Reminders From Nicaragua

June has been a busy month: getting married, going on a honeymoon, unpacking our new apartment, and leading a mission trip for my youth group.

Everything has been exciting, but busy can get stressful. That is especially true when you’re helping plan your wedding AND a mission trip (that timing might not have been my best decision ever). But I am alive, married, and didn’t leave any kids in Nicaragua so I feel like I’m killing it over here.

I went to Nicaragua four years ago while I was interning at a church in Florida so I felt like I knew what to expect. No one told me how different it is when you are leading the group.

Between fundraising and passports and flights, I was close to being burnt out before ever leaving Tennessee. I had never planned something this big which meant I was just faking my way through it.

If anyone in my youth group is reading this, I can now admit to you that I was just as nervous as you were while we were traveling. I had a general sense of what we needed to do once we landed in Nicaragua, but I was still stumbling through everything. My heart screamed Hallelujah when we saw Travis and Mindy from Misión Para Cristo. It meant I was a little less in-charge and I could physically feel some of the responsibility rolling off me and onto them.

But of course I couldn’t let any of that show at the time. As a leader, I very much needed to be the example of confidence. Transparency is good as long as you know the right time to share it.

Once we were on the bus from Managua to Jinotega, I was able to relax and open my eyes (spiritually). I had trusted God and leaned heavily on the support of my wife, and now it was time to let the Holy Spirit show me what He needed me to see.

And boy did He do that. On that two hour and a half hour bus ride I saw the attitudes of my youth group change from nervous to excited. Then to watch and listen to them throughout the week as they lived out the gospel was moving.

I imagine the feeling is similar to what parents feel watching their kids grow. I was so proud watching them take what we’ve been discussing at church for the past year and put that into action. It made every stressful moment worth it.

As a leader, I feel like that week was double rewarding. I got to watch my kids grow and I got to grow myself. God took that week to remind me of some things I often forget.

1. You don’t have to know everything.

Our mission team from Cheap Hill Church of Christ

As I mentioned above, this was my first time leading a mission trip and I felt woefully unprepared. I’m 23 years old, I don’t think that I’m old enough to be in charge of other people’s lives in a foreign country, I’m barely old enough to be in charge of my own life. But yet, the worst that happened is we got a little sick.

I don’t have to know what I’m doing, or be fully qualified, in order for God to know what He’s doing.

Proverbs 3:5-6
Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.

This past week was a huge reminder that I don’t have to have everything under control; I just need to trust that God will carry me through.

That is such an important reminder for me. As Laurel and I are preparing to begin our Master programs, we’re trying to figure out what the future looks like. How long will we live in Nashville? What career paths do we want? Will we need to take out loans for graduate school?

Life is full of question marks. We can’t know the future and that can leave us feeling scared or nervous or excited or a mixture off all that and more. We can plan, we can guess, we can curl up in a ball and hope for the best, but there will always be a sense of lack of control. And that’s ok.

God will sustain.

Even when we’re nervous.
God will sustain.

Even when we think He’s forgotten us.
God will sustain.

Even when the storm clouds feel like they will never pass.
God will sustain.

Often times I feel like Peter when he stepped out upon the water. I concentrate on the wind and the waves and I lose sight of Jesus and I begin to sink. Then I cry “Lord, save me! Don’t let me drown.” And like a foolish man, I believe that God called me out so He could watch me drown.

This week was a reminder that God is always there to pull me out of the water and that He will walk arm in arm with me over the water.

2. God will make connections.

Travis and I as we said goodbye at the airport. God is clearly working through Travis and Mindy as they are working with Misión Para Cristo. I have been blessed with this great connection.

I love new things. If you are any bit familiar with enneagrams, I am an almost perfect example of a type 7. The Enneagram Institute describes type 7s as “The Busy, Fun-Loving Type: Spontaneous, Versatile, Distractible, and Scattered.”

I have a tendency to jump to new activities before the current activity is finished. That’s because I want to do everything, so if this thing is basically done, then it’s time for the next thing.

This means that I don’t always have a lot of in-between time. The in-between time kills me. I could be experiencing something awesome, so why am I lagging around.

One large flaw to this mentality is that it’s easy to miss connections when you’re running around like a chicken with its head cut off. I enjoy meeting new people and building relationships, but I sometimes miss important connection moments because I just don’t take the time to wait for them.

If you take that time to slow down instead of being in a hurry all the time, some amazing things can happen. You allow time and space for the Holy Spirit to guide you to different connections that God has laid out for you.

On Wednesday we spent the day at schools playing with the kids. Felipe and Louis were driving us back to the mission for lunch and siesta before we went to a school in that afternoon.

Normally I would be the first one up the stairs but instead I was lagging behind. As the leader, I wanted to be the last one up so I could make sure we didn’t leave anyone behind.

