“For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body -- Jews or Greeks, slaves or free -- and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” 1 Corinthians 12:13
I was recently blessed to be able to spend nine days in Nicaragua. It wasn't a vacation, yet it was a time filled with joy and beauty. My wife, Ginger, is a pastor at Mt Horeb Lutheran Church in Chapin, and this congregation has an active global missions committee. One function this committee is currently able to do is help organize a mission trip every two years for members of the congregation. This is done with Thrivent Financial (a Lutheran financial services organization), which coordinates dozens of these trips each year through its Thrivent Builds Worldwide program, in collaboration with Habitat For Humanity International.
The goal of this trip was to build three homes in five days with about thirty volunteers and a handful of local masons and architects (who also serve as site supervisors). But why Nicaragua? Nicaragua is a Central American nation that happens to be the 2nd poorest nation in the western hemisphere. Okay, that’s unfortunate, but why go there to build homes when people here need homes? Various facts and statistics were presented to us about Nicaragua, but only one leveled me: one in four children die by their 5th birthday due to inadequate housing. Either they catch diseases from the dirt floors or the homes they have (made from whatever materials they can find) collapse on them during major storms or earthquakes.
This is the home that our family had occupied prior to their new home.
The goal that Habitat in Nicaragua has is to give people the skills to help them break the cycle of poverty. Their principles are fivefold:
- Demonstrate the love of Jesus
- Focus on housing
- Advocate for adequate housing
- Promote dignity and hope
- Support transformative and sustainable community development
The homes we built are called “seed” homes. These are roughly 8x15 square foot homes for families of multiple people. They are able to live in this while they save the money to add to the seed home. at that point, the metal back-wall is lifted up to become the roof for a new addition, effectively doubling the size of the home. The families work with volunteers to build the seed home, which also gives them the skills to assist the building of the later addition.
Of course, the point of all this is not homes. It is about the people. It is about learning how Jesus has already been at work in the lives of these families and it’s about witnessing Jesus at work in this new community formed by U.S. volunteers and Nicaraguans working together to build a home. To build a better future.
Our bus drove us as far as it could to the construction site, and then we'd hike about 5 minutes down a dry riverbed the rest of the way. This path is also used daily by the local farmers to move their cattle to grazing land.
The families worked with us closely to in the construction of their homes. The children were definitely fascinated by the work and they enjoyed spending time with us. The below picture is of Pr Ginger bending rebar into links that would later hold larger pieces of rebar together, and the children enjoyed learning during the process.
We had to manually mix all of the mortar and the concrete. This is backbreaking work, but it is easiest if you make a volcano of it first.
A couple that lays concrete block together stays together.
We did we do when we needed a break? We played and danced with the kids!
This is the finished house that the volunteers from Mt Horeb made. Two other houses were also constructed on the site by two other volunteer groups. The roof, windows, and doors cannot be added until the concrete walls and floor have a few days to become firm.
The Mt Horeb folks with the family after the house blessing.
Of course, there was a celebration at the end of the construction week. The people of Nicaragua love Minions just as much (more?) than we do.
Nicaragua is filled with beauty. The people may be poor, but they have pride in their country and culture.
This picture is looking down into an active volcano. Visitors can only spend about five minutes there before the sulfur fumes irritate the eyes and lungs too much to remain. The second photo is the Mt Horeb group on the edge of the same volcano. Nicaragua is the home of seven active volcanoes.
We were able to spend the afternoon before our departure on Lake Nicaragua, which is the largest lake in Central America and the 19th largest in the world. While there, we were greeted by a monkey, which was a hit for everyone.
Our lodging was also beautiful. All three groups of volunteers stayed in a hotel that was right on the Pacific beach. After each day of sweat, dirt, mud, and mortar, many of us would go swimming in the ocean clothed in order give the clothing an initial wash. The temperature of the water was perfect, and the beach allowed us to enjoy beautiful sunrises and sunsets.