The Grace Blog

Being Purposeful in Joy

The lights on the houses are all glowing brightly at night and reflect in the glittering snow, the town tree in the town park is lit up, and everyone is rushing like mad to mail out gifts. It must be that time again—Christmas. For Christians, it is a time to celebrate the birth of our Savior, Jesus. The world has a little different take on the holidays, but Christmas is a time that is universally thought of as one of miracles, hope, and kindness. Most of us have seen the movies “It’s a Wonderful Life” or “A Christmas Carol” and we love them because their message is one of hope.

At a time when Israel was occupied by the Romans, God brought together His divine plan for man’s redemption as foretold, and a virgin, Mary, gave birth to a son. A group of humble shepherds were keeping watch at night over their sheep as they had done many times when suddenly the angels of the Lord appeared and spoke the greatest words of hope that any peoples on earth have ever heard, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2:8-11

The angels told the shepherds where to find this baby hidden away in a manger. The shepherds were filled with awe at the angels’ words and went immediately to find this child. When they found Jesus with Mary and Joseph, they repeated to them all that the angels had said to them and all those there were filled with a sense of wonder at God’s promises. The shepherds returned to their flocks “glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen.”  Luke 2:20

That message of hope and joy for all peoples continues to this present day and our hearts should be overwhelmed with a sense of wonder and joy, especially believers. Unfortunately, life can dull our senses to all but anxieties, hurts, disappointments, and losses we experience in our day to day lives. Preserving our sense of wonder at God’s message of “peace on earth and goodwill toward men” requires purposefulness. There is so much to distract us, including the pursuit of success, money, family, work, and preoccupation with social media. With all this to keep us occupied, it is easy to lose sight of the joy that is ours.

We must be intentional about meditating on that historic, angelic proclamation of joy and the sense of wonder that God could love us enough to send His only son that we might have a personal loving relationship with Him. The world is full of sadness, famine, disasters, and oppressive governments even as it was at the time of Jesus’ birth, as it has been in every age. Yet, God has promised us that He is with us through all difficulties and all joys.

This season as we prepare to celebrate the birth of our Savior let us do more than watch another Hallmark movie or send out the obligatory gifts and cards. My prayer is that in the midst of the chaos that is modern life, we will take time to allow those words of hope and joy to resonate in our thoughts and our hearts until they fill us once more with that sense of wonder and reverential awe that the shepherds and those in the stable experienced that night. And may that joy and wonder that is ours through Christ send us out into a world that is starving for love and kindness to be a blessing!

 

God Bless Us Everyone

Ann Mallory

 

 

Managua Mission Day 7

The time for our departure from the beautiful country of Nicaragua and all of our friends there had arrived, but not before one more significant celebration. This was Christmas Party day at Oasis de Esperanza school, and the last big event of the school year before graduation, takes place this coming weekend. All of the kids return to school on this day for a specially-prepared meal and receiving of gifts!

When our van arrived, the elementary kids were just beginning to gather for a major assembly in the cafetorium, many of them decked out in red elves’ hats. Their excitement was palpable as they knew what was coming! After some brief opening remarks by Alvaro, several of the classes sang Christmas songs, and some of the students recited Bible verses. A silly race was played, and then the kids were dismissed to their classrooms.

Once back in their classrooms and with their teachers in attendance, it was time for our team to spring into action with helping to distribute gifts, candy, and meals! Marcia and Caron helped hand out the excellent chicken meal prepared by the kitchen staff, and Todd and Lyn got to play Santa and Santa’s helper.This was especially appropriate for Todd, sporting a new white beard. The kids were great, and many expressed thanks and gave hugs for what they received. In the sweltering 90 degree heat it may not have felt like Christmas, but the Christmas spirit was certainly there.

When the elementary kids were dismissed, we had a brief break in which we and the staff were able to sit down and eat, and then shortly after the upper grades appeared. This group was smaller than the 250 elementary aged kids, perhaps numbering about 150. They, too, had a few musical numbers and then the school’s Vida Joven leaders gave an effective pitch for Young Life., The surprise of this assembly, however, was the presentation of a special gift to Wayne and Elaine. A large wrapped cylinder was brought in and placed at their feet, which was revealed to be a red carpet, and was unrolled before them. Other than the obvious honor to them (especially significant on this their 37th wedding anniversary), the carpet will be used in the future for other school functions, such as graduations. Wayne and Elaine were both obviously touched, and Wayne expressed a few words of heartfelt thanks and a sharing of the Gospel.

