Monday, December 2, 2013

There Wasn't Enough Time

In September, we met a man named Marvin, relatively young only 34 years,  who lived in the village of El Paraiso.  He joined our carpentry class along with his brother Freddy.

It was refreshing to have him around.  He was dependable, conscientious, eager to learn, kind, and he was witty.  But, his presence in class was a mere 3 weeks.   He was beginning to get tired very easily and too weak to want to walk the short distance to the school.   We discovered that he had the disease that is dreaded in this country - renal failure. 

At first, Preston was able to stop by the house, that Marvin shared with his mother, to have brief conversations with him. All too soon, whenever Preston would stop by to check up on Marvin's progress, he found him asleep.

The family put up a hammock under the trees across the street from his house.  It was breezy and cooler to be out of the hot, stuffy house. However, because of Marvin's deteriorating health, he was cold at the same time.  

It was 12 short weeks from the first day of school to his passing.  His death hit us hard for several reasons.   He was the 2nd person that we knew in Nicaragua who had died.  He was young and there was so much life that he should have been able to live.  He died of a disease that hasn't been diagnosed as to the actual cause; lots of theories.  He died for lack of medical care that was beyond the means of his family.   He died and there wasn't enough time to spend with him; we are going to miss him.

Funerals in Nicaragua are fast.  A person is buried within 24 hours.  The body remains in the home until it is transported to the cemetery. Neighbors and extended relatives come quickly to the aid of the grieving family to offer assistance in so many ways.  They combine their money to help with the costs of buying a casket and other funeral expenses.  They sit with the family all night; the body is NEVER left unattended.  Through the night, friends dug the hole and poured concrete for a crypt to be the final resting place for the casket. 

Depending on the length of the journey from the home to the cemetery, the casket is either walked through the streets or carried on a cart or vehicle to the cemetery.   In Marvin's case, the casket was carried to the church for a final service.  Afterwards it was put in the back of a truck while family and friends boarded a bus to take them to the cemetery some distance from El Paraiso.

It was no surprise that Marvin was going to die, but his death came much too quickly.  His mother and his brother grieved for him; they weren't ready to lose him.  As I said, he was young, he was kind, he was witty and I'm sure so very loving.  There are no words to speak to them to ease their pain right now.  

We all know that he is in a better place.  Jesus has welcomed him to his eternal home. Never again will Marvin be in pain. We are told that there is no sorrow in Heaven, so I have to believe that he doesn't miss his family but anticipates the day when they will be reunited.  

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Vocational Training in the Rural Areas

In July, we began a program of vocational training to young adults in remote rural areas. We have joined forces with fellow missionary friends who share the same vision as we do - to see individuals, families and communities become self-sustaining and break out of the welfare mindset that keeps them in bondage to poverty.  They have had a presence in a community called El Paraiso for a couple of years, building a church and teaching the women various skills. They were delighted to have us approach them with the idea of reaching the men in the community, as well.

We began our journey to visit the community of El Paraiso and talk with the local young men to determine their needs for training and desire for education in vocational skills.  This community was not new to us, we did an outreach back in March 2012 with a visiting US mission team. El Paraiso is very small with a population of about 400 people and is located in the middle of "no where" about an hour plus drive from Leon.The men in the community are mostly farm hands and 6 months out of each year they have no work.

When we met with various young men in the community to talk with them about spending 2 days each week learning carpentry and other skills, we were met with a lot of enthusiasm. The young men wanted an opportunity to learn skills that would help them to improve their chances of employment or make items to sell in the market place or commissioned by others.  Many of them have only a second grade education.

This  concept of taking the vocational training out to the remote rural areas has exceeded our expectations.   It is a rare thing to find a commitment to education among the people of Nicaragua.  These men show up each and every session eager to learn.  Not only do we teach them vocational skills, but we disciple them in biblical principles and life skills.  Most of the students in the class do not attend the church that was built in the community.  

