a house of hope and a week of hard work

IMG_6010[1]“O Lord, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord. You hem me in- behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.”
Psalm 139:1-10

I headed to Nicaragua on July 28th with my sisters, Zoe and Meredith. Coming with us was a small group of believers from mainly the Marathon area- people we have interacted with through small group Bible studies. We traveled as believers united to serve in Nicaragua however God would use us. Our priority was working at a Managua ministry called House of Hope. (http://www.houseofhopenicaragua.com/). Our good friend Ashley has been an intern there since June- we were excited to see her, encourage her, and work alongside her for a week. She will be there through the end of the year (2012).
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House of Hope is a ministry that was started by an American missionary named April. She has been active in different parts of South America with her church-planting husband since the 1970’s. She is fluent in Spanish and she ministers from a good deal of personal experience and insight. This is a place for women and children to find refuge from lives caught up in a combination of prostitution (because of trafficking, being “grandfathered” in, and other societal “traps”), drug and alcohol use, physical and verbal abuse, and the downward spiral that results.
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It is hard to decide what I want to communicate from the week’s experiences. First of all, a real community was born. The group traveled together knowing who the other people were in some way. By the end of the trip, through the shared work, meals, and testimonies of God’s work in each of our lives- we became an Acts 2 family.
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For this, I am beyond grateful, but also made to realize that this is not normal for many of our churches and even small groups- and this should not be. We shared freely- our space, time, possessions, our meals, giving thanks to God in prayer and song, encouraging each other, and thinking of others more than ourselves. We were tired every day- body, mind and soul beat-up. Yet we continued and God’s grace carried us through. The group discovered grace lived out in our interactions with each other many times.
We had two main projects for the week- an office building needing concrete and tiling work and mural painting on two walls.

We realized that the work we did for House of Hope was work anyone could have tackled. However, I think the way we did it was only because of God’s hand on our group as well as the unique abilities each of us brought to the table (again because of God).

Our days started early, with big breakfasts of local food (think beans and rice, fried cheese, plantains, and fresh fruit among other things). We then drove through town on our bus/van (we called them coasters in Uganda) marveling at the sights and sounds of our part of Managua waking up. At House of Hope, we typically prayed with April to start the day and then dove head-first into our work. Sherry and Sheila headed the painting crew. They brought many art supplies and experience with them to help us make something physically beautiful appear on the grounds.
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April set aside a wall on the girls’ dormitory building as well as a boundary wall near the entrance to paint. On the girls’ dorm, we had ideas for a Noah’s Ark complete with a variety of animals, the ark, a rainbow, and Noah. On the entry wall (primarily to be worked on by the pros) there were plans to paint Jesus and the Samaritan woman (the woman at the well).
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We worked steadily through the week until we finished and then joined the construction (by then tiling) efforts. We joyfully:
-Washed the walls with bleach and water
-Scraped paint that was chipping off
-Painted base coats
-Did rough sketches and spacing for the painting
-Began the creative and sometimes arduous task of creating life-like animals on a wall.

The results were awesome. The children at school till a little after lunch came home beaming at seeing the animals come to life for them. We tried to pick animals they were less familiar with- penguins, camels, elephants, and flamingos. We had wonderful moments telling them and talking back and forth and learning with them.

The second group of workers were given the task of tiling the new office building. For this they had to:
-Clear the floor of the piles of dirt that were being kept in the office away from the rain (for concrete mixing)
-Pick up trash
-Level the concrete foundation a bit
-Pour another concrete floor
-Finish it and let it dry
-Map out and measure several rooms for tiling
-Lay tiles
-Mix concrete and set the tiles
-Grout
-Clean and clean and clean the tiles afterwards

Meanwhile, there were other jobs being done as well. A motorcycle pad was laid with concrete. A sidewalk was created and a drainage ditch was formed. Children were kept occupied- often lending a hand with wheelbarrows and shoveling- whether or not you wanted them to. Children were held, played with, loved on, and given attention.

I don’t mean to list the tasks we did and try to make it look impressive. But it really was incredible to see the amount of work we accomplished and the joy we experienced as a group in doing it. I came away from the trip thinking that this is how more of life ought to be lived- a conclusion that is sometimes hard to live out.

Everyday we heard the stories of the women and young girls living on the grounds. Hard stories. Some joyful, but the majority filled with pain from lives lived as property, as objects, not knowing Christ or His love. We started to get to know these beautiful people- and not soon after that we had to return home. This is my struggle with short-term missions. But, I think sometimes they are necessary to get certain jobs done. We went primarily to paint and build and help in a different kind of way. As we did these things, lives were impacted in another way. I am praying that the long-term effects of our work may last and continue those at House of Hope. My prayer is also for more long-term workers, people willing to invest and sacrifice for the sake of loving, discipling, and walking alongside these people. I am ever grateful for the opportunity to see a ministry like this, to learn what I can, and to promise to do something with those experiences and lessons. For more information on human trafficking please look at http://www.ijm.org/sites/default/files/resources/Factsheet-Sex-Trafficking.pdf
Another great books is the Good News About Injustice by Gary Haugen.

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