A visit to La Pimienta, Nicaragua – part 1 of 3

     Job 5:9-10,  He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed, miracles that cannot be counted.  He provides rain for the earth, he sends water on the countryside.

      Following Hurricane Mitch’s havoc across Nicaragua in 1998, American Baptist short-term mission teams began heading south nearly monthly to offer assistance.  The country is 60% the size of the state of Kansas and suffered over 11,000 deaths, more than a half-million homeless and nearly one billion dollars in damages.  The clean up efforts continued for years and was the reason I found myself in the back of a truck while traveling north along the Pan American Highway on April 28, 2000.

     Traveling with me were our driver/interpreter, Julieta, and eight other volunteers.  It took the ten of us nearly five hours to reach La Pimienta due to damaged roads, courtesy of the hurricane, and the need to drive across shallow rivers where bridges once stood.

     Our trip to La Pimienta was six months into their dry season making it possible to drive through the shallow rivers.  Julieta told us that only one more team of volunteers would travel to La Pimienta before the wet season prevented return trips until bridges were replaced.

     As we neared the community we departed the paved roadway and journeyed over dirt roads.  During the dry months vehicle tires had ground the dirt into a fine dust that climbed three inches up the side of the truck tires.

     Reaching the high sided bank of the Rio Negro (Black River), Julieta stopped and asked us to hang on tightly.  It was necessary for us to ford the river that lay a few yards below the road level.  Felled trees had been placed into the river bank to provide tire traction and it was a bouncy ride into the shallow Rio Negro.  On the far side was a shallow sloping bank and the road into La Pimienta.

     Our dry season trip to Nicaragua introduced me to never before experienced weather.  Each day we were there the temperature exceeded 100 degrees.  While such temperatures are not uncommon in Kansas the absence of humidity was a new experience.  Not once while we were there did we feel moisture on our bodies.  The air was so devoid of humidity that the sweat evaporated as quickly as it formed.

      The hills to the east had been charred from a fire that had at some time occurred.  Elsewhere stood small clumps of grass or hearty weeds for the skinny cattle to munch as they wandered from one to the other.

     The community, having relocated following the hurricane’s flooding, possessed a shared hand dug well.  The well had adequate water for the community’s drinking and cooking needs but little more.  To bathe we would have to wear our swimming suits and hike several hundred yards to the swimming hole of the Rio Queso (Cheese River).  The deepest water that we found was a little over four feet deep.

     At the latitude we were visiting the sun sets early all year long.  It would be fully dark by 6:30 PM but the sun’s absence did little to suppress the heat.  As the sun peeked over the hills in the morning the overnight temperature had not dropped below 80 degrees.

     The slightly cooler morning temperatures had a more noticeable impact on the inhabitants of the community than it did our team.  Stepping outside of the medical clinic, where we slept each night, we found the local women wearing shawls upon their shoulders and some men wearing warm hats.  They were unaccustomed to the cooler temperature. 

     While in La Pimienta we laid concrete block walls for newly constructed homes and assisted with framing the roof supports of other new homes.  Concrete would be mixed on swept ground and carried to the bricklayers a shovel full at a time.  Adding a bit of water to the mixed concrete was often done because of the excessive evaporation.

      Our team’s recollection of La Pimienta is that of a hot, dry and dusty place.  A place of sparse vegetation; where the ribs of livestock showed through their sides for lack of adequate fodder.

     Shortly after our return home we sent photos of La Pimienta to the leader of the mission team that would follow us.  His emailed reply was that they would prepare for desert-like conditions.

     Then the rains fell.

     The following team arrived in Nicaragua only a couple of weeks into the rainy season. The photos that their team emailed us revealed an unimaginable transformation.

     After very few rainfalls the soil around La Pimienta had burst forth with new life.  Instead of the dead and dying vegetation that our team had witnessed; their photos revealed a tapestry of green grasses and multicolored flowers.  The touch of the rain had transformed the desert into a landscape of amazing beauty.

     Our God is the master of transformation.  He can make new life spring forth from where life seemed abandoned.  He can invigorate people who are spiritually indifferent, filling them with a fire for his purpose.  Only God can make those who are lost, found anew in his spirit.

     This is what it is to experience God; it is the making of all things fresh and new.

     Experience God and be transformed.