Top 10 Highlights of Nicaragua Mission Trip ’16

IMG_7440

Here are a list of occurrences during the trip that really stuck out to me:

  1. Before we even left the country, we were sitting in the airport waiting to check our bags and I noticed a older man who seemed to be waiting around as well. He kept staring at our team. Honestly, at first I thought “creeeeper”, but when he came over to talk to us I quickly regretted that thought. He came to ask about where we were from and why we were headed out of the country. When told that we were headed to Nicaragua for a mission trip, his face lit up with excitement. He told us how important and necessary our work was. He kept calling us angels.. “angels without wings”. How’s that for pre-mission trip encouragement?
  2. Meeting the women and children in the community at the school for the first time. They welcomed us and showered us with hugs and kisses as soon as we got there. We bonded instantly over translated conversations and joking around with the kids. I particularly liked to go up to the shy ones and start a conversation with my broken Spanish (which they laughed at). I liked seeing the curiosity from the beginning of the day turn into relationship building and fun times towards the end of the day.
  3. Washing chairs with the ladies. I loved being included in a part of the Nicaraguan culture. I knew that we probably were going more slow than they were used to, and we were probably missing spots, but I loved their patience for us. It was really cool to see their organized system for washing, rinsing and drying things.
  4. The church service. Last Sunday New Day Ministries held their bi-weekly church service called Baseball Church. I was pretty confused when I first heard it’s name, so I bet you’re wondering about it too. Its called Baseball church because after the service the kids get together to play baseball- one of their favorite sports in Nicaragua. The service started off with some singing.. in Spanish. Most of us had no clue what was being said, but we tried our best to sing and dance along. At one point some of the little ones got up to sing a song they previously learned in bible class. Adorable is an understatement. Anyway, after we sang, a sermon about faith and trust was given by our team leader. Following the sermon, there was a demonstration on how to encourage someone who is depressed and/or going through something tough. In this situation, one of our team members acted as someone that was about to commit suicide because some of the awful things he had done in his life that were weighing on him. The role of the other actors was to tell the depressed actor about what they knew to be true about Jesus Christ. They had to be convincing in sharing the good news. It was a really great, well acted out lesson. After the demonstration we had a nice Nicaraguan meal and then we were all free to go play baseball- or volleyball, for those of us who didn’t particularly have an interest in baseball. It was cool to see how many young people attended.
  5. Backpack distribution. We packed up a bunch of brand new bookbags full of school uniforms, t-shirts and school supplies to be distributed door to door for each and every school-aged kid. This was our chance to meet the parents of the kids we’d previously bonded with. Although we were walking miles in the 90-something degree weather, it was well worth seeing the different homes and living arrangements. At each house we went to we greeted the elders, gave the kids their bags and then prayed for the family’s health and well being. It was a very moving experience and the reactions of the little ones and their elders were absolutely priceless. They made sure to tell us how grateful they were for our prayers.
  6. The food. Oh. My. Goodness. I looked forward to each meal every single day. For breakfast we had things like eggs with cheddar cheese and bacon in it, cut- up red potatoes with cheese on it, pancakes, french toast with coco bread, sausages and fruit- we always had a variety of fruit like cantaloupe, mangos, watermelon and pineapple (yellow and white) mm mm mm. For lunch we mostly had deli sandwiches and/or peanut butter sandwiches. For dinner we had chicken with rice and beans, delicious plantains, peta bread, pork, chicken alfredo with broccoli and lasagna. Each day our juice was freshly squeezed, and varied from pineapple, orange, mango and some berry flavored juice. just delicious.
  7. Team bonding. At our pre-mission trip meetings I got to meet everyone on the team. I didn’t know much of anything about the personal lives of my teammates, though. Spending nine days with each other allowed us to get to know one another little more. We were able to bond over our shared love and compassion for everything we experienced in Nicaragua. During the trip, there were many times that I witnessed encouragement, love, patience and understanding within the team. We may not have come back best friends, but I can definitely say the trip has sparked some great relationships between all of us.
  8. Facing my fear of heights on our free day. We got to spend one of our days doing adventurous, fun things with just the team. We started the day at one of the markets (which was full of handmade items), next we went zip lining, then we went on a hike on the Mombacho volcano, followed by another market and dinner at a nice restaurant. Now- The market and restaurant parts are pretty common for me because two of my favorite things are to shop and eat (my family and friends can certainly attest to this) however, I am notttt one for adventure. Especially when it deals with heights. Hiking the volcano was okay because there was a whole forrest full of trees that prevented me from seeing just how high up I was. But zip lining? WAY out of my comfort zone! I don’t even go on rollercoasters. When I go to amusement parks I’m the designated bag-holder. I told myself that I would probably never get the chance to zip line in a rain forrest ever again, so I needed to just suck it up and try it. So I did. And as soon as I got up there I wondered why I let myself even think about going through with it. It was too late to back out though, so I did it while repeatedly thinking “just don’t look down. just don’t look down. just don’t look down”, even though looking at the tops of trees didn’t help much either. I’m glad I went, but I doubt i’d do it again haha.
  9. The wonderful hospitality of Jana and Glen, founders of New Day Ministries. They went above and beyond to make sure we were comfortable and well informed about the things we would be doing during our time there. They gave us the perfect amount of encouragement, direction and guidance for us to feel prepare for each day. The love of Christ is so evident in them as they have dedicated their lives to a long-term life of missionary work in Nicaragua. It is inspiring how selfless they are and everything they are doing for the communities around them.
  10. The question that STILL has me thinking. A few days ago, at dinner, Jana asked me something that has stuck in my brain ever since. She said, “Kyani, now that you’re here and you’ve begun to experience these things, why do you think God wanted you here on this trip?” Silence. It was such a great question.. I just had no idea what the answer was. I still don’t. It reminded me of my Nicaragua mission trip testimony and how bizarre it was for me to even be there. Obviously I was there for a special purpose, but what was it? Maybe it was to show me a glimpse of missionary life because it may be my calling. Maybe it was to change my perspective on certain things. Maybe it was for me to meet and begin a relationship with someone specific for something great in the future. Maybe something I said to someone needed to be said to change that person’s life. Maybe there was a family there that really needed the prayer I prayed for them  at that particular time. Maybe its all of those things. Maybe none. Im hoping to have the answer revealed to me in some way or another.  I have to keep reminding myself, though, that I may not ever know why and thats okay too.
  11. Journaling about every day spent on the trip, and being able to look back and notice the priceless moments that have composed this list.

