Monday, December 31, 2018

Christmas Eve 2018



Christmas Eve night is our annual outreach to the homeless.   The guys in the Casa Restauracion (Restoration House) prepare meals to give to those known or unknown who live in the streets.  It's a time for the guys to reflect on how different their lives have become and the opportunity given to them to escape life in the streets.  This year there were 15 of us along with 3 toddlers who ventured out on 8 triciclos to distribute meals, pray for and give encouragement to anyone we found who was alone. 






Immediately, when we began our journey we encountered difficulties.  We had not gone more than 1 block from the Casa when a drunk motorist stopped, got out of his vehicle and began to berate one of the drivers of the triciclo's.   It got quite heated and threats were made.  When someone made a statement to call the police, the driver quickly got back into his car to leave. We went a second block only to have a horrendously loud sound scare us. Nowadays we are all anxious about sounds of guns and mortars.  After searching all our triciclos for possible blown tires, we discovered that it was a tire from a vehicle that we passed had blown at the same moment.   Before starting on the journey, we all had prayed for safety and the individuals that would be recipients of a meal.  It was now time to offer up prayers for the triciclos and any opposition.





One of our first stops was to go to a police station to pass out meals to everyone who was working the nightshift.  Wilber, the director of the Casa, is well known at the station for various reasons.  In years past he was a regular detainee.  Now he goes to either deal with regulatory issues or rescue others that found themselves on the wrong side of the law.






The faces on the streets and in the alleys have become familiar to us.  One man in particular was still in his same spot for the last three years.  We found him preparing his "bed" for the night by laying out large pieces of cardboard for him to lie on.  


This boy is especially dear to me, I've known him all the years I have lived in Nicaragua.  Freddy was a very young boy living on the streets when I first met him.   He's grown into a young man still living on the streets, but his life is deteriorating.  He's smart, knows adequate English, but doesn't seem to want any type of restoration.   He use to live off the money tourists would give to him, but they no longer come.   Now he chooses to inhale glue to overcome his hunger and misery.  I wonder how numbered his days might be.  






There was one man who was quite angry and wanted NOTHING from us.  There were two young boys living in the market place inhaling their glue and became so grateful for the food and touch.  There was a woman who praised us for giving her food and asked if we had any additional clothing she might have.  This year there were many encounters.  We passed out 165 meals this season.  




Normally we pass by many houses where people are celebrating in and outside of their decorated homes. The celebrations were fewer this year.  The entire atmosphere of the areas we traveled through were  sad. You could feel it.  We all sensed a difference in the air.  There is no way of knowing how many had either lost a loved one during the massacres, or maybe they are one of the 400,000 who have lost their job.

I want to speak to you about touch.  In the years past, our guys would always tell me "Honey, don't touch them, they are very dirty".  (Have I ever told you that Honey is what they call me?).  Well, this year I didn't hear it one time because they know I ignore the warning.   So many of the people we encounter never feel a touch.  For me, it is important that I connect with them in this way.   I hope that when they are lonely, they remember that there was a white woman who saw past the dirt to touch and hug them. 

Here's a funny.....  I really was looking forward to going home to take a shower; this year I felt especially dirty, dusty and soiled.   I have 2 fears in my life now,  both of them have to do with the shower.   The first is being in the shower during an earthquake.  The second is being in the shower with no water.  Well the second one happened to me.  I was all lathered up when the water stopped, the community tank had run dry.   I was not able to wash off the dirt and grime nor remove the suds.   I have white towels for a reason, they are easier to bleach and this particular towel certainly needed it after wiping me off.


















Saturday, October 27, 2018

A New Normal


It's been 5 months since the revolution started.  Over 500 people have lost their lives and thousands injured, some of them permanently disabled.   We, too, were affected by knowing someone who had died at the hands of the assassins.  One boy was a 15 year old neighbor and the other was a young man who had made decisions to change his life in positive ways. One was shot in the heart, the other in the head.  The last estimate is that 1500 are still unaccounted for and hundreds in jail.  The police everyday barge into homes and arrest people they know have either been involved guarding the tranques, nonparticipants providing food and drink to those at the tranques or the leaders of the freedom movement.  


