5 Months In…

So, we’ve been in Nicaragua for almost five months and a few things have become clear:

1. We probably will never be fluent in Spanish.

I’ve met a few Americans who speak Spanish incredibly well, and they say that the more you know, the more you realize you don’t know. For example, here’s our friend Arlen. She’s 27 and has been working as the accountant at camp since she graduated from college. She speaks so quickly that even some other Nicaraguans have a hard time understanding her… and I can pick up what she’s talking about most of the time! I’ll start to feel confident about my Spanish and then she talks even faster. That’s when I realize, with dismay, that she’d actually been slowing down for me. We may never be fluent, but our new goal is to catch everything Arlen says to us 90% of the time. We hope 4 years will be enough to get us there.

Kevin and Arlen II

2. We accidentally have the best neighbors in the world.

We were very lucky to find a house that came with the benefit of incredible neighbors. This family is completely supported by the grandma, Mercedes (next to me in the picture below). She’s in her early 60’s and provides for her daughter, sons, and grandchildren. We often get to talk and watch the sunset and Mercedes and her daughter, Yusette (next to Kevin), never let us leave without a plate of food. They’ve helped us shop for vegetables, explained cultural differences when we’re confused at work, and mourned with us when Arlo, our puppy, suddenly died of a birth defect we didn’t know about.

Mercedes recently got diagnosed with breast cancer, and now it’s our turn to care for them. We’re trying to ease her burden of caring for so many people by hosting more dinners at our house, and we’re going to get to spend extra time with her while we drive to her chemotherapy together. We’re really heartbroken by how hard this has been for the family, and we hope that we can help support them as they walk through this.

Cara Visit with Neighbors II.JPG

 

3. A good support system might be the most important thing.

I get to help with the Developing Global Leaders program and in April we had a retreat. This program is for Young Life leaders who are very committed to the ministry and also have a lot of potential in their future careers. The nominated teens receive a scholarship to go to college, a stipend so that they don’t  have to work a job as they study, and leadership training. I think the biggest difference maker in this program is the support these kids get as they enter into adulthood. The retreat in April was such a rare opportunity to see these kids just spending quality time together without any extra responsibility. They learned about goal setting and planning for the future from the leaders of the ministry. It was really fun to get to hear about their goals and help them plan out their next few years. The girls in this picture are working toward being businesswomen, psychologists, and social workers, and are part of a support system dedicated to helping them get there!

Anna at DGL Retreat.JPG

 

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Welcome to the Jungle

Our February:

February had a lot of surprises for us! In the category of fun surprises; we found a house that had everything on our wish list, Kevin got to get started on the low ropes course at camp much sooner than expected, we found a really great mexican restaurant in town, I got to start helping at a Young Life club, and we got a puppy (the puppy wasn’t a surprise but the timing was)! Under the not-so-fun surprises; Young Life Nicaragua is in a season of transition and while transition is good it’s not always fun, and our puppy came to us sick. But topping the list is that Kevin turned 30! He’s now a little older, a lot wiser, and seemingly very happy in his new decade.

Anna started helping out with a club in our neighborhood called, El Progreso. It’s the oldest Young Life club in Nicaragua and still meets in the house where the founders lived when they first moved here! Many of the leaders like to practice speaking English so I hope I’ll be a good resource for them. One of the leader, Kati, welcomed me my first day by saying, “welcome to the jungle”! I’m deciding to read it as a funny cultural reference pointing out the fact that we now live in a jungle, and not as a thinly veiled warning of the cut-throat world of teen ministry.

Liana is a teen who had been going to El Progresso for a few years when the crisis happened last April. Her family moved to Managua (2 hours away) and she had to find a new club to go to in her new home. She has a baby and has a hard life at home with a broken family. She came to visit our club last week and we were blown away by how strong her faith is in the midst of struggle. She went to La Finca in January for the first time and at club she talked about how completely different her perspective is now that she’s starting to understand how much God loves her. She cried as she talked about how she’s changing and becoming more patience and gracious toward her family. How incredible is it to learn about faith from a 16-year-old!

February memories:

Kevin's 30th Birthday with Yusette, Marcella, y Thais

Our neighbors, Yusette, Marcella, and Thais came over to bake a cake together and celebrate Kevin’s birthday!

