Nicaragua Mission Trip – Wrap Up

Day 1
Day 2
Day 3
Day 4
Day 5
Day 6
Day 7

It’s hard to believe we’ve already been back from Nicaragua for a week and a half. It’s hard to go back to “normal” life, and I pray that I don’t slip back into a lifestyle where I take what I have for granted. Did you know that people who make over $40,000 are richer than 99% of people across the globe? Hearing that really put things into perspective for me.

Here’s a bit about our travel day home, if you’re interested. If you have any questions about Project H.O.P.E., what we did, the people of Nicaragua, or anything else, please let me know in the comments below.

Saturday, July 25 – Some of the group had to leave for the airport around 4 a.m., and others didn’t fly out until about midnight Saturday night. We were lucky to have a mid-day flight. I woke up around 7, had a dry cinnamon roll, and packed up my stuff so the Project H.O.P.E. maids could clean out the rooms for the next group arriving that afternoon. We all hung out in the cabana and the kitchen until mid-morning. (They brought out some fruit and eggs a little later on, which I was grateful for since the cinnamon roll didn’t fill me up.) We quickly said our good-byes and hopped on the bus for the airport.

I snapped this on the way to the airport - typical Nicaragua driving
I snapped this on the way to the airport – typical Nicaraguan transportation

When we flew in to Nicaragua it was late and I was disoriented, so I didn’t really get a feel for the airport. This time I realized how small it was – just one two-story building and one runway. Check-in went smoothly, then we found out our flight to Miami was delayed a couple of hours, because the plane was coming from Miami, where storms had been passing through. I was pretty nervous that we weren’t going to make our connection. Jerod and I split a small wrap in the airport, and we had a smooth flight with one beverage and no snacks (thanks, American Airlines) and landed in Miami around 8:30 p.m. (6:30 Nicaragua time).

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Beautiful clouds over the Atlantic Ocean

Our connection to Kansas City left at 9:30, so we only had an hour to get through customs. We ran through the airport, only to have to stop and wait through a long line at the immigration kiosks. Then we had to pick up our bags…but our bags hadn’t even appeared on the conveyer belt yet. I found someone at the American Airlines information desk and notified him that there were 21 people still waiting on bags for a flight leaving in 30 minutes. He made a call and found out it was delayed 20 minutes, but he was able to delay it another 10 minutes or so. He told me to gather our group when we got our bags, and he’d make sure we made it to our flight. When I found the group, several of them had already gone ahead (every man for himself!) so that plan fell through. Once we made it through security and re-checked our bags, there were staff there letting people to Kansas City through, so I think he did pull some strings for us. He was the nicest American Airlines staff person I’ve ever dealt with. I was one of the last of our group to arrive at our gate – making it just in the nick of time. Unfortunately there was no time for dinner.

Thankfully we had a smooth flight to Kansas City. Once we arrived around midnight, everyone split off pretty quickly with a few hugs, ready to be home. My bag never arrived, so I filed a report, and Jerod’s dad took us home. When we got home I immediately went to Little Miss K’s bedroom and picked her up. She barely opened her eyes and really had no idea what was going on, so I got to hold her in my arms while she slept for about 10 minutes. The next morning she clearly had no idea I had held her, because she was thrilled to see us! I was so happy to see her, too.

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I missed this little girl so much!

We had an incredible trip – one we’ll never forget, and one I hope to be life-changing. Again, if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask. And if you are considering going on a mission trip, JUST DO IT! You may regret never going on one, but I promise you won’t regret taking that leap. Oh, and my bag arrived at our door two days later with everything intact.

Nicaragua Mission Trip – Day 7

Day 1
Day 2
Day 3
Day 4
Day 5
Day 6

Friday, July 24 – We ate breakfast quickly and headed to the village a little earlier than normal to say our good-byes. We only had about 45 minutes there, and I started crying as soon as we arrived as I saw the kids run to Abby – I knew how much they’d miss her (and the rest of us), and maybe more importantly, how much I would miss them.

