Friday, April 5, 2013

Learning How to Speak

Heat. Neon colors. That dusty, earthy smell. Dirty velvet. Cautious glances. That I-don't-quite-know-what-to-do-with-my-hands syndrome. That I-want-to-talk-to-this-kid-but-I'm-not-that-good-at-spanish anxiety. That I'm-here-to-do-God's-work-but-I-feel-inadequate mentality.

Welcome to Nicaragua.

From the moment that I stepped foot in the country until the moment I left, Nicaragua consumed me. I felt as though I was being attacked on all sides by cultural and environmental differences. Painted murals, lit trees, tethered chickens, decorated buses, crumbled buildings, rusted houses, scared faces, happy faces, tears, mangos, dirty hands. There's so much to see and hear and touch and smell that it's like being in a vortex with all of your senses spiraling out of control, but you're calm. Because time slows down in Nicaragua. No one is in a rush, no one is busy. The sun is up and the light is golden. The hot air envelops itself around you and a breeze makes your hair dance in the wind. I'm convinced that God designed Virginia's weather first because by the time He got to Nicaragua, he had perfected how to make a flawless climate.

I spent eight days with a team from UVA working at a church in the middle of a slum for a non-profit, Christian organization called Orphanetwork. Everyday, I would watch kids in the nursery, feed everyone lunch, and organize a craft for the older children while the local adults got lessons on how to tutor kids for the church's after school programs. One day we were able to clean this dusty, impoverished community with the kids, and another day took them to the pool to teach them how to swim.

The overarching impression that I received from interacting with this community was how much they were lacking. Lacking in money, food, education, clothes. Lacking in love, security, and confidence. The pastor said that people are unmotivated to take care of themselves. The majority of children drop out of school, parents struggle from drug addictions, and an overwhelming number of girls get pregnant before the age of 15. They have not learned to care for their environment or community as a whole and the truth of their value through Christ isn't known.

Hearing those words made my stomach churn. My work with these kids was intended to be relational, so while we did activities to teach them, our main objective was to make them feel significant. Sometimes the weight of that felt like a burden, as if it would've been easier to build a house or donate blood. Yet I found myself in the midst of sixty or so kids, hollering at the top of my lungs and swinging little ones around like airplanes. I could see them. I could see him. A 12 year old boy who wears a dirt-encrusted velvet hat and says that his favorite book is the Bible. I saw his sister who wears a Dora nightgown as a dress, and I saw his brother who draws with broken rubber bands because pencil and paper are too expensive. And I saw all these harsh realities spun around them like a spider's web, ensnaring them in lies of hopelessness and deceit, and I wanted to tell them that they are wonderful. That their incredible spunk and energy is intoxicating. That they can do important things because they are important, and that God has more love for them than they could ever imagine. But I hesitated. The words dried up in my mouth because I know english, not spanish. I didn't know how to translate my feelings into words that they would understand and I struggled with feeling as though I was failing in the very work I traveled there to do. But God sometimes has this funny little way of taking our smallest weaknesses and transforming them into some of our greatest strengths. He gave me other ways to speak to them.  He gave me laughter and silly faces. Hand gestures and staring contests. Salsa dancing and coloring books. He taught me that the language of communication isn't verbal, it's emotional. It's love.

When I came back to the States, Orphanetwork gave my team from UVA the challenge of raising $25,000 to launch a new education program in places like the church that I worked at. This program would provide kids with teachers, tutors, and school supplies to promote continuing their education. The goal is to reverse the negative effects of their culture and improve their quality of life.
I would be profoundly grateful if you allowed me to continue to love on these kids by reaching my personal goal of $900. You can donate online at These donations are tax refundable and you can print a receipt straight off of the website. It's been nearly three weeks since I've returned from Central America, and I am still processing the things that I saw and the responsibility I feel like I have for these kids. It's been very hard for me to sum up my experiences to people because I've found that I can talk forever about Nicaragua. Despite the many things that I wish I could say, I'll end with this:

"No os olvidéis de la hospitalidad, porque por ella algunos, sin saberlo, hospedaron ángeles." Hebreos 13:2
"Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by doing so some people have entertained angels without knowing it." Hebrews 13:2

I hope I met some Nicaraguan angels.