As I was waiting everyone to go up the stairs, Louis and I began talking. At first it was just small talk but it quickly took on a small theological thread. We started talking about relationships and forgiveness.

It’s not that that either of us had giant relationships in our lives that were we were refusing to extend forgiveness. The conversation simply helped further our understanding of what forgiveness is and why we forgive.

It was an encouraging example of what happens when you slow down and provide room for the Holy Spirit to guide you.

3. Let a change of plans be an opportunity.

Our team after a long day of making bricks.

This is a hard thing to do if you’re a planner. I am not naturally a planner. My dad’s motto is “you need a plan to deviate from.” My motto is “let’s see what happens.” I gravitate to living life on the fly and only planning when I get super stressed.

But I have been working on growing. Following my dad’s example, I have been working on being better at planning. With that I have learned one important fact: few things are more frustrating than when a perfect plan derails.

And that is exactly what happened on Monday.

The plan for Monday was to split into two groups, one heading to construction and one heading to schools. But that Sunday was Father’s Day for Nicaragua and there was an announcement that all schools would be canceled on Monday. The new plan? …construction and building bricks.

I could tell my youth group was disappointed because I knew how excited they had been to play with kids, but I was impressed by how well everyone took the news.

Instead of pouting or complaining, everyone seemed pretty joyful to change their plans. For many of the ones who went to construction, it was their one day to serve in a way that wasn’t interacting with kids. For those of us that made blocks, it was a day to begin connecting with Louis and Marvin.

Yes, the same Louis that I talked with on Tuesday. Monday was Louis’ first time helping make blocks, he normally helps with taking groups to the schools to play with kids. That change of plans kickstarted my friendship with Louis.

When you allow a change of plans to be an opportunity, you provide space for the Holy Spirit to lead you.

4. Take care of yourself so you can better take care of others.

One of our team members breaking apart rocks.

Wednesday evening and Thursday morning, illnesses began to pop up. By Thursday evening there were only two or three of us that were feeling pretty good. It was a rough stomach sickness that came in waves.

Thursday I was on construction. We were using rocks to build a wall to stop the erosion of a stream before it toppled Carlos’ house (one of the workers at Misión Para Cristo).

We were there to serve and I would have felt terrible if I couldn’t go help. So I got in that unhelpful mindset of ‘rub some dirt on it and move on’ and headed out to help with the wall.

We had run out of rocks nearby to use, so Thursday consisted of driving up the mountain to find more rocks. On the first trip we picked up all the loose rocks we could grab and loaded them on the truck. The next two trips consisted of using a sledge hammer and giant metal bar to break apart large rocks into ones that we could haul onto the truck.

Needless to say, my stomach was not prepared for all of that. I felt virtually useless. I would move two rocks, exhaust all my energy, rest for 10 minutes, and then move two more. At least I was helping some but it wasn’t much.

I was reminded that a level of self-care was needed in order to effectively serve others. We see this throughout the gospel as Jesus would spend the night away from the crowds so he could pray and come back refreshed.

5. Just because people are different doesn’t mean they are different.

Working side by side with Miguel and Ricardo.

Nicaragua is a very different country than the United States; the government it different, the culture is different, the foods are different. Nicaraguans have a different skin color than me and speak a language that I was supposed to have learned in high school but didn’t, it would be easy for me to fell disconnected from them.

But we laughed at the same jokes. We played the same sports. We worked side by side each other on the same projects. One of my favorite quotes from a fellow chaperone was “I could see myself being friends with Ricardo back home.”

So often we see people who look different than us, or that speak a different language, and we classify them as ‘not us.’ They don’t have all of my hobbies, or they don’t do things exactly as I do, so they must not be as good, or cool, or smart, or ________ as me.

Or maybe it’s because they sin different than me. I only lie but he cheated on his wife. I claim the work of my coworkers but at least I don’t get drunk every night like she does.

When we are unhappy with who we are, we find ways to make ourselves feel better about being us. So we find the differences between us and others and we use those to prop ourselves up at the expense of others.

And this is so easy to do as long as we keep the other person at least an arm’s length away. But when we begin to work alongside of someone, when we begin to share are life with them, we begin to see the similarities between us.

We begin to realize that they worry about the some of the same things we do. They have hopes just like us. When we share our lives with others, we stop living as ‘us’ vs ‘them’ and begin being we. It is with that we mentality that God’s children begin to live as a family, and that is a beautiful thing.

My heart fell in love with the people of Nicaragua four years ago and it was such a blessing for God to bring me back. If you want to learn more about the mission we worked with you can click here.

Misión Para Cristo does work in many different fields, and one of those is the education and care of children. Through their program Kingdom Kids, Misión Para Cristo is impacting the lives of hundreds of children. If you feel called to help in making a difference, click here to find out more information about sponsoring a child.

Comment with any thoughts, ideas, or questions! I would love to hear what you think!

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