NICARAGUA: Spring Break of a Lifetime

Before we really start into this… I need to apologize. Twice.

1.) I’m sorry for committing blog neglect for well over a week. It’s not my fault.
Except yeah, it is.

2.) To make up for the negligence, this post is about to be ridiculously long.

Saddle up.

Mombacho Volcano-- Grenada, Nicaragua

In case you missed the memo, I spent all of last week in Nicaragua with  some of the most incredible people ever. And I honestly wanted to sit down and tell everyone I know all about the trip like the minute I came back.
But not really, because that would have been at roughly 2 am. The the next day though, I wanted people to know, I wanted to be capable of telling them, of telling you… and I couldn’t. Straight up, I just could not do it.  Totes hate it, but I haven’t even talked to my family about everything.

They haven’t disowned me yet. It’s fine.

  

Path to the Prayer House at El Puente

Okay so, I haven’t avoided talking to people about what an amazing experience this all was because I’m a rude goon or something.
I have legit reasons…

  1. I hadn’t totally processed everything.
    There’s a solid chance that I still haven’t processed everything.
  2. In terms of blogging, this post doesn’t have a whole heck of a lot to do with food… i.e. we’re not talking a typical cupcakes & sunshine post, so I wasn’t quite sure if you’d be down with that.
    But I needed to write it out, because that’s what I do, so that’s what I’m doing.    Lookee there.
  3. I couldn’t figure out how I was going to make you understand. There’s no way I could describe every occurrence and every significant moment and every detail that meant so much from last week… I couldn’t make you see what I saw or feel what I felt.
    To fully understand the impact of this venture, you’d have had to have been there; and sadly, you weren’t.
    That’s an incredibly cheap answer. And giving cheap answers seriously bothers me. I’m supposed to be a good communicator. Or something.

A Typical Barrio Home--photo by Jamie Benson

Then after reading back through my journal and reflecting, I realized…there is no plausible way for you to ever fully get it. And that’s okay.

This was truly one of the most challenging, but overall greatest experiences of my young life. Rather than try to capture it in an elaborate play-by-play of the whole shebang, I’m thinking that sharing what I’ve taken away from it would be much more effective.

Of course, I can attempt a pretty riveting narrated rendition of the whole week if you want to come sit for a few hours and throw back coffee like it’s our profession.

Maybe?

The offer stands. In the meantime, let’s do this. What I brought home from Nicaragua…

photo by Betsy Paolella

Knowledge that it’s okay to feel and feel deeply.

photo by Betsy Paolella

I’ll be honest, over the past few months, I’ve been feeling really desensitized and rather stoney…I guess I wasn’t feeling much of anything, except tired and tense. A lot of that came with allowing myself to become overwhelmed by stress to the point of suffocation. Real talk, it happens.

By nature,  I tend to feel others emotions extremely deeply. After convincing myself that caring is a distraction and really feeling is weakness, I began building a solid defense against that hypersensitivity.Come to find out, being “strong” isn’t such a great thing after all. At least not in that sense.

But last week, my heart melted…over and over and over and over again. With each embrace from a goofy giggling child and everytime I stopped to watch the compassion pour out of my teammates, I melted. Watching a young boy bag up the lunch he was given so that he could give it to his mom, staring over miles of tin shacks housing beautiful families and wondering what I ever did in my life to deserve a comfortable home, walking past drunk men and starving animals lying motionless along the street, and saying adios to some of  the most gorgeous little faces I’ve ever seen… I melted.

I was bombarded with emotion. And as mildly horrifying as it was, I was able to embrace that. Needless to say, I cried every night last week. I cried tears of joy, tears of heartbreak, and tears of sheer gratitude for being able to cry freely. Compassion is one of the greatest aspects of being human. I hope to never again take that for granted.

photo by Jamie Benson

Reminder that first impressions can be awfully misleading.

photo by Betsy Paolella

I boarded the flight to Nica with a number of false impressions… first and foremost, my preconceived definition of a mission trip. True missions are not group efforts to distribute charity. Outright handouts hurt more than they can help. Sure, there is definitely a place for tangible aid, but this trip taught me the value of relational ministry. Bringing hope to people starts by first simply being their friend, by loving them. Once sharing companionship, you can share faith… and that’s quite a gift, on both ends.