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Our family arrived at the community center (minus Jorge who couldn’t get off work), and there were lots of hugs and a few more tears. We walked to their temporary home since their Project H.O.P.E. house hadn’t yet been started aside from post holes, and we were lucky enough to have the interpreter Evelyn follow along with us. Since we had her with us in the beginning, we decided to go ahead and pray together and talk briefly. We told each other we’d continue to pray for each other and that we were so grateful to have met each other. Even after Evelyn moved on, we were still able to communicate much better than our first visit to their home. They opened their rice sacks of clothes and seemed to enjoy looking at them. We gave Sebastian a small board book of Lil’ Miss K’s that was in both Spanish and English – he knew immediately that it was just for him and wouldn’t let anyone else look at it. It was adorable to see how he clung to it! We gave him a couple other small trinkets too, and we gave Gizelle another apron, Jorge a donated baseball cap, and Estphanie a pair of cute pink converse sneakers, which she seemed excited about. Even though they have almost nothing, they gave us gifts too – a brightly-colored Nicaraguan napkin holder and a hanging key holder that says, “My God, where are the keys?” in Spanish. Earlier in the week we gave them a photo of our family.

Us with our Nicaraguan family
Us with our Nicaraguan family

After watching Sebastian play for a bit and taking a couple more selfies with them, he headed back up to the community center for a few more minutes. Estphanie and I played some clapping games, then we exchanged many more hugs and had to leave. I remained composure until we got on the bus, when I saw several other ladies crying too, and we saw them all waving vigorously good-bye. It’s hard to believe we’ll soon be going back to our normal, comfortable lives, and they’ll still be in the village, where they’ll be doing the same thing over again next week with another group of missionaries. I only hope we touched their lives half as much as they touched ours.

Next, we headed to Granada, a big tourist city in Nicaragua. It took about two hours on the extremely hot school bus, so the drive was pretty miserable. We arrived at a boat dock, had a bathroom break and bought some tasty roasted cashews from vendors, then hopped on about 3 boats for a tour of Lake Nicaragua. We got to navigate through some semi-narrow canals filled with what looked like a type of lilies on the water – it reminded me of a picturesque rainforest that would be on Discovery Channel – it was absolutely gorgeous!

Beautiful boat ride on Lake Nicaragua
Beautiful boat ride on Lake Nicaragua
Local fishermen
Local fishermen

About 15 minutes into the boat ride we started seeing giant homes on the water … we finally found where the few rich people in Nicaragua live. Halfway through the boat ride we came upon an island that inhabited a handful of spider monkeys – I’m not sure if they were native to the island or if they were placed there for the tourists, but they were definitely tame. They recognized one of the boat drivers and hoped onto his boat for a while. It was kind of surprising to see well-off Nicaraguan tourists on the boats too.

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The boat driver picked this pod from a tree and it opened up in a beautiful flower

After the boat ride, we went to an open-air restaurant overlooking the lake where we had chicken, steak, or pork entrees. The best part of the meal was the plantain chips, which were kind of like sweet French fries. It was nice to have a bit of time to relax and unwind after a week of work and an emotional morning. After the restaurant we went to a market, where we had about an hour and a half to shop – not nearly enough time, especially for my cousin Cyndie, who had 6 kids to buy for. Most of us bought fruit smoothies, and even though we took a risk with the Nicaraguan water, none of us got sick that I’m aware of. I bought a dress, sandals, and baby hammock for Lil’ Miss K, a couple souvenirs for our niece and nephews, Nicaraguan coffee, and a woven bracelet for myself.

At an open-air restaurant in Granada
At an open-air restaurant in Granada
View from the restaurante
View from the restaurante

After we left the market we had to endure about 2 more hours on the hot, uncomfortable bus back to basecamp. It might have been the worst part of the entire week – I felt pretty bad by the time we got back. We ended the evening with steak, which was probably my least favorite meal of the week. Every night we had a different kind of fresh-squeezed juice – my favorites were the watermelon juice, dragon fruit juice, and something similar to limeade. The passion fruit juice, which we had a lot in Haiti, was also delicious. They also had a dark purple juice that tasted like cinnamon that a lot of us didn’t really care for. And because we wanted to continue with the trend, we stayed up just a bit later than the previous night, going to bed after midnight.

