The Pastors and Church Leaders conference is in its final day.
Kids have been fed and given school supplies.
But my favorite part has to be the gospel bracelets. Using the colors of the “Wordless Book”, kids make bracelets and learn about God’s gift of Salvation AND how to share that gift with others! Take a look…
Please pray for these dear children and new friends that they will take their knowledge and share the gospel with people we will never meet! I love how that works!
One of the most amazing things about having a ministry of training local pastors to minister to their own people is that — local pastors end up ministering to their own people! This is particularly exciting because…
A. It happens year-round, not just when we are in-country
B. The language and cultural barriers we face are non-existent for them, so they can minister effectively with the tools and knowledge they have been given.
C. The results are exponential because they will connect with people we will never even meet!
“GraceWorks was able to minister to youth and preaching time during Sunday worship. Praise the Lord I was able to minister to the family of church members.” –Pastor Roel
The ministry has continued in our absence, but there is more to be done! Allen and his father, Rich Mann, will be traveling this week to train new pastors and work with the children and poor areas of the Philippines.
Thank you for your continued prayers and support! You are making a difference around the world!
We are so excited to announce that GraceWorks Global has received its 501(c)(3) approval! What does that mean? It means we are an official Non-Profit Organization recognized by the IRS!
We will be spending the next few weeks transitioning our financial arrangements, so if you are a current donor, please continue to donate as you have in the past until you hear differently from us. But be on the look-out for a letter from us and thank you for sticking with us through the changes of the past years.
We have more exciting news to share in the days ahead. Great things are happening at GWG and it’s all because of the grace of Jesus Christ and the faithfulness of His people!
We are so happy to welcome Pastor Roel Allocod to our overseas team. Pastor Roel has been working hard to share God’s Word with local as well as remote churches. He runs children’s ministries, holds weekly Bible studies for young adults, and shares the gospel wherever he goes.
I met Pastor Roel a few years ago just prior to full-time mission work. Through strange and various contacts, God brought us together and we developed a great friendship. Over the past couple of years, God has been moving in him to work among the regional churches and to impact the lives of children – most of whom are very poor and destitute. He cares deeply for these kids, and it shows! We have had teams work with him over the past couple of years and they can attest to this fact.
We decided to add Pastor Roel and his family to our overseas, Filipino ministry family. He has been working hard and traveling much. He continues to develop relationships for open doors to share the gospel and the truths of God’s Word.
Please continue to pray for our work in the Philippines. We have some dreams and goals about which we are praying. An example would be to see a small “Family Center” built for orphaned children. We have a location but need the necessary funds to not only build a couple of small dorms, but to also be able to feed and clothe the children on a monthly basis.
Orphans in need of a permanent home or facility with the dear ladies caring for them at the church.
Some great things are happening in the Philippines with our GraceWorks Global Team! Our co-laborer, Pastor Roel Allocod, has been traveling throughout his community, sharing the gospel, encouraging churches, and preaching and teaching. Recently, he started meeting with young adults in a shopping mall to study God’s Word weekly. Many of these are now beginning to attend church and participate in the church events as well. Pastor Roel sent a request for funds to purchase Bibles for these young adults and now they all have their own Bibles and are studying them daily! Please pray for their salvation and spiritual growth in discipleship. Prayerfully and financially, I (Allen) will be returning to teach and encourage them soon.
However, we also received word this morning from Pastor Roel that his hometown has been affected by a strong earthquake. Here is what he says… “Please extend prayer to my home city Surigao where we held our pastor’s and church leader seminar[. The city] was hit last night by 6.7 magnitude of earthquake – gaisano mall and hotels were badly damage[d], church people were [al]so affected. They need our help and prayer as well.”
We finally got our water purification buckets shipped, and we did it for a fraction of the initial $22,000 quote we received. (I think we might have laughed at the poor man giving us that number but he had to know that was ridiculous!) We had to load them up and take them to Phoenix (where they sat in Allen’s gracious parents’ front yard for a week while the shipper tried to fix a paperwork error!) but they were finally picked up a few days ago.