Many laws have been established that forbids many types of activities including participating in marches, to being bystanders at the marches and any form of rejection towards the existing government.  Punishment for these crimes of treason is 15 - 20 years in prison.

We have seen videos of elderly people standing in parking lots watching the parades of the Sandinista governing body, while waving the national blue and white flag, be dragged along the concrete by masked police to waiting trucks to take them to jail.


In our city, a man who makes a living selling the national flag in his store, was arrested and sentenced to 5 years in prison for selling the blue and white cloth.  It is now mandatory to fly the black and red flag of the Sandinista government.




Those that have fled the country do not come back.  The owners of our house, are in the US and said it is not safe for them to return.   There are ads that promote tourism to the world stating that it is safe in Nicaragua, but tourists are not returning.   Medical personnel were threatened for helping the injured and more than 40 doctors eventually lost their jobs for violating government mandated restrictions to not help anyone brought into the public hospital.

An estimated 200,000 people are without jobs because of businesses closing.  The economy is suffering and almost $1 billion dollars lost in revenue.  The actual supply of the American dollar has dwindled and changes are being made in the banking system.  Our account in Nicaragua is in dollars to maintain its value, but if we are forced to change to córdobas it will diminish our buying power each month.

Students are no longer coming to carpentry class.  Attendance in the public schools and universities are also down because everyone in the home is needed to help earn money for the basic essentials.  More than ever, the home can NEVER be vacant because even your neighbor will try to rob from you.  So, family members take turns staying at home during the day to protect their belongings.

Everyone is learning to live with restrictions.  The people are more resolute than ever to not let those that gave their lives for change to be for naught.  There are leaders being raised up outside of Nicaragua.  They meet to discuss a plan, guidelines for change and devise a document for new governing when change finally does come to pass.

Preston continues in the cabinet shop with a helper, but there is no business.  We need to make a decision about it's future.   Each afternoon he spends time at the Restoration House for discipleship and counseling with the guys.   So much of our time is now being spent meeting the physical, emotional and mental needs of the people surrounding us.

We are keeping a low profile so as to not call attention to ourselves.  The government has accused  non-profit organizations for funding the revolution.  

We are all settling in to a new normal.  And yet, there is always the sense that we are on the verge of another upheaval.   I'm reminded of the verse over and over "Nothing is impossible with God".






Monday, July 30, 2018

A Day to Escape the Craziness

Our life during the last 3 months has been filled with unknowing, anxiety, grief, loss of the familiar and denial.  We needed a break from the oppressive conditions, a need to escape if only for a little while.   And our favorite place to go to leave behind the everyday things is always the Pacific Ocean.  We are blessed to live with the beach just a "stone's throw away".

July is normally a busy month for us in the terms of birthdays.  I have on my calendar 6 boys with July birthdays.  Usually we would celebrate them individually, but this year everything is different.  We managed to gather together 3 of them for a day long celebration.  But first there was some scouting to be done.

As I have mentioned in previous blogs, the streets of our town as well as the entire country are not easily passable.  There are tranques EVERY WHERE (blockades).  So,  a week before our celebration, we sent 2 boys out on a moto to discover if it was possible to get to the beach and the best route.  The report was good: we can get to the beach, the roads are open.  What they did not relate back to us was that maneuvering around tranques was easier on the moto, they did not take into consideration that some streets had HUGE ditches surrounding the tranques that made it almost impossible for a car.  What I really needed was a Humvee!  Oh my poor car!  They just don't understand the love affair that we Americans have with our vehicles, especially a girl from the Motor City.

