17

Numbers are funny. The same number can be huge when referencing one thing and tiny when referencing another. The same number can make you nervous or make you jump for joy. And sometimes, numbers can do both and be both.

I was standing in the Managua airport waiting for my friends’ flight when I received a phone call. I didn’t recognize the number but saw it was from the US so I was immediately relieved that it was going to be in English. When I hung up I was speechless. For about 5 minutes I just didn’t have the words. I just kept hearing “17” in my head.

I shared the news with some of the people down here and their eyes expressed the feelings I had felt but been unable to speak. 17. I had been expecting 5, maybe 10. But 17?!? I had work cut out for me.

Over the next few months we were preparing. I had a note in my room that just had 17 written on it. I told everyone I worked with 17. I prayed for 17 every night. And then, on December 16th it was time for 17. We drove to the airport with an old bus and a truck and we waited. As we stood there looking through the glass at passengers unloading I thought I caught a glimpse of 1 of 17. There were two nuns standing in front of me and I almost hit one in the head as I started to wave at the kid. Unfortunately it turned out to be some random teenager and he looked at me like I had been Facebook stalking him all the way to Nica. I gave a, “my bad” look and lowered my hand and visible excitement.

Then I saw Jace and I waved like 5 year old waving at Santa in the Macy’s parade. The next thing I know we are surrounded by 17 smiles, 17 set of eager eyes, and 17 willing hearts. 17 Texas A&M Aggies were here and I could barely contain my excitement. We were going to change the world.

Over the next few days as we prepared for the opening of the community house we had been reconstructing they hauled rocks, sand, gravel, and trash, painted, cleaned, mixed and poured concrete, and poured out their hearts into service letting their actions speak for the love they had in their hearts. It was a beautiful site and I was honored to be a part of it.

At one point during the work I stepped back and every single person was working. 17 Aggies, 7 Nicaraguans, Juan and his 6 laborers, and even some neighborhood children that wanted to help. No one was resting. Everyone was giving everything they had to make the dream a reality. I kept thinking about Colossians 3:23 that says, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord.” They were doing that.

Then the fun really began. We had our kickoff and the kids began to meet and interact with the Aggies. They danced together, sang together, played games and colored together. For 4 days the kids of the Virgen Noble neighborhood experienced love like few have ever known. First, the women.

Many of the children that we worked with during the week are from single mother households that do not receive much love. They are often alone and, because no adult is present, the older children often take on the role of mother or parent well before they should. It is not uncommon to see a 5 year old taking care of 2, sometimes 3, younger siblings. They do not know there is any other way or what it is like to have the tender loving nature of a mother in their lives.

When the Aggies were there I watched as the girls loved. Plain and simple they just loved. So many times I could look around and see each of the Aggies engaged with a child. They couldn’t speak Spanish but they were still communicating and you could see the impact.

I remember very clearly a little girl from the neighborhood that has mental issues. She can often be found wandering the streets without shoes, is not always fully clothed, and does not have a loving home. There is nothing we can do to change her home life because of the current government’s stance but we can take care of her when we see her. I was so happy to see her in the VBS activities every day. And moved when I saw the Aggie girls scooping her up, kissing her cheek, and giving her the love she has never known.

All she would say was “Hola” and she could not focus like the other children. But when you looked deep in her eyes you knew she was the same. Not mentally, not physically, but the same in the fact that she was a child of God and she needed love just like everyone else. The Aggies saw this too and they poured their hearts into hers until, on the last day, I saw her sitting still in the lap of one of the Aggies. She was at peace. Possibly for the first time in her life.

Secondly, the men. Nicaragua is a land of fatherless children. It is not because of war or plague or some other disaster that has taken the lives of the men. It is worse. It is a land of men that abandon all responsibility as soon as things get difficult and a land of other men (and women) that tell them it is ok. As a result there are often few, if any, examples of men that stay with their families in the poorest neighborhoods, much less strong examples of fidelity and a loving nature. Because of this, young men have no one to look to that is different. They have no one to show them another way, or that things can be different. Therefore, they model their lives after the only model they have – the disappearing man – and the cycle repeats.

Now, imagine how counter cultural, how revolutionary it would be to see men that stayed in the face of difficulty, that remained faithful, that LOVED their children, and that stood up for those that could not stand up for themselves. Imagine if you were a young man and you saw this for the first time.

That is what happened in the eyes of the community. They watched as 8 Aggie and 6 Nicaraguan men showed them a different way of life. They were strong workers, willing and able to do backbreaking work while showing love to those around them. They spoke up for truth in the Bible, they protected kids when they might fall or get hurt, they were gentle with those that needed gentleness and strong with those that wanted to test their strength. They were different.