Arlo 9 Weeks II

 

Meet Arlo! He’s some kind of hound mix who likes the outside much more than tile floor and is afraid of asphalt.

Wise Ometepe Trip - Kayak

Our friends from language school, the Wise family, came to visit and we had the best time learning about Nicaragua with them!

Overlook with Dina February

We walked up to an overlook to learn about Matagalpa with our wonderful friend Dina. That’s most of the city in the valley behind us. We’re having a great time wandering around the city and getting to know our new home!

First Things First

We were really excited to get to the States and see all our friends and family. This December was full of rest and good conversation that we didn’t have to translate and coffee! We spent Christmas with our families and then headed off on a road trip from Greenville to Colorado and back (thank goodness we have important people to see in beautiful places!).

After three weeks in the country, we’ve settled into life in Matagalpa. We found a house (with space for guests!), we got a cell plan, and we have gotten lost in the city only three times! The picture above is of the first lunch we had in Nicaragua. These friends met us at the airport! A few days ago we officially moved into our house and our neighbors came over to say hi. Mercedes and her daughter, Yusett, helped us unpack our suitcases and offered to show me where to find trashcans and cleaning supplies. Mercedes noticed we didn’t have a fridge (it’s on its way to our house as I write this), and she invited us over for dinner that night to make sure we had something to eat! We didn’t quite understand her invitation and ended up accidentally eating two dinners that night, but the extra quality time was worth it!

The next few weeks will consist of furnishing our house, hosting some friends from language school, and getting settled into our new roles here. I’ve gotten to translate a collection of case statements to be used as fundraising tools for our staff, and have translated my first live conversation between the area directors in Matagalpa and a church in Tennessee! Kevin has spent the past few days at camp, helping to host a renter group from a church in Managua. We are starting to feel like we’ve finally made it home, and are excited to have more to share with you soon!

 

Hasta La Vista Costa Rica

I’m actually under the impression that “Hasta la vista” is a pretty Mexican way of speaking, but I like the way it sounds.

Our well-thought-out plans for how this year would look were all rearranged when the crisis began a few months into 2018. We had planned on visiting Nicaragua at least four times, building relationships with our future coworkers and becoming familiar with camp – but then we couldn’t – and it was okay. We got to spend more time building relationships in Costa Rica, see a club grow along with the spiritual growth of our friends, and focus on learning the language that will make our work in Nicaragua much more impactful (hopefully!).

Over the past few months we’ve been buckling down to learn as much as we can until we leave. We’ve begun regularly giving club talks at the Young Life club in Tirrasses where we’ve been helping out, and it’s been really sweet to see how patient our friends are while we try to figure out exactly what word we want to use and help us find it when we can’t. I recently accidentally said that Zacchaeus was a “sausage” instead of a “thief” and that’s why no one wanted to be friends with him (Costa Rican slang for thief is “choricero” while the word I used was “chorizo”). Thankfully my friends assumed I’d meant the other word and gave me a mini-mid-club-talk lesson! We’re going to be really sad to leave our friends here, we’ve gotten to see that club grow from four kids who Jessie (our team leader and the area director) was chasing after, to a club of 20 regular kids who are finding friends to bring all the time! We’ve also gotten to see two kids step into responsibility and begin the training to be leaders which was one of our prayers from the beginning.

A few months ago we visited Nicaragua for the last time until we move there in January, and it was really encouraging. Nicaragua is not back to normal, but the situation is much more readable and the public violence has stopped, so Young Life sent it’s expats back in at the end of August and clubs are back up and running. We were there at the end of September, got to see some old friends (and speak to them in Spanish instead of through a translator!), see some houses we might be able to rent, and visit the first camp for kids since the crisis started this Spring! We are so excited to get to Nicaragua and take part in the incredible healing work God is doing through this ministry – our trip made us so excited that it’s gotten a little harder to focus in class now that we can picture our life there!

COSTA RICA:

María

This is María, she’s a senior in high school and is in training to be a leader in Tirrasses next year!

Mega

There were over 500 kids from all over Costa Rica at our last Mega Club!

Mega Anna

This is me trying to be relevant: My friend Pricilla is a sophomore in high school and went to her first  Young Life camp this past summer! (Behind us is Kevin, he’s a freshman and one of the five siblings of a family that Jessie has been pouring into in the neighborhood.)

