What I Learned in a Jungle in Nicaragua

By Beth Demme

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Have you ever done a mission trip? It’s a fairly new experience for me, but as this post goes up on the site, I’m in Nicaragua on my third trip. (And I already have an idea of when my fourth trip will be — email me for information on how to join the team for July 2015.)

There are a lot of reasons I keep coming back to Nicaragua, but they all boil down to my favorite phrase, Living Loved. On each trip, I meet people who teach me something about how to live loved. 

On one trip, I spent a day walking through the jungle with a local guide. I was astonished to meet women who were living joyfully despite primitive conditions. I expected to find people surviving —just getting by—  but these women were thriving.

I naively expected to find an absence of joy in the jungle.

I assumed the difficulties of daily life without running water or electricity would exclude any possibility of happiness, but I couldn’t have been more wrong.

I met a 99-year old woman who was reading Salmos (Psalms) and humming peacefully to Jesus in the midst of her dirt floors and plastic walls.

I met a woman who was about my age, unemployed, with a sick husband. Her house, like so many we saw, was pieced together from corrugated tin and black plastic. We gave her a bag full of toiletries and basic groceries (beans, rice, sugar, etc.); all things we acquired easily out of our abundance. To my surprise, she offered us bags of berries picked from nearby trees.

If ever there was a person entitled to be selfish with the little bit she had, it was this woman. Instead, she was generous.

We gave out of our abundance, but she gave to us out of her scarcity.

She’s the hero of the story, not us. (Luke 21:4; Mark 12:44)

I also met a young mother who somehow opened her heart to God’s love in the midst of circumstances that (if I’m honest) might have driven me away from God in angry disgust. Following an unimaginable family tragedy claiming the life of her mother and oldest daughter, her middle daughter was seriously injured. She spent so much time at the hospital with her daughter she lost her job. In spite of those hardships, we shared tears and smiles and a few moments of joy. When I recall her smile in my mind’s eye, I see Amazing Grace personified.

To my amazement, nothing about the circumstances these ladies faced prevented them from encountering God, receiving His love, and sharing it with … me.

Originally, I expected to come to Nicaragua and accomplish something for others.

I thought they needed me to help them see Jesus. Really I needed them to show Him to me.

The truth is, a lot of Americans come to Nicaragua and do mission projects. We come because it’s the second poorest country in our part of the world (Haiti is the poorest), it’s easily accessible by plane, it’s safer than other countries in the region, it’s predominantly Christian, and it’s receptive to American missionaries.

On my first trip, I was surprised to board the plane and find myself surrounded by 200 other Americans on short-term mission trips. I mentally calculated how many flights a weekend go from the US to Nicaragua. With hundreds of people flying in and out every weekend I wondered, “is anyone other than the airline really benefitting?” I wondered what results we would see that week.

It didn’t take long for my attitude to change, but not in the way I expected.

Instead of “getting results,” I experienced God through the faith of the woman in the jungle reading the Bible and humming hymns. I experienced God’s love through the hospitality of the woman with the berries. I experienced the beauty of God’s grace through the grieving mom.

Maybe that’s what happened to everyone on the plane. Maybe we all came to Nicaragua expecting God to use us to do something great, when really God had something special in store for each of us — a new way to encounter His love.

When I come home in a few days, I won’t beat myself up for living a spoiled life (though it’s true, I am spoiled).

I won’t feel especially thankful for an abundance of clean water (though I should).

I won’t think America is great because we have air conditioning (though AC is pretty wonderful and I’m missing it right about now).

I will come home excited and thankful for our God and how His love is available to us no matter where (or who) we are.

What about you? Have you found joy in an unexpected place? Have you been the recipient of surprisingly generous hospitality? Tell me about it on Twitter, Facebook, or in an e-mail.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments I deem offensive or off-topic.

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