Thoughts on Nicaragua

Sitting here on the plane wondering how these 9 days went by so quickly. All week I was warned by multiple people how fast my time in Nicaragua would go. Boy were they right! I can’t even sleep because I’m still processing everything I saw and experienced. It was very eye opening to say the least.

Being in Nicaragua revealed so much to me. It made me look at things like love, community, and culture differently. I don’t think I’ve ever been somewhere that holds those three concepts with more importance than they do in Nicaragua. I don’t even know where to start. My mind is racing with thoughts, so to organize them I’m going to break each one up into their own individual sections.

 

LOVE

 

 One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned on this mission trip is the idea of love. Before I visited Nicaragua, my concept of love was really weak. In my eyes, love was a feeling that could only be expressed verbally, or with hugs, kisses and gifts. I had this idea that a person could only love someone after knowing them for a certain amount of time. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

As soon as we stepped foot into the community on the first day, the kids and women latched onto us as if they’d known us for a lifetime. We were welcomed with big hugs and smiling faces. They were so happy to see and greet us. It didn’t take long for us to begin to bond. The kids were just as curious about our lives as we were about theirs. They wanted to know our names, ages and where we were from. Luckily one of our team members was willing to be our translator (most of us don’t speak english) but even when she wasn’t around to help, our broken Spanish seemed to be just enough to communicate with them. They were so comfortable with us, accepting each one of us with open arms despite our language barrier and cultural differences. Often times I would look next to me and find one of the little ones just standing next to me. No conversation necessary, just being present was enough. During the week, when we were learning how to make homemade brooms and wash chairs in the river, the women were so patient with us. I know firsthand how frustrating it can be to have to teach another person something you do every single day. You have to go at a slower pace because the person is watching you to learn, and they are moving slowly as well. You just want to grab it from them and do it FOR them! These women did not treat us like we were stupid. They let us watch and try it for ourselves without making faces at us or showing any signs of frustration.