Prior to leaving, I had a hard time explaining why I needed to participate in a  mission trip beyond U.S. borders. Most simply, going to another country was necessary to remove myself from the noise of everyday life. The ability to focus solely on being there in that moment without distractions–Facebook, Twitter, e-mail, cell phone service, actually caring about what I wear or my makeup and hair–was integral to fully absorbing everything that this experience had to offer. On top of that, stepping outside of the world I know helped me to better understand that  mission work isn’t an event, it’s a lifestyle. You don’t have to leave the country to share love and fellowship and the word of Christ… but no lie, doing so sure does help in learning how.

photo by Jamie Benson

A new perspective.

photo by Betsy Paolella

Reality stems from how you see things, so if you change how you see things, you change your reality. I think I did that.

In the midst of such drastic poverty and pain, there was such overwhelming beauty in this place, if you were to just look a little deeper. In the neighborhoods, the people, the natural landscape, the city of Granada as a whole… it was collectively breathtaking.

Changing your outlook is the first step in evolving how you relate to people and how you handle what life throws at you. As my own perspective changed, I began to see that I have the power to choose whether I want to accept something as a detriment or a blessing. During lunch one afternoon, one of our translators, Roberto, offered us his 2 steps for guaranteed success:

  1. You must first have the desire
  2. You must then cease any opportunities that arise.
I’m starting to think that a fresh perspective could help people to realize what it is they actually desire. Likewise, I’m thinking more opportunities will become increasingly apparent as a result.    Roberto was a wise dude.  Like you don’t even know.

Photo by Julia Sykes

An Extended Family

The Nica Fam

I can’t emphasize enough how amazingly inspirational my teammates, leaders, and the folks at El Puente are. Seriously, I’ve learned so much from these people and I am beyond proud to call them my brothers and sisters. If I could sit here and write out a bio for each of them just to make you understand what rockstars these people are, I totally would.      But that’d be kind of weird. And creepy. So I’ll refrain.  Just know that they’re legit incredible people. Each and every last one of them.
And I need to throw a special shout out to our two unanticipated team members we picked up upon arrival. My real life roommate and I were honored to bunk with the two interns at El Puente, Brinn and Lindsay. These two young chicas served as our guides and sources for constant encouragement throughout our stay. Both have taken time out from their academic careers to serve the Lord and are pretty much the ultimate inspiration for anyone who feels called away from a conventional 5 point plan for success. In short, we all miss them desperately because they’re pretty much two of the coolest people ever. On top of that, they both happen to be exceptional writers so I’d highly encourage you to take a gander at their blogs and follow along with their journeys.

International Roommies

Realization that the doubts and fears attacking us on a daily basis are nothing but lies, dirty filthy lies.

photo by Betsy Paolella

And for me, stopping them ultra early in development is my only chance at resisting the pain they bring. There were plenty of points throughout the week where I questioned… I questioned whether or not I belonged there, if I was really making any difference, if I was a valuable member of the team.

Time after time, I received generous affirmation that “Yes” was the answer to all of the above.

The relentless self-questioning and often inexplicable anxiety so many of us often face comes from an utterly evil power. And if we actually took the time to examine those uncertainties instead of blindly falling prey to them, we’d realize that half the time (or more), they’re totes irrational. Learning what an unbelievable defense just a little prayer on the forefront of any such mental attack  has been such an invaluable lesson.

Acceptance that being uncomfortable isn’t the worst thing in the world… in fact, sometimes, it might just be one of the best.

It’s just fine to be out of your element, to not know how to handle a situation, to feel slightly out of control. During the times I couldn’t lean on my familiar comforts and personal strengths, I was forced to lean on my creator; thus, I began to actually comprehend the protection he provides.

This could even relate back to my last point about doubt. At times, I felt out of place during ministry. I mean, this was by no means my typical arena of performance, and that led me to question whether or not I was as good a Christian or as spiritually strong as others on my team…maybe I wasn’t even qualified to be there.