To the average Nicaraguan, a car is a tool that alleviates the need for walking and should be shared by all.  That means pile as many into it as possible (remember the 60's), including sitting some in the trunk with the lid open.  It doesn't matter if you're wet or muddy, that the upholstery and carpet get soaked and soiled;  what's the big deal?  Everything is washable according to them.  Dents covering every inch of the car and no mufflers is normal.  


Believe me when I say that I am not the same woman that left the States so many years ago, I am mellowing.  Bits and pieces of me are accepting of and tolerating things that were once deal breakers for me.


We arrived at the beach using 2 motos and a car filled with joyous people.  They were in need of an escape as much as we were.  Did I mention we had 2 toddlers with us?    The guys are no longer 15 year old teenagers, they have grown into men who are 24 years old with families of their own.



When we met them years ago, they were abandoned, orphaned youths who lived in a facility.  God saw fit for us to develop relationships with them and eventually they came to live with us.  We put them into school even though they were years behind their peers.  We had birth certificates constructed for them so they would have legal identity.   And, we loved them as our own.   They are now working adults.







Our day was picture perfect.  We are in the middle of the rainy season but it did not rain.  We went to our usual spot at the beach for casual dining, where the owners and staff know us and treat us well.   We played, we rested, we caught up on the latest events in all our lives, we ate well and we just loved being together.







Except for the lack of people at the beach, that portion of our country seemed normal.  The people living there have not had to put up tranques, they have not had to deal with the deadly violence.   It's like Las Peñitas is in it's own protective bubble.   We were truly blessed to have been able to spend a glorious day escaping from the craziness.







Thursday, May 31, 2018

Nicaragua in Crisis



There are no words that can adequately describe what we are living through.  We have watched on television political unrest, destruction of cities and death in other parts of the world, but NEVER did we fathom experiencing it first hand.  This is the western hemisphere, this does not happen in our part of the world.  But it is happening and it is horrific.








It all started when the young people of family members stood up against the government to say they would not tolerate the reduction of social security payments and benefits to their relatives.  The majority of the people live on these benefits, it is a welfare society.





Then the government invaded one of the universities and took it hostage killing some students.  From this incident, the revolution began.  The government says that the country is staging a coup. The people are only asking that the president and vice president, who is the wife of the president, step down to allow for a fair election process to take place to choose a new president.


The people have called for national strikes that would bring attention to the seriousness of the situation.  They have stood united and a great percentage of the businesses have cooperated by closing for the declared strike days.  This is saying a lot because if one does not work he does not eat that day.  There are no extras stored in the house, they buy their groceries daily.  They are willing to depriving themselves the ability to provide sufficient food for their families.  That is sacrifice, that is a belief in a cause for a greater good.



Tens of thousands of people have left the country, Nicaraguenses, tourists, missionaries, and corporations.  There are less and less people out and about and definitely no one after dark.  Barricades or tranques as we call them are being set up at all intersections to stop the flow of traffic in and out of neighborhoods and to offer protection to the inhabitants.  However, that is when the paramilitary groups like to strike, after dark.  Those that are brave enough to stand guard at the tranques are being assassinated.  So many have lost their lives already.









Preston is going out only for a couple of hours mid day to do a little work at the shop.  It is difficult for him to drive into town because of the tranques.  He is able to drive down into the ditches with his moto to get around the tranques when he has been released to pass.  Depending on the amount of gunfire we hear in the distance determines if he leaves the house on any given day.




One of the greatest hindrances to the economy are the blockades prohibiting trucks to move within the country.  At one point there was an estimate of as many as 6000 trucks that were brought to a halt.  We ask ourselves how much discomfort are willing to endure when the necessary essentials are at a minimum or no longer available in the stores.







So far, we feel safe.  We moved outside of town prior to the beginning of the crisis.  We added extra security measures immediately to our house because gringos are targets for thieves.  The main gate to our community is manned 24 hours.   Our condo area has its own secured gate that is manned.  There is a lot of protection between us and the main road.

I ask that you pray often for us and our adopted country.  