Mega Kevin

Kevin got back into his element at the Mega and is here helping our friend Steven who moved to San José from Nicaragua this year!

NICARAGUA:

Camp Welcome

Immediately when high school friends got off the bus at La Finca they started playing games and messing around – some didn’t even take the time to set down their backpacks!

Camp Project

This is the next big project at camp. The goal is to have a big field in the center of camp where kids can play volleyball, soccer, and some lawn games. Since the crisis has affected the budget, work teams from different Young Life clubs in Matagalpa (the closest town and where we’ll be living!) have been volunteering their time to get the work done! (The closest building in this picture is the new club room and the ones in the background are all cabins.)

 

 

The End of the Middle

In the last few months we’ve gone to Young Life camp, visited Guatemala, seen the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica (with my parents!), and moved into our own apartment for the rest of our time in language school, so I’d say we have a new perspective on things. Here are some things we’ve learned:

-Work Crew is just as exhausting no matter where the Young Life camp is located.

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– Guatemala is much cheaper than Costa Rica, but their street vended hot dogs are just as dangerous.

– Snakes are not always as afraid of people as we are of them.

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-Bucket hats are Costa Rican

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– Instead of dust being an issue, we have to “dust” every day because of all the volcanic ash.

– There are 22 different verb tenses in Spanish (but there are 19 in English so we’re not making life easy for second language speakers either).

K

K and I are in our last 4 months of language school and we’re starting to give club talks at our Young Life club in Tirrasses!(This is K teaching our class how to fly-fish in español).

 

A Nicaragua Update:

The seven expats who were evacuated from Nicaragua in July have all returned in the past few weeks and are readjusting to life. The protests have calmed down and politics have returned to a somewhat normal state (the government is still persecuting people who had spoken out during this Spring and Summer, but they are no longer responding with violence on a broad scale). Our friends in Nicaragua all say that life feels more or less the same, and Young Life has restarted meeting with kids in larger groups. Through these past few months we’ve gotten to see Young Life Nicaragua rethink what it looks like to do ministry and to care for their communities. They changed out the 1 big meeting, 3 small group meetings, and 1 one-on-one meeting a week to focus on one-on-one relationships during the crisis. Our leaders would go from friend’s house to friend’s house, visiting with their high school friends and also encouraging their families. They had to ask the question “what do you need to do Young Life” and their answer was Jesus and discipleship. I’m really inspired by their creativity and resilience, and we’re so honored to get to work with these people when we move there in January!

May/June 2018

We’ve hit the halfway mark for our time here in Costa Rica, and we can communicate in Spanish now (más o menos)! Since our last post, we’ve started a new trimester, spent more time with our Young Life friends in Tirrases, lived through an allergic reaction to mango skin (Kevin), and discovered how to download library books remotely (Anna)! We’ve been going to a Presbyterian church here in San José and found out that it’s connected to Mitchell Road – the church my parents and Kevin’s grandparents attend. And we spent a month fending for ourselves while Emilio and Zoraida visited their granddaughter in Ohio.

Ministry:

Young Life in Tirrases is growing and it feels like an honor to get to see this club start and grow. This neighborhood is mostly immigrants from Nicaragua and is known as a dangerous and poor area of town. Gangs are an active part of life there and young men can easily get swept up in communities that don’t care for them. There are lots of young, single moms and many people grow up knowing only one parent. The kids that are going to Young Life are coming from different family backgrounds, but they’re all neighbors and friends. It’s really sweet to see them play together and let down their walls together.
It’s really opened our eyes to the complexity of the Bible, too! Our area director was giving the club talk one Wednesday and she picked the story about the crowds trying to condemn the adulterous woman. In the beginning of the story, Jessie explained what the word ADULTEROUS meant and Kev and I expected giggles or uncomfortable wriggling from high schoolers hearing things about “sex”, but instead they all looked pretty grave and listened maturely. I commented about how differently that would have gone over at a club in the States, and Jessie told me it’s because almost every kid in that room has seen the heart-breaking effects of a broken home. Jesus’ kind redirection of the crowd’s attention meant even more to those kids because they are more personally connected to the pain the woman was going through. It’s such an honor to get to know these kids better and better, and to get to see them acting like kids!