Nicaragua Mission Trip – Day 5

Day 1
Day 2
Day 3
Day 4

Wednesday, July 22 – Today was a full workday in the village. We had our typical large breakfast, which always included eggs, salsa, rice and beans, and freshly-squeezed juice along with some kind of carb.

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Typical breakfast at basecamp – the pastry was kind of like a sopapilla!

This morning’s pow-wow in the village included dancing to the catchy song, “Chu Chu Ua.” I was selected, among quite a few others, to go up front to dance with Eduardo leading the motions. It’s kind of like a Nicaraguan version of hokey-pokey, only more entertaining! After the sermon and small group time, we got right to work. After dropping Sebastian off with a relative in the village, Gizelle worked with me today. We worked on blocking all morning on Greg’s family’s home. We’re really starting to get into a groove now, so it’s coming along pretty quickly. The kids in the family hung out with us while we worked, so it’s always fun to stop and play with them. Sometimes it hardly feels like work at all!

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One of the kiddos climbing on the blocks as we work

After lunch I walked around with Abby to take more photos of the village. A few kids tagged along with us – wanting to swing in our arms and joke around. They’re all so friendly and sweet – they really took to Abby on the first day and have been attached to her every since! After lunch, Cyndie, a translator, and I went to a little shop in town to purchase chair hammocks, which we ended up bargaining down to $15. Bible study was a success again.

Abbey with Jose, one of the boys the hung to her all week.
Abby with Jose, one of the boys the hung to her all week.
A sweet 7-month-old fell asleep on me minutes after holding her
A sweet 7-month-old fell asleep on me minutes after holding her

At the end of the children’s Bible study, Jim (one of leaders of our group) had a special treat for the kids – snow cones! We had over 200 children wait patiently in line for them. The man and woman running the business worked hard on their little portable bike snow cone contraption – the man shaved the ice by hand and the woman scooped red and yellow syrup onto each snow cone. It was a lot of fun to witness such a treat.

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Snow cone pros
Waiting in line for snow cones
Waiting in line for snow cones
A true beauty
A true beauty
Snow cone pros
An afternoon of fun with snow cones and ring-around-the-rosie

I went back to work blocking in the afternoon, and I got back to the community center right as we were leaving, so I was disappointed there wasn’t much time to talk with our family. We did get a few big hugs and lots of good-bye waves.

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A view of the volcano at the village entrance

Back at basecamp I cleaned up and Skyped with my parents since Lil’ Miss K was exchanged with Jerod’s parents that afternoon. They said she’d be having a great time, and I got a chance to tell them a little about our trip. For dinner we had chicken fajitas with homemade corn tortillas and a delicious watermelon juice. I helped wash dishes (we all have kitchen cleanup duty one night), then during the evening service we got into small groups and talked about our Nica families and how to reach out to them. After lunch prep, Cyndie, Abby, and I had fun trying out our hammocks while the guys held them up for us! Even though it was probably the most tiring day, we stayed up talking pretty late – I figured it was fellowship time we’ll never get back.

Nicaragua Mission Trip – Day 4

Day 1
Day 2
Day 3

Tuesday, July 21 – The women and men split up today. The men went to the village to work until sometime in the afternoon, when a few of them visited a jail (that housed about 75 men and 2 women crammed into a few cells), and all of them went to Furia Santa, which was a rehab facility. They played the Furia Santa guys in a game of baseball, and I hear they lost because the Nicas cheated. 😉 The women started the day with a very scary/bumpy bus ride to the House of Hope – an organization trying to help women get out of prostitution, which is legal in Nicaragua.

