Tuesday, December 3, 2013

What are you celebrating this year?

As the year comes to a close, Vida Joven of Central Managua is planning their Liderazgo Navideño (Christmas Leadership) and the question they asked each team/school/barrio to be prepared to answer is, "What are you celebrating this year?" and to me that questions is H-U-G-E.  This year has been one to be celebrated and I couldn't be more thankful.  Let's review:

January: Fully funded face - need I say more?

February: Moved to Costa Rica where my big adventure began. 

March: Was studying Spanish in language school and dreams came true: I HELD A TOUCAN!  I was also participating in Young Life and Wyld Life and even went on Service Project over spring break.  

April: My sister came to visit me in Costa Rica after I took a trip to Nicaragua with Ella.  We got to see the ministry in action and help out with a Vida Joven "growth camp" that weekend.  People that I know better now remember me from that weekend and have asked me, "Why were you so shy?!" haha

May: My full trimester of language school started and Young Life took a summer break.  I would say May was my month to celebrate my new friendships. 

June: MY BIRTHDAY!  Celebrating with my host family and friends on my actual birthday and then took a visa trip to Panama.  One of my favorite birthdays to date! 

July: While celebrating my favorite holiday from afar (4th of July that is), I participated on Work Crew for 4 days straight and loved every bit of it minus the 4:30 am wake up calls. 

Watermelon lolly pops to celebrate the 4th of July on the bus ride to camp. 

August: Graduated from language school and The BIG move!  I finally made it to Nicaragua! So much celebrate in August: A place to live with a great gringo family, a new to me car, jumping right into ministry, being a part of a great team, and on and on it goes.  

September: Was a little bit quieter than previous months but I think what I celebrate from September is getting into the swing of things with life in Nicaragua.  Hanging out with and getting to know these girls more is a huge celebration!  We also had a student leader retreat  (There are plenty more not pictured but we just haven't had that many photo ops together...yet!) 

October: I got the sweet opportunity to travel back to Costa Rica for a few days on my way to the Dominican Republic (tickets were cheaper from CR to DR than Nica to DR and it was a good excuse for a mini vacation).  I visited my host family :) and hung out with friends and read books while it rained outside - just what I need after so many adventures.  In the DR we had an ISchools staff retreat where I finally got to meet the rest of the DR YL team and enjoy some time at the beach.  It was a week of rest and restoration that brought healing.  

November: The month I moved out of my last "host family" home.  I have been blessed for the last year + to live with other families - one in Raleigh, another in San Jose and finally one here in Managua.  It's amazing how the love of the Lord compels people to invite me into their house and let me be a part of their family.  I moved into my little casita at the beginning of the month but celebrated Thanksgiving with the Izzos (my Managua host family, if you will).  I am so thankful for that family!  Also, Ella and our friend Jen came to visit in Nica - one of the first official signs that ELLA WILL BE HERE SOON! (She brought some suitcases.)  

I just love these girls and wanted to include them in my celebration blog.  They are Vida Joven leaders from Managua and they have loved me well already! 
December: Decembe has just begun so I don't have any fancy photos to share with you but this month I will celebrate Ella coming officially, going to La Finca for a training camp with all of Central America Vida Joven, I will return to the states for about 3 1/2 weeks for Christmas, hanging out with friends and family and saying thank you to all of my donors. 

This year is one to remember and has given me an abundance of things to celebrate.  

Thursday, October 31, 2013

YL Clubs of the Year So Far

One of the major tools we use in Young Life is club.  Club is an event each week where we go to a kid's houses where we play games, sing songs and finish with an introduction of who Jesus is.  Some people in YL like to call it a party with a purpose because we always have a great time and it's an opportunity to show kids that loving Jesus can be fun! 

Club Puro Pinolero 
Puro pinolero = Pure Nicaraguan 
The week before Nicaragua's independence day, our club was themed after everything Nicaraguan.  We sang songs in Spanish (which we normally sing in English), drank Pinol (a typical Nica drink that tastes like chocolate milk & cinnamon), and the girls taught me to dance after club was over.  

Explosion Club

Boys v. Girls trivia - I was the timer, pumping a balloon
 with confetti and they had to rotate - like in Catchphrase -
 guys and girls until the balloon popped. 

Ever tried Coke Zero and Mentos? 
It REALLY works! 
What's Explosion Club without
sparklers and REAL fireworks? 

Color Wars Club

The talk was about Jesus dying on the cross, taking
all our mess (the paint)
 and making us new in Jesus.  A great visual by
 one of our volunteer leaders, Mark. 
Launching paint water balloons at student leaders! 
Color Wars = Success! 

Everybody's Birthday Club

Arturo was graciously volunteered by his
friend Sergio to be our human piñata. 
Then everyone took off their left shoe and swatted
at the piñata as he ran by to get the candy off. 