We were greatly surprised at the start of our first class, when we began our class in the usual way - with prayer.  Each of the men said they did not know how to pray.  We never would have dreamed that this would be our first hurdle to overcome.  We came up with the concept of each man uttering one sentence of a need or thankfulness and they did so one by one in group rotation.  When they were done, we said "Now you have prayed".  Just this last week, we had the guys break up in teams of 2 and ask their partner how they could pray for him.   They have come a long way in a short time and are getting very comfortable with prayer.

The guys are being taught math, carpentry and most recently, electrical.  They were taught how to build a circuit board consisting of a switch, a light and receptacle. Each of the guys had a turn at assembling the board and then disassembling it so that each of them could learn to run the circuit.

When the switch was flipped, the light came on and when the drill was plugged in, there was power.  

An upcoming project for the guys will be to wire a new building in the community that will be used to house a bakery and classroom space.

The use of fractions was very intimidating in the early days of class.  James Israel assured them that he knew nothing of math and in time he learned  fractions and how to add and subtract with them.  The "pizza pie" example is very useful in getting them to understand the basics of fractions.  Aha moments came as the guys grasped that 5/8 of a pie was left over after 3 pieces had been "eaten" from a pie divided into 8 equal slices.

Speaking of James Israel, he was in our beginning carpentry class over 3 years ago. He has since taught himself how to speak English and is used as our translator.  He is also an apprentice instructor and helps to monitor the work of the guys.    We are beyond proud and excited to have a former student join us in educating the young men of his country. It's been our hearts desire that the young men we teach would in turn give back to others what they themselves have learned.

We spend 3 hours total travel time in order to spend 3 short hours with the guys.  In recent days, when we start packing up our supplies to get ready for the return trip home, the guys pull up chairs wanting to talk and just continue to have fellowship with us.  As much as we love spending time with them, the heat has worn us out and our brains are on overload trying to keep up with the Spanish.  We wish that we did not have the distance between our house and theirs and we could visit more often.  It's awesome the way that the friendships are developing between us and them.  This is the part of what we do that has us captivated, loving every moment of being used by God to help others learn to help themselves.










Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Was it All for Naught?

First let me start by saying that this particular blog posting is written from the viewpoint, opinions and feelings of the writer, me - Sandra; not those of Preston, the founder of the ministry.  You might have noticed that postings have been few and far between during the last year or so.  This was mainly because feelings were ruling me a good deal of the time.  I'm the type of person who wears my feelings on my shirt sleeves.  This would have become apparent in the words I would or would not use or the style of the message in which I was writing.  Everything about myself and my life here would have been revealed and some days it just was not pretty.

Recently I read a post written by a missionary friend who wrote from the gut, no matter how unflattering it may have painted themselves or the work they were doing, it was real and truthful. That day they made a decision to describe what life was really like on the mission field; it wasn't about the feel good stories that most people like to read about and willing to support. 

For all my writings, I wanted my stories to have good fuzzy feelings and happy endings; but life just wasn't like that for us most of the time. When the times were good they were over the top wonderful.  When times were not so good, they wrecked me.   I might feel disappointed, rejected, hurt, anger, confused, ill-equipped, a failure, forgotten, or abandoned.   Some days it was not unusual to have all of them at once. How could anyone write a blog with crazy emotions swirling in their being?   After all, I'm a missionary sent by God and I should have it all together and have all the answers.  Well that works most of the time, but if a person is going through a time of testing or there are outside forces that are ruling or they choose to not let God lead, things will get a little out of whack.  Whatever the circumstances, the thing that matters here is I haven't always portrayed an accurate picture of what our work entailed and what we were most always up against.

In the beginning, we had promised ourselves that we would not get away from the purpose of our ministry, which was education and discipleship.  We would not look to the left or right, because that could surely get us off track. There are plenty of ministries to meet the other needs that are all around.   We would keep our focus straight ahead on education.  Education comes in many dimensions and teaching life skills was certainly part of our original vision.  So, when the boys that had attended our vocational school started showing up on our doorstep because they wanted a different life, we thought this must surely be what we are supposed to do - take them into our home.  
What better way to teach life skills than 24/7 hands on?  