The buckets leave the States on the 12th, traveling by boat (we are literally SHIPPING them) and will arrive on Christmas Day. Allen will be distributing them to areas with no access to clean water and areas that are particularly affected by jaundice caused by water contamination.
We have not shipped to this country before so please pray with us that there will be no Customs issues (as we are distributing these freely, not selling or making money in any way) and that BOTH pallets will arrive safely and on time!
Oh, was it early! 3 hours of sleep was SO not enough. But we were going home today. Home, where I knew the language and bathrooms didn’t hate me. Home to my kids, whom I missed more than anything. I was very much looking forward to being understood again. But I didn’t count on how much I was going to miss these people, their culture, and even the language.
We were up, dressed and waiting for the airport shuttle by 4:45. Because of the conference we had attended, the shuttle was very full. I was worried we would have to wait for the next one and be late to the airport, but I forgot! This is Nicaragua! We can all fit! The driver ushered Allen and me into the front bucket seat, where, 20 years ago I could have easily fit with my husband beside me but now, not so much. Thankfully, I love my husband, we are totally into conserving space, and it was only a 5 minute ride.
At the airport I smiled, nodded, handed over my passport and pretended I was mute. Nobody bought me. I was wearing no buttons whatsoever, and no little German ladies searched me. It was going to be a good day.
Our flight was uneventful, and my adorable husband fell asleep before we even left the gate. He woke up mid-flight and wondered if we had taken off yet. And while I plagued him by taking pictures every time he fell asleep, I have to explain. Yes, every time we he sat down for even a few minutes, he fell asleep…
…but there is a good reason for this.
If you’ve known Allen for any length of time, you know he is a hard worker. It’s one of the (many) things I love about him. This trip was a whirlwind. He slept very little. He went to bed very late and got up very early. When he wasn’t in meetings, trying to #freethebuckets, driving, or preaching, he was working on the receipts and accounting books, making sure the music and teachers were ready for church back home, praying with people, praying for people, and building relationships. He missed several meals completely and ate others at odd times because he was too busy to stop. If you are a supporter of GraceWorks Global, let me assure you, this man works hard to make sure your money is used to honor Christ, and he works with his whole heart. So, when he is forced to sit, he sleeps. He wasn’t fond of these photos, but I love them because to me, they are a resounding testimony of his hard work and integrity. (Plus he’s just plain cute in them!)
Ok, so while he was sleeping, I had a lot of time to think. I mean, I couldn’t talk without getting myself in trouble, so thinking was the thing! This trip was, in every way, not what I expected. Nothing went as planned. Literally. Not. One. Thing. Not our plans at least. And even this day, the things I was looking forward to most (aside from seeing my kids again) didn’t go according to my expectations. I had spent a week being frustrated with a language barrier I could not control. I expected to be relieved and grateful when I entered the States and could once again be understood, but instead, I stood in line in Houston security, listening to everyone around me (and understanding them!) and missing the beautiful sounds of the Spanish language, wishing to hear it again.
And can I just tell you about the Nicaraguan people??? These are generous, gracious, loving people who accept even the flakiest of Americans as one of their own. The men: I couldn’t pick up a suitcase, a box of buckets, or really anything at all without a gentleman running to carry it for me. They helped me out of cars and waited patiently when I wasn’t exactly on time in the morning. Once I found one of them carrying my purse for me when I forgot it in the lobby. The women: They give without expecting anything in return. Their hospitality is unmatched. They are gentle and sweet and always thinking of how they can serve others. And across the board, they have smiles that can light up any room.