Road to House of Hope
Road to House of Hope

Although they are technically supposed to be of-age, I believe they said the average age of entry was 11. (Two years younger than the U.S.) We had the opportunity to purchase jewelry and cards made by the women at House of Hope, which they do every Tuesday during a weekly spiritual program – for many, the crafts are the only “honest” income they get. I think there were probably 80-100 women there. For those who want to enter the program full time, they offer basic housing to stay in for 4 years with very strict rules. They receive training and a small microloan to begin a business. If they are still in the program after those 4 years, they are given a bigger microloan and a home off-site, and they have slightly less strict guidelines to follow. If they stick with it 5 more years, the house is theirs and they graduate the program. We got a tour of the facility and watched a bit of the morning sermon, then gave out sunglasses and just hung out with some of the younger girls. And when I say young, I mean really young. They were covered in makeup and wearing slightly more provocative/feminine clothing than all the other Nicas I had seen. But they were joking around, acting like typical teenagers – it breaks my heart to think of what they’ve already had to endure.

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A woman walking along the outskirts of the dump

Next we went to the dump, where people actually live. I was expecting to see homeless people around the edge of a landfill, but we stopped a couple of blocks out, because it can get quite dangerous the farther in you travel. There was a group of kids already at a building (which was recently purchased by Project H.O.P.E.) having Bible study, I think. We played music with them with Sariah’s musical instruments, and not a single piece walked away when it was time to leave. Amie and I served them lunch – one ladleful of rice, and one spoonful of soy protein mix. It didn’t smell appealing at all. They all had old bowls (sibling usually shared one), and ate it with their fingers. After serving lunch, we headed back to basecamp for our own lunch of sandwiches.

Small education center near the dump
A small education center near the dump
Playing music at the dump
Playing music at the dump

In the afternoon we visited the women’s cancer hospital, adjacent to a women’s hospital in Managua. As an employee of the American Cancer Society, I was really looking forward to this experience. I have to say, I’ve never wanted to end cancer as much as I did while I was there. It was hot – there was no airflow whatsoever. The women were all laying around aimlessly in a room full of beds lining the wall, but when we got there, they began to rise and graciously accepted our hugs, and their eyes just lit up. Claudia, one of the Project H.O.P.E. staff/interpreters, created a really fun and energetic atmosphere with games and music. While we were doing games, 4 women from our group went into rooms where women were getting chemotherapy and prayed over them. They said it was really emotional. We finished off our time there by painting their fingernails and toenails. One lady wanted all her red nail polish removed and French tips added, which took me quite awhile. It was a rewarding experience.

Housing at the women's cancer center
A room for about 40 women to stay at the women’s cancer center. Makes me appreciate the American Cancer Society Hope Lodge!
These men were peaking in the window watching the activities at the cancer center
These men were peeking in the window watching the activities at the cancer hospital
Music and dancing at the women's cancer hospital
Music and dancing at the women’s cancer hospital
Painting nails
Painting nails

Back at basecamp, we cleaned up and ate meatballs, rice, and mushroom sauce for dinner. We stayed up late and played Phase 10 with several of the others in our group.

I forgot to mention that on Sunday night we tried to Skype with Lil’ Miss K, which was a complete disaster. She started bawling when she saw us, so we decided we’d better not attempt it again the rest of the trip. Luckily we had Wi-Fi at basecamp so we were still able to hear from the grandparents each day.

Nicaragua Mission Trip – Day 2

Day 1

Sunday, July 19 – I don’t think any of us slept too well the first night. We had a big breakfast at 8, then we headed to a morning church service for missionaries in an open-air gym. It was an interesting sermon about longevity in mission work by a New Zealand preacher who had been a missionary for 17 years. He talked about how hard it is to be a long-term missionary and what is needed to succeed. I was kind of surprised to see so much diversity and so many Caucasian families – I really admire people who can dedicate their lives to mission work.

Christian missionary church in Nicaragua
Christian missionary church in Nicaragua

We went back to base camp for tuna/pb&j sandwiches, then we finally got to go to the village in Mateare to meet the Nicas and the families we were assigned to. We had a pow-wow in the open-air community center – and Eduardo, an energetic, Godly Nica who ran the show for the week, made it fun and lively with a couple of icebreakers. First-time “Gringos,” a.k.a. the Americans, got to go up front and since a song, then we were each introduced to our families. Jerod and I met our family – Jorge (24), Gizelle (22), Estephanie (9), and Sebastian (16 months). It really felt like we had a connection with them since their toddler was almost the same age as Lil’ Miss K. He was similar in so many ways.

