Editor’s note: For anyone who has never participated in a missionary trip to Bethel, Nicaragua, what follows is must reading.
Selflessly, despite daily temperatures touching 100 degrees, our members fill each day of their mission trip. Working for Jesus, with grace and love, they meet the local and spiritual needs of the people of Bethel and surrounding villages. What follows is truly inspiring.
Thanks to Doug Van Wirt for sharing his experience and thoughts during the latest BCBC mission trip to Nicaragua.
Dear Friends and Family,
Our time in Nicaragua were one of the best mission trips for me. (Yes, I probably I say that every year.) Thanks to Lauren Parham (Vision Nicaragua missionary), Lyndsey Parham, and Emily Jenkins for coordinating and leading the team. They did a superb job.
We had a large team — 24 people at one point. Some joined at the Atlanta airport, while others joined in Nicaragua. I took more than 600 photographs and videos. Some are shown here. Others are on my Facebook page (restricted access, become Doug’s friend to see more).
Tuesday, June 30: Departure
Tuesday was all about traveling to Nicaragua. We met at BCBC in the morning, said our goodbyes, and then off to Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport. In addition to luggage, we brought duffel bags stuffed with gift bags for children in Nicaragua — some prepared by members of our congregation.
While re-weighing our bags at the airport we discovered that one of the duffels weighed almost 70 pounds! It contained four 5-pound dumbbells! Ugh, those exercise-crazy girls! We re-distributed the weight, checked in, and took off on the 3½-hour flight to Nicaragua.
A dozen of our Nicaraguan friends greeted us. They drove the bus all the way to Managua to pick us up. We arrived in Bethel at 11:30 pm, after three more hours traveling along the western coast to the Chinandega area. Everyone went right to sleep at the Vision Nicaragua Mission Center. (The locals call it “Casa Misionera” [Missionary House].) The accommodations are basic, but fine for us — bunk beds (with fans), flush toilets, and cool showers.
Wednesday, July 1: Team preparation and gift bags
I’m pleased to report that our friends are doing a fine job maintaining the Mission Center. Vision Nicaragua is amazed that God is using this facility far beyond our initial plan as a home base for our team. Other mission organizations and local churches are using the space as well. In fact, we had to be careful with scheduling, as the facility is in use more than not.
On our first day, members of our team re-packed the gift bags, adding age and gender information for the two upcoming gift bag distributions. This was also a time of orientation for first-timers on our team.
Sisters Antonia and Estella serve as Vision Nicaragua cooks at the Mission Center. They do a great job planning the meals, buying groceries at the open-air market, and, of course, cooking for us. The cuisine combines local Nicaraguan and American fare. It’s rare that anyone dislikes the food or loses weight in Nicaragua!
Thursday, July 2: Team building and Leadership Conference for the residents and staff
Lyndsey Parham led us in team building. Everyone, including the local Vision Nicaragua staff (cooks, guards, director, maintenance person, cleaning ladies, gardener, doctor’s assistant, interpreter) and our mission team participated. Over the next two days we learned to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our team, taking on the full armor of God.
Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Ephesians 6:13-17)
The Leadership Conference began after lunch. The Vision Nicaragua board requested this activity for the local staff. So, Pastor Sam, Paul Jenkins, and I led the conference, which was expanded to include our mission team, the local staff, and current and future leaders in Bethel — about 50 people. Topics included “Humility/Pride”, “General Leadership”, “Creating and Leading Your Team”, “Logistics and Tactics”, “Planning in Advance”, “Relating to Your Team, Family Leadership”, and “Integrity”.
Later, participants shared dinner (delicious Nicaraguan-styled Spanish rice) followed by an after-dinner session. Our local director Mario and maintenance man Juan Carlos drove the attendees home in two caged-bed trucks. Most of the residents have few transportation options, some have bicycles, a few have motorcycles, but none own an automobile.
Friday, July 3: Leadership Conference (2nd half-day) / Family night
The second day of the Leadership Conference included a small group exercise to practice team leadership. This included taking input from all the team members regarding development of a logo for the local port city of Corinto. The Leadership Conference was well received. I pray that it provides new skills and inspires many to take leadership roles as God opens opportunities.
