A Story of Transformation in Nicaragua
BY: LAURA HOLDERFIELD, 2009 HOLSTON DENMAN AWARD RECIPIENT
“I want to help these kids. I don’t want to live my life secluded in America not knowing what’s going on outside of my nation’s borders. I can’t live like that. Not after seeing this. People pray for experiences to stick with them and to never forget them – but I don’t have to with this one because I am certain it will. Nicaragua has completely wrecked my life in the most amazing way possible. It’s a bittersweet feeling that I can’t put into words. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t know what’s going to change. I just know that it will…because it already has.”
I wrote this in my journal during my first trip to Nicaragua. At that point I didn’t realize what a large impact that experience would have on my life. It has since changed everything about me. I talk about it so much that my friends probably get sick of hearing stories and seeing pictures of my kids! Not a day goes by that it doesn’t come up in conversation. God had big plans for me that year. He worked on my heart more that week than I could have ever imagined and taught me so much about life, love, faith, and happiness. It’s so hard for me to put into words the way I feel about this special part of my life and to explain to you just what God has done. I pray that you can feel the passion between the lines of this text and the joy these beautiful children bring to my life. They have wrecked my life, and stolen my heart. And now, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
A little background info: Nicaragua is the poorest Spanish speaking country in the world. The majority of Nicaraguans live on less than $2 a day. 1 in every 3 children has some degree of malnutrition. On average, Nicaraguans complete less than 5 years of schooling. The area where I have worked for the majority of my times spent in Nica is a community called “Nueva Vida,” meaning “new life.” Nueva Vida is a community outside the city of Managua that was originally established in 1998 after the 10 long days of wrath that came from Hurricane Mitch. The hurricane caused Lake Managua to overspill its banks, forcing residents to flee to higher ground. Displaced families were sheltered in a refugee camp, which later became Nueva Vida. Today, more than 3,000 people live in the community, and because of its original purpose of a temporary location, they are faced with very poor infrastructure of roads, water systems, electricity and sanitation. Most people in Nueva Vida are unemployed and are forced to rely on other sources for their life necessities.
Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to be living a miracle like these people are. I’ve grown up in an amazing family and I’ve always had everything I needed. When I was younger, I may have complained about not getting a certain toy on my wish list, but there was never a single day where I didn’t have everything I needed. For the people in Nicaragua, not having what you need is a lifestyle. They fully rely on God for everything from water, to money, to clothes, to food. They believe it comes directly from The Father. I wonder what that would be like? Why aren’t we living a miracle? Because we don’t allow ourselves to. We don’t have the need for God’s miracles in our life. Everything is NOW NOW NOW. When we get sick? We go to the doctor. When we need money? We charge with our credit card. When we have a headache? We take a pill. We may call these simple solutions “miracles,” but I think that is only because we have a misunderstanding of the term. Everything that we need in our lives is at the tip of our fingers. It’s the exact opposite for the people of Nicaragua. They literally rely on God for their every need on a day to day basis. We met a pastor in Nicaragua needing funds to run the feeding center for the children. For most of the children in the community it was the only meal they would be eating the entire day. They didn’t have enough money for the day’s tasks. That afternoon he found 20 Córdoba on the side of the street. You never find money in Nicaragua. On the side of the street there is usually just trash, old papers and extremely toxic water. 20 Córdoba made all the difference to him. He was able to operate his feeding center and go another day. To see the passion and sincerity in his eyes when he said “That was a miracle” was overwhelming. (20 Córdoba is equivalent to a little over 1 dollar in US money.) That is living a miracle. Everything they own is God’s. Everything they have comes from God. I have watched an offering plate passed around a group of 40 or so Nicaraguans who make less in a year than we have as spare change in our cars. I’ve seen them place whatever they could into that offering plate – not because it was the right thing to do, or because the church told them to – but because they honestly believed that whatever they had…was God’s.
I realized, in Nicaragua, that the key to true happiness is being in the center of God’s will. I’ve always done things that I ‘thought’ God would like, or I ‘thought’ was good, but I’ve never felt the overwhelming presence of God more than I did back in March of 2009, singing Hosanna in an outdoor church with barefoot children dancing through the aisles and clapping vigorously. I knew at that moment that I was exactly where God wanted me to be at that exact moment in time. I’m hungry for that feeling again. Happiness outside of God’s will is a false sense of hope, an intangible misunderstanding that we’re content. I had that. I thought it was happiness, and I couldn’t have been more wrong. The only way to find true happiness is to completely surrender your every thought, decision, action and attitude towards that of glorifying The Father.
We worked in another place called La Chureca. You can Google the name to get pictures of it. But let me prepare you: it’s not what you’d expect. La Chureca is the city dump in Managua. There is a community of people who actually live there and make money by sifting through the trash every day. The children spend 15 hour days in the toxic fumes exposed to bacteria, sickness, and disease. It’s so hot there that fires will spontaneously start, filling the air with smoke and pollution. We were only allowed to stay for 3 hours because of the toxic fumes. The children’s teeth are rotting and their bodies aren’t getting enough nutrients to be strong. But they have so much joy! Look at the smile on this child’s face. He lives in La Chureca. I read a quote once that said “A true atheist looks in the eyes of the poor and still denies God.” I don’t know how anyone can look at that adorable face and not see the joy of Jesus Christ in his smile. All of the children in Nicaragua are like that. They have nothing – no material possessions of importance, yet they have everything because they are SO full of joy and so full of the faith in Jesus Christ!
“Anielcka is such a special girl. All of these kids are. When I look at them, all the dirt, all the grime, all the scars, bruises and pain…when I see the problems they carry on their shoulders and the maturity behind their smiles…I see Jesus. I see a glimpse of heaven every time I look at their grinning faces and bright smiles. They are examples of pure joy. Joy in hardship. Joy in pain.” (my trip journal, 2009)
Right now I guess I’m just trying to figure out what exactly God wants me to do with my passion in Nicaragua. He’s put them on my heart for a reason – I know that much. I’m just trying to figure out exactly what that is. I’m focusing on educating people back home about the issues in Nica and finding ways they can help. I’m also trying to plan a trip from my home church very soon. I can’t wait for Anielcka to meet my momma. Not a day goes by that something doesn’t remind me of the children. My heart longs to be with them again. I’m praying for God to provide the funds and make a way to take my church family down there.
My challenge to anyone reading this is to take a step outside of your comfort zone. If God is placing an opportunity in front of you for international missions… take it. If He’s calling you into missions down the street… do that too. John 12:8 says, “You will always have the poor among you.” The poor will be among you. How many of us can say we are actually among the poor? There’s no real way for me to explain Nicaragua to you. The best way for you to understand is to just go. Many of you reading have been on mission trips before – met someone who pulled at your heart strings and changed your life, so you know exactly what I’m talking about. Don’t ever forget that. Don’t let it be another memory. God sent you there for a reason.
Shane Claiborne says, “When statistics have a face, and poverty becomes real, that’s what messes with you. It’s a beautiful thing when people are no longer just a missions project, but become family and friends with whom we laugh, cry, dream and struggle.”
I left my heart in the hands of orphans. The most beautiful, dirty, scarred…most perfect hands of children are now holding my heart, and that’s never going to change. To God be the glory!