Mega Club Copa Mundial

We also got to take our friends to the second Mega Club of the year (where every young life kid from the country comes and spends time together, in this case, watching a preliminary soccer game for the World Cup). Every socio-economic class was represented there and kids from all sorts of neighborhoods communed together and played together. It was a huge deal to get to watch!
We’re preparing to go to camp as part of Work Crew the second weekend in July, so please be praying for the supernatural ability to communicate and for extra energy! Some of our friends from Tirrases will be there too, so please be praying for their time as well!

Tirra Club

Life:

Kevin’s parents and grandparents came to visit us at the beginning of May and we went up to Arenal together! This was right after we finished our first trimester and it was a really great time to get to see family.

Hotel Presidente

This was our first day of our second trimester! Those smiles naively full of hope had no idea how hard past tense can be.

First Day of Second Tri

Kev and I have started giving Bible lessons in Spanish, so we have a lot of club talks prepared en Español!

I also got to go to a women’s conference at the school that was really sweet! It feels like our community here has grown and it’s so encouraging to get to walk through this stage of preparation with so many amazing women doing the same thing!

Women's Conference

April

Disclaimer: I’ve been writing this post for a week, and felt like I should add context to what’s happening in Nicaragua at the moment. Here’s what an expat friend in country shared yesterday:

“Earlier this week the government announced changes to INSS (the social security system in Nicaragua) in an attempt to save it from impending bankruptcy… Increasing the amounts that employers and employees have to pay, while decreasing the benefits received.

People are (rightfully) unhappy, and in the major cities they are protesting.

The government’s response was to pull teens out of public schools and have them represent the government in counter protests. There are police in riot gear, tear gas, and a lot of violence going on.

Updates from my news feed this morning.
– 3 or 4 people were killed in the protests last night (I’m reading conflicting reports, it’s hard to know which is correct) and one university student lost his eye.
– a public hospital in Managua locked its doors last night and refused to help people who were injured in the protests.
– public school was cancelled today, but teachers (who work for the state) will likely be required to participate in the pro-government marches.
– independent news stations have been taken off the air, so the only local news on TV is pro- government.
– protests are expected to continue today all over the country.

Please continue to pray for Nicaragua. Not just for peace, but for change. This isn’t just about Social Security and pensions, it’s about years of government oppression, and this issue was what finally woke up the country.”

Reuters reported that the cities seemed to be quieter this morning, but we’re still watching closely and praying.

Anna and Carrie

It’s incredible to think about how quickly changes can happen, a month ago we were visiting Nicaragua and our biggest worry was whether or not to drink the water. We got to meet new friends that we will be working with and explore the beautiful country that will be our new home next year. It’s heartbreaking to think of our friends worrying and anxious about the state of their country just one month later.

 

We also heard about how Young Life Nicaragua is doing and it was so encouraging: La Finca is booked full for every second-timers camp and we’re seeing exponential growth in the mission every year! There’s such a sense of community in Nicaragua that relational ministry very easily translates. Every Central American Young Life (with the exception of Costa Rica) has either been started or rebooted by a Nicaraguan leader who left their home country, which feels especially inspiring because Nicaraguan culture assumes that you’ll live your whole life in your hometown. Now those hometowns are hurting and the next few days may be the start of big changes. I’m really thankful we got to visit Nicaragua and that we know more specifically what and who to pray for.

On a more personal note, there is only one aspect of our trip that I regret…

To paint the picture: Tica Bus (our mode of transportation) was leaving from a corner of Managua with almost nothing around it. We got there 2 hours early. We hadn’t eaten anything that morning. The bus station had none of the substantive food we were apparently banking on. And finally, the bus ride was going to be a non-stop trip for about 11 hours. We needed food.

So, we asked the cab drivers outside where we should go and they pointed us in the direction of a very nice looking older lady whose restaurant of three tables was completely empty and poorly lit (which, in hindsight may have tipped us off had we not been blinded by our empty stomachs and desperation). We ate there and then got on the bus and went on our happy, well-fed way…

Flash to: three weeks later we have to make a trip to the doctor because I have an infection that won’t go away. And, the doctor happened to be an ER at 10pm. And the infection ended up severely dehydrating me (I’m okay now and Costa Rica’s healthcare system is really great and the doctors were very kind and helpful!)… but given the risks, I’d say a long bus ride without food would have been the better of the two choices. #nowiknow