That evening the mission team ate at the nice air-conditioned local “mall” in Chinandega. What a relief! Temperatures during the day flirt with 100 degrees. On one day the heat index exceeded 110. After about 5 days, I adjusted to the heat, but still needed a fan to sleep. Just about everyone had a pedestal mounted oscillating fan for their beds.
Saturday, July 4: Basketball outreach at Quazelquaque / July 4th party with Nicaraguan youth sleepover.
The day started with a pre-arranged basketball game with the locals at a covered basketball court in a nice little town named Quazelquaque (pronounced kwa-zel-káh-kay) about 45 minutes away. The referees were late, arriving just before the second half. No problem. We won in overtime. Then, Pastor Antonio, the local pastor-in-residence for Vision Nicaragua, shared the gospel with both teams and fans.
Many local youth came to the Mission Center for a July 4th party. Pastor Sam grilled hamburgers and hot dogs. Delicious!
Paul constructed a cornhole game, with beanbags made from cotton athletic socks.
He may have discovered the new national pastime for Nicaragua! There was almost always a cornhole game in progress, especially among the Nicaraguans. Luis, one of our guards, was blessed with exceptional accuracy.
After dinner, I taught and called a square dance, with the wonderful help of Lauren who served as interpreter.
Picture this. Nicaraguans with Americans, calling dance moves in English then Spanish with no PA system, and “Virginia Reel” and “Bumblebee in a Jug” playing through an iPhone.
No problem. We danced Allemande Left, Right and Left Grand, Promenade, Pass Thru and California Twirl, and making right and left turning stars in the center. Now, everyone to the center, with a great big yell! Everyone had a good time.
Afterwards, we sang the Star Spangled Banner, shot Nicaraguan-made fireworks, and burned sparklers. Several of the young people spent the night with us at the Mission Center. There was plenty of room in the men’s dorm. The girls probably had to double-up.
Sunday, July 5: Sunday Worship at Dr. Michael’s church / Evening worship at Pastor David’s church, Campo Bethel.
Sunday was an awesome day of worship. We went to Dr. Michael’s small masonry church in Chinandega — about a 20-minute drive. The room was full, and we were impressed that the members memorized scripture verses.
Everyone shared their verse, and our mission team sang songs. Then the children were dismissed to children’s’ church, which was taught by several members of our team.
Pastor Sam spoke on John 5, the man at the pool in Bethsaida, where Jesus asked, “Do you want to get well?”
“Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”
Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked. (John 5:7-9)
Pastor Sam explained that this man’s mat was like a security blanket. We all have our security blankets that we rely on rather than depending on God.
When the children returned from their lesson they showed us hand-prints of prayer, which they use to help them remember to pray for others.
They sang the same song we used at our church VBS Marketplace Adventure — “Our God is Greater” — using the same choreography, except with Spanish lyrics. (The video is on my Facebook page.) It was really great!
Clearly, the small masonry church in Chinandega is healthy. Vision Nicaragua’s Dr. Michael became pastor about a year ago. He loves people and the Lord. How many bi-vocational pastors do you know are physicians?
That evening, we went to pastor David Gutierrez’s Campo Bethel church in the back area of Chichigalpa, about 15 minutes in the opposite direction. Campo Bethel is a poor section of the city, near the cemetery. You may remember that David used to run the block company for Vision Nicaragua. He has been pastor of this small church for about 5 years.
Campo Bethel Church is indeed defined by its people not the building, which has a tin roof, no walls, dirt floor, and plastic stacking lawn chairs. The people who attend this church are joyful to glorify God.
They collected an offering before Pastor Sam’s sermon. We were humbled when they discreetly gave the entire offering to us for our use as missionaries!!!! Wow! These poor people gave an offering to us. Of course, we accepted it with thanks for their blessing. The offering included dollars and córdobas totaling about $85 — about 2 weeks wages for them.
Monday, July 6: Homeless outreach / Youth bonfire with s’mores
Pastor Antonio, who works for Vision Nicaragua, maintains a ministry to the homeless. He and Mario drove two truckloads of homeless men to our Mission Center — 54 in all. We gave them haircuts and a meal, and Pastor Sam spoke to the group.
As always, Carlos Salazar showed that he is a fantastic interpreter. He has the ability to translate American idioms into Spanish. He also listens while speaking. It’s amazing!
