“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does no know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:12-15, NIV)
We all have friends around us, but how many true friends do we have in our lives? God is the only friend who will never change and who was, is, and will be with us all the time. As Jesus has told his disciples, he calls us his friend. He chose us first before he went to the cross. He tells us that we are friends. How can we describe this love and grace from him? Since we have received this love, he asks us to love one another. And last week (from 13th to 21st of March, 2015), All Ontario Youth Convention (AOYC) team has experienced this agape love and friendship in Santa Lucia, Nicaragua.
For the past couple of years, AOYC has been building a strong relationship with World Renew and different small communities in Santa Lucia, Nicaragua. This year, a group of seven youth with three leaders came to serve and build closer relationships with the people in Santa Lucia. Their ten day journey in Nicaragua was very unique. First of all, not all of these seven high schoolers knew each other. They got to know each other through their orientation, preparation, and during their time in Nicaragua. In comparison to other mission teams, AOYC was building friendship among each other as they were building another friendship with the people in Santa Lucia. And without a doubt, AOYC is filled with energy with youth.
While we were at Santa Lucia, we did two main projects in a small community called Los Garcias. One project was building new fences around the community church and another project was building fences around and a roof over the community well. At first, our team was questioning whether we will be able to finish these projects in less than five days. However, we quickly finished both projects in two days since some of the men in the community helped us. Thus, we added one more project which was building fences around the other community well. We evidenced the “Nicaraguan ladder” which is one man climb up to another man’s shoulders to hammer on the nail to build a roof. Some of us had blisters on our hands. Evidence of hard work? Well, it taught us the importance of wearing gloves. Cutting, bending, and tightening wires, and hammering nails, and digging holes to put logs may sound harsh, yet every time the entire work rewarded us with the scrumptious food from the community.
Some of the ladies in our group experienced the kitchen life in rural areas. No dish washer, no gas stove, and no sink.
At our cook lady’s house, she had only one wood-fire stove to cook refreshments and lunch for around 20 people. How was she able to manage every lunch for us? She always started to prepare and cook from early morning around 8. Therefore, some of us had volunteered to assist her and also learn some Nicaraguan recipes. We learned the differences between fried tortillas and normal tortillas, and learned how to make tortillas from scratch.
Every 3pm after our work at Los Garcias, more than a handful of kids were waiting outside of our guesthouses to play with us. It was definitely a foreign thing for them to see ‘gringos’ (white people) staying in Santa Lucia. Making elastic bracelets, coloring papers, playing volleyball and soccer, and even chitchatting with young students with our limited knowledge of Spanish, and vice versa, made the kids in Santa Lucia delighted.
Despite our work and time with kids, one of the most effective ways that we were able to build relationship with people in Santa Lucia was through different activities that we did with YMCA-ACJ youth in Santa Lucia. YMCA-ACJ Nicaragua is one of the World Renew’s partner organizations. Thus, YMCA-ACJ actually coordinated AOYC trip together with us. Moreover, since the majority of AOYC’s team members are youth, we wanted take this chance to share our thoughts, experiences, and questions. Through different games, Q&As, camp fire and mountain hiking, our youth members found connections between them and the YMCA-ACJ youth in Santa Lucia. Both were questioning about their future career, colleges, and even their vocations. Environmental, cultural, and economical settings are surely different in Nicaragua compared to Canada. However, we realized we are going through the similar journey as brothers and sisters in Christ. How can we glorify God through our lives? We, including YMCA-ACJ youth, believe in Jesus Christ, but the question of practically continuing our relationship with God has no borders. We all are facing the same question. It is just a matter of how we respond.
Ray Heeres, AOYC group leader, shared his reflection from this trip: “For me, now on my fourth trip, I loved going back to Santa Lucia and connecting with Darmalilia, the youth from the YMCA, the host families, and the children. Hearing a story from Maria Elena, a 14 year old girl who remembered me from last year, was also a highlight. She told me that she remembered me from last year, when a teacher invited us to come to the high school to play volleyball. We went and played with them and had a great time. Maria Elena told me that teacher had never gone to church. After our visit, he began going regularly and taking students with him. She seemed to think that our playing with them brought about this change in him.”
Although we weren’t able to freely communicate each other and did not have more time to get to know more about one another, we were sculpturing an invisible piece called friendship throughout our journey. We learned “two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10, NIV).