These are not people of privilege. They are people with a story, many times a diificult story of overcoming and forgiveness, hard work and determination. They are adult daughters taking in their once abusive father to nurse him back to health after major surgery. They are former gang members, running an honest business and trying hard to stay clean. They are teens caring for Grandparents; women selling fruit in the middle of a dangerous street, trying desperately to earn enough money to feed their families. They are families of 15 in a house the size of my kitchen who gladly invite you in and share what they have. They are even high government officials disregarding the mountain of work on their desks to get 10 buckets to their people because they care that even 10 families are drinking unsafe water. These are people I respect and came to love in a very short time.
But it was time to leave. So we flew home. We arrived safely. We accomplished most of what we had gone to do (and quite a few things we didn’t)!
We did, however, leave some items in Nicaragua: 10 water filtration buckets, quite a few water filtration bottles, Allen’s watch, access to amazing fruit, new friends, and… part of my heart. But the rest of my heart holds these memories and new friends dear. The people of Nicaragua are part of the fabric of my life now; threads that cannot be unraveled.
To all of you who have gone on the virtual journey with me, thank you. It is my hope that you have enjoyed your “visit”, but more importantly that you have grown to love them as I do. And it is my hope that when you turn on your faucet and safe water comes out, you might take a moment to pray for this dear country with people so sweet, not just for them to receive safe water, but most importantly that we might continue to be able to tell them of the “Living Water” – Jesus Christ, and the free gift of salvation He offers.
May the gap between our countries be small, and the love be great!
It was the final day of our government meetings and the fullest schedule we’d had yet. I had been in Nicaragua almost a week, had been hearing Spanish non-stop, was tired of just smiling and nodding, and was ready to try my best to fit into the beautiful culture.
We were once again up with the sun and picking up the mayor at 6:15 am, followed by the now familiar drive back to Managua in the crazy traffic.
Chauffeured by the Mayor. He is such a kind and humble man.
The topics of the day at the conference were a little more applicable to us. They talked about the state of families and the help they need as well as disaster and crisis management, both of which interested us. We were also able to sit at break with a man from Rochester, NY, who is the government representative who has been working with Nicaragua for 37 years. He asked us what we do, and after a brief explanation of our ministry, he said, “So, have you ever had any trouble with the Customs Office here?” I probably shouldn’t have, but I laughed right out loud! We told him the story of our 2 days trying to #freethebuckets and how the mayor couldn’t even get them without a fight. He informed us he was giving the final speech of the day and he would be bringing this problem up!
The day was going well. I had ditched my “torture shoes” for my trusty flip-flops. My hair wasn’t too big – yet. I had no problems in the bathroom this day. It was like a miracle! It gave me confidence and hope – maybe too much so. I decided to try out my Spanish that afternoon. No more sitting in the back row panicking over words and missing good stuff! I used every word I knew. I could do this.
Our second break was spent at a table with three women who turned out to be the Mayors of neighboring communities. Their areas are plagued with not only bacteria in their water, but arsenic as well. It is slowly poisoning their people! We had 3 (filtered) water bottles on hand and we were able to arrange to get them 3 buckets. They even invited us to come to their communities in the future, where we will be able to speak to many of their people! It’s almost like God kept us from giving out all the buckets earlier in the week (like we had planned) in order that we might have these to give… :.) God is so awesome. I love it when we can see His hand in this way.
With the Mayor of Camuapa
Late in the afternoon, the Rochester representative gave his speech. There was a general murmur of consent and frustration as he described the time kids had held a bake sale, raised money, and sent a box of medications – only for those medications to sit in the Customs office for 6 months and go bad. The people agreed. The government heard. We were glad. I don’t know if or when changes will be made, but this was the first step!
The meetings ended with a special awards ceremony. We had not come for an award, nor were we expecting one, but these sweet people gave us one anyway. Mayor Fernando awarded us a beautiful plaque, certificate, and a doll that represents the history of the Nicaraguan people. We were told this doll is the highest honor one can receive. We were humbled. These lovely people are so grateful and we have really done so little. We are just the messengers. It is truly the supporters of GraceWorks Global who should be receiving these awards!
