Nicaraguans: 1; Gringos: 1

We didn’t damage Nicaraguan – US relations today during the soccer game, or even during the pick-up softball game that followed. Today was a mixed day of work and fun for our team from New Mexico State Univ. We started the day early, so we could get a coat of paint on top of the school. The galvanized metal roof needed a coat of paint to help reduce the oxidation from the hot Caribbean sun. 4 of the guys volunteered to do the roof, while the rest of us added a second coat of paint on the walls and trim. It is starting to come along. It looks beautiful and clean in the classrooms. But whenever you have a big group of painters, messiness is an unfortunate outcome. We put a little more paint on the floor (and on ourselves) than we intended. We worked solid from 9 am to 1 pm, then we broke for another delicious lunch. The woman who cooked lunch for us today gave me an extra treat…Armando told her how much I love plantains, so she gave me a double helping.

The kids started gathering around 1:30 patiently waiting for us to finish our lunch. They wanted to play soccer with us and just hang out. I was so impressed with the crew as they did their best to communicate with the kids…I think fun is a universal language.

Another crowd started gathering closer to the church as the kids played with our kids from NMSU. This crowd kept inching closer to the field…we knew what they were here for. The soccer match that was promised yesterday was gathering momentum. It didn’t take long before two teams were fielded; a group of Aggies + 1 of the Nicaraguans in our group, JJ (our nickname for him because we can’t pronounce his real name). The locals had their dream team, including a boy of about 12 years old that handled the ball like a magician. The first game was a good challenge, and the Nicaraguans actually were impressed with the soccer skills of our team. But we still lost 2-0. The second game was a shocker…the Americans won! We even had two women on our team, which further impressed the local boys. The rubber match was won by the Nicaraguans 1-0. Lots of back-slapping, high-fiving and hand-shaking afterwards, which is a good sign. Someone suggested kickball, and we ended up hiking to the local baseball field to teach them a new game. Unfortunately the kickball was deflated after it hit a barbed wire fence. So the locals playing softball offered a game. Again a team of gringos was quickly formed including two of our new friends from the soccer match. This time we won 10-9! We invited the team to worship with us, and they offered a rematch on Monday, which was quickly accepted by “El Capitan” Greg Bowles. I hear he is slightly competitive…

I think this is a good trip…we are doing some good while having some fun. We are looking forward to worshiping with our new friends tomorrow.

3 Hardware Store Trips

My father-in-law always says that a good project requires at least 3 trips to the hardware store to get those parts that are always forgotten, or needed because something got broken while being fixed. Well, that is holding true for us here in Nicaragua. We started out a little late this morning because we wanted people to get a little sleep after our long day and night of travel, but we still got a lot of painting done…after the third trip to the hardware store.

We landed in Managua last night around 9 pm, and after clearing immigration, collecting our luggage and passing through customs, we found Freddy and our driver, Antonio waiting for us. It took us a while to load all the luggage on top of the minibus. Our drive to Playa Marsella took almost 3 hours, so it was close to 1 am when we finally arrived. The owner of the Villa Mar hotel was waiting for us, and we all crashed in our rooms.

This morning our task was to get to the Iglesia del Cristo in Rivas and get started on our project of painting the new school building. The church in Duncanville, Texas started the building and completed the shell before running out of money in 2008. So we were going to help finish it by painting the inside. Armando the preacher was very optimistic that we could get it all done in a week…apply a coat of primer on everything, then a coat of white on the bricks, and a coat of blue on the trim…oh, and don’t forget to paint the roof, refinish the doors, and paint the metal window guards. Whew! As we started looking at the supplies, we noticed paint roller covers, but no rollers. Also not enough brushes for the 18 of us. So in my weak Spanish, I told Freddy to go into town and buy the handles for the rollers. Poor Freddy misunderstood me and came back with the long handle extension poles for the rollers…but still no rollers! We would need the roller extension poles to paint the upper walls, so no harm done. We sent him back out to get the rollers. He came back with the rollers and a surprise…extra roller covers…smart guy Freddy is.

