Dear Family and Friends,
Hello everyone. It is good to write to you today. Things are changing here in Nicaragua with the weather. As many of you are dealing with snow and ice, we are now dealing with a lot of wind and dirt. Because our homes are not “sealed” and most of our windows are the slat windows that do not shut tight, the wind brings a thick film of dirt into our home daily. I will wash dishes and put them in the dish drainer and a few minute later, I notice a film of dirt on them. We have not had help with cleaning our home yet which is something almost all missionaries have due to the dirt and then the mold problems in the rainy season. But, we are now recognizing that this is very much a need, given that so much of my time is consumed with cleaning right now.
My absence in writing may make people wonder if we are discouraged. The truth is that our plates are full and that life here is very different than it is back home in terms of the energy it takes to move through the day and the effort it takes to get things done. We find that life here also needs to be intentional. The economy is hitting Nicaragua very hard too. Those who are poor are more desperate which has led to more theft than there was before. So, moving about in public always brings with it the task of being very aware and alert and ‘street smart’. We do very few things on “auto pilot”. However, I can tell you that we are not discouraged. In fact, so often Dan and I look at each other and express thankfulness. It may sound strange, but for many years there was a restlessness in us – just a “knowing” that God was calling us, but we did not know where. Those were difficult years, but definitely growing years. That “restlessness” is gone now and there is a peace about being where God has called us even in the midst of all things challenging and difficult.
I wanted to take a moment just to share about a few things our family has been up to:
It was Will’s birthday on Jan. 24 and it was a special time for him. We had a surprise party at our house with neighbors and the next day our family and a couple of the kids’ friends went to the beach to celebrate. We then skyped both Dan and my whole family the next day and lit the candles on his cake each time giving cousins a chance to blow out the candles with him and sing Happy Birthday. I think it was a special time for Will and was fun for him to celebrate his birthday at a time when the weather was so warm. Cards and packages from home meant a lot to him too! He has all his cards taped around his bulletin board. Thank you!
Last time Dan shared some things that he was doing at the school. He continues to become more involved in student life and a part of dreams for the future in regard to development and expansion. He goes on a second field trip with the Middle School students today which helps him to develop relationships with them and he also serves as a chaperone. He said to me the other day, “Lisa, I just really enjoy what I am doing.”
I’ve had several chances to get involved at school too. I subbed for Rebekah’s class the other day – subbing is something I do not particularly enjoy doing, but it helps me so much to better understand what it is like for our kids to be at the school and also helps me to understand the challenges the teachers face. Example: I was supposed to use the overhead projector to teach a math concept. Well, just before I was going to use it, the electricity went out. This also means the ceiling fans no longer work and it is hot and kids are sweaty and uncomfortable. There is recess going on outside the window on one side of the classroom (windows are slat windows that do not keep out noise) and there is High School chapel with a band playing going on 30 feet from the other side of the classroom. The music is so loud, I needed to shout at the kids and even then I don’t think they heard me. The Fine Arts Center that Dan is working on developing a plan to fund will help to alleviate some of these distractions as our current chapel is open air and in the center of campus. I also went on a field trip with Rebekah’s class to the same volcano we have pictured on our blog. In addition, I led chapel for the 3rd through 6th graders on one of the names of God – El Row-I (The God who Sees me). Just so happens that they are studying the names of God this year in chapel. I so enjoyed researching and preparing for the chapel and then sharing with the kids what I had learned about this name of God that has for years been so precious to me.
On Sunday nights Dan and I are leading a marriage group using the FamilyLife marriage conference on CD. We have 5 missionary couples in our group – the group consists of one couple who has grown children; Dan and I are the second oldest couple; there are two couples who both serve as teachers at NCA, a Nicaraguan NCA teacher and his American wife, and NCA’s director and his wife. It has been a great group and their response to the material has been exciting to hear. The director has expressed a burden for the families at NCA as many families are struggling in their marriages and relationships. Dan has been communicating with FamilyLife about the possibility of bringing a FamilyLife conference to Managua. NCA’s school psychologist, Marysol, is very interested in a Spanish version of the materials. Marysol teaches parenting classes and makes an effort to help not only students, but their families. The marriage group keeps me busy as I am listening to every talk on the CDs and typing out main points with blanks to be filled in by the participants while we listen to it as a group. I’m thinking that this was what God had in mind as I need to listen to the CDs over and over to be able to do this! I am appreciating anew the insight that FamilyLife communicates in their conferences. Several of our group members have said what we have heard others say – “We thought we knew all this stuff, but they package it in such a way that it is so clear and easy to apply.” For more about FamilyLife conferences in the States, go to www.FamilyLife.com.
1) For friends for our kids – over the past few weeks God has orchestrated a number of circumstances to move our kids into friendships with some neat kids. Rebekah has connected with a girl from her class named Andrea and her younger sister Julianna. Rebekah spent this past Saturday with her and her family. Her Dad is an American and is a pastor of a Nicaraguan church. Her Mom is from Mexico and is beautiful inside and out. Will has connected with a Nicaraguan boy named Walter and a Koren boy named Wong Yong. They call themselves “the three W’s”. Interesting to me how they focused on what is the same about them instead of different – they are an interesting threesome to observe. Walter lived in an orphanage for awhile and is now in the process of being adopted by the director of the orphanage. It has been fun to get to know these kids. I thought I would also mention here that Korean students like Wong Yong have come to Nicaragua (some with their families and others come by themselves and live with other Korean families) to attend NCA because Christian School and living expenses here are less expensive than in the States. The Korean families often find jobs in factories, etc. to support their families while living here. Some Korean families are also missionary families. Seven to ten percent of our student population is Korean (they learn both English and Spanish while they are here).
