Sunday, December 11, 2016

Reflections on the First Five Months

We are coming to the end of the first semester and we are all surprised by conflicting feelings: we have only been here five months yet it feels like we've been here much longer vs. we have just gotten here and half of the school year is almost over.

We are so thankful for the International Christian Fellowship (ICF) and the Nicaraguan Christian Academy (NCA) families. They have welcomed us in and have quickly made this feel like home with brothers and sisters in Christ surrounding us and loving us. So I would like to share a little about these two organizations.

First a description of ICF from its website: "The International Christian Fellowship is a ministry to the English-speaking community of Nicaragua. The Fellowship is Christ-centered, Bible-believing, interdenominational group of Christians who seek to follow Jesus Christ as Lord, live according to His will and minister in His name".  But what is ICF for us? It is a family atmosphere where we have been welcomed to join in Sunday worship, sunday school, youth groups, men and women's bible studies, small group gatherings women's and men's fellowship and retreats, potlucks, communion and of course fellowship.

Likewise NCA from its website: "NCA schools partner with Christian parents in forming active disciples of Jesus Christ, equipped to impact society through the development of their spiritual discernment, moral courage and academic excellence".  For us it a place to share our love for God and our subject matter with students, to watch our children find a place among friends in and out of school, and to love our colleagues who have become friends.

Now that you know a little background to our new life, here is a summary from each of us as we answer the questions: How was your first five months? and How are you feeling about Nicaragua?

Rachelle:     My first few months living here have been great. I've made so many friends at school, ICF, and my neighborhood.  They  have been very kind and welcoming to me, but I do miss my friends from SFC. I love the temperature because I can swim any time, but really miss the snow. I really hate all the bugs, tarantulas, ants, cockroaches etc. I've been doing sport camps like volleyball, basketball, and soccer that are fun. I can't wait to see Katie. I've missed her so much! That's a bummer too, being away from everyone. I love swimming in the ocean and hiking volcanoes.

Branden:       Living here in Nicaragua has been very fun. I have made so many new friends. Some things that I have been doing with them are soccer, ultimate frisbee, swimming, Minecraft and just hanging out and talking. I really enjoyed hiking in the mountains and seeing howler monkeys and agouties. I also really enjoyed juggling in the talent show with bean bags, rings, clubs, and fireballs. I am excited to see Katherine again at christmas.

Stacey:      My first few months have been a blast. I have made several friends. My favorite class is Outdoor Survival but sadly that is only one semester. I have enjoyed being involved with sports here. I played volleyball and am on an ultimate frisbee team. When I think about leaving, I am really sad because I have not been here that long and I love it here. For that reason I have chosen to take a gap year and work at the school next year. I will be volunteering and helping in the special education program. I am very excited for this opportunity to stay here and become closer with the community here. 

Christy:     Hot, exciting, beautiful, fulfilling, and rewarding are just a few words to describe my first five months. I love teaching preschool and have a great team to work with in my class. The growth in language and learning is amazing.  A Bible study on the Armor of God, stretched me and brought me closer to God. Seeing the ocean, volcanoes, mountains, flowers, birds, and monkeys has me rejoicing in the glory of God and creation. My biggest struggle and frustration is the language barrier and learning Spanish is slow and tiring. I am concerned the heat at the hottest part of the year (Apr./May) will be unbearable, because I'm finding the coolest part of the year warm. I love Nica and am at peace that we have followed God's leading. I also miss Katie and Joel, but am happy they have family close by to love on them and that God has given them each other!

Jeff:        I have really enjoyed my first 5 months in Nicaragua. Getting back into the classroom and coaching have been wonderful. Getting to know my family in a different way by participating in different sports activities with them has been an unexpected blessing. Playing volleyball with my wife and Stacey, playing ultimate frisbee with Branden and Stacey and starting to play basketball with Branden are the high points of my time down here. Computer class has stretched me a little but has been going well. Teaching math again has been rewarding and fun as I have Branden in my class. Another highlight was going to a men's retreat in the cooler temperatures of the mountains. It was great to dive into scripture with the guys and get re-engaged in my walk with the Lord.

