Now THAT was an amazing ten days.
We landed in Liberia, Costa Rica on January 5th and from there ventured to Playa Sámara where we spent a day and two nights playing, relaxing, and preparing (and, in Kyle's and my case, getting engaged!). And, crazily enough, the trip was already being met with some resistance. Jon's passport was going to expire in 2 months, so, while he was okay to take the domestic flight to Miami, they would not let him get on the international flight to Costa Rica. So, he got an extra day in Miami and a new passport and, thankfully, joined us the next evening. Meanwhile, our Nicaraguan friends were experiencing similar troubles at the Costa Rica/Nicaragua border. We'll just suffice it to say that we spent a couple days hanging out in Costa Rica con el Pastor Ilegal! Through all the checkpoints and then crossing back into Nicaragua, none of the border cops ever even noticed that one of the passports had not been stamped on the way out two days before. The Thing That Amazes Me Most? God's grace.
From Costa Rica we traveled to Nicaragua, experiencing only a few glitches (flat tires, night-time border crossings, and unpaved roads being relatively minor glitches in the grand scheme of things...and they make for great stories now!). We stayed a night with Pastor Victor Benitez before leaving early Sunday morning to visit a church in Los Límites. As it turned out, we were to be in charge of the entire service, so we jumped right in. After the service, we divided into teams of two and prayed for each person there which was very powerful. But, The Thing That Amazes Me Most was the opportunity I had after the prayer ministry. There was a group of 5-15 year olds sitting in a circle with one empty chair amongst them. I sat down and got to have a really fun conversation with those girls during which they told me their dreams and about their lives.
After church we headed to Darío where we went to another church service that evening at Rey de Reyes (King of Kings). Several of us shared brief messages and then did more prayer ministry. But, The Thing That Amazes Me Most was how one simple comment can make a little girl's day. I told one little girl that she was wearing a pretty dress, and we were best friends from that moment on. She showed me the pictures she had drawn during the service.
The next day we set out for Matagalpa. We dropped our stuff off at a hotel which is being run by a missionary family from the USA and then Bobby, one half of the missionary couple, took us on an adventure to visit a small village in the mountains. On the way to the village, we stopped at a home for young pregnant girls where I got to hang out with and pray for some new moms and coming babies. After a rather treacherous drive on muddy roads and a quick walk into the village we were greeted by a large guitar and a swarm of small children. Neither of the visits to these two places were nearly long enough, and, as we were leaving, one little girl yelled after me, "When are you coming back?!"; the team could've left me at either place, and I would've been delighted to catch babies or play with children in a mud hut for the rest of our time in Nicaragua. Needless to say, this was my favorite day, and the Thing That Amazes Me Most is how wonderful, made-to-order opportunities like this sometimes drop right onto our laps in the most unexpected ways and at the most unexpected times.
The Thing That Amazed Me Most on Tuesday was, once again, God's grace. We were tired when we went to the church that evening, so it was pretty great when the Lord took over and blessed us just as much as He used us to bless them.
Wednesday was travel day. We arrived at Piñas de Paz around 8:30 or 9 that night and ate dinner and just enjoyed the beauty of an almost full moon, tropical mountains, and millions of stars. Thursday kicked off the Youth Pastors' Retreat, and folks started showing up pretty early that morning. The event officially began with lunch, a silly relay-race (that left me sore for at least a day), and a tour of the farm. Over the course of the weekend we had 6 sessions, worship times, a bonfire, a jungle adventure to see monkeys, parrots, and a waterfall, and time for personal ministry. All of this was awesome, but, the Thing That Amazes Me Most was how, even in the midst of this busy schedule and larger group of people, I was able to make meaningful individual connections. People shared with me their stories and wanted to hear mine; they asked for advice and offered their own wisdom; we laughed, prayed, and sang together and became friends.
This was a short trip, but it was more than long enough for Nicaragua to steal a piece of my heart. Now I can't not return.