Where there is colorful icing, there will be food fights. 
Clubs not pictured: We're back!, Capture the flag, YOLO & Battle of the Sexes

To say I've had a favorite club this year, the answer would change every week because I have been so impressed with my team and the way greatness is had each week!  It is truly amazing to be a part of this team and I can't wait for it to grow in December when Ella makes her way from Costa Rica to Nicaragua, por fin. 

Like I said at the beginning though, club is just one of the tools that YL uses to reach kids.  The main focus every week is to make sure our message is clear that Jesus wants to have a personal relationship with each and every one of us.  We have used great visuals and stories from the past to make it relatable to kids while never losing the meaning of the Gospel.  

I gave the talk last night and used a story from my travels about walking through a cave with only a candle's light to follow.  Giving talks always makes me nervous.  One of my teammates asked one of the kids who probably speaks the least amount of English of the group at club last night, what the talk was about and that is when I knew I had done ok.  He said, "She talked about how we all have caves, dark places in our lives, but Jesus is the light of the world and came to free us from them." BAM! That is exactly what I was going for!  I feel like after I give a talk, I'm not sure what I just said but when I hear a simple synopsis like that one with my exact main point I know that the Holy Spirit lead my words and opened kids' hearts to hear his message. 

Guys, this is my job! I can hardly believe it myself. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

A Tour of Managua

I thought you might want a quick tour of Managua that Ella and I did our first week in town. 

One month in to the Vida Nica and loving it!

Monday, September 2, 2013

Coffee Shop & Work Crew at AD School

This week might be one of my favorite weeks I've had in a long time.  I loved my time in Costa Rica and still miss the people but Nicaragua is my home and I'm starting to settle in.

Some of my Work Crew friends! 

When I found out I was on Work Crew this week.
 SURPRISE! It turned out to be a beautiful blessing. 
This past week I got to do Work Crew (Equipo de Trabajo) at the Finca - the YL camp in Matagalpa, Nicaragua - for the Area Directors training.  Area Directors from all over Central America, Mexico and the Dominican Republic came to Nica for training and theology classes.  I also got to serve them as the "barista" in the coffee shop.  I L-O-V-E-D the coffee shop.  It was a gathering place for people to come, relax and chat and I got to be in the center of it.  I even got a chance to get to know a few of the leaders from the region and I especially loved the time I got to know other Nica leaders.

Big things are happening here and I am so thankful to be a part of it, even in the smallest way.

Some of the highlights from this week that I wrote in my journal as "momentos bonitos y pensamientos":

Momentos bonitos: Listening to club worship in Spanish while I was in the coffee shop alone. 

Serving my Work Crew friends coffee and hot chocolate.  
One friend told me he didn't eat dinner because of the delicious hot chocolate that I had made him (from a packet.) 
When they had breaks throughout the day, they would come see me because they were worried about me being left alone. 

Marlyn - a director in Nicaragua - telling me she felt like she was in a different country when she was in the coffee shop because everything was so foreign to her.  I loved this because it meant she hadn't had the opportunity for fun drinks like chai or hot chocolate before and because I'm the one in a foreign country and felt right at home in the coffee shop.  

Being called a Nica. What an honor it is to be called a local.  

Pensamientos: Latinos even gel their hair when wearing a hairnet all day.

These people are beautiful.  It made me think of Romans 10:15: Any how can anyone preach unless they are sent.  As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring the good news!"  

Condor - one of the WC bosses - said, "Siga sirviendo" - Keep serving.

International Schools YL Nicaragua & Costa Rica 

The ADs of Managua :) 

Another highlight for me was getting to meet so many of the Global Leaders of Nicaragua.  The DGLs (Developing Global Leaders) are a group of people who are sponsored by donors from all over to have the opportunity to go to university while being Young Life leaders in their college or neighborhood. Here's a better definition: What is a DGL? The DGLs in Nicaragua are good people.  This week I spent time with Jessy, Luis, Harvin, Jennifer, Carlos, Elsa, Franklin - some were on Work Crew with me and others are the directors or future directors of their areas.  Check them out here - click on Nicaragua to see some of my new friends specifically.  I love the vision of DGLs.  One day, they will be taking over my job and spreading the Good News all over the country and the world. 

4 Redheads in Nicaragua!  Representing Nicaragua, Mexico &
Costa Rica - We're taking over Central America! 

Nicaragua & Mexico International Schools YL

All the ADs on top of the world! 

Big things are happening here people.  

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Nica. Here to stay.

We made it.  Made it to Nicaragua after over 2 years of planning, prepping and praying.

