Photo by Tony Cece

Monday, August 15, 2011

A Look Back at Nicaragua

The Trauma Team deployed to León, Nicaragua from July 24 – Aug. 8. While we were there, some of the team members journaled their experiences. Join us in a look back at the trip!

Tuesday, July 26

Everyone woke up to the smell of pancakes cooking.  This brightened everyone’s day.  There is nothing like good food and good coffee to help jump-start the day.  This was greatly needed since we had finished a long day of work the night before.  Tuesday would be another long day of service, but with a twist.  Some families in the community wanted to speak with us regarding various issues.  A couple of the groups had an opportunity to visit those families and listen to their stories.

The teaching on self-esteem continued at Lily of the Valley.  A couple of the small groups with students felt it was safe to open up about serious trauma they had faced.  The males and females were separated in an effort to provide a safe environment to share.  In one particular group female student after female student admitted to some form of sexual trauma.  For many of the students it was an encouragement to know they were not alone.  For the teams working with the students it was heart breaking to hear the students and a shock to see how many girls had been impacted by trauma at such a young age.  Some students approached individual team members and shared similar stories. The team was excited that the students felt comfortable enough to open up and share their stories, but were saddened by the fact that they couldn’t do more work with the girls.  No one working with the students left without being impacted.  Even the interpreters were touched by their stories.

The teams heading to the families did not know what to expect.  It was not until they were welcomed into the home and the family began to share that the story began to unfold.  In one family visited a Pastor and his wife were having problems because he was working all the time and was never home.  He not only served in his own church but also worked in a church plant.  He clearly loved his wife but was torn between serving the Lord and being with his family, not realizing how that impacted his wife and daughters.  As the pastor and his wife worked through the issue, the pastor understood the importance of taking a Sabbath for himself.  He promised to take one day this week to spend with his family.

There were two training sessions for church leaders that were fun for both the teams leading the activities and the participants.  Everyone was involved.  In the morning the church leaders eagerly took notes on attending behavior.  They wanted to be equipped to serve the church body.  Lemuel and Dr. Reese provided a dramatic presentation on the ways counselors should not behave.  Once the presentation was over the leaders broke into pairs and practiced the new skills on each other.  The teams walked around monitoring the work and encouraged the leaders.  For some of them this was the first time they had practiced active listening.  When the morning session was over they couldn’t wait for the evening session.

The evening session was a little different since it touched upon conflict resolution.  We were all shocked when the pastor who received family therapy earlier in the day shared his testimony with the whole church.  He planned to spend time with his family the next day and stressed the importance of church leaders taking care of their family and taking a Sabbath.  In addition to conflict resolution the leaders learned about rock therapy.  Each leader had an opportunity to practice with a partner.  At the end of the activity one leader shared that he had been praying for a way to work with children.  Parents were coming to him for help and he didn’t know what to do.  He now had a technique he could put into use immediately.

What a day of blessings!!

Wednesday, July 27

Wednesday included more classroom and family visits.  The school visits are sometimes hard to complete.  The small classrooms are packed full with 40-60 students.  There is no air conditioning or fans to help with the heat.  You can hear the cars going by, the students in the next classroom, and even students playing soccer or freely running around the campus.  The teachers usually leave the room when we arrive.  This may be due to the fact that the students stay in one class all day and the teachers rotate through out the day.  The teens here are no different from those back home.  They try to hide their cell phone use, talk to their friends during class, and even sleep.  This can be quite a challenge especially if you aren’t used to working with students.  At the Baptist School one team had to quickly change gears when they realized the students weren’t responding to the presentation.  Thanks to the Holy Spirit the different team members came up with a song and a game like Simon says to explain self-esteem and the lies Satan tries to tell us.  The sixth graders loved it, and the leaders did too.