When the older kids were dismissed to their classes, they, too, were served the meal and age-appropriate gifts such as watches and diaries were handed out. The party broke up at about 3:00, and the kids filtered out the gate, leaving mostly the staff and our team alone in what now felt like a very empty space. What life-changing events had occurred over many years within the walls of Oasis de Esperanza! Kids have received love and nurture here, been fed nutritious meals, have experienced the fulfillment of performing to their family and community, have graduated with a solid Christian education, and have come to faith in Jesus.

As we bid “hasta proxima año” (until next year) to our friends, none of us could doubt that the impact of the school extended beyond the students, and into the lives of those who, like ourselves, visited even for a short while. Dios te bendiga, Oasis de Esperanza!

Our flight for Florida leaves at 2:30 AM, in about four hours. We are scheduled to arrive in snowy Denver at 12:45 tomorrow afternoon and then drive back to Lake City. Prayers appreciated! It has been an encouraging trip, both for us and for our friends here. Thanks for participating with us.

 Making a living in Managua.

 Legendary traffic on the way to the school.

 Our lifeline in Acahualinca Barrio for water, Gatorade, and all sorts of exotic snacks!

 The kids gather for the Christmas assembly.

 Brian and friend.

 Wayne and Elaine get the red carpet treatment.

 Caron helped serve meals in the classrooms.

 Todd, aka Santa Claus.

 The smile says it all.

 Wayne handling a full tray of meals.

 Gerald and friends.

 Sarah, Jedidah’s daughter, who graduated a couple of years ago.

 Juan Carlos, 10th-grader friend of Karen and Hailey, and Lyn.

 We could not have done any of this without our translator Jhonny Flores. Thanks, Jhonny, for all of your hard work!

 The team receives a farewell prayer from Alvaro.

Managua Mission Day 6

Day 6 of our trip to Nicaragua began with sleeping in! After a series of early starts, we took advantage of a leisurely morning and headed to Oasis de Esperanza at 10:30. Once there, most of the teachers were engaged in end of year report cards and busy in their classrooms, but we found Flor and Diana free and were able to have good conversation with them. Diana, in particular, was effusive about the opportunity to go ziplining with us on the past Friday. Significantly, though, while we mostly thought of it as a fun recreational event, she saw it as profoundly meaningful to her as a lesson in overcoming fear. And in a country with citizens facing various fears on a daily basis now, the lessons from a zipline have real-life meaning. We all agreed that keeping our focus on Jesus is the only way for any of us to overcome fear, either on a personal or a national level.

Soon two of the Oasis guys arrived with a car full of candy, and we had real work to do. Our task, staged in the new computer room of the school, was to sort candy into 500 bags to be part of the presents for kids at the party on Tuesday. This we did in assembly-line fashion, and soon had all four of us busy, along with Jhonny, Nate, Elaine and Angel’s daughter. After a break for lunch, we finished this task in short order, complete with much laughter and fun camaraderie.

Next on the agenda was bagging gifts for over 400 kids. Lots of staff jumped in to help as we sorted and bagged dolls, trucks, watches, balls, and other toys for the kids. Each student will receive a gift plus the bag of candy, for many perhaps the only Christmas gifts they will receive this year.

We had offered to take Wayne and Elaine MaGouirk to dinner, so we headed out to Rostipollos (Lyn’s favorite Managua restaurant) at 5;00, about 5 miles way. We arrived 90 minutes later, for an average speed of about 3 miles per hour. The culprit: legendary Managua rush hour traffic! Just incredible, like nothing we had experienced before. Kudos to our driver Eddie who kept us on track and safe through the hoardes of cars, trucks, buses, motorcycles and pedestrians!