  




Saturday, April 28, 2018

El Taller de Gabinete

One of the things that I have difficulty processing is dealing with disappointment.  We spent 7 months working with the Nicaragua government providing all the information needed to set up a corporation for a cabinet shop.  We finally received approval in December and then this year we have had to deal with a few unexpected changes to the original plan.

For years, we have allowed the boys in the vocational carpentry program to take home the small projects that they made in class.  Often times, whenever they completed an item and took it home, they never returned to class.  The item was a stool, very basic and could be beneficial to them, but there was always so much more that needed to be learned in class.  The classroom was a constant turn over in students.



Our original vision was to have a cabinet shop associated with the carpentry school in order to sell the items that were made in class.  The shop would teach the boys about business management, provide income for themselves and a funding avenue for the ministry.  We partnered with our local church and they too would receive a portion of the profits.  You might remember, that we were operating out of free space that was available in our church with the plans to expand the area for a permanent facility.



Even, with the best of plans, sometimes things change.  Because of new programs within the church, our carpentry class space was needed by the church.  So, we had to find a different facility.  We wanted something with heavy foot traffic,  good visibility from the street, and most importantly - affordable.  So, disappointment #1 had set in that we were having to move.


We were successful in finding a space that fit all but one of our criteria; heavy foot traffic, check; good visibility from the street, check, check.  The most important criteria was a stumbling block.  The rent was higher than we would have liked.   After some negotiation, the owner agreed to a sliding scale on the rent for the first year.  We moved into the space after Easter, painting it, adding additional electrical, lighting and fans.





We have our first commercial contract to build and install cabinets in a kitchen of a custom home for a local builder.  We were on our way to what we hoped was a successful business venture for the students and the ministry.

However, disappointment #2 has landed on us.  The country is in turmoil.  We are in an almost lockdown state and many people are afraid to leave their homes.  We have no idea what is happening, the situation changes daily and at times is very grim.   Our downtown area was in flames and an entire block destroyed.  First and foremost is our safety and that of the boys.  We have suspended classes temporarily.












The builder still wants the cabinets for the home he is building.  We will devise a schedule that will allow Preston and a helper to proceed safely with the work.  Everything about our life seems to be in a holding pattern.  Never did we think we would ever be living in an environment that was so unstable.

We ask for your prayers and your encouragement to continue to live and work in Nicaragua without fear.






Friday, March 23, 2018

A Promise Kept

The premise of this blog might be controversial for some of you; it has to do with the prophetic.

In December, 2007 we attended a 3 day New Year's Eve conference.  During that time, someone that we did not know, nor had ever seen before, told me - Sandra, something that affected me deeply.  It was something that no one would ever know about me, not a friend, spouse, let alone a stranger.  She told me that 'God wanted me to know that wherever He took me in the world, it would feel like home and in that place He would always provide for me a home'.

We had already booked our VACATION reservations to Nicaragua.  Go to Nicaragua, visit friends, enjoy some time in the sun away from the frigid temperatures of North Carolina and return to life as usual.  That was our plan.

Two days before we left on the trip, a mutual friend of ours called to say that 'God gave him a Word for us'.  He said God told him that 'the trip would be life changing and their would be a miracle'.  Well, the trip was life changing because on our 5th day of the trip, Preston had a face to face encounter with the Lord where He invited him on an adventure.  That's when Preston knew that we were to move to Nicaragua.  The miracle?  Well, that was me agreeing to accompany him; to move away from my HOME, my family, my church and friends.


In the first two years that we made a dozen trips back and forth before the actual move, we set up house so that we didn't have to stay in hotels and also to prepare for our move date.   And the house was perfect, it had six bedrooms because we were hoping that family and friends would visit.  But it was not solely for that purpose, because within in a year we started having boys from the streets move in with us.  It was a wonderful house but not suitable for young boys because their play space was in the road in front of our house.




