In March of 2018, the founder of Team Finish Strong, Vince Schmidt, sent an email to the team making everyone aware of 516Now and their Nicaraguan ministry headed up by Scott Votey. I took Vince’s advice and prayed about this opportunity to serve the Lord. After some prayer and a little research, I ultimately expressed my interest in going on the mission. And thus, on January 18, 2020, I found myself flying to Managua, Nicaragua to meet up with Scott, his wife, Linda, and her sister, Bonnie. Even though I did a little research, I had no idea what I would see and experience in Nicaragua. Traveling with Scott and Linda was a real blessing as we rolled up the Pan American Highway on our way to the “target community” of Palacaguina. During our drive, the sheer poverty of the country was overwhelming, and it quickly reminded me of a trip with USA Cycling to race the Pan American Championships in Venezuela in the 90’s. Most families have very few material possessions and live without indoor plumbing and the basics that we do not even think about here in the United States.
Once in Palacaguina our days were full of serving from early morning to evening but our team took time for a morning Bible study and after-dinner reflections. Each one of us was always welcomed with open arms wherever we traveled and the opportunities to engage and minister to others were endless. Right away we spent time visiting sponsored children and their families and God’s love was evident in the smiles and hugs that were shared. Along with visiting the sponsored children, our little team was involved in supporting the Smiling School Kids program with many parents and children excited to receive sponsorship for the upcoming school by way of uniforms, shoes, backpacks and school supplies. Each child was encouraged to stay the course with their studies in order to stay within the program, and there is a waiting line to join the program.
Other ministry time was spent helping with a major church expansion project, along with tuning up and distributing bicycles to 6 teenagers on the last day of the mission. It was satisfying to see the smiles and satisfaction on these children’s faces as they rolled down the street on their new bicycles.
Last but not least, I was exposed to two new businesses in Palacaguina that were established by women who had a vision and the support of a 516NOW micro-loan. Through hard work and much determination these businesses have proven to be sustainable and bring work to other women within the community.
A very exciting outcome that none of us expected when meeting with city officials was finding out that Palacaguina has a major bicycle race that takes place each year. The city is always looking for support of their sports programs in terms of equipment and is especially open to help in the area of cycling where knowledge and coaching would be welcome.
Since returning home and jumping back into work and “reality”, I have already begun looking at life and relationships differently. The experience of meeting many Nicaraguans and seeing their love of family, friends and the Lord has made what I know is a life-long impact on me. In life, we all have pivotal moments in our faith and I am thankful to the Vince, the Votey’s, and ultimately the Lord for the opportunity to serve on this mission. I would be remiss if I didn’t also state that I was traveling to minister in Nicaragua but what really took place was that I was ministered to as much as I worked to minister.
I am already thinking and praying about a return trip.