The week started on Sunday with a long bus ride from San José, across the border and ending in Managua.  I was so thankful to have Ella to continue this part of the journey with me for so many reasons and I cannot wait until she is back in Nica to stay too.  We were greeted by some of the amazing Vida Joven leaders and our teammates Pratt & Ashley Butler. After a quick snack at a local fried chicken restaurant with them, the Butlers, Ella and me went to dinner with the family I am currently living with, the Izzos.  The Izzos are a great family of 3 kids - 2 in high school and one in elementary school - that have graciously opened their home to me until I find a more permanent place.  When thinking about looking for housing (while I was still in Costa Rica) Pratt made a comment along the lines of, "God seems to form a special place in people's hearts for you Jen in the way they open their house to you" so he wasn't too concerned about housing and he was right!  This makes my 5th home stay in as many years.

The week is somewhat of a blur because I was trying to get my bearings but it has been filled with Cabin Time (aka Campaigners aka Bible study), a girl's birthday party, contact work (meeting new kids) and the first Club of the year!  The turn out for the first club was great and Ella and I got to be a part of the games and even made a video (to be posted soon!) of our tour of Managua.

I also was able to take care of a few administrative things on Thursday after taking Ella to the airport.  Pratt and I went to the bank for two hours then made our way to a car lot where I had found a car online and he had checked out before I got here.  It's a 2001 Pathfinder and we got it for a really good price.  After a few hours at the lot (since I need a few more lessons on my stick-shift driving) one of the guys at the lot drove me home in my new car and we headed off to Cabin Time.  It was a new day for CT and we had already met on Monday to catch up so no one showed up but we used that time to set up my phone.  At this point, I was feeling pretty accomplished for such a productive day.  Well it turned into a classic "Welcome to Nicaragua" day when my car broke down as Pratt was taking me home.  We took it to a mechanic (who is also a Vida Joven leader) and found out there wasn't any oil in the engine, a simple fix thankfully.  As we were getting in a taxi to go home, an "aguacero" - downpour - came out of nowhere and made me even more thankful we weren't stuck on the road then.  The day ended with family dinner and watching The Sandlot.  Overall a productive day and ended on a note of thankfulness for this family, my car and the friends around me who can laugh with me.

Friday was spent on the opposite side of town picking up tools and work team supplies from this summer.  I enjoyed this time a lot because I got to see a number of the other Vida Joven leaders I hadn't seen yet this week and even some of their homes and future VJ Club locations. I am still continually blown away by the work the Lord is doing on both sides of the economical gap in the country and pray for opportunities to bridge it.

If there's one thing I take from this week is that I've got a lot to learn.  A lot to learn about ministry.  A lot to learn about Spanish.  A lot to learn about driving.  A lot to learn about cross cultural friendships. A lot to learn about Jesus and the work he has started in me.  A lot to learn about grace with myself and with others. A. Lot. To. Learn.

But I am here and I am willing.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

¡Que dicha!

Costa Rica has a variety of "dichos" or sayings in Spanish that I have come to love.  One of the most popular is "pura vida" and if you've ever been to CR then I'm sure you heard it.  It can mean anything from thank you to your welcome to a response to a question like "how are you?" or a greeting.  My most recent favorite dicho is quite simple "que dicha."  I learned it to mean "how blessed" or "what a gift".  The thing I love about it most is how simply it's used: 

-How are you? 
--I'm good thank you, how are you? 
--Que dicha.

It's made me think of all the little "dichas" in my life and there are many.  Costa Rica in itself has been a huge dicha for me.  I'll be honest, when I was told I was going to language school at first I was a little disappointed/wanted to skip it and get to Nicaragua ASAP.  I knew there was wisdom behind coming here but I had no idea what was in store for me when I got here.  It has honestly become one of my favorite seasons of life so far.  

My host family is another big one.  They have loved me, cared for me, fed me and laughed with me to no end.  They are already planning their trip to visit me in Nicaragua so I better find a house big enough!  For my 25th birthday they contacted my sister in NC to ask what theme the party should be and then decorated the house "Hawaiian" with balloons and actual tree branches  before my friends got here or I had any clue.  

The community that surrounds me here blows my mind.  Some of these people I have only known for 2 months since the trimester started in May and I have high hopes to be friends with them for years to come.  It's amazing the way the Lord can truly knit people together through His love.  

My partner in crime Ella.  What a gift. If I had my way and gotten here any earlier I would have missed out on so much but the Lord knew better.  She is a joy to be around.  We laugh often and love each other well.  Everything turns into an adventure when living in Latin America and I can't imagine embarking on them with anyone else.  She is wise beyond her years and I have so much to learn from her.  I am thankful and excited to be on the same team in Nica for many years to come and will be nothing short of amazed at what the Lord has planned for her.  It's going to be sad/hard to move in August without her (until she comes in December!) but we've already seen the Lord's timing work out so well before and are trusting in Him.

