It’s not every day that one wakes up in the morning and says, “Y’know … I think I’ll go build a Lutheran church in Nicaragua.” But, give or take several months of planning, that’s precisely what members of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Elmira did on a missionary visit in January, in collaboration with Redeemer Lutheran Church of Waterloo.
For the visitors from Waterloo Region, the republic proved to be an eye-opening place. “In the area where we were in, it was very depressed,” said Pastor Rick Frey. “I don’t think I’ve seen poverty quite as dire as that. … Even though the folks in Nicaragua understand, to some extent, the wealth that we have, they really want to be in Nicaragua. They don’t want to come to Canada – they want to stay there and make their country better.”
Frey continued, “I was also surprised by just how grateful the folks are there for whatever help we can offer them. There were times when I actually kind of felt guilty, because we’re giving these people some things that we have – some of them are kind of castoffs – and I almost felt guilty, ‘I used this and don’t want it anymore, so you have it.’
“And yet they were always so grateful and so appreciative. If you gave them a shirt, right there on the spot they would take off their shirt and put it on, and then they’d show it off to everyone. Just a happy, grateful people.”
St. Paul’s Lutheran’s overseas endeavors began 15 years ago, when the church funded a congregation member’s charity work in Guatemala. Several similar missions were financed until the church finally established a permanent fund for overseas mission work. After money built up for 12 years, the church had the savings for a more ambitious project.
Half of the Waterloo Region Lutherans helped with construction work at the building site, while the other half volunteered as assistants at three Vacation Bible School sites – and with a Spanish staff of ministers, vicars, deaconesses, teachers and assistants, church member Ron Wagner said the translators were kept busy.
“We wished we had studied Spanish more diligently after each of our instruction classes at home,” said Wagner. “We discovered that the interpreters had learned by listening to American television shows with Spanish subtitles.”
On the first day, before an open-air service that saw the Lutherans singing familiar hymns in Spanish, the visitors inspected the building site, and were happy to see that construction was well underway. “The grounds had been leveled, footings poured, the wall for front of the church was up, three washrooms constructed, and a large sewage pit had been built, as well. The first few courses of cement block had been laid for the side walls,” said Wagner.
At the bible schools, the language barrier prevented the visiting Lutherans from teaching, but they assisted in various capacities. “The children liked colouring which we had thought was a pretty basis activity [but] crayons were not a regular classroom supply,” said Wagner. “The vicar played the guitar and led song time. I enjoyed leading the children, in English ‘Allelu, Allelu, Alleluia, praise ye the Lord!’”
Now that the visitors are firmly back in Waterloo Region, memories of the trip linger. Frey reflected, “We’ve all heard of grumbling church members, but the ones that we were working with – my goodness, they were always eager to do anything for their Lord and for their church.
“When you go on something like this, you never know if we’re blessing people we’re going to help more than we’re being blessed ourselves. And all of us who went certainly felt enriched and blessed and encouraged in our faith in Christ.”
For those of us with more sedentary lifestyles, St. Paul’s Lutheran will be holding an event to bring Central America closer to home. On February 17 at noon, St. Paul’s Lutheran will host a Nicaragua mission celebration, where church members will discuss their experiences and show slides and crafts. Nicaraguan and Canadian foods will be served for lunch.