In August of 2010, we set out to put on a Youth Pastor's retreat for the first time in Nicaragua, in conjunction with the Centros de Fe fellowship in Masatepe, where Victor and Angela Benitez are pastors. We had worked on it for some months on the lead up, and this was FXMissions first official trip. We had ten team members from Mexico and the US, plus the guys on the ground. To know more about this trip, see Field Note Nicaragua. While this event was still going on, Victor came to me and asked if we wanted to do another event that we could announce to the participants before the event was over. He also mentioned that we should consider making it an annual event. We decided to do both, and this past trip was built around this youth pastor / youth leader event, held in a remote area near Ticuantepe that is called Pinyas de Paz (Pineapples of Peace) which is next door to El Chocoyero, a protected area for the thousands of parrots (chocoyos) that call the cliff of it's waterfall home.
Our time started as we landed in Liberia, Costa Rica. My flight landed behind the rest of the team from the US, except Jon Mackey, who got a surprise trip to the consulate in Miami with a passport issue. It was first time to Miami, and the “static”, my general word for resistance you get when attempting something challenging or worthwhile, had offiicially began. The rest of us hung out for a while, waiting on the rendezvous with Jairo and Ixil, who were in route, and tried to adjust to the 85 degree heat. Jason went and changed.
We had planned that if either the ground party or the air party were significantly delayed, we would wait in the Cafe Liberia. We hung out at the airport for a little less than one hour, and then grabbed a taxi for our staging area. We were greeted by great coffee, Gallo Pinto, and fresh fruit. We flopped and tried to establish communication with Ixil, and also with Jon, as his situation was a mystery to us at this point, only that he had not been allowed to board. It “just so happened” that his phone had went on the blink after he arrived in Miami and we could not communicate with him. More static. Ixil and Jairo had been dealing with static of their own, trying to cross the border, having been refused, and then calling in one of the ultimate “fixers” in Latin America, Victor Benitez. He makes things happen. They arrived a few hours later and we were off to Playa Samara, and the Tico Adventure Lodge. We had landed mid-day, but would arrive at the lodge after nightfall, after a two hour drive that hid the stunning features of the Nicoya Peninsula behind a veil of darkness. That is most often the way it works.
We scurried to get our things in the room upon arrival, and headed down to watch the Pacific greet the shore. Really nice. The warm welcome of the temperatures helped us quickly forget about the sub-freezing temps in the States, and we agreed to relax and take it all in for an hour or two. We had set aside a few days of “team time” in Samara because, though I knew everyone, this team had not worked together as a unit before. We wanted to get to know each other as a unit before the clamor of meetings, navigation of terrain, and dicey border crossings that lie yet ahead of us. It was a solid plan.
We managed to take it easy up rising the next morning, hunting down the hotel coffee pot, and once again trying to establish communication with Jon. This time it worked. Jason received a text that Jon was at the consulate in Miami, and would be getting squared away for an arrival in Liberia around 6pm. Victor and I would fetch him from the airport, but not before eating shaved ice on the beach, and four of us heading out to an island just off the coast of Samara for a swim and general enjoyment. I know, I know, sounds like vacation….. While we were gone, we totally missed Kyle proposing to Amy in the middle of a sunset that only God could arrange, and the slow moving of time on the tops of the waves. The team was chilling.
Jon appeared last from the terminal, mainly because his bag had been there overnight and had been put in the office for security. When it didn't come out on the belt, he had to search for it. Victor and I threw him and his bags in the truck, after being so happy to see him. Our team would now be complete. We hit up a bakery on the way back to Samara for some comidas and made it safely back to the Tico. We spent the rest of the night hanging out and celebrating Jon's safe arrival. If opposition speaks of anticipated significance, our trip was stacking up to be full of promise.
The next morning Jon and Co. hit up the beach early after a short vegging session on the porch, with the sense that our time there was closing, and was not to be wasted. He had missed all the time we had spent there the day before, and was looking to make the most of what was available. After a Burpee video shoot on the beach, we headed into the interior of the Nicoya Peninsula and a quick stop by the YWAM base there. About a quarter mile away from the base, we had a flat, which resulted in a good long visit when combined with the difficulties of a broken tire tool and lug nut that had to be cut off the wheel. It was good to get the time with Diego and Salla, the leaders of the base there, and to learn of their project to give a bible to every family in the district, 80,000 homes. They have delivered 15,000 already, with an offer of prayer to every household. Honest and worthwhile efforts. We also enjoyed an attempted capture of an iguana while trekking up the road to the base. I understand they are quite flavorful in a soup. For photos from this part of the trip, click here! and pardon all the sunset photos, Kyle and Amy were drifting aloft with love. 🙂
We failed to make it to our intended destination by the end of the day, because of the flat, and of a border crossing that was pretty involved. We did make it across the border shortly before it closed and crashed at Victor's house around midnight, a few hours short of our lodging place that was two hours farther north in Cuidad Dario. Our morning would be an early one, as we had our first scheduled meeting with Pastor Saul at Los Limites. We covered the distance quickly in a van we had rented that would be with us for the majority of our ground time. I have traveled Mexico and Central America many ways, so let me just say, when you can get your team into a vehicle that is under your own governance, you do well. It costs more than public transportation, but the gains in every other way make it worth much more than the cost. For a long time I was a little nervous about driving in foreign countries. No more. Once you get a sense of what challenges the road and other drivers will throw at you, rent a vehicle and be done with it.