Eight of us finally entered Rostipollos with a huge sigh or relief to be finally off of the streets. We thoroughly enjoyed a leisurely dinner and rich conversation, centering around the story of the MaGouirk’s coming to Nicaragua. It was also a prelude to their 37th wedding anniversary, coming up tommorrow. Congratulations, Wayne and Elaine, on 37 years of marriage and 15 years of Savior’s Tear. May you have many more years of God’s blessing on both.

Tomorrow is our last day in Nicaragua! We will help serve a special meal and deliver the gifts to the kids, and then say some sad farewells to our friends. Look for one more blog tomorrow night, and then we begin our long trek home.

 A foot dip this morning was as close as Marcia and Caron came to swimming in the pool at our hotel.

 The former Presidential Palace of Nicaragua, on our route to Oasis de Esperanza school. It has been transformed into a cultural institute.

 Diana, Flor, and Caron enjoying a nice chat.

 The new counseling and computer addition, where we packaged bags of candy in preparation for the big celebration tomorrow.

 The candy assembly line begins!

 After lunch, the candy assemblers graduated to gift oackaging!

 Group Pepsi Cola break!

 Fernanda, Sadia’s daughter, was 7 on our first trip to Nicaragua. She is now 14.

 Our fearless driver Eddie.

 Dinner at Rostipollos! Happy early anniversary, Wayne and Elaine!

 

 

Managua Mission Day 5

On this day, Sunday, we bid farewell to new friends in a new place in the cool mountains of Nicaragua and returned to much warmer Managua in the lowlands. La Finca camp was a wonderful, quiet place to wake up in, but most of us skipped the cold shower to start the day! After a hearty breakfast of gallo pinto and eggs, we were ready for a bit of work detail.

Our physical task, along with about 10 Vida Joven leaders, was to dig out several inches of gravel adjoining the soccer field, so topsoil could be added and grass planted. In reality, a backhoe could have accomplished the task in a few minutes, but with plenty of strong volunteers, shovels and buckets available, why not utilize them instead? With about 15 persons on the job, camaraderie was high, and the task went well with everyone finding their niche with either pickaxe, shovel or bucket.

As the work wound down, we took a break and heard the life story of Narciso, Managua Area Director for Vida Joven who put together this particular retreat for his leaders. He has an amazing story, transformed from being a gang member in Managua to becoming a follower of Jesus at age 17. And it was at the very place we were, La Finca, that he heard and received the Gospel 23 years ago. And not only he, but rival gang members as well. And eventually Niarciso’s once-abusive father received salvation , too. We all agreed that his testimony was a a highiight of the weekend.

Our team also enjoyed an introduction to the coffee-raising part of La Finca from the farm manager, William. We learned that prime harvest season for the coffee beans grown here is from December through March, with each bush producing about a pound of beans. The work that goes into growing and roasting coffee was interesting, but William stressed that Vida Joven was not really in the coffee business, but in the people business, employing about 60 pickers at 125% of the going wage, and then the proceeds ultimately going to support sending Nicaraguan kids to camp, where they will be introduced to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

After lunch, we learned about the history of Young Life in Nicaragua, started only in 1988, but now has established about 100 Vida Joven Clubs in many Nicaraguan citites, and then we gathered in the coffee shop for a closing session. Several shared what the weekend had meant to them, and our team was prayed for by everyone else. Then hugs and goodbyes were shared, and it was back on the bus for the 2.5-hour trip to Managua!

In the evening, as our team processed the weekend together beside the hotel’s swimming pool, we all agreed that we felt we had received much more than we had given. Yes, we had provided the funds for the retreat to happen, but in return we received something beyond any dollar figure: the value of greater vision and caring relationships.

Monday morning it will back to Oasis de Esperanza as we assist with preparations with the school’s year end party for all of the students. Thanks for your prayers, we have really sensed them and are all doing well!

 Misty early morning at La Finca.

 La Finca breakfast with Jhonny, Marcia, Alvaro and his son Marcos, Caron, Nate, and Elsa.

 The flowers at La Finca were spectacular.

 La Finca work crew: Alvaro, Marcia and their supervisors!

 Jhonny, Marcia, and Caron listen to William explain the intricacies of growing the best coffee in the world.

 Marcia shared a testimony of how much her heart had been encouraged by the devoted Vida Joven leaders.

 Some of us played volleyball with few rules, but lots of laughter!

