nd big shocker for me was air conditioning.  Everywhere I went the AC was cranking and I was cold.  I'm not talking about being cool, I'm telling you there were times I was freezing.   I managed to confiscate a hooded sweatshirt from my host family and I wore it everyday; inside the house as well as OUTDOORS.  It was not very fashionable, but I was toasty.  80 degrees to me is a cool day and anything less, it starts to get uncomfortable.

Commercialism was in my face everywhere I went.  There was a time when I supported it well.  I did my patriotic duty to keep the economy rolling.   Today, what do I have to show for it?  Hardly anything!  God made it perfectly clear when we left the United States that we were to go almost empty handed.  Don't get me wrong, there are a lot of personal possessions that I still miss; but I am surviving without them.   If I had to do it over again, I would rethink a lot of our former purchases.  It was a lot of excess.

I had forgotten how beautiful and green the landscape of North Carolina can be.  How new everything is; homes, commercial properties, roadways and cars.  And mostly, I appreciated how very CLEAN everything was.

During my time in the States, I was confronted with something that took me by surprise. There was the sense within me that I did not belong there any more.   I felt like a fish out of water.  Two years is a long time to be away from any one place.   Everyone's life had moved on and I was like a former player standing on the sidelines watching their lives being played out and I was not involved in the game any longer.

It was beautiful reconnecting with my church family and making new friends.  Everywhere I went and everyone I was with treated me like Royalty.   I was loved upon extravagantly.  I was encouraged prophetically in my future.   I could not have asked for a more meaningful welcoming.  But, I was not home.

My life has changed in ways that I would never have dreamed of 2, 4 or 13 years ago.  When I worked at Samaritan's Purse, I thought about missions; but I envisioned myself still gainfully employed at SP and going out in the field on occasion.   Then I met Preston and everywhere we went, people were always telling us that we would be traveling the world and making a difference in the lives of multitudes.   A far reach for a girl that just saw herself as ordinary and insignificant.   I cannot take credit for anything that I do, because I am weak.  He, the Lord God, is my strength.  I can do nothing without Him.  All He asks of me, is to be available and say Yes.

I'm back HOME in Nica, the place I have come to love.  Only God can put a supernatural love inside me that cannot be explained to the rest of the world and especially to my own children.  This is not the life I had imagined, but it is the life that was carved out for me long before I was ever born.  Even with all it's challenges and heartache, it is a tremendous privilege to be called by the Lord to be His ambassador to make a difference in the lives of the young men and boys in this nation and beyond Nicaragua.

Monday, April 23, 2012


Freddy Diaz Garcia, age 16 is the brother of our Nica child, Noel.  We were introduced to Freddy in December, 2011 when we visited the Remar facility in Managua.  He did not spend time with us during the visits, but I always noticed that he longingly watched us from a distance.  The boys had been separated for approximately 2 years as a result of Noel being transferred to the Leon facility.   

Very early in the morning on the 1st of April, Noel came into our room as we were just beginning to awaken.  He was very upset, we told him to climb into bed while he told us what was bothering him.  He had gotten a frantic phone call from his brother saying he was running away.  We had no other details and no information as to his whereabouts. Freddy had borrowed a cell phone to make the call and hung up promptly.  There were many calls to old friends in Managua trying to get more detail before Freddy called us back.  We got an exact location, told him to stay put and we would come get him. 

By 9AM, Preston was out the door with Engel and Noel heading south beyond Managua to find Freddy. They traveled on 3 different buses to get to their destination.  Time was of the essence because Freddy was alone on the streets with no money and no belongings AND it was a Sunday.   They needed to get back into Managua by a certain hour to ride the bus to Leon in order to catch the last bus in Leon to our residence.

It was a relief to see all the guys walking up the road to our home at dusk.   I opened the gate to let them in and the first one through the gate was Freddy.  He greeted me with a big hug, at the same time telling me "Thank You".

It was a joyous occasion in our home that night, Freddy and Noel together again after more than 2 years.    The boys laughed and talked for hours before we insisted that lights had to be turned out.   Noel and Engel shared clothes with him because he had nothing but what he currently wore.   The next morning we went to the market to buy shorts and underclothes.

Freddy is an affectionate boy with a wide smile and a laugh that is more like a giggle.  He loves to sit close and wrap his arm around me, as well as receive hugs.   He's bright, speaks a little English and is determined to finish school despite being at least 3 years older than the others in his grade.  (the challenge to get him enrolled in school is good reading for another post)

These 2 brothers have been through a lot in their young years.  They were placed in the Remar facility by the Family Services before the boys were 10 years of age.  They had been found wandering the streets in a mountainous town, living on their own.   We are happy that we can provide them a safe place  to live within a home atmosphere.   It is important that they remain together and not be separated.

Their future with us was in jeopardy not too long after Freddy's arrival.  The course of events played out over several days but culminated with a happy ending.  (this too will be described in another post.)