Friday, June 19, 2009

The Mission Trip: Into a Foreign Land

I have taken my time getting to this trip report simply because it is hard to write. No words, no pictures, no first-hand account can fairly describe the magnitude of the poverty in Nicaragua or the emotional impact it had on those who took this mission trip. It was particularly tough on me because I had never undertaken such a project as many in the group had done.

Because of the late start typing up this report I may not finish it before I leave for Vegas, so I might conclude it while in Vegas or after I get back. I just hope you will read it whenever I do get it all together because I hope in some small way this might spur you to take some action to help your fellow man. I know I've been searching my brain since I got back, trying to deal with the mixed emotions I am feeling. To be honest it's been hard to get "up" for Vegas because I keep thinking about the people we met and the situations in which they live while I enjoy the cool air-condtioning of my home while drinking my morning coffee and playing Scrabble on my computer...and then I head off to Vegas. It seems overly extravagant after spending more than a week in Nicaragua.

The first day was an early one, as we met at our church, Trinity United Methodist (less than two blocks from Bryant-Denny Stadium) at 2 a.m. for the drive to Atlanta. It saved us almost $200 per ticket to fly out of Atlanta instead of Birmingham so we made the three-hour commute over the state line, beating rush hour traffic for our 8 a.m. flight.

From Atlanta we flew to Miami (first time there for me, although just being in the airport doesn't really count) where we waited more than three hours for our next flight. Our already long day was made longer when our flight to Managua was delayed for nearly two hours. Our plane to Managua was the largest in which I had ever ridden, with three seats on each side and a middle row of four seats, and it was nearly full. Having never flown in one of these, it made me think of the "movie" planes. Note how movies set on planes never take place on one of those six seats per row types.

We finally arrived in Managua late in the afternoon after a two and a half hour flight. After going through customs (much easier leaving the U.S. than it is entering it, more on that later) we met our bus driver, Juan Pablo. That's him on top of the van loading our stuff.

Our pastor, Wade, has worked with Juan Pablo since he took his first mission trip here earlier this decade. The two have worked together several times since then. Not only does Juan Pablo drive us around, but he is also active in the home construction, having been a construction worker in his younger years. He is very friendly and a true man of God. When we met him at the airport I reached down to shake his hand and he gave me a big hug. Juan Pablo's English is about on par with my Spanish, which means he won't be giving speeches anytime soon. We also met the second local member of our team, Tonia, who would be our translator on the trip.

We loaded up and headed on the two-hour drive to Leon, the cultural capital of the country, a city once considered to be the capital itself. Our final destination would be Chacraseca, one of the poorest areas of what is considered the poorest country in Central America. As we traversed the streets of Managua, we came across several kids begging. We passed out a few coins and snacks, but were told that adults often farm out kids to beg for them. There were few traffic lights, as drivers here just tend to sort out the traffic details themselves, creating some hairy situations.

We drove through the countryside, spotting several volcanoes in the distance. Most of them are dormant, but some have erupted in recent years, killing people in their wake. Most of the volcanic areas are remote and sparsely populated, however.

We arrived in Leon and dined in a local restaurant, which would be one of the last fancy meals we would eat in a while. One thing I learned was that Coca-Cola tastes the best when it's poured out of a glass bottle in a foreign land.

After our meal we headed down bumpy dirt roads to our final destination, the Casa de Paz in Chacraseca. Created by a nun in the 1980s, the Peace House serves as a boarding house for missionaries in the area doing projects. It would be our home for the next week.

That's team member Wes on the left, our translator Tonia in the middle and Wade on the right.

We got to the Peace House at about 10 p.m., after 20 hours of travel. We were all dead tired and quickly got out sleeping clothes out of our bag. The room for the men was tightly packed with bunk beds and storage containers so four of us decided to sleep outside.

It was much cooler out here on the porch, and as we prepared to bed down for our first night it began to rain. The drops hitting the tin roof made a peaceful sound that quickly put us all to sleep.

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