Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Nica Update: Gratitude

Web site:  www.danvanzoest.com

Nicaragua Christian Academy web site:  www.nca.edu.ni/


Our mailing address:  Dan Van Zoest; Nicaragua Christian Academy; Apartado 842; Managua, Nicaragua; Central America



Dear Family and Friends,


Posted on our family bulletin board are the following mottos:  Fair does not mean equal.  When one of us wins, we all win.  Discontent drains.  Gratitude fills.  I have them up there just as much for myself as I do for the kids – powerful reminders to respond to whatever happens in life with gratitude.  Today, I will share some of the ways we see God at work, things we are just so thankful for.  As we share our gratitude with you, we pray that you will be filled!  At the end you will find some pictures.


1)  Dan and I continue to be amazed every month when we receive our financial report.  We see God so consistently and abundantly providing for us through you.  While some missionaries are functioning at 40% of their budget or are going back to the States to raise more support, we continue to maintain stability in this area.


2)  God has been leading us to some creative solutions in regard to noise control.  We have moved our table and chairs into the living room and our living room furniture into the dining area.  This has helped so much to have a dinner together that is not interrupted by noise next door.  I find that we seem to have better conversations when we are not so distracted!  This has been a huge, huge blessing. I also like this arrangement better!  In addition, friends sent us an I-tunes card which has enabled us to download worship music which is so helpful.  AND, our Sunday School class from our home church took up a collection and sent us a pair of Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones.  These too have been AMAZING blessings, especially in helping me to find some quiet time in the morning with God and giving us the opportunity to enjoy worship music as a way of masking noise. 


3) Some neat things are happening on the campus of NCA as well.  One event many of our students were able to be a part of this year was our Spiritual Emphasis Day.  It was a great opportunity for them to take time away from their regular classes and focus on their spiritual walk.   The day was full of praise and worship, prayer, and games.  Over a dozen guest speakers offered different seminars the students could attend throughout the day.  It was amazing to see how taking time away from the regular school routine to spend the day focusing on Jesus impacted many of our students. 


4)  Dan will be leaving on March 10 (tomorrow, as I write this) for Costa Rica and returns on the 16th.  He will travel with 16 students and 5 teachers to represent NCA in HACIA Democracy, a Central American "Model UN' program sponsored by Harvard University.  One of these students is from our Spanish Campus and is going as a result of his North American sponsor helping him financially so that he could attend.  The students will present and defend positions on various topics that they have been preparing.  This is an exciting opportunity for our students and for Dan.  Dan recently talked with a High School student about how thankful he is that he gets to attend NCA.  The education he receives here is a very good education and will prepare him to attend a college in the US.  His plans are to return to Nicaragua to help his country.  He also asked Dan an interesting question.  He said, "Does snow hurt when it hits you?"


5)  Dan continues to be very busy at school.  He is so good at keeping his boundaries clear and keeping the kids and I a priority.  Boundaries in missions and in ministry are so blurry.  The director recently told Dan, "You know, I had not planned to have you as a part of the administration meetings when you first arrived.  But, after the first meeting you attended, I could see how valuable you could be to our team.  Dan's calm and discerning voice has added so much balance to the administrative team.  Much of his time is taken up with doing administrative kinds of things in addition to managing the child sponsorship program at our Spanish campus.


6)  I was just thinking the other day about how often we have asked you to pray for our kids and their adjustment.  I wanted to let you know that it does still continue to be a process for all of us – we all have good days and bad days.  However, we have seen God's Hand at work in so many ways.  We will share a few.    


Rebekah is very much a glass half full kind of person which always inspires me.  She is energized by challenges and recently her teacher said to me, "Lisa, I am not sure what to do with her.  She is at like 104% in most of her subjects."  I remember feeling the same way when I home schooled her - she was always looking for a greater challenge.  We are watching her lead quietly but with great discernment and gentleness.  She is invited to lots of birthday parties and sleep overs and has a very wide spectrum of friends as well as interests.  It has been so great how we have been able to connect her with women who are teaching her to sew, play the piano, ride a horse, take care of horses, and most recently she started running with Dan.  I love that she has relationships with all of the people who are teaching her these things - they are like additional mentors in her life.  People are commenting more and more about how she seems to have the gift of teaching.  Sometimes she will gather all the little kids in the neighborhood and teach them how to do something.  Other times, she is in her room (which is set up like a classroom) and teaches her stuffed animals.  I am so enjoying my conversations with her as she is thinking through many things about life in general.  One night we were talking about the kind of man she would like to marry.  She said that she would want someone who was loyal to her and who did not work all the time, but would spend lots of time with his family.  And then she said, "like Daddy."  Something funny that she said lately was when we were talking about the word "cremation".  Dan asked the kids if they knew what that meant and Rebekah piped up right away and said that she did.  She said, "That's when they turn you into fertilizer!"  Leave it to a little Iowa girl to come up with that one.    