Learning Spanish is another one.  I've had a heart for Spanish/Latin America for years now but I've never studied it with the intention of using it for God's work.  It was always for good grades, to be a good teacher or simply because I kinda liked it.  I knew that God had put this love in my life for a reason but now I get to study Spanish with the intention that I'll be able to have heart level/deep conversations in Nicaragua to share the Gospel, The Good News.  I get to study the Bible in class with my classmates going out all over Latin America to do the same work with different tools and organizations. 

The beauty of Costa Rica/Panama/Nicaragua is yet another dicha.  Walking out of a mall tonight, my friends and I were just amazed at the view of mountains submerged in clouds - so simple yet sweet when you remember to notice those little things. 

Serving on work crew this past weekend with Vida Joven kids from all over San Jose - que dicha.  We served a camp of about 150 campers and leaders primarily the dining hall - decorating for each meal, serving food/drinks and cleaning up, not to mention the occasional bathroom wash down.  I think about those four days with a smile on my face.  There's something about walking along side teenagers experiencing the joys and hardships of serving the Lord, maybe some for the first time.  These kids are in training to be leaders in their communities and I am thankful to have been a part of their work crew team. 

And finally (for now), church/worship in Spanish.  I can honestly say I can connect with the Lord in Spanish now better than ever before.  The worship band at my church is called Crossover and has recorded worship songs originally in English translated into Spanish and it is amazing.  To be able to connect with God in another language reminds me that He is the God of this world, He created all things and loves all of these people.  

Que dicha. 

Monday, May 6, 2013

Sweet Home Nicaragua

This post is long overdue but it brings me great joy to tell you all about my trip to Nicaragua in April.  Ella and I made the trip together from San Jose in a bus to Managua, about 8 hours plus border crossing time.  I think this trip came at the perfect time in between our intensive course and the beginning of our trimester (that starts tomorrow).  I think it gave me a great vision and sweet excitement for what's to come.  
One of my favorite things we did while we were there was get to participate in Young Life club with the international schools.  I have been helping out here in San Jose for the last 2+ months but there was something so sweet about hanging out with the kids that I will get to hang out with for the years to come.  The theme of club was "summer time" as if it's not hot enough in Managua.  We finished the night with the longest ice cream sundae that turned into the largest ice cream food fight/water war.  

The before...
My zipline buddy for last summer! Mariana went to Windy Gap last year where we met and concurred our fear of heights together.  This summer she is going on Work Crew at Lost Canyon in AZ.  Oh the way the Lord is  transforming hearts in Nicaragua! 
My sweet teammates. Dry, clean and happy during what turned into a huge food fight!  

I also got to participate in the Work Crew training for Mariana and Ana Maria who are both sacrificing a month of their summer to serve at a YL camp in AZ called Lost Canyon.  I met both of these girls last summer at Windy Gap and I love seeing where the Lord is taking them on their journeys.  

While we were in Nicaragua, so were most of the international schools in Central America for the annual AASCA volleyball tournament.  It was awesome because there were 3 girls that went on Service Project with us in March from Costa Rica that we ran into for a few minutes after their game.  They were shocked to see us in Nicaragua because not too many people make that trek. 

And finally, the weekend that we were there was also the weekend for "campomento crecimiento" or growth camp for team coordinators and planning teams.  These are the leaders who are new to their role as a leader so they start on the planning team and learn more about what it looks like to be a leader for Christ in their location.  All of these leaders/planners were from Managua - 80 new leaders in Managua! I L-O-V-E-D getting to meet these leaders.  They are the body of Christ in areas that this little redhead would never be able to go - they are leaders in their neighborhoods, at their universities and even a student leader for the international school.  I love that Vida Joven Managua has such an integration between Young Life and Vida Joven, that there isn't a division or separate trainings but we all learn under the same leadership.   

What's a YL camp without an obstacle course as soon as you get off the bus!? 

Club area - who needs walls!? 
Worship together at night :) 

Some of my new friends! 
A few of the beautiful faces that love kids for Christ in Managua! 
To finish off the weekend, a late night pool party in your clothes! 
The leadership team of Managua doing the new, up and coming dance "Limonada Style" 
So much joy flows out of this girl! 
One of the first things Pratt said to us when he & Ashley picked us up from the bus station was "Welcome home!" and that has rung in my ears ever since.  It was a beautifully simple phrase that went straight to my heart.  I know that there will be plenty of challenges in my future but I also know the promises of God, in HIS faithfulness will ring truer and louder than any challenge that will come my way.  I am thankful for this time in Costa Rica and language school (that officially starts tomorrow) because I know God is teaching me so much in my time here, more than a language.  He is teaching me to find my satisfaction in Him, something I have to be reminded of every morning with this verse: 

"Satisfy [me] in the morning with your steadfast love, that [I] may rejoice and be glad all [my] days." 
Psalm 90:14

Nicaragua may be one of the poorest countries but it is rich in the Spirit.  I am so excited to call this place my home and to learn more about who Christ is. 

Dance party at camp!