When most people think of Spring Break Week, it’s all about having time off school, trips to someplace warm, getting away and enjoying a break from an endless winter. (And with this year’s winter – EVERYONE wanted to get away).
Twelve people from the West Unity area did head someplace warm this spring, but it was nowhere near a vacation. For members of four churches, they were leaving snowy, cold Ohio armed with less than 50 pounds of belongings to do mission work and spread the heart and word of God.
On Tuesday, March 11, 2014, Allan Stuckey from the Lockport Church, Kathy Dick, Ken Esterline, Emily and Scott Maneval, and Dan, Jane and Kim Short from the West Unity United Methodist Church traveled to the Detroit Airport. There they met up with former member James Hutchison – who is now a member of the Maumee United Methodist Church. Flying to Houston, they met with the last three travellers Pastor James (formerly of the WUUMC) and his son Jered Nathan as well as Matt Boyd from the Armstrong Chapel United Methodist Church where Jim is now an associate Pastor.
While it was the first trip to Nicaragua for Allan, Emily, Kathy, Jim and Matt; it was the second trip for Jered, Ken, Kim and Scott; the third trip for Dan and Jane and the seventh trip for Pastor Jim. They were now on their way to Project Chacocente near Masaya on an adventure that would change their lives forever.
The group arrived in Managua, Nicaragua around 9:00 pm and proceeded through immigrations and paid the $10 per person entry fee and received their temporary visas. They were greeted by friends from Chacocente, Omar Hernandez, International Relations Director and translator; Gabriel Godinez, Project Chacocente Director and bus driver Walter. From there they checked into the El Raizon Hotel in Masaya.
The next morning after a breakfast of scrambled eggs, pancakes or french toast, bacon, sometimes a hot dog, fruit, juice, and coffee and – as is served at every meal – rice, beans, and plantains (a type of banana), they set out on the trip to Chacocente.
Chacocente is essentially in the middle of nowhere and is a 5 mile trip from the Highway. Nicaragua is a third world country and the second poorest in Central America next to Haiti. Homes are built from cement block or tin siding with tin or grass thatch roofs. There is now a well in the community from a donation, but residents still cook on fire for meals. To say the people are poor is an understatement.
Eight families live at Project Chacocente and representatives met the group and gave them a tour upon their arrival. They viewed the school that is a work in progress and enjoyed a lunch prepared by the ladies of the project.
Most lunches consisted of chicken or beef, watermelon, white pineapple, tangerines, mangos, tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, beets, cookies, pop and of course beans, rice, and plantains.
That afternoon the group quickly got to work laboring along side residents of the project to build an addition onto the school buildings. All things were done by hand including, sifting gravel, hauling water, mixing cement or mortar, laying brick etc. The group also laid concrete for sidewalks in the school yard and constructed new soccer and basketball goal posts. While soccer is a very popular sport, basketball is not as well known so Jim Hutchison conducted an impromptu clinic for the kids to learn basic fundamentals.
The school has about 150 children and they were eager to put on a program for their guests consisting of native music and dances. Each morning they were quick to say “Hola” and give hugs. The children were fascinated by Emily, Jered and Kim and wanted them to join in their games. The younger members of the group also used their Spanish skills to help with communicating to everyone.
Besides working on building, the group also brought with them medical kits which they dispersed to the families as well as neighbors near the project who have children that attend the Chacocente Christian School. These other homes are no more than huts with dirt floors, and outdoor kitchens and toilets. These people are the target of the next phase of Project Chacocente.
Additionally, the mission group was able to bless the Methodist/Evangelistic Nicaraguan Church where they attended services with a $500 contribution. They gave out over 150 toothbrushes and toothpaste, DumDum suckers and balls. They purchased tools at a hardware store to donate to those they worked with and they were very thrilled and thankful.
While it wasn’t all work, the group did manage to fit in a visit to a pottery maker, the village market, a coffee plantation and a lagoon. They dined at Papa John’s Pizza and Tip Top Chicken and some members went on a zip line.
Conditions in the area are improving as unemployment is down to about 50% from 70% a couple years ago. Gas is about $5 per gallon but most people don’t have a vehicle, anyway. The main form of transportation is bicycles. Average wages for the working is $1 an hour and the average cost of living is about $500 per month.
One of the most rewarding parts of the trip, and even more so for those who have went more than once, is the relationships they build with the people of the Project. While they may not be rich in goods, they are happy people, always laughing and very affectionate. While there may be a language barrier, communication is still given through smiles and hugs.
Those who spent the week came back with a renewed sense of gratitude for what they have. Simple things such as a warm bed, hot shower, an abundance of everything. Most of what we take for granted, the people of Chacocente can’t comprehend. They are happy people even without the luxuries. They teach that more isn’t always better and to live a simple life and appreciate all you have.
The spirit of giving and helping others was shown for the Maneval, Nathan and Short families as the children were able to not only witness but contribute with their parents. A valuable life lesson was passed from one generation to the next about giving back to others.
While the good-byes are difficult, it’s more of a until we meet again. Most of the members of the group do plan to make a return trip in 2016 and anyone interested in a meaningful, life changing mission trip is invited to attend. More information can be obtained at the West Unity United Methodist Church.