Then, we made a decision to move to the edge of town to a house that had a yard and a pool.  The boys needed space to run and who doesn't like to play in a pool.  There were 2 kitchens in the house and a built in barbeque grill on a large patio.  Perfect place for the boys and get-togethers with teams and other missionary friends.   During the dry season, we continually ran out of water.  Doing simple things like taking showers became a problem, not to mention the daily task of laundry was becoming a mountain of sweaty, smelly clothes after many days without water.  Plus the boys wanted the convenience of being able to walk around town and go to the parks to play soccer with friends.  So it was time to move again.



Our next house was like living in a beautiful secluded park with an open air kitchen.  It was always cool, but in the dry and windy season, it was always very dirty.  We loved the ability to again walk around town without having to take public transportation.  We lived across the street from a school which the boys attended, no skipping class was possible under our watchful eyes.  As the boys matured and it was time for some to be on their own, it was time for us to move again; we wanted something smaller.





The next house was only 2 bedrooms and located on a private cul-de-sac with a park in the front of our home and a beautiful yard in the rear.  There was a Catholic church across from the church and we were always entertained with festivals and fireworks and lots of clanging of the church bell.  It was a beautiful house and we hosted weddings for two of our Nica sons in that house.  The kitchen was large with plenty of room for several chefs working together to cook for gatherings.  I thought it would be our forever house.  However, God had other plans for us.


Last month we moved one more time to a much smaller house, actually a condo type rental.  It is brand new, we are the first renters, and our rent is awesomely low.  It is located a mile and a half outside of town.  It is very cool and refreshing with awesome views of the volcanos that we love to look at and it is QUIET.  I think as we age, quiet is such a luxury.  Nicaragua is a very noisy country, everything is at full volume.  When we lived in town, we always had interruptions by people constantly at our door at all hours, daybreak or midnight,  needing or wanting something.  There is a difference between needs and wants.  As Americans, the locals think there is a money tree in our back yard and it has an endless supply of money leaves.  We are having to continually discern the requests and give to the legitimate needs.


It's wonderful to finally have peace and privacy.  We were on the verge of total burnout.  It's been years of 24/7 and we now have a place to rest from the demands of the people and our work.  We have the blessing of a car, finally.  Eight years is a long time to be without a vehicle and the timing was perfect.   A missionary friend is selling hers to us on payments.

God made a promise to me:  Nicaragua has always felt like home, I don't think I could live here otherwise.  And, He has always supplied the perfect house for every need we had at the time.  He is so faithful and I am so grateful.  God Keeps His Promises!

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Lawlessness



Lawlessness - It really is a word.   It describes people who are not restrained or controlled by law.  Lawlessness is found in society, nature, government, religion.   It's all over the world, but since we have not been out in other regions of the world in many years, I can only speak about what I know to be in Nicaragua.

Image result for lawless society



I see it out in society whenever I leave my home to run errands.  Something so simple as waiting your turn in a line is nonexistent.  Everyone moving and pushing to be first.  There is no longer respect for the elderly, the young pregnant woman or the incapacitated to have first seating or first service.  Or a person is forced to step off the sidewalk into the street because a group of people decide to walk abreast and not step into single file for even a moment.  There is no respect for another's possessions, if they want it, they will take it.

Nicaragua is a beautiful country, but it is hard to see that because of all the trash and filth that litters the neighborhoods and streets.  I have seen people walk to the door of their home and throw out papers and trash into the yard and street.   In the commercial areas, trash bins are ignored.  A person will open up whatever is in their hand and throw the wrapper immediately on the ground; this also includes plastic bottles, paper plates and leftover food.  Rat infestation is a HUGE problem everywhere.

The government does not keep their own laws or enforce them to the people.  The reigning President has abolished term limits and will be in office indefinitely.  The police make traffic stops in hopes of receiving bribes; some of the stops are for no purpose - it's their word against yours.  The people do not observe traffic laws and driving is now very dangerous.



The final category is religion.   We have attended several churches in our years living here and we do not hear teaching about adultery, pregnancy outside of marriage, abortion, physical abuse, sexual abuse, lying and truth, a person's responsibility to their family and community.  All of these topics seem to be taboo in the church.   If the church will not talk about them, how do the young people learn?  They definitely are not talked about in the home.