Allen had been invited to preach in a new church this night, in Diriamba, and the awards ceremony was longer than we anticipated. We rushed out and started back down that well worn road. I was worried we would be late. (No one else was. They are all accustomed to “Nica Time”.) We had no time to stop for dinner. I had the schedule in my head – Leave Managua at 5. Be in Diriamba a little before 7. Music for 15 minutes. Allen preaches for 45. Done by 8. Grab some food. Get our luggage. Drive back to Managua. Hotel by the airport by 10:30. So doable! So American! Except that’s not how it went.
We did skip dinner and arrived at the church just a few minutes late. We were still “on schedule” in my mind. There was hardly anybody there, but it was a new church so I didn’t know how many would attend.
The church is meeting in a mechanic shop. Their stage is an elevated concrete bay for working on cars and it is a long and narrow area. I was seated in the very front row, directly in front of the large, loud, speakers. Their praise team was still warming up. Then they stopped. Just as I was wondering if that had been the actual music and Allen was supposed to be doing something, they started again. But, just another practice. More stopping. More practicing. Close to 8 pm, the music started for real, and I have to say – they like their music loud! The band was very good and the vocalists very talented. The sound system was maxed out so the entire neighborhood could hear! This is a good evangelism plan for everyone except the person right in front of the speakers. They sang for a long time. The few songs I knew, I sang in English. I think I sang, anyway. My mouth was moving and I felt like I was making words, but I couldn’t hear whether any sound was actually being uttered. I looked at Allen. He appeared to be singing too, but who knows? There was an absolutely adorable girl “helping” by playing the tambourine though!
Allen finally started preaching about 8:45. He did an amazing job, as he always does. Michael was a great translator and the people responded well. They heard that Jesus loves them and paid for their sin as well as receiving an encouragement to be thankful in all things.
When Allen wrapped up and I turned around, I was stunned at the amount of people. Apparently people had been trickling in during that first hour because the place was packed with maybe 100-150 people. The chairs were full, people were standing in the back – there were even some outside on the street! I was suddenly thankful for those loud speakers. That’s a good evangelism tool – even for the one sitting right in front of them!
We were exhausted and famished, but encouraged. My schedule was off by several hours now, but God’s was right on time. Unfortunately, local restaurants don’t work on God’s time and they had all closed. We would have to wait to get back to Managua before we could get some food.
We went back to our hotel and grabbed our luggage. Mario picked up his family and we all headed back to Managua one last time. Michael and Miriam were no longer with us, so it was back to trying to communicate with just Allen’s Spanish. But, like I said, I had been trying out my Spanish the whole day! I was ready to join in the conversation whenever I could. Miriam had taught me (or tried anyway) several new words. I had wanted to know how to say “I’m Sorry” and “Excuse Me” because I seemed to need to use those phrases a lot. “I’m Sorry” I got down just fine. But “Excuse me”, for the life of me, I just couldn’t remember correctly. I think Miriam told me that one a dozen times! But this particular night, I was sure I had finally gotten it. After all, I had used many of my words that day at the government meeting! So as we made that final trek back to Managua, I did a little bragging!
“I finally remembered how to say ‘Excuse me!'” I told Allen. Then I said it. He broke into immediate, hysterical laughter, followed quickly by a look of absolute horror as he said, “You didn’t actually SAY that to anyone, did you????”
I stared at him, wide-eyed, panic slowly setting in. At that moment, I couldn’t remember if I had or not.
“Why??? Was it wrong?”
As he struggled to stop laughing long enough to talk, he said to me, “Honey – you just asked me to buy you.”
As it turns out, I really need to see things written out before I try to say them. I totally misunderstood the way Miriam had pronounced “Con permisso” (which makes perfect sense now that I see it – “with permission”. Duh!). But when you think she is saying “Compra Meeso” and your blonde brain just forgets about the “so” on the end, it turns out “Compra Me”. Buy me. Can I just never speak again please?