After Pastor Sam spoke, Pastor Antonio invited the men to give their lives to Christ. Twenty-nine men came forward and made a decision for Christ. We are amazed at what God accomplishes!
Not all events went as we hoped. That evening, we attempted to broaden our outreach to new youth in the village of Bethel. We invited some of the lesser-involved youth from Bethel to the Mission Center for a bonfire and s’mores. Unfortunately, during dinner, a team cell phone that was left out in the open disappeared. Nobody owned up to it. So, we sent them home in the truck. Some of the local Nicaraguan youth who were leaders were shocked and saddened that someone would do this. Unfortunately, all the youth that night felt the consequences for the actions of one. We never did find the phone.
Pastor Sam tallied the score at the end of the day: 1 cell phone gone vs. 29 new believers in Jesus. It provided perspective on the war we are in, and that we are on the winning side — God’s side.
Tuesday, July 7: Pastor David’s church, kids activity and gifts / Taco party in Bethel
This morning we went back to Pastor David’s Campo Bethel church. We loaded the children’s gifts and supplies and arrived to find a lot of kids. We spread a nylon “parachute” on the ground, and Lauren read a Bible story. Then, Ashley Jenkins presented a prayer craft using their hands to remember prayer requests. The kids rubbed paint between their hands, pressed it onto a piece of paper, and then wrote prayer requests on each printed finger.
Afterwards, we gave out the gift bags, which many of you made. A local youth leader, Massiel, called each child forward. You may remember that Massiel was baptized in the surf last year. She is growing in her faith and skill. With the help of her Vision Nicaragua sponsor, she is studying nursing, as are several others in the community.
In the evening, we went to Massiel’s house in Bethel. Her mother, Ciamara, made Nicaraguan tacos for us. They were delicious. We walked down the dirt street in the dark to a family that sells chocolate covered frozen bananas. Talk about yummy! More than half of our team spent the night in Bethel in gender-respective trusted homes. They were back in the morning at the Mission Center for breakfast.
Wednesday, July 8: Kids activity and gift distribution at remote Chonco church. / Dust storm
We started the day going to Chonco, a poor community on the other side of the volcano. It’s an hour truck ride. In a tin roof with a dirt floor church, the pastor was grateful for our ministry to the kids. I was so proud of Ashley as she led the discussion about prayer and the craft activity without assistance from our interpreter.
We planned to go to the beach that afternoon, but an ominous storm front approached. The unusual thing about it was the brown area below the clouds. It was a dust storm. It lasted only 10 minutes, but was followed by dirty rain. Ewww! We headed back and shared our picnic dinner at the Mission Center. There was good fellowship with our Nicaraguan friends, and of course, more cornhole!
This was our last night at the Mission Center.
Thursday, July 9: Shopping in Masaya / Potter’s House
We packed, boarded a bus, and headed to Masaya on the other side of Managua — a 4-hour trip. Masaya has a nice market of local crafts. We shopped for a while. I bought a belt, and a colorful purse and table runner for Sharon. We ate lunch, and then on to the Potter’s House — an artisan community outside Managua.
The Potter’s House experience began as we walked a dirt path to an open roofed-covered structure containing about 25 wooden folding chairs that face a brick kiln and stable. The potter welcomed us and described how a pot is made, starting from digging the clay, cleaning it by hand, getting the moisture right, forming it on the wheel, then drying, polishing, glazing, painting, and eventually firing it in the kiln.
The potter drew parallels between pottery and the Christian life — how God creates, cleans, forms, and uses us after we go through the fire. We bought some pottery from his showroom, got back on the bus, and rode another hour to the Best Western hotel across the highway from the Managua airport. We ate dinner in the restaurant, and swam in a little in the pool. I got to bed as soon as I could, because we had a 7:30 am flight.
Friday, July 10: Travel back to USA
We met in the lobby at 5:30 am and got our luggage. Then, we embarked on the most dangerous part of the entire mission trip — crossing the 6-lane highway with luggage in tow. Yes, in Managua, as in life, timing is everything!
It was a great trip, and I thank God for everyone who prayed and gave money to support us. We are grateful to see God use us as a team in the lives of others. We are thankful that our Lord works in us as well. We are amazed at what God does, and we look forward to returning to Nicaragua!
Douglas P. Van Wirt