Well, it’s only been
two- three- four-and-a-half months, but as promised, here is a post about my trip to Nicaragua. As a famous procrastinator once said: “Better late than never.”
I’ll be perfectly honest. In the days leading up to the trip, I was a little bit nervous. My only previous international excursion was a road trip through eastern Canada 11 years early with the esteemed Kevin from Engaged. Not to mention my sensitivity to motion sickness combined with the prospect of seven airplane rides and two river rides by boat. But, with all necessary vaccinations covered and a backpack full mostly with snacks, I was as ready as I could be.
We left St. Louis at around 11am on Saturday morning, and after brief but pleasant visits to Dallas and Miami, we arrived in Managua at around 7:30pm local time. As Marcus had gone ahead to take care of some business and was to meet us in Siuna the following day, we were met at the Aeropuerto Internacional Augusto C. Sandino by two of his trusted friends, Valeria and Ephraim. They took us to our lodging in Managua, a place known as Provadenic.
After a good meal and a good night’s rest, we were ready to head out to Siuna the next morning. For me, this is where the trip got really sketchy. We were flying there on a regional airline known as La Costeña. My boarding pass did not reassure me. Neither did seeing the actual airplane we were to fly in.
We made a safe landing, and immediately hit the road for Alamikamba. And I use the word “road” a bit freely here, because the route upon which we traveled consisted mostly of large rocks and larger potholes. And the occasional knee deep rut.
When we arrived at Alamikamba, we went straight to a lodge owned and operated by an American retiree. Pretty cool place, with a phenomenal cook on site. Best river shrimp soup and the best coffee I’ve ever had. That evening, a couple of the Nicaraguans with us and I went back to a village we passed and hour or so back up the road to show a movie at a revival they were having at the Assembly of God church. More good coffee (this time sweetened) and the best fried bread I’ve ever eaten.
The next morning, it was time to hit the river. The group of us piled into two boats, one piloted by Marcus, and the other by the famous Seferino (sp?), our esteemed river guide. This was the only part of the whole trip when I actually was nervous, due mostly to my water/fish phobia and my visions of being mauled by crocodiles and river sharks, neither of which actually existed in the Prinzapolka river. Apparently there are caiman, however, and giant tarpon, which is enough for me.
After a few hours on the river, we arrived at our first destination, the village of Tuburus. We were met by just about every person who was currently present in the village. After unloading and settling in a bit, Dixie, Jackie, and Tita got to work on the women’s and children’s activities. Marcus and Don (a.k.a. Coach) did some water quality testing on the two wells in the village to see if it was worth putting in the effort to fix the wells. The villagers have superstitions about drinking water out of the ground and use the river as their primary source of water. The government has also provided them with rainwater capturing equipment and filters, but my understanding is that they rarely use them, mostly because they are resistant to changing things they’ve been doing the same way for centuries. Changing these habits is one of the primary challenges facing anyone attempting to improve quality of life for the Meskitu people.
In the afternoon, Dennis, Marcus and I got the a/v equipment set up, and as soon as darkness fell, the whole village turned out to watch the Jesus film overdubbed in the Meskitu native language. Even though it was just a sheet stretched out on an old shed, it was a hit. They even brought the pews out of the Moravian church for seating.
After a refreshing night’s sleep on the Moravian preacher’s porch in a hammock, I woke up at dawn to the sound of howler monkeys in the jungle and roosters in the village. The ladies went around and handed out tomato and watermelon seeds to each household, and then we were back on the river and on our way to our next destination, the village of Bethel (or Betil-I’m not sure of the spelling). Upon our arrival in Bethel, it was more or less a repeat of the routine from Tuburus. The girls did the women’s and children’s activities, and then handed out the seeds to them as they were
leaving. Then we set up our equipment for the film inside the church. As he did in Tuburus, Marcus gave out some baseball equipment, as well as a Proclaimer radio. The radio has a digital recording of the entire New Testament in the Meskitu language and can be powered a variety of ways: a built in solar panel, batteries, a traditional power cord, or a hand crank. Pretty awesome.
We showed the Jesus film again at dark, and then, since it was a full moon and the river was thereby navigable by night, it was decided we would pack up and head back to Alamikamba. Now when you have a water/fish phobia, the only thing really worse than being on the water is being on the water in the dark. Fortunately, Marcus is an excellent boat pilot, and got us back into Alamikamba at around midnight. Since the dock is in the shadier part of Alamikamba where all the bars and brothels are (and guns apparently, since we heard a gunshot), we hung out by the dock until Marcus got back with the truck. We stealthily returned to the lodge and crashed for the night.