Everyone from NMSU painted in the high humidity and heat for six hours. We made some friends as well…the neighbor kids wanted to help, so we handed them sandpaper to help sand the doors. They took a few of the team to visit their home down the street. The home was crowded with people, and some older boys challenged our team to a soccer match…tomorrow, 2 pm. They looked serious, and the Aggies from NMSU shook a little in their boots at the challenge. We ate a delicious lunch prepared by some of the women from the church. We wanted to help in as many was as we could, so we hired them to cook us a hot lunch every day. No sandwiches for us, we wanted traditional Nicaraguan food. Today’s lunch: Delicious chicken cooked in a Jalapeno cream sauce with rice, beans, fried plantains and salad.

This is a great group of students and staff from University Church of Christ in Las Cruces, New Mexico. They have great attitudes, want to serve and love on some of our CRF kids. I can tell because they brought an entire duffel bag filled with treats for the kids here. A Church of Christ in a Roman Catholic dominated country like Nicaragua faces an uphill challenge, so any help we can provide is welcomed. Armando is excited that we want to reach out to his community, so he is planning some time for us to meet his neighbors. We are also hosting a giant fiesta after worship services on Sunday. We will invite the community to join us for worship and lunch afterwards. The kids are looking forward to breaking open some pinatas with us.

So far, this project is worth the 3 trips to the hardware store.

If you are interested in organizing a team to travel to some of our sites, go to our website and let us know!

Find What Works

This is a guest post from CRF President Milton Jones’ blog, Through Orange Colored Glasses.

Sean Penn has made a lot of headlines at the Cannes Film Festival, and it is not a movie that he is promoting. He is calling for the film industry and any sympathetic heart to finish the task in Haiti. The poverty and the crisis are still there. Others will argue that enough is enough. Too much money and effort went into the Haiti crisis and not nearly enough relief actually happened. They will spin stories of governmental abuse and poorly spent relief money.

I think I can argue both sides. (more…)

Will You Tell the Bad News

This is a guest post from CRF President Milton Jones’ blog, Through Orange Colored Glasses.

People are always on my case because I know so many bad things. Maybe it is because the first thing I do when I wake up every morning is to read “The Poverty News.” I keep being asked to change the subject. “We are tired of hearing of famines and drought,” they say. But sometimes you have to tell the bad news. I have found that there are so many messengers who only want to talk about the pleasant events. But would you tell people bad news if people really needed to hear it? Or do you avoid the negative simply to circumvent conflicts or pain?

How would you like to always be the one to break the bad news to people? Agabus was that way. Maybe you don’t remember him. It’s probably because we try to forget bearers of bad news. But every time we see in him in the book of Acts, he has bad news.

The first time Agabus tells the bad news is in Acts 11.

27 During this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28 One of them, named Agabus, stood up and through the Spirit predicted that a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world. (This happened during the reign of Claudius.) 29 The disciples, each according to his ability, decided to provide help for the brothers living in Judea. 30 This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul. (Acts 11:27-30, NIV).

Some people get to announce the good news of the coming Messiah. Agabus gets to announce a drought. But it is still God’s message. And it is the message of the moment. And God’s message needs to be told whether it is the one you want to tell or not.

The second time we see Agabus is in Acts 21.

10 After we had been there a number of days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. 11 Coming over to us, he took Paul’s belt, tied his own hands and feet with it and said, “The Holy Spirit says, `In this way the Jews of Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.’ 12 When we heard this, we and the people there pleaded with Paul not to go up to Jerusalem. 13 Then Paul answered, “Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” 14 When he would not be dissuaded, we gave up and said, “The Lord’s will be done.” (Acts 21:10-14, NIV).

Ananias gets to tell Paul of the good news of his salvation. Agabus gets to tell Paul the bad news of his arrest. But once again, it is God’s Word.  It must be told. And it is the message of the moment.

God’s Word always leads to good news, but there is often some bad news to be told before the good news occurs. In the case of the famine, God was going to use it to bring healing of bad relationships between Jews and Gentiles. The famine was going to create an opportunity for the Gentiles to give to the poor brethren in Jerusalem. Paul’s arrest was going to eventually take him to Rome where the gospel was going to penetrate the powers of the world with the power of the gospel.