The family visits continued today.  The issues discussed were very different.  The first family was suffering from the loss of their eleven-year-old son a year and a half ago. The father was a pastor who thought he could not show any grief for his son.  He also believed that questioning God would be a sin.  There was not a dry eye in the house when the father wept for the first time.  When he finished he passed the wash cloth he had used to wipe his tears to his wife, letting her know it was okay for her to do the same.  The sadness that enveloped the house when we entered began to be filled with some joy when the parents told us about some happy memories about their son.  The faces of both parents lit up as they recalled those special times with their son.  They have only begun the grieving process, but God was present in that place to help relieve some of the family’s pain and show them how to begin the healing process.

Another team visited a different pastor who struggled with an issue within his church.  He had been the head pastor who was asked to step down after he criticized the congregation for not acting in the way he felt they should.  Through the discussion the team discovered one of his passions- outreach.  Perhaps the area he was serving had not been the right match.  Although it was difficult for him to hear, the pastor was willing to take the new information in prayer. 

There was no doubt that God arranged our day.  Dr. Reese, who is an expert in grief counseling visited the family in grief, Dr. Keyes, who had been a pastor, was sent to visit the pastor struggling with his congregation, and God knew the right combination of people for the schools.  Each day we are amazed by God.  We can’t do anything without Him.

Saturday, July 30

Many of the team are coming down with Nica tummy, that is to say they are not feeling well.  Since today is a free day it was a much needed time for everyone to recover from all the work done during the week and for those who aren’t feeling well.  Everyone was excited to see fresh fruit for breakfast; watermelon, pineapple, and mango.  It was also a nice change to have toast with chicken salad rather than eggs. 

After breakfast everyone jumped on the bus to head to Eric and Melissa’s house, the missionaries we are working with, and the beach.  First stop was a convenience store so we could purchase some cold drinks.  Eric was having problems with his water pump and there wasn’t any water.  Laverne made a makeshift cooler out of a brown box.  She placed ice on the bottom, threw in her Gatorade and water and was ready to go.  Half of the fun is riding the school bus through the town.  The streets are filled with a mixture of horses and cars.  A man on a truck full of melons tried to get us to purchase some as we drove by him.  When we passed by a soccer field and saw groups of children playing baseball and soccer some of us thought of Bryan, a little boy that we had visited Friday.  At the end of working with his family a few of us went outside to play soccer with him.  His ball was a small plastic ball with a hole in it.

Once we left the main road things got a little bumpy.  The road leading to Eric’s house was a muddy dirt road.  The area was more isolated, with less people as you drove along.  It appeared to be a lot of farm land with pigs, cows, and horses.  The houses varied from shacks to nice adobe or stucco style homes.  The families would wave to us as we rode by.  To our right and left we saw salt mines, which looked like big ponds of water. When we arrived at Eric’s house, we were warmly greeted by his daughter.  Melissa met us on the beach.  There are not words to describe the beautiful scene we encountered outside.  It looked just like a post card you would find at a tourist shop.  White clouds dotted the sky, huge waves were crashing in the ocean, and we had the beach pretty much to ourselves.  There were some young people a little down from us who were learning to surf.  Dr. Keyes was a little adventurous and swam out to them.  He kept trying to convince us to go out there too, but only Katherine was daring enough to dare the Pacific.  The rest of us were content to look for shells, go for a walk, sit on the shore, fall asleep in the hammocks, read, or just enjoy some quiet time with others forgetting for a little while all the stories we had heard.  Eric and his family gave us a true blessing.  We left feeling refreshed.

When we arrived back at the hotel different groups went to different places. Almost all groups got in a little shopping.  One of the cathedrals is having a celebration and special vendors have come into town from different places.  They were selling Nicaraguan made goodies like woven baskets, hand carved wooden jewelry, painted plates and crosses, and many other interesting things.  There was a choral concert in the cathedral and everyone had an opportunity to try some Nicaraguan food in the neighboring restaurants.  A few of us went to El Sestero and had the best food.  We were a little timid at first since we had no idea what we were getting, but once we had the food we became delighted.  Almost everyone felt it was better than food in America.  Others ventured to Via Via, another local restaurant. They enjoyed Nicaraguan fajitas, filet mignon, and other delectable dishes.  The 10 oz. filet mignon was only $6.  Another group went to Casa Vieja they found it amusing when they thought they had ordered a traditional Nicaraguan dish and received chicken strips with fries.  Regardless they all enjoyed the opportunity to venture out alone, practice a little Spanish, and try some new food.