For the first weeks, we experienced a tremendous honeymoon phase.  Everyone was happy, we were having fun and things seemed to be clicking.  So we thought, because boys kept showing up at our door, even after a year there would be a new boy.  We had 15 boys live with us during this time period and as many as 7 at any given time.   There were lots of changes and challenges every minute, every day.   What we didn't plan on was each boy had their own agenda and most of the time it did not match ours.  We took them at their word as each one told us "they wanted a better life, they wanted an opportunity at education and they wanted to change".    The only thing true about this statement is they wanted a better life.  A life lived with us was better than the life they lived in the facilities they once knew or life on the streets.  There was regular meals, clean clothes, a warm bed, and TV.   I don't think they had counted on the chores, the rules and definitely the required education.  Continuing on to the public school system was a must.  Some of the boys had never been to school, some had gone only as far as 2nd, 3rd, 4th years in elementary.

Some boys became vocal about their desire to have a woman take care of them so they didn't need an education.  Some boys had substance abuse problems and other addictions and could not control themselves.  Some boys had the ability to learn "the system" and do just what was required to remain in our home.  They all had one thing in common, they did not have the desire to work at change.  Change required effort and they had too much of a mind set tied to laziness, hopelessness, welfare and lack of respect for authority to want to work at effecting change.  Each and every boy that came to live with us no matter for how long had either stolen from us, manipulated us or lied to us over and over again.  And yet, we loved each one, some more than others and their parting was sometimes very painful.

Several times during the 2 year span, there would be meetings to discuss what we required and expected from each boy.  They were given the opportunity to speak their minds and ask questions.  We then asked them to make a decision as to whether they would remain with the program and abide by the rules and procedures.  It was always a unanimous yes. 

In this last year, we were down to our core group of 4 boys whom we thought were committed to the program we offered.   It wasn't without the usual challenges especially trying to wield ourselves through all the BS (sometimes you just have to call it like it is) to get to the truth and what is real and factual in most all the situations.   These last 4 had learned "the system" well enough that they knew how we operated, knew our weaknesses and level of compassion.  I think they counted on our compassion and love for them to get them through the messes they created for themselves.  What they hadn't counted on was our commitment to raise up Godly young men to want to effect change in themselves, their families, their communities and finally their country. 

We could no longer extend exceptions to them and we announced a policy of zero tolerance.   Disobedience would not be tolerated, poor grades and performance in school was definitely a non-negotiable (can you imagine a 50% in conduct), half-hearted devotion to seeking a relationship with God had to be important to them, and finally lying would almost surely be grounds for dismissal from our program and home.  If this last one seems harsh, I will explain further.

During a family meeting, we had a number of issues to address and lying was one of them. We have come to realize in our time living in Nicaragua that lying is a very accepted practice among the people of this country. What we did not expect was for one of our boys to finally openly agree that everybody does it and why should he be any different.   That was a moment of great awakening for us. He didn't get it!  He didn't get that the whole idea of the program was for him to be different and to not act like the others.  Obviously he didn't get it when we had discipleship education and we talked about God's standards for boys and not just our say so. He didn't get it during the times when we used a particular chapter in the Bible to talk to them about various sins. Several sins are mentioned in one sentence. But there is a whole sentence that follows that is devoted solely to lying.  Lying was a regular topic in discussions throughout his time with us which was almost 2 years.   

It was at that moment that I knew we had done all we could for this boy that I loved like my own child.  He was 19 years old and it was evident that he was determined to live life on his own terms; but this he would have to do away from us.  To tell him that he would have to find alternative living accommodations was one of the hardest things I have had to do. Let me say that this was not the only reason for letting him go, he had violated many rules during his time with us, as well as violating one of the other boys which we we had been working through.  You might say, this realization that we were not helping to bring about real change in this boy's life was a fact that no longer could be ignored.  As much as each boy is important, we can't make the program about one boy.  The education and personal welfare of all the boys as a whole matters greatly.  It's not easy to recognize that the continued process of offering help without expecting change in and responsibility for one's self and actions is only delaying the inevitable - a welfare mentality.