Through these subtle moments on our trip I got to understand love in a different way. Yes, love can be expressed by hugs, kisses and gifts, but it isn’t limited to those things. Love can be expressed by just being present in the life of another person or being patient with someone who may need it. Love can be expressed by having an interest in the life of someone else. Love can be felt at any duration of a relationship and can definitely be expressed non-verbally.

We were only with the kids for four days, but within those four days my heart grew rapidly for them. They quickly reminded me of what Christ’s love is like: freely given, non-judgmental, kind and genuine. They were all so silly and included us in on their jokes. They loved to snuggle up next to us and/or hold our hand any chance they got. I wasn’t expecting to fall in love with a group of kids so quickly, but they made it so easy.

Here I was thinking I was on this mission trip to show them love and I didn’t even have a full grasp of it yet. Here I was thinking I would go teach them something they didn’t know yet and thats exactly what they did for me.

CULTURE

 

Another thing that really stood out to me in Nicaragua was the culture. I think any American would look at the places we went and quickly call them poor, but they are FAR from that. While many people compare their living situation to the ones in Nica and decide to negatively label it, they speak out of ignorance. Nicaragua is really rich in culture and values. They know how to feed you! Their meals are huge and delicious. Ive had some amazing chicken, rice and bean meals with plantains, pork and enchiladas. Their fruit is sooo sweet and fresh. Eating three meals a day in their huge portions took some getting used to because they do not waste anything in Nicaragua! They’re extremely resourceful, and when I say they use everything and waste nothing- I mean it!
They are really hard workers. They tried to show us how to cut plants with a machete.. what a fail. Those machetes were so heavy. They made it look SO much easier than it truly was! We even offered to carry their water on our heads for them before realizing how heavy it actually was.. I don’t know how they carry those huge buckets on their heads for miles at a time. Another thing I love about their culture is how friendly everyone is. It didn’t matter where we went, we could always count on people greeting us in Spanish or waving to us with a smile.

COMMUNITY

  

I think community, diversity and inclusion are all things we like to think we are good at in the United States but we are wayyyy off. Do you know every one of your neighbors within a 3/4 mile radius? Well, they do in Nicaragua. And not only do they know the names of each member in the family, but they know a lot about them too. All of the kids play and walk to school together each morning. The women bond through cooking together and washing/cleaning things. Everybody knows and loves everybody.

When we visited the community for the first time, one of the first things I noticed was the diversity in the group of people. All different shades, sizes, ages, outfits and personalities. A REAL melting pot. Each person talked to and hung out with every person. They were so personal with one another. Whenever the team members were sent to do a project, we had a bunch of people behind us, coming to help just because they liked being with and helping others.

Jana, one of the founders of New Day Ministry, challenged the team with the question above, “How many of you know every one of your neighbors within a 3 mile radius?” that silenced us. Why isn’t that true for us? Are we just THAT busy in America that we only have time for ourselves and our own families? Do our every day jobs make us so tired that even on weekends, and days off we would rather not be bothered with others around us? Something that really made me think was the fact that every morning the Nica kids get together and walk to school in a group as young as age 5. Why don’t we see that in America? I asked one of my dearest Nica friends if the difference had anything to do with the fear of pedophiles that we have in America, and she said that pedophiles are everywhere but the kids always stay together, and there are always older kids walking with them.

Just to paint a picture of some other things I saw in regards to community, here are two more instances. Everyone in the area we visited bathes, washes clothes, dishes and anything else in the river. They don’t go off and wash up in some corner where no one can see them, they do it together. When some of our team was sent to help the ladies wash their chairs, there was a woman already in the river washing her clothes, who stopped just to help us. That really impressed me because at home, when we see someone working on a project, we NEVER drop what we are doing to step in and help.

What are your thoughts on community in America, and where we are lacking- or succeeding? How can we build a better, more personal relationship in our communities?

If it’s God’s Will, There’s a Way

Today was.. crazy to say the least. I woke up extra early, planning to run and get some last minute supplies for my Sunday School lesson. When I opened my blinds I was shocked to see how hard it was raining, and sad when I remembered that I gave my only umbrella away a few weeks ago. Since I don’t drive, I had to walk.. in the pouring rain.. with no umbrella and really foggy glasses! Despite my circumstances though, I made it there and back (drenched of course) with the supplies I needed. I got back in and changed into what I planned on wearing to church then waited for my ride. Church starts at 10:30, so when I looked at my phone and saw it read that exact time I started to panic! My ride accidentally forgot about me.