Saturday provided many opportunities for us to practice self care and we returned to the hotel refreshed and ready to face a new day!

Sunday, July 31

Today provided another day of rest for the team.  We walked to a Baptist church where our hotel manager attends.  We were a little taken aback by the small size of the congregation.  Our team practically filled the church.  This is actually a church that began in a home.  It has about ten regular worshippers, but always have visitors. We were blessed by the congregation who sang songs in English and then heard Eric preach as well.  When the service was over the congregation continued to show us hospitality by offering crackers and green tea.  What a great day to start the day; Praising God with our Nicaraguan brothers and sisters!

The afternoon provided a variety of options.  Some took a tour of Leon, with an interpreter providing some history and background information that made everything come to life.  The tour included the VIP tour of one of the cathedrals that once a year allows the people to see the Black Jesus.  How gracious God was to allow a couple of our team members that opportunity.  Others rested at the hotel or went shopping at the “tiendas” that were still in Leon as part of the celebration.

One group decided to experience some Ecotourism and ventured to a retreat campground for horseback riding and an opportunity to make some tortillas.  When the group arrived worship music from a church retreat filled the campground.  A sister and her brothers run the camp.  The village people work the camp and offer their horses and services so that everything is put back into the community.  It was rather frightening to hop on the horses at first, but once the team ventured out into the surrounding areas they were mesmerized by the sights around them.  The villagers would wave in greeting and our guides shared about the horses and life in the village.  After the ride everyone sat in a rocker on the patio and looked out over the scenic over view.  Then it was time to make tortillas.  An elderly woman from the village showed us how to make the round shape and throw it onto the fire pit to cook.  Some were perfectly shaped and others fell apart, but this was a great experience for everyone.

Everyone caught up at the end of the evening in the plaza, enjoying the Nicaraguan folk dancers, good food, and a little shopping.  The rest and relaxation of the day lifted the spirits of the team and enabled us to prepare for the next week.

Monday, August 1

This morning our week started out differently, instead of working with schools and families, we spent time with the interpreters to help them process everything they have been experiencing the past week.  The interpreters not only translate for us, but actually take on the mannerisms and emotions that both the Nicaraguans and we portray.  Sometimes the stories touched a theme in their life, causing them to reflect on their own pain.  The debriefing provided a safe environment for them to share about their experience.

The interpreters have become special to us.  We cannot do our work without their help.  As they opened up about the impact the translation work is having in their lives, we found ourselves laughing with them, encouraging them, and even crying with them.  They were originally nervous, thinking we would constantly analyze them.  They were pleasantly surprised to learn about how counseling works and began learning from our training sessions.  They wanted to be equipped to help their people. 

Many of us have been discouraged in the school visits, thinking that maybe our work was in vain.  For the interpreters the school visits have been one of their favorite activities.  They mentioned how they never had anything like that, and how important it is for the young people to hear about self-esteem, drug and alcohol addiction, and dating and relationships.  This reframed the school experience for many team members.

Dr. Reese raised a question at the end of this debriefing: Where did you see God this week?  There were many different responses, but no one could deny God’s presence throughout the week.  He was in the interpreters, the schools, our team, and even in the pain. 

The afternoon session was spent with families, schools, and even the police.  The time at the police station was a little challenging since a couple of the officers were not focused on the presentation.  The topic of the day was Post Traumatic Stress.  This particular team had a tough group to work with since no one wanted to open up and share during the small group time.  The team made the best of the situation and pushed through in spite of the challenges.

Another group found a series of little surprises.  They went to minister to an adolescent and discovered a 33 year old man who had no idea they were coming.  Once he understood what was going on he opened up about his drug addiction.  They walked with him as he processed his addiction and steps he could take to overcome that addiction.