We had a great time with Saul and the village church, ate lunch, and then departed to arrive at our intended destination from the night before. We were all tired from a combo late night / early morning, so we did what we could to rest and get ready for the next meeting, which was with Pastor Harry Rios at Rey de Reyes in Ciudad Dario. Great to be with these guys again, and the ministry time was a blessing, though I began here to notice what became a trend for me personally during this trip. The Lord was limiting what he gave me to say and do. The team carried the ball, and carried it well, with me swept along in the draft. I had been with Harry and the fellowship in May 2o11, and it was so good to see them again, especially the young men who had spent so much time with our team on that trip. I was so excited that I lofted them up on my shoulders… they humored me, and tried to keep their balance.
We joined Harry and Heyllin for breakfast the next morning, before heading to Matagalpa. Please pray for Heyllin, she is under a doctor's orders to rest since she is pregnant and recently miscarried their first baby. Lord, be with her, with the baby, and with Harry, during this time. We also got some time with Clarivel and Hannah, Jairo's family at breakfast. This is Jairo's church family, where he leads worship and is a pastor. We were so honored to have him on our team, which he sacrificed to be on. Both his birthday and his fifth wedding anniversary happened while he was away from his family traveling with us. WOW. Lord give them a special time in view of his selflessness.
After breakfast, we headed out to Matagalpa, the principal city in the district of Matagalpa, where Dario is located. It was only an hour or so up the road. We met up with Ixil, who had preceded us. We attempted to do some business at the bank, and we checked out the local coffee spot, Cafe Barista Due. Good stuff, as usual. I had been here before, and will go again. After a few small struggles with the bank(s), we headed out to visit a village about an hour from the city, and on the way visited a ministry to expecting mothers. The village was a good way out there, and we hiked in the last distance because the van's off road ability was in question. Great village, with so many children. Nearly all the adults were off participating in the coffee harvest, which is in full swing in these high altitude villages. We sang a few songs, prayed, and gave out candy to the kids… and then we ran some foot races. I know, I should have let the little girl I raced win. Let's just say it was close. For photos that follow the dialogue from this part of the trip, click here!
We made it back to the city a little later, and had a meeting at a ministry high on the spine of a ridge overlooking the city. It took quite a while to get there, but the place was hopping. What an enthusiastic group! We jumped into the flow, gave testimonies, proclaimed some blessings, and ended on a VERY high note! Was great to be with these guys. Afterward we headed down the hill and back to the missions house we were staying in, a ministry of Project 127. Was a solid place to stay, and it was great to meet the family of ex-pats that run it.
The next day we spent the day at Ixil's family's coffee farm, in some small way participating in the harvest. Her dad, Victor Torrez, took us out to the farm and let us help him with a small batch. They made us feel like we were significant help, but really we were receiving the kind gestures of hospitality – a private hands-on clinic. It was really special. We took the fruit off the beans, sorted the beans with a wet process, culled the bad stuff, dried it, and headed down the hill toting coffee. Gives you a sense of what goes on, and how heavy the work is. We also met some of the workers who do it every day, who are half my weight and can carry more coffee than me. We rounded out the day at a factory down in town that takes the coffee delivered by farmers and gets it ready for export. Did I mention that we had a coffee cupping session? It was epic, and, as you might imagine, Jon Mackey was in another realm. He is coffee roaster, and this was hitting the mark with him. The cupping was ran by the guys who control quality for the operation, and they showed us a great time. It was my first experience cupping coffee, and quite memorable.
The next morning we had breakfast at Ixil's family home, visited her family, and prepared to head to south to Ticuantepe and the anchor event of our time. We didn't push off until after capturing some burpee video and saying goodbye to the folks at the mission house. We hit the road for a three hour trip, arriving late at Pinyas de Paz. They had prepared a meal for us, so we ate and hit the rack. The arrival of the event participants started the next morning…. and we were off and running.
This update has really ran long… sorry about that. For more detail on the Youth Leader event, check here – Update. For the last of the photos, which got more sparse as time went on, click here – Last of Photos.
Needless to say, we had a solid time. We can be very thankful for God's grace, which was abundant during the entire trip. We met some awesome people, spent time with a strong contingent of the future of the church in Nicaragua, and made some connections that we will work together with in the years to come. We are thankful to be working with these brothers and sisters, and with Jesus Christ our Lord. Your continued prayers are desired for the generation that is arising, not only in Central America, but in Christ's body globally. They have an awesome future just ahead of them, complete with challenges that make or break a generation. Let's agree they will arise to the be exemplary in the such times.
And I would also like to say a HUGE THANK YOU to so many who prayed, invested money, invested time and themselves in this adventure. We appreciate it deeply. Thanks for joining us in this effort, for the King and His Kingdom!