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

     Philippians 2:13,  for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.

     I didn’t want to go!  I was perfectly happy supporting others but I simply didn’t want to be included in a short-term mission team going outside of the U.S.; God didn’t see things my way.

     In October of 1998, the eye of Hurricane Mitch sat stationary off the eastern coast of Nicaragua and Honduras for five days.  The winds and rain created havoc and unimaginable rainfall.  We were told that La Pimienta had experienced fifty-four inches of rain over those five days.

     American Baptist Churches – International Ministries began looking for short-term mission teams to travel to Nicaragua to assist with the recovery efforts in the communities that our mission partner, Provadenic (1), served.  Teams departed the U.S. to help rebuild these communities almost monthly for nearly three years.  I had three times listened to people speak of this need but I remained unpersuaded; locked in my stubbornness.

     In February of 2000 the men of First Baptist Church, Valley Center, KS gathered for a prayer breakfast.  David Grisham drove from El Dorado, KS to be our guest speaker.  David had been a member of the very first relief team to travel to Nicaragua only weeks after the hurricane.

     As Grisham concluded his talk about the ongoing hurricane recovery efforts he told us that the mission team that was to visit Nicaragua in April had fallen apart.  As no group of volunteers had come forward to fill the vacancy he challenged those of us who were gathered to do so.  As he stated his challenge I felt that he was looking directly at me. 

     I left the men’s breakfast feeling resolute that I would not be going to Nicaragua.  By 9:00 the following morning, a Sunday, God’s hand had moved events and people to make it clear that I would indeed go to Nicaragua.  It was also clear that I would need to organize the team of volunteers; which did not yet exist.

     On Monday morning I phoned Pastor Robert to discuss how this change of mind had occurred.  As we were speaking I felt a need to say, “… and I think that I am to ask you to come with me.”  Robert was quiet for a few moments before saying that he would need to discuss it with his wife; Robert and Debra both joined our mission team.

     As Wednesday evening’s Bible Study dismissed Pastor Robert asked if I had considered asking another church attendee, David, to join us.  I had indeed but had dismissed the idea because I didn’t think the family’s finances would allow it.  Wilma Engle then joined us and asked if we had thought about asking David to join us.  We agreed that, no matter what we might think, if the Lord had put David into the thoughts of the three of us, we shouldn’t be too quick to dismiss asking David.

     The following morning David was asked if he would like to be a member of the team.  He replied that he would but he was concerned about the expenses.  It was little surprise that a sizable check arrived in the mail the following day to help with our team’s expenses.

     Only nine weeks after the challenge was made to our church, Pastor Robert, Debra, David and I found ourselves in Nicaragua with five others who joined our short-term mission team.   Our team had participants from Valley Center, El Dorado, Augusta as well as from California and Rhode Island.

     As told in part one of this three part series, we arrived in La Pimienta near the end of the dry season.  To bathe we wore our swimsuits and walked several hundred yards to the swimming hole at the Rio Queso (Cheese River).

     As we did our best to wash, while wearing bathing suits, we noticed that children would gather on the boulders that lined one side of the river.  We thought this curious until one of our members suggested that previous mission teams may have played with the children while they were at the river.  Finished with our lathering and rinsing, he let out a whoop and made a huge arm swing to encourage the children to join us.  With huge smiles upon their faces they began peeling down to their underwear; the older girls leaving their upper body covered.

     As the children began jumping into the water Debra pulled two pool splash balls out of her backpack.  The balls began sailing through the air as a couple of the men cupped their hands and began tossing kids into the air; laughing merrily as they splash back into the water.  Each day following the number of children at the river would increase.

     Beginning on our second day of fun with the kids, David exited the river and calmly dried himself off before walking towards the clinic where we slept.  On the third evening, following his second departure, I asked him why he retreated when the children came into the water.

     As David began to answer, there was a catch in his voice.  In a few moments he began by saying that it was difficult for him to remain.  He was missing his four young children so badly that it actually hurt to hear the children’s laughing, cheerful voices.

     Sometime during our trip something unexpected had come upon David.  It was without question that he loved his family but he had never expressed such open endearment towards them before.  A new depth of feeling was evolving in David’s life.

     Our story now fast forwards to our exiting the aircraft on our trip home.  David moved quickly up the jet way where he dropped his carry on luggage and wrapped his arms around his wife and swung her around.  He impatiently asked her where the kids were and Kim replied that she had left them in his mother’s care for the evening.  David told her that they needed to collect the kids and spend time together as a family.

     Over the next couple of months Kim would often ask, “What did you do to my husband in Nicaragua?”  I would always reply that I hadn’t done a thing but that God had.

     David was a changed man and his family very much knew that he had changed.  But life isn’t fair and only four months after our trip to La Pimienta, David passed away.  It was only four months but it was an incredible four months for Kim and their children to be with David.

      Not all short-term mission trips have such stories.  However, all short-term mission trips are an event where God is actively at work.  Things happen while on these trips, often very subtle things but they are signs of God moving in people’s lives.

      My first journey to Nicaragua was in obedience to God’s will.  Following mission trips were an opportunity to see what God would do during those trips.

     There are many opportunities to see God at work; we don’t have to go to Nicaragua to see his work.  All too often we overlook His subtle touch as he moves in the background arranging things according to his own good will.

     I believe that we are experiencing such a time at Meridian Avenue right now.  We are returning to His purpose as we emphasize making disciples.  The emphasis isn’t new; it is as old as the Christian faith.  I ask that you watch with me and look for the ways that God will work in the background as we seek disciples for Christ.

(1)  In 2006 the ABC-IM mission partner in Nicaragua moved from Provadenic to AMOS Health and Hope.