Streams of tears flowed down my face as I watched one more plane take off. I knew mine would be next. Only an hour longer and I would be boarding on a plane that would take me back to my comfortable bed, air-conditioned house and family. Yet, even with the knowledge that I would be returning to my very blessed and comfortable life, my heart ached for this new country, people, children…Christs' family. I had just met them and now didn’t want to let go. How could this have happened so quickly?
For years I struggled with a call to missions. I would feel the Lord’s nudge whenever a missionary came to the church giving their testimony or whenever my mentors would speak about missionaries around the country and the world. My heart felt compelled to go and give the little I had to offer. Instead, I always found an excuse not to go. Lack of money, lack of skills, lack of Biblical knowledge…all of these were the recurring excuses my mind would speak to my heart…would speak to the Lord.
The Lord’s answer to me was always, “Come as you are.” He would take me and equip me with those things necessary to do His work at the precise moment. All He asked for was a willing and humble heart. The two things I didn’t have.
What I didn’t know was that the Lord already knew my heart, and in this world of time-limits, He is eternal. He knew that my heart would one day submit to His gentle call. During this time, He was preparing me in the music ministry, polishing my Spanish and leadership skills, developing my heart to love children/teenagers/the lost and molding my arrogant & prideful character into one of submission and humility. He was creating in me the person that would do those things He deemed necessary at His precise moment. I didn’t need to be a doctor, dentist, well-digger, rich, theologian, incredibly young, beautiful or perfect to do His work. He just wanted me.
My limited-mind and weak-heart could not grasp this concept. Why did the Almighty Lord, Creator of all things want me? But He did….He does….and always will. I, an unskilled, distracted, complainer. What did He see in me that would ever make a difference in anyone or anything? He saw His creation, His child, His image, His beloved. My blindness never let me see the reality of my identity in Christ. I am a child of the Almighty. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). My imperfections were perfected by the blood of the Lamb who was transforming me from glory to glory as I sought His face. I did not need to lean on my own understanding, instead I could lean on my Savior, Jesus Christ.
It was this realization that drove me into saying “YES” when asked once again by the Sandals to go to Nicaragua. I don’t know why they didn’t give-up on me, but I’m thinking they heard the Lord a long time before I did. Since then, I have felt the enormous satisfaction of being exactly where the Lord wants me to be when He wants me. It’s not always easy, but always joyful. I may want to give more time – stay longer – however, I also know that the Lord has a time and purpose for all things. He will make a way in His time.
Although I can describe in full detail how wonderful the experience has been going to Nicaragua for the past few years, there have also been challenging moments.
The first time I went to Nicaragua was eye-opening. Everything was unknown, new and different. It all began at the airport. After racing towards customs to be interrogated and gawked at, it was time to head towards the carousel of luggage. Grabbing your bags was a mix between a scavenger hunt and contest – looking for a cart, wishing your bags came out first and hoping one of the nicer workers would help you with your luggage and through the screening process. The area was warm, muggy and noisy – a glimpse of the weather and city to come. However, no matter how chaotic all of this seemed, the moment you saw a friendly face on the other side of the large window-paned wall, the expectant joy began to flow. I could feel the anticipation course through my veins. I was finally here! I wanted to live every moment, experience every second and breathe every particle of oxygen.
Loving everyone I met from the beginning came naturally. This surprised me. I may trust quickly and open-up instantly, but I am a private person who still holds much cynicism. However, here I felt at home, safe, wanted and loved. The people working at the house were friendly, kind and helpful. Our hosts were enchanting and entertaining. The team members that arrived little-by-little for that year’s December Mission Trip were lively and fun. How could I not love them all?
The accommodations were much more comfortable than expected and the work was ready to begin. We had a few labor-filled days in which we prepared gift bags for all the children and teachers from the school. This was a great opportunity to get to know the other team members and begin forming friendships. There was always something to do and something to offer be it baking brownies, packing bags of candy, organizing clothing, translating for others, or listening to someone’s story and offering a prayerful moment. All the work was followed by the frenzied commotion and smiles of beautiful children and adults at the school. The heat was quickly forgotten once the sound of laughter and joyful screams filled the air. Hugs were in abundance and opportunities to speak to others about Christ were present. A few days with these children and teachers wasn’t enough, but it would have to do….at least for the moment.
Visiting the children’s homes was probably one of the highlights of the trip. How could a child so beautiful and full of possibilities look at me with beautiful big brown eyes smiling while living in such poverty? I asked myself this as I walked into each one-room abode. Tattered walls of zinc and cardboard, dirt floors and an outside sink used by many living in the same confined space behind thick concrete walls intended to hide the poverty within was a staple of each neighborhood visited. Although I was overwhelmed by compassion for these people, I also realized that our material circumstance is fleeting. However our spiritual circumstance is eternal. These people needed….need Jesus.
Those few days of joyful, labor-intensive activity flew by quickly. They were immediately followed by a couple of days of relaxation. The beach, volcanos, views that spanned a complete countryside and the Masaya Market for some shopping were just some of the activities we enjoyed together as a team. After working hard, we played hard. It was crazy to imagine that everything flew by so quickly. One moment we arrived and the next we were gone.
After reflecting on the entire week, I find myself at the airport once more. Tearful eyes blurring my view as I try to keep my composure in the presence of strangers….strangers that need Jesus.
I’ve been back various times since that first week in 2007. Each time it’s different, exciting and new. I learn, teach and love more. I experience God in amazing ways as I see how His hand moves in ways unknown to me. I’ve created relationships with children who are now growing to be young men and women. I’ve formed friendships with people I see but once a year; people who have left an imprint on my heart and mean more to me then they know. I have become open to the possibilities God has out there for me. I am open to strangers on the street; people who would otherwise be rejected by others. My heart goes out to those who are lost and/or feel abandoned. I have changed….for the better.
We have supported various overseas missions over the years and our only contact was the letters and pictures we received. But going to Managua and seeing first hand what is happening has had a profound effect on our lives. Seeing what two very dedicated Nicaraguan families started by taking in a few street kids into their homes has turned out to be a school that teaches, feeds and is changing the lives of over 400 of the poorest of the poor kids and their families. To us the school is like an oasis, in what is a very poor country, when those big steel doors open there is a whole new world inside for these struggling families. And to see how God is blessing the work of these Nicaraguan people is very gratifying. Seeing some of the students given university scholarships is very encouraging, to see the level of the education they receive.
I remember a few years ago Tom mentioned to us that they are able to feed two meals a day yr round, provide uniforms, educate and provide some health care for these kids for around $300 a year per pupil I wanted to see this for myself. We were amazed on our two trips at how well everything works at the school and how lives are being changed on a daily basis. Also how much the kids appreciate the help they get from their American and overseas friends. We are continually praying and supporting the school, may God continue to bless!