Oh, the delight in travel. The peace in a quiet overnight bus ride. The thrill in hiking around the crater of an “inactive” volcano. The breath-taking view of a small, Spanish style city in Nicaragua, called Granada. They say it wasn’t an active volcano, yet I had my doubts when we walked, or should I said trotted along the “unstable” area which for some strange reason was labeled: STAY ON PATH. We encountered the life on this giant crater, a living hole, breathing sulfur gases into our curious faces.
Monkeys danced around the trees above us with their precious cargo and we oohed and awed and even shouted as they began to bless us with their own special holy water. Monkeys are nasty little creatures; my grandma would say. She would probably add a story of her own encounter with a monkey. Or how her neighbor had one and they got so mad at it, they made monkey soup! I think I am getting the hang of these stories.
Dashing through the jungle-like atmosphere I felt childish, with some 20 of my closest friends, ready to conquer this country for Jesus. In just 24 hours we would start the conferences, until then it was a challenge not to be blown off the top of the Mombacho volcano.
The following day we arrived early to the church (La Puente) to prep for the 150 youth who were traveling from all over Nicaragua for this conference.
My time greeting was filled with lots of nervous giggles as I attempted to write out the most bizarre names I have ever heard. We finished checking people in and hustled to meet our small group partners. Each name tag had a number and that numbered correlated to your small group, which averaged about 7-10 people. 12 male groups. 8 female groups. After a few games to get everyone moving around and laughing we split into the small groups. My nerves slowly dissipated as I saw the weary looks on the faces of these young girls as they approached Alejandra and me as the representatives for group 4!
A little circle was made as we rounded our plastic lawn chairs together. Today we would talk about sex, pornography, masturbation, and what marriage is meant to be. These topics, which more than often are considered taboo in the church, are exactly the things that teenagers and young adults most struggle with. We started out by defining pornography, which nowadays comes in forms of TV shows, family movies, and is plastered all over the internet. Later we talked about masturbation, and wherein the bible does it actually even talk about that …
“But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart…and if you right-hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perishes than for you whole body to be cast into hell.” (Matthew 5:27-30)
Does that mean we should pluck out our eyes every time they fall upon some billboard or see a movie that displays nudity or sex? What Jesus wants us to do is LIVE RADICALLY. We encouraged the youth to delete Instagram pages that they follow, avoid friendships that lead them towards these conversations and even avoid certain family members who share pornography with them. (A 13-year-old girl bravely shared how some of her uncles and cousins try and show her pornography and she refuses). The last part of this verse, which refers to being cast in hell, refers more so to the severe consequences of these sins. The mind can become intoxicated with sexual thoughts, which could make social interactions with the opposite sex awkward as they may only see them as an object.
We had participation from all of the girls (ages from 13-28), in school, working, waiting. Before lunch, one of the girls asked what was so wrong with having a boyfriend. Her father highly disapproved, saying at 16 she wouldn’t be able to keep up with her studies. Lunchtime came and went but I never felt hungry. Sitting with this vulnerable, hurt, confused 16-year-old girl felt more fulfilling than the mystery rice lunch offered. Maria (thankfully there are many with this name), comes from a low-income household, essentially, she might not even go to school because her dad does not have the money right now. He works as one of the men who create wells, which looks like standing in a hole all day look chipping away at the walls. A job that can cause serious health problems due to the gases emitted in these deep holes. Maria tells me she is not a Christian. She does not want to accept Jesus yet because she does bad things (which like many teenagers look like cutting herself, looking at pornography, and getting angry with her siblings). She does not have a good relationship with her father, as he seems to disapprove of her. I had the tear-filled joy to tell her she has a Father in Heaven who loves her just the way she is. He came, lived a perfect life, and died on a cross for all the bad things she has done, and would do so that she could have a relationship with Him. He doesn’t ask for perfection. That would make the cross ineffective. She fought tears, as did I. I was able to pray with her and hang out most of the afternoon. Whether she decided to believe in God as her savior that day, only the Lord who sees all things will know for He sees our hearts. As for me, I was blessed beyond belief to just be used.
Later that night we held a dinner, where we introduced pupusas to a whole bunch of Nicaraguans. With around 100 people seated, Pastor Carlos and Vane started the games, which would lead to my debut singing in Nicaragua. We played a game called “The Kings requests…” which meant each table became a team with one representative. The representative would stand at the back of the room while the king (Vane) would ask for an object and the representative would have to run to their table and grab whatever it might be (a shoe, pencil, bible, etc.). One of these instances it happens to be a ripped sock, which to my glory and dismay I had on. Being the competitive person, I am, I tore my shoe off and went hopping towards our representative, ripped off the sock and handed it to him. Pastor Carlos and Vane erupted into laughter as they saw my poor little pink sock with a hole, and awarded us the point, but they kept my sock. At the end of the game they called the sock owner up to collect her sock, but it was a trap. As I went to reach for it, in front of about 100 people, Pastor Carlos stepped on it and goes no, punishment! This led to the crowd voting that I dance, or sing. I offered the song I sang at Christmas a few years back (Go tell it on the mountain). As I turned to the crowd (who was waiting with expectation) suddenly I felt ice cold and nervous. I laughed and turned back to Pastor Carlos looking for help. Some people giggled as well and he said SING! I tried to start and some friends in a lovingly jokingly matter busted out in applause which caused everyone to erupt into laughter. That happened a few more times before I finally tried to sing a few pathetic lines, with my eyes closed and fighting the laughter in my stomach. I finally hit a high note with “over the hills and EVERYWHERE” and Pastor Carlos was satisfied. Then he asked me to explain where that song came from and why. With my short explanation of going to share the gospel everywhere, I was freed from my duty.
That evening, once all the sober fun had slowed down, Pastor Carlos made the invitation for those to accept Jesus that had not accepted Him before. Almost 10 hands shot up immediately, one of a girl my age, name Cherry who was sitting nearby. I grabbed her hand and led her teary-eyed face to an isolated area. I asked her if she had ever prayed to accept Jesus and what she was feeling. The tears started pouring instantly as she said she had but she feels so empty. It was so sweet to see a soul come to the realization of who can really satisfy them.
The next two days were a blur. Mornings were early, sweet time hanging out on Hannah’s property (well her family’s ministry), seeing the boxers arrive from their 4 am run (a group training there), the world race team come back from prayer (their first month of service is in Nica, 10 countries to go), and chugging coffee while greeting the sweet kitchen ladies, the dogs, and the horses grazing around. Our taxi rides were more like live Mario cart races as we piled into 5 cars and raced across town, over dirt paths, bumpy roads, whizzing past bicyclists, and horsebacks. Time at La Puente church was even more of a blur. Up the front steps and into the open sanctuary we were welcome by worship, greeted by sweet kids dancing around. Our children’s ministry time was spent teaching about how God created the World, and then the arc of Noah, playing with the parachute, gluing crafts together, and giving lots of hugs. Afternoons full of teachings, hanging out with the best of people, sneaking pizza, and dinner parties for 20. Now I am left with the sweet memories of walking around Granada as if we owned it, laughing like a bunch of high school kids out on spring break.