Hand-mixing cement and carrying it in buckets without handles in 90-degree weather thousands of miles from home is certainly a strange way to build friendships with people who don’t speak your language. But that’s exactly what my husband and five other men from our church did earlier this month.
The guys spent the first week of 2008 helping our adopted church in Asedades, Nicaragua, construct a new building to better accommodate its growing congregation.
To complete the building – adding a floor, a porch, steps and a roof – the men worked with nearly a dozen local volunteers as well as the local pastor and his family, Pastor Cesar and Celina Alvarez and their 13 children. The new building is three times the size of the old building, which was so over-crowded that only the women and children fit inside. All the men had to stand outside, often in the rain because the average annual rainfall in that region is about 80 inches.
A nearly four-hour drive from the capital city of Managua, Asedades is a poor, remote, mountainous village of fewer than 1,500 people. Very few cars travel the rocky path through the village, mostly just cattle, horses, donkeys and people.
Alvarez and many other pastors in rural Nicaragua have great difficulty providing for their families because they often receive less than $35 a month from their congregations. That’s according to a ministry called Repairers of Broken Walls (www.rbwmissions.com).
Nicaragua is one of the poorest countries in Central America; its economy is severely depressed. Civil war, hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, mud slides, tornados and economic collapse have caused devastating poverty in many parts of the country. The under-employment rate is 46%, and 48% of the population is below the poverty line, according to The World Factbook. What’s more, many Nicaraguan children don’t attend school because they lack money for shoes, uniforms, books, and lunches.
Although the primary focus of this trip was the construction work, the mission team ministered in other ways as well. Pastor Steve spoke on a nationally broadcast Christian radio program twice, and he led a seminary training conference for about 37 Nicaraguan pastors and their wives, most of whom have never had the opportunity for any formal education. The National Association of Evangelical Pastors of Nicaragua coordinated the conference.
“I spent three to four hours speaking through a translator,” Pastor Steve says. “I shared things that the Lord has taught me, and we encouraged one another. We all understood that pastors are not immune to struggles, and we committed to pray for one another.”
The men all say they fell in love with the people of Nicaragua, especially the children. They gave away children’s books, Frisbees, play dough and a suitcase full of Beanie Babies, which Oakwood’s children’s ministry had collected. They also distributed a suitcase full of medical supplies to the evangelical association’s clinic in Managua and a suitcase full of books to the pastors at the conference.
Repairers of Broken Walls was pivotal in preparing the men for this mission. Enrique and Carol Acosta serve as the directors of this ministry, and they accompanied the men on this trip. They assisted the team by translating, cooking, offering first aid and helping with the construction work. The Acostas have coordinated more than 35 mission trips to Nicaragua and Mexico over the last several years. Their goal is to facilitate Christ-centered, international relationships that serve, encourage and disciple.
For the past several months, the mission team met regularly to discuss logistics and participate in a missions-oriented Bible study. Through donations and fundraisers – which included clearing tables and washing dishes at Pizza Ranch, serving food at various church gatherings, and selling Oakwood sweatshirts – the team raised $15,000 for the construction costs and travel expenses.
The team returned to Minnesota on Jan. 8, but this trip is just the beginning, Pastor Steve says. The church intends to become more than one-time visitors to Nicaragua. Lord willing, Oakwood plans to unite with Alvarez’s church through on-going team trips, correspondence, reciprocal prayer initiatives, and sharing of their God-given gifts with each other.
The Acostas say this partnership can be more than one church helping out another, poorer congregation. “It can be the Body of Christ working together to complete God’s purposes and to show the world that Christ was who He said He was because His people really do love one another,” they say.