Thankfully, this doubt was shattered by something I overheard from one of my teammates, Betsy, who you may thank for a number of these amazing photos. She explained Christianity in terms I’d never heard before in saying that every single person who accepts Christ as their savior is absolutely equal in terms of faith. There’s nothing anyone can do that puts them above anyone else because Christianity isn’t a ladder, it’s a road; and we’re all simply at different points along that road.

It’s a super simple and sensible concept, but had I ever thought of it?     Nope.

Gratitude for what’s on my plate.

The Dump

A lot of the people we interacted with didn’t have much of anything on their plates, yet they were genuinely happier than a good number of people I know here who have more stuff than they know what to do with. If you ask any one of the countless people who spend the day breathing in methane and ash as they dig through mounds of garbage in the dump for recyclables and scraps to sell how they’re doing, you’d have a hard time finding someone to tell you anything other than bien. And if you were to question them further, you’d likely learn that they’re immensely grateful for what they have… that their most basic needs have been met that day, that they’re alive and have their family.

I complain about gaining weight, because I eat too much.
They’re happy to have any bread on the table.
I complain about having too much homework.
They’re happy for any level of education.
I complain about needing new shoes, because my 30 some odd pairs are old.
They’re happy to have anything to protect their feet.
Wake up call.

photo by Jamie Benson

Sincerity

photo by Betsy Paolella

I’ve never really been one to say things without being sincere, but the people of Granada have shown me how crucial sincerity is at the heart of all relationships. People there rarely say things that they don’t mean and rarely show kindness without intentionally wanting to give it.

I can say roughly 5 meaningful phrases in Spanish, but I was honestly overwhelmed by the patience and dedication to communicate that people demonstrated wherever we went. Being on the receiving end on so many occasions over the span of a week makes me want to demonstrate patience, benevolence, and compassion to EVERYONE I meet. I want to give people the time and attention they deserve and need.

One of my favorite sites we visited was the Home of the Ancient… which is Nicaraguan for the old folks home. Going there was heart wrenching on so many levels, but given my astute love for senior citizens, the experience was mostly inspirational. Especially once we started talking to this one stunning lady, I believe she went by the name Paloma.   Let’s say she did.
Paloma had a glorious singing voice, undeniable fashion sense, innate elegance, and limitless wisdom. One tidbit that fits quite well here is a piece of advice she gave to one of my teammates.   Paloma told him to only speak encouragingly to others. Regardless of how you feel towards someone, you need to want the best for them… and so you should only say the things that will build them up, not tear them down. You never know if that’s the last thing you’ll ever say to the person.

Paloma-- photo by Betsy Paolella

Humility.

photo by Betsy Paolella

On any level, to serve another with a gentle and submissive heart is to introduce oneself to humility. It was such an immense blessing to be overwhelmed with the urge to serve others. Even in tasks so minuscule as washing dishes, painting a woman’s fingernails, or cleansing a child’s hands, I just wanted the recipient of that action to understand how very special they are. However, what was most humbling was their reciprocation. It’s almost a struggle to accept someone fussing over making sure you have someplace comfortable to sit in their home while they stand, or a child trying to pamper you when all you want to do is lavish them with the affection they deserve every minute of the day.

Holding on to a the same gentility of spirit may be one of the most important things I fight for now that I’m home. To humble oneself before another, regardless of circumstance, demonstrates infinitely greater strength than attempting to overpower or degrade them.

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photo by Julia Sykes

Street savvy.

photo by Betsy Paolella

Don’t  ever cross the street without looking both ways. Especially in the marketplace. And especially especially in a place that has no designated lanes and seemingly no traffic laws. I’m not going to say I was hit by a motorcycle or anything, because that would horrify my parents… but it could easily have happened.

A new confidence. 

photo by Jamie Benson

In working through everything mentioned above, I found the vigor to be bold and courageous in situations where I would have held back before. I found a renewed confidence, not in my own capabilities, but in Christ’s. Every now and then, I suppose we all need a refresher that even when we’re certain that we have no strength left to stand on, there’s always going to be someone to pull us up and empower us.