Allen, Mario, Mario’s sweet wife and his fun kids – they all had what was probably the best laugh they’ve had in a long time. I just sat there contemplating dying my hair red and changing my name to Lucy.
They were still laughing at me when we made it to Managua and stopped at a gas station for some crackers and chips to eat. I entered the store, but spoke only English and did not use the restroom.
We finally settled into our hotel room about 1 am. We had to be at the airport by 5, so it was to be another short night. In the Bible, we read of the time God shut the mouths of the lions when Daniel was thrown in their den. As I thought of the consequences of asking an airport official to buy me, I went to sleep hopeful that God could work the same miracle on me the next day.
This was the day. This was the reason we were here. We had wanted to spend time sharing the gospel and ministering, of course, but the reason we had come to Nicaragua at this particular time was because we had been invited to “government meetings”. This was really all we knew. We had no idea what to expect, and while Allen was calm, cool, and collected, I was Lucy Ricardo in Cuba.
We were up exceedingly early. If you know much about me at all, you likely know I am not a morning person. You probably also know that’s the understatement of the year. But I was up, dressed, and as ready as I was going to get at 5:45 am (which is 4:45 am Arizona time – the time my brain was still on!) I walked out of the hotel room in my newly purchased Nicaraguan Mall shoes, and I immediately realized they were going to be a problem. In the store they had been comfortable, but somehow in the interim between buying and wearing, the shoes had morphed into silent dispensers of torture. I knew by day’s end both heels and one spot on the top of each foot would likely be bleeding if I had to do much walking. I briefly thought about covering the areas with bandaids to prevent this, but the ones I keep in my purse are often the leftovers from years gone by when the kids wanted neon, or Dora, or Veggietales. As I pictured myself walking into meetings with high government officials wearing neon orange and silver bandaids I quickly determined to walk carefully and deal with the pain.
After picking up the mayor of Diriamba, we bumped along down the road to Managua once again. We arrived early and found a seat at the very back of the room, against a wall. This was the perfect place for me! Mario (our liaison in-country), Michael (our translator), Mayor Fernando, Roberto (owner of water filtration company), Allen (best husband ever), and I were all there in the back until one by one everyone but me was called away. I sat with everyone’s “stuff”. I smiled as people walked by and greeted me. I panicked over whether it was “BuenOS Dias” or “BuenAS Dias” so I just mouthed the words and hoped for the best.
Mario, Michael, Mayor Fernando, Roberto, Allen
Eventually, Allen came back and said he had done a television interview!! Rats! I missed seeing that! Note to self: You miss some good things when you’re sitting in the back row panicking over words!
Allen and Roberto doing the television interview
Happy in the back row.
Just then, a sweet lady and translator came and told us that, since Allen is the President of GraceWorks Global, they would like us to sit elsewhere. Elsewhere – that’s code for RIGHT IN THE CENTER OF THE ROOM! I felt a little silly for panicking over words when I could have just waited a little bit to really have a reason to panic.
Center of Attention
The meeting began shortly after we were moved. It was all in Spanish, of course, but they had little translators in a box for us. Literally. They gave us ear buds and receivers and 2 men in little phone booth like things were across from us and they translated as the speaker spoke. It was fascinating. I honestly could have watched them all day. I think it takes serious skill to listen in Spanish and translate to English at the exact same time. The translators kept right up with what was being said and they did it well.
As the speaking began, I looked around the room and was quite humbled. This was the First International Congress of Sister Cities – an historic event. All (but one) of the mayors of Nicaragua were there. (In Nicaragua, the mayors are under the President. They are a little like our state governors.) There were also government officials from around the world! The Italian Consulate was there. Government representatives from France, Spain, Catalonia, Germany, Australia, Canada, and so many more were there. The son of President Daniel Ortega was also there to speak to us. And sitting, quite literally, in the center of all of them, was a chubby, middle-aged pastor’s wife from Payson, AZ. And under the table she wasn’t even wearing her shoes!