 Todd bids farewell to Justo.

 Goodbye, La Finca, hope to see you again!

 Nicaraguan mountain scenery on the way back to Managua.

 Our evening was spent debriefing alongside the hotel pool, back in Managua. It really was as pleasant as it looks!

 

Managua Mission Day 4

In a departure from what our team has done in past years, today we ventured into Nicaragua’s “high country” to visit Young Life’s national camp, called La Finca (The Farm). We were privileged to travel with a select group of Young Life leaders from Managua, several of which were former Oasis de Esperanza students and who still work with Young Life (Vida Joven) that meets at the school. We were also joined by three Oasis teachers, Nate, Carlos, and Alvaro, to strengthen the ties between the school and Young Life.

We all piled into the same bus and headed north past Lake Managua and into the hills to the north. The mountains here reach to 4000 to 5000 feet and grew greener and more spectacular the closer we got to La Finca. Our team and the YL leaders (about 20 in all) were in a jovial mood and much laughter prevailed on the 3-hour trip, some of which was up extremely steep hills. This is the heart of Nicaragua’s coffee region, and coffee plantations and processing facilities were present in abundance.

Departing from the bus, our group was greeted with refreshingly cool air and misty skies. The cloud forest in Nicaragua is a perpetual respite from the heat of the lowlands. Many of the Managuans were chilly, but it felt great to us from Lake City! The La Finca grounds can only be called spectacular. Everything is beautifully groomed, and of course, flowers bloom year-round. In this park-like setting are tremendous facilities for visiting campers. Included is a baseball field, soccer field, basketball court, and a lake for canoeing. Multiple buildings dot the camp, which can serve about 400 persons. A large group was there for the day when we arrived, and the numbers of people milling about made it feel very much like a college campus.

After unloading our gear in our dorm rooms, we headed to a filling lunch and then hiked as a group on one of the camp’s trails, ending at a hedge labyrinth in which we all contemplated the question of the one thing we most needed from God. It was a good exercise, and a lovely place for such contemplations.

The remainder of the afternoon was “chill time” for most of us, and we all enjoyed conversation or just soaking in the coolness and the greenery of the place. After dinner, we experienced a Vida Joven Club, similar in format to the Club we visited at Oasis de Esperanza the previous night. After some silly icebreaking actiivities, Todd spoke to the group of leaders, with Jhonny translating, on the importance of allowing ourselves to be loved by God instead of merely working “for” Him. Some great discussion ensued in groups of three persons, and then we retired to what we thought was the end of the day with Spanish praise songs around a bonfire.

The surprise, though, was a surprise! After the bonfire, the whole gang completely surprised Todd with a party celebrating his 30 years of service with Young Life. There was music, cake, soda, and even a pinata! It was a perfect way to close this day in fine Young Life fashion. Thanks, Todd, for all that you have done in Young Life and on this trip!

We’re spending tonight here and half a day tomorrow, when we will get back on the bus to Managua. Our trip is one-half over, but plenty of adventure is yet to come!

 How many Vida Joven leaders plus our team can you put in a bus? A bunch!

 The countryside turns beautiful not far out of Managua.

 At about 4000 feet in elevation, La Finca camp is always cool and meticulously kept up.

 On the trail at La Finca. Elsa, Marcia, and Caron.

 Coffee lovers will appreciate that La Finca grows its own coffee beans! Apparently these beans are ripe.

 Marcia and Lyn having a hard afternoon.

Nate and Todd spent time with the head of Vida Joven over all of Nicargua.

 Nate, Luisa, and Alvaro.

 Caron and Marcia enjoy the view as the sun sets.

 Todd spoke and Jhonny translated at the evening meeting. Little did Todd know what would come shortly!

 A bonfire and praise songs ended the day until…..

 we all surprised Todd with his 30th YL anniversary party! Well done, Todd.

 Whack that thing, Todd!

 

 

 

Managua Mission Day 3

Wow, what a celebratory, activity-filled day this was! Our goal was to treat the hardworking staff of Oasis de Esperanza school to a refreshing “play day” to mark the end of their school year, and we believe that we succeeded! These dedicated people serve day after day among the children of some of the poorest people in the Western hemisphere, and deserve acknowledgement, care, and rest.