Will's teacher comments on how Will leads their class into deeper discussions during their devotional times and often serves as a peacemaker.  He was recently observed by a teacher who needed to do a case study on a 3rd grader for her Master's Degree at Calvin College.  Her observation was that Will is a great reader.  She tested him to be at a 4th grade level for fluency and a 6th grade level for comprehension.  This is amazing to us, given that it was such a struggle a few years ago to get him to read.  While home schooling him, I needed to get on the floor and wrestle with him before we read the next page - this was his "reward' for reading a page - wore me out, but it kept us moving forward!  Our challenge now is to find books for him to read.  Someone recently sent him 4 Encyclopedia Brown books and he read all four of them in a morning!  The teacher also observed that he is well respected among his peers.  Will's heart is to find a friend he can "trust" and does not yet feel like he has a loyal friend.  We are wondering if perhaps he will not find what he is looking for in 8 and 9 year old boys - perhaps this is a lesson in grace.  Will likes to play with both boys and girls but often gets teased because of his relationships with the girls.  Will responds to the boys by saying, "Yeah, well in a few years you're gonna be lovin one of em."  His quick wit often serves him well.  The boy who had been bullying Will recently asked his teacher if she would pray with him to receive Christ.  Weeks later, his parents decided to place him in a different school, but we pray God's continued care for this little boy.  Will continues to be involved in Boy Scouts and enjoys this.  Dan and Rebekah and Will went with the Boy Scouts to camp on the beach by the ocean a month or so ago.  They also learned how to use a compass.  Boy Scouts leads us into many adventures! I cannot get this "unhighlighted", so no particular reason why this is green!


7)  The valedictorian of this year's graduating class will be attending Calvin College.  She will be the 4th NCA student to attend Calvin – the first three beginning last year.  This is neat for us as we graduated from Calvin and gives us the opportunity to connect with students who attend there.


8)  The air conditioning in our car is now fixed!  And just in time for a heat wave - we are looking at 100's next week! 


9)  We experienced our first robbery.  It was our fault and just reminds us again how vigilant we need to be – especially as Americans.  We stopped at a brand new Mc Donalds for lunch as a family and accidently left one of the doors of our truck open.  There are armed guards in every parking lot, but this guard needed to guard the front, side, and back of the building.  I had a nice bag a dear friend had given me with all of our Bibles in it in the back seat in addition to our car keys/house keys/etc.  Well, when we returned to our car, it was gone.  We were thankful that our car was not stolen and that most of the items that were stolen can be replaced.  We lost special things, however, like my bag, our journals, and the kids special Bibles that Dan bought them his last trip to the States.  Our hope is that God would use the Bibles – even though they are English Bibles - for His glory.


10)  The retreat I asked you to pray for went well.  One of the women who is a new believer has emailed me a couple of times since then with questions and describing some of the things she is learning as "ah ha" moments.  Another woman sent us her prayer letter which stated that the retreat helped her to get to a place of recognizing that she needs to offer forgiveness to a member of her family.  Several of us have noted how the guest speakers God is sending us at the international church we attend are echoing so much of what we talked about at the retreat.  God was at work before the retreat, during, and now after to teach us more about how the recognition of our sin leads us to a place of desperation which then leads us to truly recognize our need for Christ.  And when we recognize our need for Him, we experience His grace and forgiveness.


11)  Our marriage group is going very well.  We are doing a lot of learning and a lot of laughing.  Last week we talked about our "first fights" – amazing how funny those fights are now in retrospect.  Most of the couples in our group last year were 10 years younger than us.  In this group, three couples are our age, one is a few years younger, and two of them are 10 years older than us.  In both groups, we have had a couple where one of the spouses is Nicaraguan.  Our hope is that these missionary couples would be interested in using this material within their areas of ministry.  Several couples have mentioned that many of those that they work with are asking for help with their marriages.  Several of us have commented and related to how this transition to mission field life/expectations and new culture has been hard on our marriages and that we need support and an intentional focus to maintain Oneness with our spouses.  I would often say to churches last summer that we do not lose our humanity when we step off the plane into the country God calls us to.  A friend of mine says that going to the mission field is like pouring miracle grow on all of your sin.  After a year of being here, I shout a hearty "Amen"! 


12)  We are looking forward to our Cedar Rapids friends, Kirk and Heather Herman and their boys Zak and Alonzo, coming to visit us for 10 days starting March 15.  Alonzo is one of Will's friends from school.  The boys will attend school with our kids one day and the other days we will be showing them around.  Dan and the kids will be at school most of that time, but will take a long weekend to be with our friends.  We love having people stay with us!  It will be fun to share our lives with them.  A trip to Nicaragua out of Chicago costs between $350 and $400 per person.  We want you to know that you are always welcome to visit!      


13)  A list of prayer concerns for the next few weeks.


  • Please pray for Dan's safety and health to Costa Rica and back in addition to ours here at home.
  • Pray for our continued adjustment.  The first few months here were exciting as there was lots to explore and our year last year was spent trying to adjust to "doing life" here.  This year involves a deeper layer of working to develop community with other people/families in addition to responding to more expectations, etc.
  • Our safety and health.  A daily prayer of ours.  God has been so faithful.

You can scroll down to see some pictures of our family.


Thank you again so very much for how you love and support us.  You are such a model to us of Christ's selfless love.


Peace to you,

Dan, Lisa (the writer), Rebekah, and Will


Rebekah (3rd from left) and some of her friends who ran a 3 K race to raise money for Haiti
Dan and Rebekah have been training since January to run this race.  Their hard work paid off as Rebekah came in second place!
After the race was a huge festival at the school where there were many games and activities.  Among them, this Nica-style dunk tank.  Thousands of dollars were raised to benefit Haiti.
Dan put together a Scooby Doo mystery for Will and his friends to solve for his birthday.
Here is Will with his friend Davey.  Davey represents the cultural make-up of NCA.  His father is Nicaraguan, his mother is Korean, and they are American citizens.  Both of his parents are missionary doctors who serve here in Nicaragua.
A recent picture of our family.  Will added the push pin just for fun.