At this point, I was on the verge of tears. I knew that church was starting at that very moment. I also knew that as soon as the worship music was finished (usually 10:45), the children would be on their way to an empty classroom. In that moment all I could do was pause and pray about the situation because it was completely out of my hands. My original ride was able to quickly find another ride for me, but the second ride ended up getting lost! Guess what time I finally got in the second ride’s car. Thats right: 10:45.

My brain: AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH WHAT DO I DO WHAT DO I DO

I ended up frantically trying to find people that were already at the church and would be willing to stand in the classroom until I could make it. My original ride volunteered to do that for me, so I was able to relax a tiny bit. At least the kids wouldn’t be welcomed by an empty, dark, teacher-less room. While I was in the car I got a text saying that the music part of the Sunday Service, which usually starts at 10:30, had just begun. So at this point I’m thinking “…wow. okay, this never happens. The worship music usually starts way before now. I’m pretty sure God just answered my prayer.”

When I finally got to the church and bolted towards the classroom I could hear the music still being played. I wasn’t sure if the song they were playing would be the last one or not, so I was rushing to set up the room. I had a rush of anxiety when I heard the song end, but then a huge rush of relief when a new song immediately started. Thanks to God, the worship music ended as soon as I finished preparing the room for my students.

When it’s God’s Will, there will always be a way.

This idea is something I learned within my mission trip testimony, and the situation today just reiterated it for me. I had to remind myself during that panic moment this morning that if teaching was something God wanted me to do, I was not to worry about how I would get there to do it. He always finds a way.

Now, if you’ve read my previous post you know that I was nervous about how things would go today. It went really smoothly when I got there. The kids were really sweet and welcoming. They understood the lesson and really enjoyed the activity of the day. Oh, and they made sure to tell me how boring my Christmas gifts were compared to theirs when it came up in conversation. Overall, my first time teaching was pretty successsful!

 

FullSizeRender
One of my little ones, Aaliyah.

 

 

My Newest Title: Sunday School Teacher 

IMG_5435As Sunday is quickly approaching, things are becoming more real. I feel a mixture of excitement and nervousness about my newest title: Sunday School Teacher.

Tomorrow I will be teaching a bunch of the sweetest 4&5 year olds one could meet. I’ve had a few chances in the past to assist the main teacher with this class for a few weeks and now it’s my turn to lead. I’m a little nervous for two main reasons:

1) I’ve never taught a day in my life.

2) These children have been taught by the same teacher for years! Children don’t always do too well with change.

Once I get past the negative “what if”s, I know it will be one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever been apart of. The last time I helped out, I was so moved to see how much the kids knew about the Gospel. Their prayers were touching and their sense of humor was off the wall. I’m so glad God has placed me on this path, where I will be able to play a part in the spiritual growth of these children. As the time passes by and my anxiety remains the same, I try to remind myself that God brought me this opportunity for a reason. I know that He doesn’t bring opportunities to us if He doesn’t think we are ready to take them on. With this knowledge I am able to confidently walk in there on Sunday, and let Him guide me through the lesson.

Please pray for the kiddies, a well received lesson, and their newest teacher, “Ms. Kyani”.

Psalm 32:8 (NIV)

8 I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.

Unapologetically Me

IMG_4907

Hey. My name is Kyani, I’m 20 years old and I never used to smile like this.

You see that gap in between my teeth? Well, I used to think it was HUGE and I would never smile because of it. I used to beg and beg my mom for braces but every time I mentioned it she would say that the gap wasn’t as bad as I probably thought, and it was part of who I am. Insecurity held me back from a lot. I wanted to look like everyone around me because pretty, perfect teeth seemed to make or break a person’s face. You see that smile on my face? That spark of happiness in my eyes? Those things used to be nonexistent. I used to be so buried in depression and anxiety that genuine happiness seemed like an idea I would never be able to touch.

This is what it looks like when God has begun to break you out of bondage and instill peace within you. I feel so free and genuinely happy. I’m learning to embrace my differences, and let God work on my insecurities. I’m learning to put the negatives of life in perspective. I know the value in my new identity. I walk confidently in purpose. I am unapologetically me.

Jeremiah 17:7 (NLT)

7 But blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the LORD their hope and confidence