Today was also the day a team returned to visit the little boy who was kicked out of school due to frequent absences.  He had skipped to avoid the bullying that went on at his school on a daily basis.  His father returned from El Salvador to try and figure out what he and his wife could do to help their son.  At first it looked like all the work completed on Friday was gone.  The child was withdrawn and reluctant to talk.  The team’s heart broke to hear the father share how much he loved his son and wanted to be there for him, but if he stayed in the country he would not be able to provide for his family. He only wanted the best for his children, just like all parents do, but the political and economic situation in Nicaragua prevents him from doing anything different.  The young boy had a lot he wanted to tell his father, so he went in the corner for privacy and wrote his thoughts and feelings down.  It was heart wrenching to hear him read the letter, hug his dad, and sob into his father’s chest.  We are leaving this family, the schools, and all the other groups we work with in God’s hands.  We have done all we can and now must trust God to do the rest.  This is the difficult part of counseling since we want to know that the families will be okay. 

Tuesday, August 2

Today started out as most days, breakfast in the morning and each group going out to minister to the schools, families, and the church leaders.  No one expected a long hard day of work filled with challenges and many frustrations.  Many of the team members were exhausted, suffering from Nica tummy, and weren’t sure they could make it through the whole day.  Thank goodness there is a God who is strong when we are weak.  We survived the day through the grace of God.

The school visit had a different theme from self-esteem; dating and relationships. The team not only shared about what a healthy relationship looked like, but they also learned from the students.  According to one class Nicaraguans can begin dating when they are eleven.  Like in America both girls and boys ask the other sex out.  There is no doubt that students here are similar to the students in America.  They become excited and open up when they are doing something they like and sometimes need to be reminded to pay attention.  Both the students and the teams had fun discussing dating and relationships. 

Another team visited the center of justice and were surprised to find out they had 2 hours to meet with seven juvenile offenders, two of which were repeat sexual offenders. We soon recognized there are vast differences between the parameters that we set in terms of confidentiality and ethical concerns and what the Nicaraguans do.  That seemed to be a common theme this day.  The team worked hard to meet with all the clients, but with the numbers they only had about 45 minutes for each person.  They had to trust God to take care of the adolescent.  The time with the sex offenders changed the perspective of the team members when they looked at the offender, they did not see the offense, but the pain caused by trauma. 

One team faced their greatest challenge since the trip to Nicaragua.  They met with a transgender young man who had suffered many traumas starting at a young age.  There were many dynamics playing into the time at his house.  He did not know we were coming, the mom would laugh and make fun of him, and his psychologist would interject and push the adolescent to share things that were very traumatic.  We were stuck in a horrible situation and really struggled as to the right direction, but God is good.  If the team did nothing else, they showed the teen that someone cared about him, would listen without judging, and valued him.  This is something the teen had never experienced in his life.  We left feeling angry, sad, and a multitude of different emotions because of his situation.  It was hard leaving this situation in God’s hands.

The last part of the evening all teams spent at the Rose of Sharon church for the communication styles training.  The team leaders returned one last time to learn about good communication styles and conflict management.  For some team members it was difficult to focus after a hard day of work.  Some needed some self-care and played with the children during the presentation.  This was not only a great way to relieve some of the stress of the day, but it also helped keep the children entertained and from interrupting the presentation.  Verneisha, Dr. Reese, Lemuel, and Fathom blessed everyone with a song and liturgical dance.  The words “I need more of Jesus,” were desperately needed by everyone there.  The evening started and ended with the song.  This was a great way to start and end the service.

The debriefing of the team was the most emotional to date.  Many team members were deeply impacted by the work done during the day.  Exhaustion was starting to set in and the long day combined with the emotional toll of work brought on some compassion fatigue.  After processing the  day the team left to get some much needed rest.

Thursday, August 4

We awoke for our last day of work in Nicaragua excited about the opportunities today offered. Some of our team members set out to visit and counsel at prison in Chinendega, Nicaragua. However, upon our arrival it was clear that God had another agenda! We were denied access to the prison and instead went to the court house, met with a juvenile judge, and had the opportunity to counsel five adolescents (the exact number of small counseling teams we had with us) and their families.  Amazingly, all of our sessions went extremely well and we all left feeling grateful and satisfied at the work God set forth for us.