And last, but most definitely not least…

photo by Jamie Benson

The ability to see Jesus.

photo by Jamie Benson

I’ve always struggled with providing a solid rebuttle when people present a disbelief in Christ simply because they cannot see him. Now, I realize that we actually do see him numerous times a everyday– Jesus lives in each of us, therefore he acts through us. I can’t even begin to count the times I literally saw Christ last week.

I saw him in my friend Lisa, who always offered the most beautifully versed and heartfelt prayers for our group and individual encouragements to each of us. I saw him in my friend Maricela, who was so very gifted in communicating with difficult children… and communicating with everyone, for that matter. I saw him in my friend Jordan, who used his musical gifts to lead us in worship. I saw him in the boys who used what little money they had to buy their new pals from our team some snacks. I saw him in my friend Jess, who always knew how to make each child feel special and who always had a big smile and kind word for me. I saw him in my friend Connor, who never failed to get the team pumped up for whatever was about to happen. I saw him in the woman who went out of her way to help me maintain the peace between 6 little girls sharing one container of bubbles and not understanding why I couldn’t understand them. I saw him in my friend Chris, who was fearless in sharing his personal testimony to a crowd of teenage boys who could really use a positive influence. I saw him in my friend Lauren, who is simply a natural-born leader. I saw him in the countless children who understood what so many adults don’t—that love is the most powerful force we have. I saw him in my friends Brynn, Alex, Julia, and Betsy, who so enthusiastically shared their passions and ideas for the future and how they will glorify God through them.

We could be here for the next few hours if I go on this way.

photo by Jamie Benson

I know this is by no means my typical type post, but variety is the spice of life. Plus, I genuinely wanted to share all this. I know it was long, so if you made it to the end, kudos to you.

I promise the foodfest is soon to return.

Go eat bacon in the meantime.

Final Breakfast in Nica

15 thoughts on “NICARAGUA: Spring Break of a Lifetime

  1. Thank you so much for sharing your heart. Your passion for Christ and people is such an encouragement and Im so thankful you chose to share all you learned and experienced so freely. I didnt think I could think you were any greater than I already ready do, but you just blew my mind chica! Thank you! Love, Lauren

  2. Awesome post, and you managed to include bacon. I can see the trip was a life changing experience. Good for you. Good for all of us.

  3. Darcy my friend…I cannot begin to tell you how proud I am of you. You have matured into an incredible young lady and a Christian who doesn’t BRAG or INTEND to memorize the entire Bible thinking that by doingnso its the only way to get to Heaven. YOU GET IT DARCY! WOW! We as Christians can most certainly help fellow man, just by letting others see Jesus in us. I SOOOO wish you would see if their is a JOURNEY retreat in Athens that you could attend. If you attended Chrysallis though in high school, you wouldn’t be eligible for Journey. I attended the Walk to Emmaus here at Camp Tygart and I LOVED it! I have no doubt that you would also LOVE it and return to help there with future events. PLEASE check about it. Our next Journey at Camp Tygart here in Valdosta is in Jan. Or Feb. I believe and I would LOVE to sponsor you here….if you cant find one there..But there should be one near Athens. I love you so much and I am honored for the opportunity to have met you several years ago and have stayed in touch with you because I REALLY know you are an awesome person…..that’s why I chose YOU as my intern……hehehehehehehehe

    In Christ…….Jennifer

    • Thanks so much Ms. Jen! All of that really means A LOT to me. I’ll definitely be looking into some of those retreats! Thanks again for everything, you’ve always been such a wonderful friend and influence on my life. Love you!

  4. Well I just read this entire post and just thought I’d say I’m very proud of you. You know I was very skeptical about you going, just the big brother worrying about his sister syndrome I guess, but I’m really glad you got to do this!

  5. The lord truly works in mysterious ways. Any doubt that I’ve ever had about why we’re here, or what purpose my life has, you’ve resolved in this post. I am continually amazed by you Darcy Shannon Lenz. It’s hard to put into words, but I truly feel like Christ just patted me on the back. I love you, and am so proud of you.

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