We have one boy left that has shown a desire to change and take advantage of the opportunity presented to him.  It's the 80/20 principle.  We may have to go through 80 people to find the 20 that will work at whatever is required to effect change.  I have plenty of stories, some of them very funny, some of them sad, some of them nightmares about what we have gone through with the boys.  We knew there would be challenges, but I think I was naive to the varying extent and I for one consider myself very ill equipped to handle them.  I have cried buckets over the circumstances and wished I had done more and done things differently.   But, I also know that I need willing participants in order to effect real change.

We came here to work with a generation of boys and young men that most ministries don't want to work with.  The work is difficult and seems almost impossible.  But if we don't do it, who else will help these boys?  I've said it before and it bears repeating, most ministries have programs for the women, little children and this age group of boys has literally been overlooked or forgotten, they are difficult.  We cannot give up on them and we will continue to seek out the "20" and present to them an opportunity of a lifetime, if they are willing to embrace it.

Having said all this, we will continue to pour into the one boy still with us.  At the same time, we will get back to the job of what we were sent here to do - educate.  We had put that aspect of the ministry on hold waiting for the day when we thought things in our home were under control enough to allow us to go back to work.  The boys were a FULL TIME job and they drained us of a lot of energy and time. Because of this, we had nothing left in us to give to what we had been called to do - the vocational education and discipleship of the young men of this horribly impoverished nation.  

There will be more information and announcements forthcoming about the new era that we feel God is leading us and the ministry into.  It is exciting and it is a little scary.  Who are we to take on such a task?  But if we let God lead, anything is possible.  The Bible is full of stories of the people God chose who were not wise and were unimportant in the eyes of society, yet He chose them for His purposes.   I definitely am no one special, I have no skills or special talents. All I have is a heart that wants to love and a desire to please God. So I will go where He sends me and do what He asks of me.  The work is not easy and the hurts are many.  Most of all, the pain of being away from my family is tremendous, it has caused great separation in our relationship with them.   Sometimes the work we have tried to do among the boys here feels as if it is all for naught. However, I've been given an assignment that few have the privilege of undertaking and I want to one day stand before the Lord and hear him say "well done, good and faithful servant".

The pictures I have posted alongside any paragraph do not reflect the behavior of any one particular boy. All the pictures are a way of remembering, lovingly, the boys who have been a part of our lives for a season. We trust the Holy Spirit to water whatever worthy seeds we have sown into their lives and hope for a full harvest one day.   Please keep the boys, our family, us and the ministry in your prayers.  

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Sopa de Huesos de Carne

Sopa de Huesos de Carne, or as the gringos (Americans) would call it - Beef bone soup. This is one of the boys favorite meals.  Very easy to fix and VERY CHEAP.  When you're feeding teen boys that can devour a large kettle of soup, cheap is extremely attractive.

Recently during Preston's sabbatical back to the US, the boys and I took time to break away from routine. Break away from the rigid chore schedule, meal schedule, and TV schedule; a time for us to  act like we are on vacation, too.  

Usually, soup is our standard Sunday evening meal.  But, remember I said we were breaking away from routine.  And, one way to enter the hearts of my boys, fix them BEEF BONE soup.  In addition to the bones which are loaded with meat (and gristle - Yuck), I add carrots, onions, yucca, and pasta to the soup.

We ladle it into large bowls, serve it with LOTS of fresh bread and it's a meal that is thoroughly enjoyed.  I need to mention that some fresh squeezed lime juice into the broth is just the right accompaniment.

Never mind that the early night temperature is still in the 80's and sweat is pouring out of them.   It doesn't matter!  Nothing comes between the boys and their love for soup.

As a special treat, we allowed Esther and Mordecai to enjoy some bones AFTER the boys ate most everything off them.

It was a fun evening of laughter, conversation and just good eating - according to the boys.   I can't bring myself to gnaw on the bones.  But if they are happy, I'm happy.