2) We finally have internet at home. It has been a three month effort to figure out what went wrong with our connection. We finally talked with the director of NCA who had a connection to a “higher-up”. After talking with him, our internet was up and running within 24 hours of the call. It is all about who you know in this country.
3) Relationships with Nicaraguans. The Nicaraguan people as a whole are a very warm and friendly people. After a tough day of subbing with the preschool class, a Nicaraguan maid stepped into the classroom after all the kids had left and said, “How are you feeling?” If I were more fluent in Spanish, she would have gotten an earful! One of the teachers recently shared with me how she has learned so much about servanthood from the Nicaraguans who work at the school. They are hard working people who look you right in the eye and expect to have a genuine interaction with you when they ask how you are. Relationships are so important to them.
1) Language training. Dan and I and the kids continue to make progress in Spanish. Dan and I attend class once a week and the kids every day. I try to talk with Nicaraguans to practice and often I am able to communicate, but I know that I am not using the verb tenses right and often get stuck. The other day I watched two Nicaraguans digging a trench. I tried to tell them that it was much work for them to dig the trench. Instead, I said, “It is much work for me to dig the trench.” I once tried to tell a Nicaraguan boy who visited our home that our family needed to get in our car and leave. Later, I realized that I told him that our family was going to go live in our car. Nicaraguans, however, are very gracious and eager to help us learn. The prayer request is for discernment about how to better learn the language. We are hiring a Nicaraguan woman to help me two mornings a week with keeping up with cleaning our home. This relationship will also help with language learning.
2) Continued health and safety. We have been healthy and have been kept safe. Others in our circles, however, have been dealing with illnesses and difficult circumstances. In Nicaragua, if you are in an auto accident that results in the injury or death of another, you are immediately taken to jail. This recently happened to an American here who killed two Nicaraguan women when her driver side air bag released after she hit a pot hole. There are all kinds of people and animals in the streets, so it can be difficult to drive safely. So, we appreciate your prayers for us, for the American woman who is in jail, and for the Nicaraguan family that lost two daughters.
3) Exciting news at NCA. One of our students has attended Dordt college in Souix Center, IA this past year. The school has been so impressed with her that they have told NCA that they would be interested in exploring the possibility of offering scholarships to NCA students. Someone from the admissions office of Dordt college is visiting us this week to determine if this is the direction the college would like to go. Another Nicaraguan senior student is also an amazing spiritual leader and is a student committed to academic excellence. Dan and several other Calvin college grads are working to determine whether Calvin College would consider giving him a scholarship. This young man’s older brother was given a full ride plus (including books and spending money) scholarship to a private school (not sure of the name of this school) in the US as well. This scholarship was given to only one student in all of Central America. It is exciting to see how others are noticing the character and commitment to academic excellence of our students. Many of the children at NCA have dealt with many obstacles in their lives. Some of them deal with the impact of poverty and others with the impact of wealth. As God works through NCA, it is exciting to see students excel in an environment that operates very much like a family and provides security in a country that is not secure. Please pray for God’s will to be known to those who are considering our students for scholarships and for the continued spiritual and academic growth of each of our individual students.
A quote from the book I am reading through with an NCA teacher that I am mentoring goes like this: Much of the time we want enough of God to make us happy, but not enough to make us change. Wilbur Rees describes this attitude when he writes, “I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please, not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep, but just enough to equal a cup of warm milk or a snooze in the sunshine. I don’t want enough of Him to make me love the oppressed or hurting. I want ecstasy, not transformation; I want the warmth of the womb, not a new birth. I want a pound of the Eternal in a paper sack. I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please. (Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World by Johanna Weaver) When I think about what I believe to be my mission statement in life, I believe it is along the lines of . . . “To challenge and inspire others to desire more, so much more than $3 worth of God.” I lived a good part of my life settling for what I now know to be so little of Him. And “the more” of Him is not found here on the mission field. The “more of Him” is found in those quiet moments that I spend with Him doing laundry while listening to worship music, working through conflicts in relationships, and during the middle of the night when I can’t sleep. I can remember many times in the Bible when God has asked His people to ask more from Him and zero times when He tells them they have asked too much. I’m finding it to be an amazing adventure to pursue more than $3 dollars worth of God.
I would like to close by thanking you again for all of the ways you support us. We know that God has placed each of you in the roles that He has placed you in as a part of our team. Dan and I were shaking our heads again the other night as we discussed our financial report from CRC World Missions. We are so amazed how God is providing for us through people back home. There are missionaries here who are really struggling due to the downturn in the economy. We recognize the gift we have been given and we are so thankful. So thankful. And every note that you write and every prayer that you pray matters to us. Please know that we are praying for you too. We are in this together and for this too we are thankful to be in such wonderful company.
Peace to you,
Dan, Lisa (the writer), Rebekah, and Will Van Zoest