March 29, 2016

Heart and HANDS

Gateway 2016 School2School HANDS Team:

There's an interesting irony in the structure of our days here - we get up early (earlier by far than most students in North America are used to) and we stay up late, our time is packed with activities, yet the time seems to fly by. Today was definitely one of those days.

The morning started with some discouraging news, two of the girls in the group weren't feeling well, the heat, long days and perhaps lack of water were getting to them. They stayed back at the Nehemiah Center, a well-guarded area where many people were around in order to help if necessary. Mostly they needed sleep, and they were able to join us at lunch. It was a reminder to everyone that our health is of utmost importance. Sleep, lots of water, eating proper balanced meals are all keys to taking care of oneself. We all vowed to head to bed earlier tonight.

Again the heat was at amazingly high levels. Even the Nicaraguan kids are sticking to the shade, and occasionally wiping sweat from their brows. But the heat doesn't dampen the spirits of our group. We began the day with devotions, and an opportunity to discuss the Fruits of the Spirit and our witness with the students from Bautista Libertad. All of our group believes more Spanish would be an asset, and we're thankful for our amazing interpreters. There are boys and girls in high school at Bautista who are amazing at English, and have taken on the roles of interpreters, too. A BL alumnist even comes between university classes to hang out!

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What better way to start the day than sack races in the courtyard for PE??

Today the interpreters were at peak performance as groups split up in order to share with each other important cultural elements or practices from their country with their counterparts. One group of Canadians learned about the Corn Islands from their Bautista friends. Another volcanoes, still another the history of the flag. Canadian students discussed statistics around post-secondary education in Canada which led to a wonderful discussion about the differences in both countries. The comments from the HANDS team were all positive about the interaction. The small group discussions lasted for over an hour, and students were completely engaged. The growing and learning was evident.

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Mr. Kooman hasn't had quite as many trips to Nicaragua at Mrs. Lehman, but he's gaining. Each year, there are new things to experience, but there are also old friends to reacquaint with. One of those old friends is young Roger. He is in grade 5, and is a sweet little hombre. Last year Mr. K took a picture with him. This year, they took a picture together, holding last year's pic. A little Inception...

Roger looks older, and it appears Mr. K is wearing the same shirt... This may have to become some kind of tradition

Gateway has been coming to Nicaragua for 6 consecutive years. There are a lot of trips that are offered to high school students. The administration of Gateway picked EduDeo and their HANDS and School to School programs, because they offered a long term relationship with a country, culture and school. Short term missions are great opportunities for the people who travel on them. Their effectiveness for the people that are visited is widely debated. Building relationships is consistent with Gateway's throughlines, and reminding students that they are part of God's Big Story - the work of His Kingdom that is happening all over the world. Returning to Bautista Libertad year after year helps to strengthen ties. It gets students excited in both countries about their upcoming turns. It allows each culture to learn from the other. Of course it also offers the Canadian students the opportunity to see another country, be immersed in another culture, explore food and language and markets and nature in a way that is far more effective than any classroom project could be. We thank God for the opportunity we have to participate in this growing program. We are also very grateful for the good people who help to make it happen. Today, in one discussion group, a BL student asked a Gateway student what it takes to prepare to come to Nicaragua. Without divulging specific monetary values, the students explained the fundraising, early morning classes and year long preparation. The Bautista student began to cry. She apologized and said she had no idea that there was that much that went into the process.

After another wonderful lunch with the students (don't worry parents we are getting lots to eat!) it was time to prepare some fun and games for young children. Bautista Libertad (Liberty Baptist) was/is first a church, then a community school. The school continues to grow. It also offers a Compassion Program in the afternoon. At this time, some 300 students come back to the school after lunch in order to have a meal, learn about hygiene, and practice reading and writing. Birthdays are celebrated, and kids are helped. This program runs in the schools, but is possible because of personal donations and child sponsorships. Over 40,000 students in Nicaragua are part of the program!

The church also supports a Sunday school group of teachers who go into the community and spread joy through songs, games and snacks to small children who live close to the school. In the afternoon we went out into the community and met two different groups of small ones to teach songs, games, Bible verses and play with a PINATA!!

What a wonderful experience. The only downside was that the incredibly hot room it was hosted in felt like a convection oven.

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The pinata was the highlight, and who can say no to candy? The Canadian toffees were a hit! Thanks for the donations.

A walk back through the community back to the school led to some more questions: Why do so many homes have little stores attached? People are trying to make a living any way possible. Are these dogs safe to pet Mr. Kooman? No. Do they take care of these streets, they look pretty rough? No. Is this a safe area? Not at night! But in the day it's perfectly safe! Is it always this hot? No, this is the hottest time of year, why do you come in March and April? And then, look we're back at the school.

Students said good bye to each other for another day, and Gateway boarded the bus for a stop at La Colonia, another grocery store for cold drinks and snacks, and then the 30 minute drive that took 60 minutes because of rush hour. Highlights of this rush: the horse cart that was hauling corrugated tin, the Ford Ranger with 12 men in the back, The peanut sellers that jump on and off public buses, the smells of the roasting corn on the roadside, the combination tattoo parlour/barber shop and the motorbikes that weave in and out of traffic like so many Crossy Road/Frogger players.

After a nice dinner of (you guessed it!) gallo pinto and chicken, Steve Holtrop who works with CR World Missions spoke to us for about an hour about the history of Nicaragua over the last 500 years. His insight into the ins and outs of the evolution of the country's social, political, religious and economic structures are amazing. The students get a real sense of why Nicaragua is the way it is, and that's hard to do in a short period of time. It isn't easy to focus on a lecture for an hour at the end of a long, hot, busy day, but the students did tremendously!

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Our evening devotion time continues to be a highlight. Students and leaders talk, debrief, engage and discuss the highlights and the challenges of the day. Openness and honesty abound, and spiritual challenges are discussed and prayed about. Thank you so much to those of you who wrote letters or sent packages supporting the students. This is a highlight of the day, and there is some amazing things happening then too. God is doing a great work in us! Thanks for your prayers and support. Please continue to pray for our physical health!


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