One of our programs is to teach everyday life skills, respect for authority, each other and the environment.  Many times it's a continuous battle, Americans vs. Nicaraguaneses.  There is not a month that goes by that we do not hear "well, you are Americans, it's different here".   We tell them that the laws of society and nature should apply everywhere.  When they don't want to believe us,  I love to take the "American excuse" out of the argument by turning to scripture and telling them what God has to say about the matter. 

As we get older, we also have to weigh our aging against societal changes to determine the extent of what our tolerance should be.  However, there is never an excuse for a lack of goodness, kindness, and love no matter how old or young.

Please pray for us and our ability to continue to teach what is good and true.

 


Wednesday, January 31, 2018

He Was Born to Teach

We are filled with such joy.  One of our students, who also happens to be one of our Nica sons, has just signed a contract to teach English in a private school.  His story is truly a "rags to riches" story.


                                                    
James was 16 years old when we met him and at that time his name was Israel.  You can read the original story on the December 2010 blog. https://restorationofthenations.blogspot.com/2010/12/israel.html
  

There was an agreement made with Remar, for participation of some of their young men to attend our vocational carpentry school; Israel was one of them.  It was clear early on that he had leadership qualities. 




In June, 2012 Israel came to us to inquire about the criteria for a person to live in our home.  He said he did not see much future for himself and that he would probably always live at the Remar center.

For 2 years, our message to all the boys was for them to find their passion and pursue it.  We were here to help them and provide whatever opportunity was needed to accomplish their goals.  It was hugely gratifying that someone was actually coming to us to begin the pursuit.



After Israel moved in with us, the first item of business, was to get him enrolled in school.  He had learned the basic reading skills from his grandmother in Honduras, but had no formal education.  As I think back, I feel as though it was a miracle for him to jump over all the primary grades and to be accepted as a student in a combined 5th and 6th year.  This story also can be read in it's entirety in the February 2013 blog.  https://restorationofthenations.blogspot.com/2013/02/





While all the other boys were out playing or sitting around watching TV, Israel was taking our Spanish/English dictionaries and trying to read from them.  He devoured
 book after book and when  words were too difficult to pronounce on his own, he would write them down on a sheet of paper and come to us for help.  To say that he was passionate was an understatement, obsessed might more accurately describe him.  He loved languages and soon sought to learn Portuguese and dabbled in Mandarin.


The time came for Israel to have an official identity.  Years ago, it was very common for people born in rural areas not to have their births recorded.   We all know that the modern world demands that we have an identification  number and it was time for Israel to be recognized.  We spent months of constant trips back and forth to various government offices delivering any and every piece of information that they demanded.  Since there were no relatives to attest to his birth, so much of what we provided were sworn affidavits by us.

Along with an official identity, Israel wanted a different name and since the government was going to construct an official birth record, they agreed to allow him to choose his name.  He wanted a new name to identify his new and changed life.  Finally in late 2014, he officially became James Israel Ramirez Hernandez.



Now James will soon be 24 years old.  He teaches the Word of God in his church,
another of his passions.  He has worked as a receptionist / manager at a local small hotel for 3 years while going to school on Saturdays to complete his education.   He was growing tired of the hours required at his job and began to pursue other opportunities.

In Nicaragua, the requirement for a school teacher is to have completed the 6th grade.  James more than qualifies because he will begin the 10th grade next month.   He is committed to finishing school and receiving his diploma.  He has learned that advancement in the work place is given to those with higher education.




James is fluent in English and loves to work with young people. Working in a private school would give him more freedom.  There is a lot of political propaganda in the public system.   He wants to encourage as many as possible to not give up on their education and to pursue their dreams.   He will be paying it forward.  He could not do this if it had not been for you, our precious donors who have made it possible for us to be here to give opportunities to boys like James to have a chance at life.