The next morning, we were back on the road back to Siuna. I decided to ride standing on the tailgate of the truck like the Nicaraguans do. It turns out it’s a ton more comfortable because your legs act like shock absorbers instead of your butt having to do it. Plus you get to see way more of the scenery, which was pretty cool, too. We got stopped and searched by the national police along the way because there had been some sort of botched drug exchange the night before and a huge shipment of drugs had disappeared. We didn’t have anything though, so after a little while, they let us through.
We got into Siuna and unloaded at our hotel just minutes before a huge rainstorm hit. After it had cleared up, Marcus took us on a walking tour of the town. There used to be a huge gold mine there that had supported the local economy. Some locals still get small amounts of gold through panning and then turn it into jewelry.
The next morning it was back on La Costeña and back to Managua. From the airport in Managua we went on a tour of some of the sites that Marcus and the people he works with operate or support. The first visit was to a school in a barrio know as Tipitapa. This school has been around since I think 1999 (my facts are a little fuzzy since I waited so long to write this-I welcome correction) and serves several hundred students. It’s a pretty remarkable place, complete with a library and a computer lab.
Our next stop was a recently purchased piece of property just outside of town where Marcus hopes to centralize his operations. Right now, there are storage containers and a small house where the caretaker lives, but in the future there are plans for volunteer housing, a vocational training center, and any other facilities that Marcus’ many ministries might need.
Next we visited a church in Managua that is supported in part by Marcus’ ministry. Those familiar with Harvester Christian Church will recognize the remains of the old Journey to Bethlehem tent being used as a roof. The building was vacant for a time, and all of the tin from the roof was stolen. When the church moved in, the tent went to good use.
The last place we visited on Thursday was Valeria and Tita’s house, the base of operations for the Harvest Bags business. This is a handbag-making business that gives women a chance to earn a living in a positive way. Anyone who visited the Nicaragua mission table at HCC a couple of weeks ago has seen their products. I bought one for my wife and she loved it. From there we headed back to Provadenic for another good night’s sleep.
Friday morning we headed out to a relatively new barrio referred at this point as KM34, because its entrance is at the 34 kilometer marker on the highway. Because of recent heavy rains, the roads were impassable by anything but a heavy-duty off road vehicle, so we hiked in from the road. The school site we were there to visit is pretty far back in a maze of unmarked roads made up of knee deep mud (just ask Dixie and Valeria about that). When we visited, the school was a single room building serving only kindergarten students. Since our visit, they have built another classroom and this year will offer kindergarten through fourth grade, and are expecting about 120 students.
After hiking back out to the van, we dropped Marcus off to take care of some business, and headed to Masaya to be regular American tourists for a few hours. We toured a former fortress-
turned-political prison/concentration camp now run by the Boy Scouts as a tourist site. It was a pretty intense place. Our guide told us that Ghost Hunters International had been there a couple of weeks before to investigate paranormal claims. While I saw no evidence of ghosts, I did see lots of bullet holes, and a ton of scorpions and spiders. Giant, creepy, evil-looking spiders. After we left the prison, we went to the market in Masaya to buy souvenirs, and then it was back to Managua for dinner. A fancy, sit-down dinner. Marcus really pulled out all the stops, as did Valeria driving us to the restaurant. I have never been so terrified in a motor vehicle in all my life.
On Saturday morning, it was back to the airport to fly back home. I was certainly glad to head back and see my wife and kids after a week away, but I was also going to miss Nicaragua and all of the fantastic people I got to meet and spend time with there. The things that God is doing through Marcus and everyone else through such poverty and adversity are truly remarkable, and I hope to go back again sometime. What an amazing place.
If you have never been on a mission trip like this, I highly encourage you to. It will change your perspective on the world, on your own life, and on the things God can do in any circumstances when we just listen and give him a chance. And I would also encourage you to support missionaries like Marcus in any way you can, financially if possible, but certainly through prayer. These men and women are putting their lives on the line in devoting their lives to sharing the gospel with those who have never heard it, and it is a task demanding our support. For more information how you can help, visit the Harvester Christian Church website, or Harvester Missions on Facebook.
If you want to know more about what’s going on in Nicaragua specifically, go to the Cosecha Outreach website, and if you want to see more of my photos from my trip, you can see them here and here. Thanks for reading!