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  • Writer's pictureNick Parkes

Nicaragua: Viaje de Esperanza: Part 2

Life in Nicaragua is different than what we are used to. The roads were better than expected in places, especially in the cities. The village roads were at times almost impassable by cars. The most common motorised transport here were the motorbikes but everything goes to get you around: cars, trucks, bikes, skateboards or just your feet.

I mentioned the heat when I got off the plane. It was still there, it’s always there it seems. As temperatures were consistently in the upper 30s celsius we were grateful for the space and shade at Finca. We would work in the mornings with the teens and in the early afternoon with the kids. Late afternoon was rest time. I would reflect in those times about the kids I was getting to know.

You go into an experience like this expecting to find poverty but not really certain exactly what it is going to look like. First impressions were that the place wasn’t that bad, the kids seemed really nice, people seemed fed and OK, so what was going on here?

Nicaragua is ruled by a dictator. There is a no tolerance policy on criminal activity and enforcement is severe. One of the youth had missed the retreat because he was thrown in jail for a week for pulling a knife on someone. He didn’t use it, just threatened and that was e ought for a week of jail time. There are no gangs here, no cartels, no organised crime, just ruling with an iron fist and swift enforcement. That doesn’t mean there is no crime whatsoever. The lack of resources will still drive some to attempt things like burglary, home invasions and even one of our interns had his cell phone taken out of his hands in broad daylight. 

Food is available and accessible and so when dealing with symptoms of poverty starvation is not the risk here, but rather malnutrition is. You can eat when hungry and rice and beans are widely accessible however it does take some effort to feed kids a nutritious diet and that doesn’t always happen the way it should.

So what about the potential to earn income? This is where I found things extremely interesting and complex in Nicaragua. Life is hard here, and we saw it time and again from the youth especially that there is a desire to escape and pursue the good life. The American dream calls loudly, the exposure to Canadians has made the youth desire to go there too. If only we can get there we can have the good life!

As a result of this pull to the rich nations a significant skills shortage in Nicaragua has emerged. Anyone who is entrepreneurial, driven, motivated, skilled and equipped or capable has left. Sometimes fathers leave, sometimes mothers leave, often the children are left behind, maybe with a grandparent. There is a hope to be able to get them, but that doesn’t necessarily happen. 

Left behind in Nicaragua is a workforce missing it’s top 20-30% (at least) of skilled performers. It’s difficult to get good training, apprenticeship, experience or good leadership. This can make life hard for everyone both in delivering and receiving services. The quality of work is poor and the effect on morale can be devastating. All this does not lead to vibrant economic growth even when opportunities exist. 

What this does tend to lead to is a cycle of disappointment that manifests in trauma. When the government, the church and families all reflect a heavily authoritarian leadership style that gets its way by shows of force and violence, the children suffer. 

These are the stories we began to hear, and sometimes even see and hear for ourselves. Kids are beaten, sometimes for no good reason. Mothers who have all but given up force their children or nieces to do all the work, they are treated like slaves. Fathers can be in and out of the house, if they are even around. Neglect can be common, first showing up as malnutrition, but also in underdevelopment and kids being unable to speak when they are already school-going age. There’s more, a lot more but I think you are beginning to get the picture. Life is hard here for the kids, and the adults, but it starts with the kids. This is why they are often left with only a couple choices as they emerge into adulthood: get out or give up. Sometimes those options are already taken away from them as teen pregnancies are not uncommon and bringing a child into the world when you are still a child doesn’t make life easier.

So what do you when it seems so overwhelming and hopeless?

That’s what the interns got to wrestle with. They saw and experienced these stories, met these kids and fell in love with them all the while knowing that they would be leaving and returning to nice, wealthy, comfortable, resource-rich Canada. “Are we even doing any good here?” I heard them ask. Encouraged to think they were challenged to consider what they would do here if they had $10,000. That only made them feel more despondent as most of what they thought they could do with the money were temporary, band-aid fixes that would not produce much in terms of long-term impact. Money can be a great tool, but it is not THE answer. So what is?

When challenged with a question like this I like to don my 90s WWJD bracelet (which honestly I lost years ago) and bring the question to Him. What would Jesus do? Maybe more pertinently, what did Jesus do?

When Jesus launched his public ministry he spent his time in a small area, probably not much more than 30 square miles. He visited small towns and villages who seemed to be filled with people who were sick, suffering, in pain, wounded, hungry and desperate. He had compassion, he heard their stories, he healed them and brought them hope. He brought a new promise, the Kingdom of Heaven is close! How did the people respond? They went and told people (even when commanded not to), they brought their friends and soon there were crowds following Jesus everywhere he went. People need hope, people need healing, people need Jesus.

Luke 10:2 says: “He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.””

This is what Nicaragua needs: people willing to go and to care, people willing to bring hope and most importantly, to bring Jesus. And that is exactly what is happening. That is what we experienced. There is a family who has put aside a life in comfortable Canada to bring hope to these people. There are local leaders who serve and love these kids and are themselves growing in the strength and conviction of the faith they hold close. Hope is there. Jesus is there. What is needed is simply more of that. The biggest need is people willing to serve. A handful of people can only help a handful of people. It takes a community to impact a community. It takes both feet on the ground and an ocean of prayer. It takes support and encouragement as well as ideas and innovation. It takes patience. This is slow work. Relationships, trust especially takes time to cultivate. People take time to grow and to flourish. Fruit doesn’t just appear, it needs sun, rain, good ground and time to grow.

My prayer for Nicaragua is simple, it’s Luke 10:2. May more workers be raised up and sent into the harvest field because it is ripe and plentiful! But also, may more people take up the call to pray, to seek God, to intercede on behalf of this community. Father God burden people with the needs of those you love, who are created in your image. May we cry out day and night for those you love. Amen.

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