Thank you for all your thoughts, prayers and support. Part of being here is relying on others to support our mission. If you can help with a $10 monthly gift please call CRWM at (616) 224-0700 or 800-346-0075. One time gifts can be made through CRWM by going to their website at

Monday, November 7, 2016

Our first two weeks

Riding an emotional rollercoaster of excitement, nervousness, confusion, anticipation, exhaustion, boredom, and overload in the first two weeks, we tried to adjust to this wonderful country called Nicaragua. The first day, we were taken to LaUnion, a local grocery store to get some things to stock the kitchen. The biggest excitement was having two geckoes fall on our table right before our lunch. They created quite the commotion running onto one of the ladies in our group, which led to screaming, jumping, and lots of laughing!
Friday, we took the kids to see school for the first time. It was bigger than they anticipated, but the lockers seemed small. As I walked around, I was reminded of my first trip here and thinking at that time it would be fun to teach at NCA. How strange to know it was now a reality. 
Walmart and PriceMart were the points of destination the next day. We stocked the house with some groceries and basic supplies to get started. I was feeling overwhelmed with all the decisions to be made. What do we need to get set up with right away and what can wait for a few month. We purchased hangers, towels, sheets, cooking utensils, pillows, baskets, kleenex, tp and more basics. Walmart was very typical on the inside except I couldn't read the Spanish signs. The Price Mart is very similar to Costco and even has the members mark brand names. A little bit familiar in a foreign world. Saturday night gave me my first encounter with a tarantula! He was crawling on a wall right outside our back door. Jeff quickly got rid of him for me.
Church and Sunday afternoon where quiet and gave us time to relax and prepare for the week of new teacher orientation. During each day of the first full week, Jeff and I were at school and the kids slept, read, watched tv, played games, and went to the pool once in awhile.The kids were quite bored and wanted to leave the house. They did get a chance to leave at night. We were invited to supper on several evenings and were able to socialize with some of the new staff, the administrators, and current teachers. It was a wonderful experience, except for the fact that we talked about bug and spider encounters every night! There were some things I really didn't need to hear:)!
During the second weekend, we took the kids to Walmart to buy some school supplies. The kid's reactions to Walmart: bigger than expected, the products weren't very good quality and there was a small selection of things.
So I asked the kids to share their thoughts of their first two weeks:
  • boring
  • long
  • looking forward to the first day of school
  • overloaded
  • food is strange
  • milk is disgusting
  • Stacey wants to learn to drive a stick shift.
Best and Worst of first two weeks:

Stacey:    Nice people and pretty sunsets
                Nothing to do and trapped at home
Branden: Heat
                Nothing to do and trapped at home
Rachelle: Beautiful trees
                Nothing to do and trapped at home
Jeff:         People are open and willing to help
                Uncomfortable furniture
Christy:   Beautiful country and friendly people
                Not knowing the language

Sunday, September 4, 2016

The trip

Early Wednesday morning on July 20, Katie drove us and our luggage to the airport. It was a tearful goodbye and then an uneventful trip through security. Our flight to Dallas arrived at 9:20am and then we had a 5 hour layover. We walked about and ate at a Dunkin Donuts, Auntie Anne's and a Smoothie bar. After finding our gate in the International concourse, we spread out for netflix, games, and naps! Jeff, Stacey and I only had 2 1/2 hours of sleep the night before. Rachelle and I rode the train all the way around the loop and then we had Fuddruckers for supper and made some quick calls to family before boarding.

We arrived in Managua at 5:40 and were able to gather our ten checked bags with help from some local boys and get through security without a pause. We were very thankful for God's continued provision as we traveled to our new home!

We received a warm welcome and were excited to head to our new home. The ride through the city was exciting for us all. The kids commented on the horns honking loudly and the metal trees that line the streets reminded them of Dr. Seuss trees. I was extremely tired and had the only time of doubt about this adventure. I wondered what we were doing, bringing our family to this new country where we can't speak the language! I knew I was tired and it would look brighter in the morning.

The house is bright yellow and brought some surprises for us all. The first floor layout was more open than Jeff's pictures showed and there are four bedrooms not three. We are very happy in this space. We quickly chose our rooms, picked up Pizza Hut for supper and make a quick stop at La Colonia (grocery store) thanks to the help of our new neighbor and friend! Finally it was time for bed and we were happy to close our eyes.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Our Journey to Beautiful Nicaragua.

"After the kids are out of the house, we should teach for a few years in another country", a thought Jeff and I considered during in our marriage. But then Jeff took a sabbatical from teaching and I wondered if this desire was not a calling. After five years of not being able to get a full time teaching position, I also wondered if I need to find a new profession. Many questions; no answers.

In the spring of 2014, we heard about a service and learning trip to Nicaragua focusing on technology and working in schools. We thought it would be a great trip, but the timing and financial investment may be a hurdle. We inquired, but didn't think it would happen. Waiting until we were empty nesters was a thought, but then would we both be done teaching? Many questions; no answers.