The man in the center is Laureano Ortega, son of the President. On the end is the Italian Consulate. The woman is the President’s aid I think, and the rest I forget but they all have impressive titles. And they were all wearing shoes.
No one else seemed concerned by this, so the meetings went on. Allen and I learned much about their history, their current concerns and their plans for the future. We heard about the proposed ocean to ocean canal (like Panama, but North!). They talked about how they plan to help families and increase jobs. They spoke of many things, but we had yet to hear about the one matter that concerned us most – getting buckets out of customs.
We took a break for lunch and, as one might expect, the ladies lined up for the bathroom which only had 2 stalls for the 100 (or so) of us. We waited in line but as I got closer I saw the bathrooms were labeled (with no pictures) in Spanish. I was pretty sure I was a Damas, but then I saw women coming out of the Caballeros and I seriously think I have a bathroom phobia now. It turns out I am a Damas and the women just got sick of waiting so they took over the men’s bathroom too! (I waited for my own bathroom!) I did finally make it to the front of the line, but a woman (I found out later it was the mayor of one of the provinces) said something to me in Spanish and handed me a paper towel. I just stared at her and must have looked pathetic because she took pity on me and tried her hardest to say an English word I would understand but eventually went with hand motions. I finally got that there was no more toilet paper. Just another day in the life of Sheree, playing charades about toilet paper in the bathroom with high government officials. At least I had my shoes on.
The day continued with more information about tourism and the National Police. It was very interesting, but I think the stress and lack of sleep (and possibly bathroom-o-phobia) had combined and I developed quite the migraine. I wanted nothing more than to take off those silly shoes and lie down somewhere dark and quiet, but that wasn’t going to happen any time soon, so I just looked down at the table and hoped no one would think I was sleeping.
About 5 pm, the meetings ended for the day and there was a tour of Granada for anyone interested, but we had to head back to Casa Materna to make sure the filtration system had been installed and to settle the bill. Mayor Fernando stayed to go to Granada but the rest of us piled in the van and I tried to lay down for the long trip back. However, the roads in Nicaragua don’t really lull a person to sleep so much as they launch you off the seat, so I ended up just sitting and rubbing my head until my hair was so big I strongly resembled a Q-tip.
Back at Casa Materna, the guys and scary hair girl inspected the work done. The worker had finished on time and had done an excellent job.
Water Filter Housing Inspection
We tested all the water sources in the facility and I very much wish I had my camera rolling when Allen tested the shower because the knob came off in his hand and water sprayed straight out of the wall at him! But I did get this video of testing how the water tasted before that happened… (We have had the water tested in a lab as well, and it comes back bacteria free. The whole house unit even filters arsenic, which is a huge problem in the northern portion of Nicaragua.)
Satisfied that the women who deliver babies in this facility will be able to drink and wash with safe water, we headed to a special dinner. We ask a lot of our Nicaraguan team. There were many days this week when meals were skipped and every day was at least a 12 hour day for them. So, because they work so hard for us, and because they see very little of their families when GraceWorks comes to town, we had invited Michael, Mario, and Miriam’s families to join us for dinner that night. Miriam was sweet enough to translate for me, even though she was supposed to be enjoying dinner with her hubby! But her translation allowed me to get to know the each of the women there, which was a great blessing. We talked, laughed, and I ate pizza! I also got to try the grenadine drink thing which is made simply of the grenadine fruit, sugar and water, but tastes like a lemon/lime drink with cream and cinnamon. It was delicious!
It was late when we arrived back at our hotel, but another American with several ministries around the world (and who just happened to be staying at our same hotel) had asked to meet with us, so we spent another couple hours on the porch getting to know him and his son. By this time I was pretty sure my head was going to explode so I excused myself and headed to bed.
I had made it through day 1 of the meetings. Aside from the charades incident, I hadn’t embarrassed myself too badly. And I hadn’t said any Spanish words wrong! But there was always tomorrow, and tomorrow would turn out to be THE day for language faux pas.