The rest of our team members remained in Leon, Nicaragua doing much work here. Some presented to teachers, some went to the schools to present to both students and teachers, and some returned to present and work with the police officers. In continuing with the theme of the day, all the team members reported a lot of success and appreciation for how the day went.

Our last day in Nicaragua has come upon us quickly! Our team is filled with a mixture of bittersweet feelings: pure joy from our time here, the people with whom we’ve built relationships, and the visible hand of God amongst us. Yet, there is a simultaneous feeling of sadness at the fact that we are leaving this beautiful place, these amazing people, and even losing the community and relationships we’ve built with our own team members. Tonight we will enjoy the company of our wonderful translators for dinner and fellowship with one another, celebrating the work God has allowed us to join in together.

Friday, August 5

The morning was filled with mixed emotions.  It was time to say “good- bye” to Nicaragua and head home.  The team was sad to leave the people of Nicaragua behind.  The open hearts and strong faith of the people here have changed us.  The time spent working together as a team, learning from each other and the Nicaraguans have caused us to see the world in a different lens.  It is difficult to go home to a country where we take so much for granted, and leave behind a world filled with poverty and many hard ships. 

After breakfast we boarded the bus and began our 2 hour ride to the airport.  Many took the last opportunity to snap some pictures of the breath taking scenery.  One of the volcanoes had smoke coming from it and the calm waters of Lake Managua provided the backdrop for many of the photos.  The check in at the airport went without a hitch.  Many of the team members were worried about the weight of their luggage, but everyone made it within their limits.  There was a little disappointment that after making it through security the popular chicken restaurant “Tip Top,” was not available, but everyone grabbed a bite at a familiar joint, “Subway.”  There was time for some last minute shopping and then we were off on our first flight. 

There was a little nervousness that we would miss our second flight since the flight from Managua was on Nica time and left and hour late.  God was good and we made it through customs with a short window to grab some food before we had to leave.  The team was happy to make it back to Norfolk, but a little disgruntled that they couldn’t just go home.  We had another hour to Williamsburg and most people were not happy about the idea of Busch Gardens for the down time before going home.  The team spent the time sleeping, talking, or even making up a silly rap about our time in Nicaragua and really made the best of the situation.  At 2:00 AM everyone was safely nestled in their hotel room finding the rest that was needed.

Saturday, August 6
After arriving in Williamsburg late last night, the team had the opportunity to spend today at Busch Gardens. It was a chance to enjoy one another’s company, decompress from the trip, and slowly readjust to our different lives back here at home. Although some of us were uncertain as to how beneficial a “day of fun” would be, by the end of the night most of our team members were pleasantly surprised at how much fun we had! We rode many rides, enjoyed shows, and reintroduced our stomachs to American food. All in all, it was a wonderful day! It was refreshing to spend time with our teammates enjoying each other and sharing in fun and silliness after the bonding we experienced during our time in Nicaragua. Although we all share sentiments of sadness that this wonderful experience has drawn to a close, sentiments of appreciation, gratitude, and joy abound all the more. We are all immensely thankful to God, to one another, and to our leaders. Our day of fun at Busch Gardens only heightened our appreciation. Tomorrow morning we will gather for breakfast and a time of fellowship before finally departing and all going our separate ways, forever united in heart and spirit through this beautiful experience.

Sunday, August 7

The end of the trip is finally here.  After breakfast and a time of devotions and encouraging words it was time to head home.  Dr. Keyes wanted the group to end on a positive note.  Team members had the opportunity to share their favorite Bible verse or a verse that meant something for them during the trip.  Afterwards time was given to encourage one another.  For most team members the time in Nicaragua provided a real sense of community.  We worked and played together.  We also looked out for one another.  The trip would not have been the same if the composition of the team were different.  Each person had different talents and expertise that contributed to the overall experience.  We were learned from each other, challenged and encouraged one another.  The trip was over, but the memories and skills learned in Nicaragua will never be forgotten.