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16-month-old Sebastian

Unfortunately I seemed to be allergic to something in Nicaragua, and my eyes were watering and itching like crazy by this point. They got progressively better throughout the week but didn’t stop watering entirely until Thursday afternoon. We walked to our family’s home and tried (and felt like we failed miserably) to communicate with them. We figured out ages and birthdays, and they showed us their photo album with wedding and baby photos. We had an interpreter for a few minutes (there were 6 or 7 that worked with us all week), so we were able to learn each others occupations (Jorge is an oil truck driver) and a bit more – like the fact that Jorge’s uncle works in Washington D.C. and speaks 4 languages. Later in the week we found out that Estphanie was Gizelle’s nice, and that her mother is working in Peru and sending back money for her medical bills, because she has some issues with her spine (scoliosis?). We took a few photos with each other, then we went to work.

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Since we were first-timers, we didn’t really know what was going on and things were pretty hectic. Jerod was volunteered to work on the roofs, and I worked on blocking (doing the cinder blocks on the bottom half of the homes). The Nicas work alongside us as the homes are built, and it felt like they knew much more about it that we did and that we were just in the way. Later in the week we got into a groove and things went much more smoothly. The homes are probably 16×20(?) with cinder blocks on the bottom, wood panels on the top, tin roofs, a cement floor, and doors in the front and back. The Nicas must pay for the land, but the home is given to them provided someone from their family helps with the building process. We work on several homes at once, so we don’t necessarily work on our family’s home.

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Temporary homes in the village that people built until their new Project H.O.P.E. homes are complete

Throughout the week, in addition to building homes and relationships, we also talked with them about God and Christ. One of the awesome parts about it was that a lot of them were already Christians! After a couple of hours, we said good-bye to our family and went back to the base camp to clean up. I was covered in dirt from head-to-toe.

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I had a very obvious dirt line by the end of the day

We had a tasty spaghetti dinner (provided by Nica’s employed by Project H.O.P.E.). Nate, the youth pastor at Plaza Heights, provided music each evening, while Pastor Larry had really engaging services all week. We stayed up getting to know our new friends until about 10:30. I was really tired and slept better than the first night.

Nicaragua Mission Trip – Day 1 (Travel)

Saturday, July 18 – Jerod and I said our good-bye’s to Lil’ Miss K (so hard!) and left her in the very capable hands of my mom, while my dad dropped us off at the airport late morning. We met up with our group, checked in to our American Airlines flight, and left Kansas City around 1.

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Jerod and I at the start of the trip

We had a quick 1-hour layover in Dallas, but it proved to be plenty of time to get to our connection. The flights were smooth until we got to Nicaragua, where a storm was passing through. Our seatbacks had screens with a flight map – so after a lot of turbulence and elevation loss and gain, we could see that our plane was going out into the ocean rather than landing in Managua. Come to find out, it was doing a loop to avoid the storm. Upon heading back to the city, we did three more loops before finally landing. I know at least one person had to use his airsick bag – it was definitely a rough 45 minutes.

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Our flight path into Managua, Nicaragua

Customs was similar to any other airport, except we had to pay a $10 entry fee to get into Nicaragua. Nicas picked up our luggage and transported them to the exit for us for a $1 tip. Because we got in late, we didn’t have time for Eddie, our bus driver, to drop us off at basecamp and get back to pick up the next group of missionaries, so we waited at the airport for what seemed like eternity. We finally got to basecamp around 10:30 (11:30 Kansas City time). We had a very quick meeting, then we finally got to eat cold pizza for dinner. We found our room assignments and tip-toed around to get settled, as an earlier group had already gone to bed. I was in a room with 3 other women (the room had 8 beds), and Jerod got to bunk in a large room with 14 other guys. But overall, the accommodations were extremely nice for being in a 3rd world country. We didn’t exactly have to “rough it” like my previous mission trip to Haiti. It was a long first day, and I went to bed excited for the next day!

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My accommodations for the week