There is nearly always bad news before good news. In fact the bad news makes the good news seem so much better. But will you tell it?

Before there is redemption, the bad news must be told. If you don’t know you are a sinner, you will never understand why you need to be saved.

Before there is restoration, the bad news must be confessed. Unless you confess how you have wronged someone, they will never be able to forgive you.

Before there is revival, the bad news must be declared. Unless corporate sin and misplaced priorities are confessed, the stirring fire of revival never ignites.

Now I know a few people who make it their goal to tell bad news. They are the Eeyores of the church. I don’t think that is your calling. But along the way in putting in a good word for Jesus, you may have to tell the bad news too. When it is your turn to be an Agabus, don’t retreat. Put in the bad word knowing the good is not far behind. God caused some powerfully good things to happen after Agabus told of the famine. He can still do that with famines today.

The Wise Women of Eldoret

The Wise Women of Eldoret

The Wise Women of Eldoret

Everyone in the charity world is throwing around the term “microfinance” as the way to help change a poor community. Microfinance principles are based on investments made in the community through small, or micro loans, and then letting the community help themselves through the creation of jobs. Microfinance is something CRF has been dabbling in for the past 5 years, and in those 5 years we have learned what types of projects work the best.

It is especially tough in Africa where the loan default rate is very high in microfinance banking. To be successful in Africa, one has to understand the culture of money in Africa. Money is not saved in Africa, it is spent. If you have money and don’t spend it, a relative can ask you to help them, and you would be obligated to help. Business money co-mingles with personal money, and the idea of separating it is not natural. If school fees need to be paid for the children and you have money that you were going to use to buy inventory for your business, the school fees might be paid instead.  We spent 2 years working with our Kenyan communities to help them understand the concept of keeping money separate, working up a business plan, and staying with their commitments. I have personally worked with a group of extraordinary women in Eldoret, Kenya for over a year helping them to develop their plan, reviewing it, and finally approving it. It is a huge step for them, and we are behind them in prayer and support.

Two years ago, Julie Rawlins (CRF Board Member) and I spoke to the women and men’s groups of the Kipkaren Church of Christ in Eldoret. We wanted to share the concept of microfinance with them and then take their ideas and work with them on it. Several business plans were submitted by the men’s group who had some experience with savings plans, microfinance, and business. Out of those meetings we helped finance a brick-making business (now defunct) and a small grain mill (still operating). The women’s group was made up mostly of AIDS widows and single mothers. Many of their ideas reflected their status in society…hair salons, small charcoal re-selling, and other businesses that women in Kenya are destined to have. The problem is that there is too much competition for these small enterprises, and that keeps prices down. Julie and I asked the women to think bigger. They took that advice and came up with their own big idea. They wanted to get into the tent and chair rental business. Since this was smashing down societal walls, it would take us almost a year to work through their business plan.

The idea is sound…tent rentals are a big business. Every church, wedding, funeral, graduation party and celebration needs a tent and chairs. There are no large rental halls in Eldoret. Everyone rents a big canopy tent for their event. These ladies didn’t know much about this business, but they were willing to learn. So learn they did. Each time they came back to me with answers to my tough questions, they grew in confidence. They put together a budget…I asked them to re-negotiate with their suppliers to get a better price, and they did just that. I asked them to consider marketing their services. Marketing is almost unknown in their town. I asked them how people would find out about their business. They replied that most advertising was word of mouth. I asked them to think differently and to come up with a good corporate name for their business. I wanted them to stencil that name and their phone number on the front of their tents, on the insides, and on the back of every chair. They took my advice and the Wise Women’s Enterprise was born. In Swahili wise women is translated, “Mama Hekima.”

I like that. They are changing the way they view themselves. They aren’t widows or single mothers anymore. They are smart business women who will change their own destinies.  Oh, and by the way, they just got their tents from the tent-maker and rented them that very same day for a wedding ceremony. They just made their first loan payment. I am proud of these strong women of faith. They give me hope for their community.

We have learned a lot of lessons in establishing microfinance programs in our Kenyan communities. We know what works and what doesn’t.  If you want to support our microfinance programs, make a donation to CRF, and designate it, “microfinance.” We will be sure to use it wisely.