I came to Nicaragua because I’ve been longing to go back since I studied abroad there for a semester. When I graduated with a bachelor’s and then a master’s degree, I still didn’t know what I wanted to do. With degrees in Spanish, Theology, and Linguistics but no desire to teach or preach, it seemed I had few marketable skills. When the opportunity to participate in the Cohort of Missioners came, it seemed good to me. I could spend a year brushing up on my Spanish as well as doing community development work. If God wasn’t calling me to the mission field after a year, I would have some solid experience. After I made the decision to come, I knew Nicaragua is right where God wants me now.
Since the program is new, a lot of my work involves talking about ideas and planning for the future. We are considering names, logos, housing, work… It is exciting and challenging. We meet as a Cohort group to discuss aspects we need to clarify or work towards. Currently there are three Cohort participants: Mark and Adrianna (me) from the United States, and Guissel from Costa Rica/Nicaragua. Because of Guissel, all our meetings are in Spanish. Gordon and Peggy Tans are our mentors and hosts for the Cohort. This group of five forms the Cohort, but our contacts are not limited to the Cohort.
The Nehemiah Center in Managua, which focuses on training pastors and leaders, offers a unique opportunity to work in programs that are already established at the local level. Our Nicaraguan Cohort is administered by the Nehemiah Center, so we are considered part of their programs. I answer to Nicaraguan leadership, participate in Nicaraguan meetings, and visit Nicaraguan churches and homes. Every participant chooses to be involved in different programs, but I am focusing on community development as well as church partnership through the Nehemiah Center.
The Strategy for Urban Transformation (ETU for its letters in Spanish) is the community development model the Nehemiah Center is testing in western Nicaragua. We visit barrios in León and Chinandega to offer encouragement and support to local leadership. As part of efforts to reach out to teens at risk, I have watched a movie in the street and a soccer tournament in these barrios. Church and community leaders have shared their plans for community savings projects or work days to clean their streets. Using Assets-Based Community Development model, we walk alongside people of Nicaraguan neighborhoods to help them realize that they have resources and skills which can improve their situation; they are not dependent on the charity of outsiders.
The church partnership is a product of the Healthy Church Initiative in North America and Nicaragua. These partner churches in the US and Canada send a team once a year, and I have been involved in planning activities for the teams. I take notes during meetings with the Nicaraguan pastors and Nehemiah Center workers, and I visit the churches of the pastors to get to know them. Hopefully my presence encourages the pastors and assures them that the Nehemiah Center is interested in them and their wellbeing.
A lot of this position is about learning. Learning about myself, about God, about Nicaragua, about relationships between Nicaraguans and North Americans, about others around me. I am learning how to walk alongside people at different stages of life, imitating Christ’s incarnation to us and learning more about Jesus through my own experience of his example.