I love the picture to the right. It is boys being boys. It is young men looking up to older men and learning about their own strength and responsibility in a safe setting. It is older men taking the time to tell and to SHOW the younger men they are worth their time. It is a life lesson that did not need words and that will NOT soon disappear from the lives of those that were a part. I can’t think of a more fitting word to have in the background than “Esperanza” (which means “Hope”).

There were so many more things that happened that week. But 17 came through big time. As I said earlier, the same number can be tiny when referencing one thing and huge when referencing another. And sometimes it can be both. For me, 17 was both. When you step back and look at the problem, the giant, countrywide problem, 17 people for one week is tiny. But when you look at the faces behind the problem, when you know the names of the children that represent the statistics that feel overwhelming, when you look close enough, 17 is everything. 17 is enough to make a child believe in something different, something better.

17 was enough for a child to rest in peace. 17 was enough for young men to believe they could be leaders. 17 was enough to give the 150+ children they spent each day with a reason to believe and to have hope.

  

  

To the 17 Aggies:

Ariel – You have a huge heart and it showed in how much you cared about each of the kids – especially Guiselle and Lupita. They love their dresses (I have already heard via a phone call how much they love them!). Your unending service in the crafts and activities made the VBS possible.

Bekah – It was such a great thing to be able to share the joy of this with an old friend. Your willingness to share your wisdom and experience, to provide encouragement and to speak truth was so appreciated. I remember you and Jace letting Lupita sit with you on the way back from the beach even though you were tired and she wasn’t. It was an act of service and she thoroughly enjoyed her time with you.

Chris – My go-to-guy. I always knew that whatever the task you were willing and able. I can’t tell you how much your servant’s heart and willing spirit meant during the week.

Evyn – Everytime I saw you you were 100% engaged and sold out for the kids around you. I don’t think I ever saw you taking a break when they were around. Your passion and tireless service were greatly appreicated.

Greyson – Thank you for surviving. I was praying double for you during the week! Ha. As I told you in Nica your heart and the love flowing from it is pure and I encourage you to continue following where God is leading. He is with you in big ways.

Jace – Your presence was such a blessing. Not only did you singlehandedly document the entire trip without a single complaint for doing it, you also gave everything you had in service (including an AWESOME acting role in the skit!). You by far had the best make believe horse. You were also someone I always knew I could count on. It didn’t matter what the task, you were ready.

Karen – You were always ready to play with one of the kids, to help them with their crafts, and just to love on each child. I remember each time you asked how to say different things you were always trying to encourage and love on each child. It was a beautiful thing.

Kristin – You loved Guiselle and Lupita greatly as well and I know they loved you too. Lupita told me you were very nice and that you were friend (that was big time in Lupita talk!). Thank you for loving all of our children and showing them all so much tenderness that they usually don’t get. It means so much to them and to me.

Lacey – I think you were almost always not only one of the first awake but you were usually one of the first working. From helping load chairs to going with me to get water in the early morning you were ready to serve and help.

Lauren – I don’t think I will ever forget that sink after Fernanda threw up. I couldn’t even look at it much less clean it and you just dove right in. It was indicative of your service throughout the week. You gave of yourself fully and did whatever was needed. Your heart shined through and we are all grateful for you.

Leland – Your gentle nature with our kids was evident from the first child I saw you interact with and made a huge impact. In a land where men are more often absent or cruel than present and loving you helped to shatter barriers.

Michelle – You were a silent servant. Because of that I don’t think everyone will realize how much you served everyone on the trip but I and the Nicaraguans definitely noticed. We are grateful for your heart and service!

Nathan – You were ready for anything and there was nothing too big or too out of your comfort zone. From learning the local dance to the local songs to diving fearlessly into the language with the kids (and cooks!!) I always knew you would be focused on others and on serving them. You helped break down culture walls and set new expectations.

Paul – Thank you for your endless energy, constant attempts to learn the language and culture, and your awesome song leading. You brought joy to many children.

Taylor – In addition to helping me watch out for your brother you gave until you were exhausted. I watched as you loved on the kids, spoke the truth into their lives they are loved, and fought for each child through your actions. I don’t think I ever saw a child around you that didn’t have a smile on their face. Thank you for spreading hope and joy.

Tiffany – The best little-old-spanish-lady-in-Bethlehem I have ever seen played by a gringa! Ha. You gave your everything in everything you did and it showed in the impact of your actions, your words and your love for those around you.

Tony – Translator, driver, leader, servant. All words that describe you and I consider myself a very blessed and lucky man to have had you as the leader and to share in this week with you. God had you here for a reason and was speaking to your heart. I know there are big decisions coming up for you and I can’t wait to see where God is going to lead you! Remember, He has special plans for you and your life (Jer. 29:11-13)!

2 Comments

  1. Michael says:

    When we listen and follow where God directs us, amazing things happen! May God continue to bless your work and the lives of every person you touch.

  2. Gigi & Papa says:

    All of you provided such a wonderful oasis of truth and love. May each one of you have blessings ever and always.

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