Our team van met up with a small “Coaster” bus that had already picked up the school staff, and we were off at about 9:00 AM. Our destination was the area of Granada, about an hour south of Managua. After many miles through the country, we turned off of the main road an began a steady climb. Before long, we were winding through the lovely mountain village of Catarina, which is famous for its flowers. And indeed, potted plant sellers lined the road for what seemed like a couple of miles! It was like driving through the world’s largest nursery, with all kinds of plants available.

But what Catarina is best known for is its dramatic view, which suddenly opens up at the far end of the town.Here, hundreds of feet below, is a large lake called the Apoyo Lagoon. If you have seen Crater Lake in Oregon, you get the idea. The Apoyo Lagoon lies in an extinct volcano crater, or caldera.Its shores are heavily forested and the view extends beyond to Lake Nicaragua, the city of Granada and Mombacho Volcano. Of course, we took plenty of photos before we moved on, but the view here could keep you captivated for hours

A few miles farther, we came to our next attraction, the Mirravallle Canopy Tour, a fancy name for a multiple-leg zipline. Not all of the staff elected to do the zipline but all or our team did. After climbing up an incredibly steep road in an army-style open-air transport and then some basic instruction, we were off! Lots of screams and laughter echoed through the forest, which may have frightened off any howler monkeys that were supposed to inhabit the area. After completing our 11 segments from tree to tree, we were more than ready for a meal, so we headed on down to the historic town of Granada.

Granada was founded in the 1500s by the Spanish and still retains a colonial feeling with blocks and blocks of colorfully-painted residences and cathedrals that are are more reminiscent of the Old World than the New. Our destination was the less-historic Kathy’s Waffle House, Wayne MaGouirk’s favorite restaurant in Nicaragua. Having received a call from us earlier, Kathy’s had a long outdoor table for 34 ready when we arrived! Before we were served, each of our team members was able to give some heartfelt encouragement to the staff for the important work that they are doing. Lyn was also able to share how much their ministry had even impacted the people of Lske City, many of whom give faithfully to the support of the Nicaraguan mission. When the food was served, everyone enjoyed a great meal and informal fellowship, language barriers notwithstanding.

We all came back to Managua at about dusk. Marcia and Caron elected to take the evening off, but Todd, Lyn and Jhonny rode our van back to Oasis de Esperanza school for the weekly meeting of Vida Joven, or Young Life. There we were warmly welcomed and had tons of fun with student-led activities and skits. At the conclusion, a great Gospel lesson was shared by yet another student. The three of us who went felt like the time was very well spent.

Was the day a success? Yes! We were privileged to play and eat and celebrate with our brothers and sisters serving at Oasis de Esperanza school. In the end, the smiles and laughter were all that we needed to know that our goal for this special day had been realized.

Tomorrow and Sunday, we will do something we’ve never done here before: visit the national Nicaragua Young Life camp in Matagalpa, about three hours away! Stay tuned, as we are not exactly sure of internet access when we get there. At worst, this blog will pick up again on Sunday evening.

More than usual photos appear below from this fun-filled day. Enjoy and thank you so much for your continued prayers!

 Managua has simply hundreds, if not thousands, of streetside shops similar to this clothing store.

 We found Santa Claus patrolling the streets of Managua!

 Our first stop was Catarina, city of flowers and a million dollar view! Pretty amazing poinsettias here!

  Marcia, Caron, Lyn and Todd in front of the view of the crater lake, Apoyo Lagoon.

 All of the Oasis de Esperanza staff at Catarina.

 Heading up Mombacho Volcano for zipliing.

 Johnny, Caron and Marcia ready for action!

 Jedidah having a good time!

 Todd on one of the eleven legs of the canopy tour.

 Sadia, not in the kitchen!

 Arturo on the move!

 The bunch of us at the zipline.

 Historic Granada.

 Todd says some words before lunch at Kathy’s.

 Nate, Todd, Alvaro, and Arturo just hanging out at a Granada Cathedral.

 Vida Joven at Oasis de Esperanza in the evening.

 Lyn found Claire Cunningham’s friend Mabel at Vida Joven that evening. Hola, Claire!