The coordinator of the trip, who I will call Brady, encouraged our willingness to go and believed there were funds available for people who had a heart for mission outreach. Jeff and I prayed about the trip and then Katie, our oldest, truly made us feel we needed to go when she asked "What is our purpose in life?" We needed go where God was leading us. We agreed to go believing God would answer our questions.

October of 2014, we fell in love with Nicaragua. We both felt a calling to teach at Nicaragua Christian Academy (NCA) and began applying for the 2015-2016 school year. We were excited and knew that this is what God wanted us to do!! The excitement of our four children confirmed the calling! Then the position for Jeff was filled before we completed our paperwork. There was a brief inquiry for a position other than teaching, but there was not. Door was closed. Now what? Many questions; no answers.

I had been subbing, roofing with my husband, and was currently working part time as an educational assistant for early childhood in the public schools. I was very discouraged and confused. "God, you gave me a love for teaching and sharing your love with children, why can't I get a job?" was my cry in prayer and I didn't understand what He was trying to teach or tell me. Many questions; no answers.

 As I continued to struggle, Brady asked me to help lead the next Nicaragua trip June, 2015. I was excited and willing, yet it opened a new line of questioning: Maybe I could combine my desire to work in another country with my desire to teach by leading short term mission groups? Maybe I could work with missions here in SD?. January 2015, I inquired about a position with Mission Haiti thinking that it would be a great fit, but once again the position was filled before I could fully apply. Many questions; no answers.

I was now working as a lead preschool teacher in a daycare setting. It was not ideal in my mind, but believed it was God's leading and I was very excited to be teaching again!

The June trip renewed the call  to serving in missions and I encouraged Jeff to go in April of 2016. With deep reservations on many levels, Jeff went to Nicaragua. He committed to this trip before we knew we would be moving and God used the team driver to secure a furnished house for us which is below the projected cost.

My struggle and questioning continued, because my position was more daycare than teaching. After five years of closed doors, I asked "God are you leading me into an entirely new profession?".  I searched for other avenues. Many questions; no answers.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016, I took a personal day. Jeff had been working out of town for a week and was home one day before leaving for a four day religious retreat, While hanging out together, I noticed a posting on the NCA website for two positions that were a closer match to our teaching experience than the year before. I asked Jeff what he thought:
     "I'm sorry, but I'm happy where I am at and am not ready to apply again." he said.
     "That is okay. With a calling of this importance, it has to be clear for the both of us! I wouldn't want you to go just for me!", I responded.

After Jeff left on Thursday, I got a text from Brady about the openings and told him that Jeff didn't feel led to apply. Friday, Jeff and I received an email from Liam Starkenburg wondering if we were still interested in teaching at NCA. As Jeff read the email, he felt strongly that he needed to take it to the Lord in prayer. What a great weekend to be at a Bible retreat where he could focus many hours in prayer. He talked through his thoughts with many faithful men of God and then wrote this prayer request: "Pray that God would guide me to be content with where I am at or if I need to follow my heart and apply for this position". One of the pastors commented that Jeff had his answer in the way he had written the request.  As Jeff listened to God, it became clear that He is calling us to the mission field. I picked Jeff up on Sunday and he shared with me that he had prayed about the positions and believed we needed to apply.

We applied for the positions on Monday, February 28 and accepted the positions on March 18. In three weeks, we moved from "I'm not ready" to "We are going"! We had our answers, but this led to new questions and four months of huge planning and hurdles:

  •  fixing up and selling our house,
  •  finding and filling a storage unit with our household goods,
  • holding a garage sale over three weekends in a row, 
  • fundraising and visiting with churches and friends, 
  • finishing out the school year and summer commitments for the children, 
  • giving our notice to our employers, 
  • securing passports and travel shots, 
  • having teeth cleaned and physicals done, 
  • standing by Jeff's parents in a Leukemia diagnosis,
  • planning a wedding for next July (Katie and Joel are engaged),
  • applying for and securing proper documentation for a work visa, 
  • spending time with all of our immediate family and friends to say goodbye in MI and SD,
  • asking for advice on how to plan and prepare for the trip, 
  • procuring and packing ten fifty pound capacity suitcases to check as well as ten carrying bags for immediate necessities,
  • shopping for last minute uniforms, underwear, and shoe needs (which was funded the week we needed it by my parent's military friends),
  • and bathing it ALL in prayer!

We faced many hurdles, but could see God providing for us each step of the way. I am in awe of His grace, love, and provision in our lives, but especially through this Spring and Summer. July 20 after a tearful goodbye to Katie, we left Sioux Falls and arrived in Nicaragua.