Our team of 6 left GC campus at 5:00 am on Saturday, spent 12 hours driving, and arrived in Covington, LA without any problems. The ReachGlobal warehouse is our home base for the week, and we share this space with a team from John Brown University. The warehouse is our sleeping and hang out space, and the place all the tools and supplies are stored. Starting on Monday we begin venturing out into New Orleans and other locations impacted by more recent flooding near here. Today, however, is a day of rest and relaxation. After church we will go to lunch and a waterfront park in the nearby city of Mandeville, then walk on the beach at Waveland, MS. Monday starts with breakfast at 6:30 am, them off to our work sites. Stay tuned to get the full scoop each day!
In Nicaragua, the school year begins in January. Which means that it ends in November. And just like in the states, the end of the year is full of celebrations. They call them Despedidas, which is a word that means goodbye.
This week, we are saying our despedidas. In every site, we are celebrating the completion of another year. We are saying good job and thank you to the people that we work with. But we are also saying goodbye to new friends. It is a bittersweet goodbye.
The hardest part for most of us is the not knowing. We are saying goodbye to a place we call home. We have family here. And friends here. We have favorite places to go and favorite places to eat. We know how to travel through the city and across the country. We know whom to greet with a kiss and how to eat Nacatamal. And most of us don’t know when, or if, we’ll come back. And this is hard.
But despedidas are also good. Because they mean that something was worth it. They mean that the class you took or the people you met or the conversations you had meant something. They taught you something. They helped you grow. They are also good because they mean we are one day closer to coming home, to our first home. And we are so excited about that.
For some of us, it will be a difficult task to share all the ways that we have been affected by this place. We have learned so much and grown in ways we still don’t know. Not everyone will understand this. And this makes our return seem scary. But going home is right and good. It is a bittersweet goodbye.
So as we finish our final week in Masaya, Nicaragua, we hope that you’ll pray for us, since this end is bittersweet. These goodbyes are hard, and we want to do them well. And when we get back to the states we want to be able to tell everyone why it was so hard to say goodbye. We want to be able to explain what makes this beautiful city so special.
If you ask North Americans, “What is poverty?” many will tell you that it is a lack of material wealth. Over the course of this semester, we are recognizing that poverty is more than it appears.
For the past two and a half months we have been living in the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Before coming here, and evening during the first month, I probably would have labeled Nicaragua as an impoverished nation. Now, however, the word I would use to describe their material poverty is underdeveloped. The more I understand poverty, the more I realize that it exists everywhere in its various forms, especially the United States.
For one of our classes we are reading When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert. (If you have the time I would highly recommend it because we are a group of people with money and power that don’t always understand what people really need or how to help.) In this book, the author’s describe poverty as a broken relationship between a person and God, others, self, or creation. It is with this model in mind that Students International does ministry. They are focused on relationship building and holistic transformation.
During the next three weeks, we are working the in sites alongside the Nicaraguan staff that is present year-round. We aren’t solving world hunger or building houses in a week. We are teaching children, building stoves, and helping women start their own businesses. We are being present. We are participating. We are using our knowledge and gifts to support and encourage. But mostly we are being blessed. We are being loved and bearing witness to the work of Christ in other people’s lives, recognizing that he is the savior, not us.
“So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel…”
On Saturday night, Laura, Noah, Katie, and I attended a youth service at the Baptist Church with our friend Fernando. The woman speaking was a Brazilian musician and missionary. She has traveled all over the world playing her music and “discovering Jesus.” We were all pretty impressed by her theology of missions. “All vocations are a form of ministry, and what we have all been called to, is the manifestation of Christ’s love,” she said. This is something that we all need to hear, whether we are American, Nicaraguan, or Brazilian. And it is something we can practice whether we are social workers, business owners, teachers, lawyers, or photographers.
Yesterday, we witnessed a powerful demonstration that affirmed our Brazilian sister’s teachings. We saw someone using their vocation as a form of ministry. We went down to the potter’s house. We watched his hands shape the clay. We heard his story. And we felt God’s presence.
The process of creating a piece of pottery is long. From the time the clay is gathered from the dust of the ground to the time that it comes out of the fire, fourteen days will have passed. The clay will have been wet with water, mixed with sand, and kneaded by both feet and hands. The pebbles will have been plucked out. Because it is a persistent process of purification.
“… But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.”
When the clay is finally ready for the wheel, the potter’s hands will move tenderly, but firmly against the clay. They will smooth and pull and press. They will create something beautiful in his sight. It is always possible that another impurity will be found. That the piece will break before it is placed in the fire. But the potter is patient. He knows that the process is takes time. He is willing to wait. Because he wants to make perfect pieces.
Eventually the potter will begin to paint. He will begin to decorate his piece of art with a vibrant array of colors and marks. He is working on a masterpiece.
Finally, the pot will be refined in the fire. The potter will pull pieces from the smoking pit and inspect them. He will place some to his left some to his right. Because he desires perfect pieces.
God is a gentleman. He molds us tenderly, and only if we’re willing. This semester we have been made keenly aware of the hands of the potter. We feel the pressure, the plucking, the smoothing, and the painting. We are humbled, and we are grateful. Because this semester is not exclusively a time to minister, but a time to be ministered to.
“Then the word of the Lord came to me: ‘O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter does?’ declares the Lord. ‘Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.’” Jeremiah 18:3-6
Today’s blog brought to you by Laura Marie Christ.
As we become more comfortable with our Spanish, my roommate Anna and I also become more daring. Each day we talk to more people, and with each new acquaintance we gain another piece to the puzzle that is Nicaraguan culture. The artisan’s market in Masaya is a great cultural hub in the center of the city. With the appearance of a medieval castle on the outside, the inside is a brilliant harmony of vibrant colors, a mixture of languages, and the smell of leather and cooking tejadas.
In the market there are no stores, simply various vendors who have claimed their place in the chaos. If Anna has a weakness, it is her love of earrings, so when a pair caught her eye, we quickly struck up a conversation with the salesman to haggle the price down. Osberto Jerez is not your typical sales person. A middle-aged man of African decent, his most notable physical feature is definitely his many waist-long dreadlocks. Osberto is originally from Bluefields, Nicaragua, a small fishing village on the Atlantic Coast of the country. Our conversation with him effortlessly stretched into an hour-and-a-half long discussion through which we were delighted to hear his story.
Like many Nicaraguans, Osberto grew up poor. Interestingly, his first language is an English Creole mix, but he also speaks fluent Spanish. As our time with him increased, we were blessed to learn about his passion for music. Osberto loves to play, listen to, teach, and talk about music. In his band, “Osberto Jerez y los Gregory’s, Osberto uses his music to draw attention to the political injustices of his county.
Upon request, he pulled out his saxophone and gave us a personal concert in the middle of the market. Many things about his man were surprising to me, the foremost of which was his talent. He is extremely musically blessed, but is also a dabbling artist. His work is impressive, and with it he always expresses his free-spiritedness, patriotism, and critical thinking.
Everybody has a story. Sometimes I forget that in the states as I trudge on with my daily routines, but here that is impossible for me. As I strive to practice and communicate in this new language, God has graciously opened my eyes to the ways that He is working in the lives of Nicaraguan natives. Once a stranger, I now consider Osberto a friend. Once just another face in the crowd, I now see a man with a story, passions, love, and fears, and this knowledge brings infinitely more meaning to my experience abroad than I can explain.