There are so many things I could write about. It is wonderful to be here in Nicaragua again. Even though I was here last year, I was conscious of the fact that it would be a whole new experience again. We were coming to a different city, a different church, and would be meeting new people. An experience like this is good for me because it stretches me and forces me into situations that are unknown and new and grow my dependence on God, not myself.

It is fun to practice my Spanish once again. I don’t know a lot, but being immersed in a Spanish speaking culture is a great way to pull out words from my past schooling. I tried to review my Spanish before coming, but I find it is much easier to learn and review it when I am in the situation, learn the word or phrase, and then get to use it right away. Our translator Elsy is wonderful in answering all of my questions. She is a lovely person, a true gem. And I get the privilege of rooming with her this year.

On Saturday night and Sunday morning we visited the church in Leon that we worked at last year. It was so wonderful to see so many of the kids there. Their faces were so familiar, and we were so glad to see each other. It was also encouraging to see the ways that our efforts from last year are having an effect. First, a lot more kids attend the church now than did before we came last year. During the Sunday morning service, the children were part of the service on the main floor during the singing. Then when the sermon started, all the children (around 25) went up to the second floor for their program. The second floor is what we were able to finish for them last year. I found it really moving to see it being used in that way. Also, when we walked into the church, there was a young man playing the guitar who also led some of the singing. He was using the guitar that we bought for them last year, and it was plugged into the amp we had provided for them last year as well. My special little girl Reina (age 11) got up to sing a song during the service, and I realized she was wearing one of my skirts from last year. Just seeing all these ways, big and small, that our trip from last year has carried into the future was very encouraging to me.

In traveling to Leon for the weekend, I was also struck by how familiar everything was. Walking into the hotel, walking through the market, going to that church … it felt like sliding back into old comfortable shoes. As I sat in their church service, I kept reminding myself and marvelling, “I’m really here. I’m really sitting in this church again, seeing these familiar faces and wonderful friends again.”

So there are lots of things I could write about, but one of the biggest highlights for me on this trip is the music. You have read some of this from other blog posts, but I will share it from my perspective. You all know that I love music and that it is a huge part of my life. This church here in Masaya excels in music, which is quite a contrast from our experience last year in Leon. The pastor’s wife is particularly amazing. So talented. She has a beautiful voice, plays the guitar and keyboard, and writes her own music. I asked her how many songs she has written. If I heard her right, she said 43. I have a long way to go to catch up! Wow. She said that she would like to make a CD. I pray that God will open up those doors for her, because she has all the talent to do it. She played some of her songs for us, and they are beautiful.

The pastor’s wife’s name is Lilliam. She is a beautiful lady, with such a sweet and gracious and kind spirit. A huge highlight of this trip has been getting to sing with her. On Friday the pastor was talking with me, and trying to figure out some songs that we both know. I was wondering if there was a purpose behind this, or if it was just for interest’s sake. I have learned on these trips to be ready for anything. So after a while, it finally came out. Instead of just having me sing some songs as solos or duets with his wife, he wanted his wife and I to lead the congregational singing. And he didn’t want it to be one song in Spanish, then one song in English, etc. He wanted every song integrated. She would sing a verse or part of a verse in Spanish, then I would continue in English, and continue back and forth. She was not so convinced this would work. But the Pastor was so excited about the idea, and this is what he wanted. He wanted our group to feel like a part of things. In her very calm and gracious way, she went along with it and rehearsed the songs with me. She would start the song, then pull back from the mic and nod to me. I’d sing for a bit, then watch for her to start singing again. She led this so naturally and calmly, you would have thought it was her idea. It was amazing how easily it came together, and it was so much fun! I thought, I will probably never get the opportunity again in my life for an experience like this. They have a very talented drummer who is able to follow right along. With the music turned up in their speakers, the place is just rocking. Very inspiring.

So we practiced the music until the kids were starting their afternoon program, then we had to quit. The rehearsal was great, but I still felt like we would be winging it. Since I can’t understand what she’s singing, and just recognize the tune, it took some concentration to not lose my place. The other interesting twist was that of the six songs we did, two of the songs were songs that I didn’t know well. The pastor really wanted to do these two songs, so he found them on YouTube for me. They were vaguely familiar to me. So I listened to them, wrote down the words, and we were able to do them. Did I tell you I was being stretched?

One of the neat things about this experience is the fact that we know some of the same songs. It’s been said that music should come out of one’s own church and experience and culture. And that is true. However, there is also something so positive and unifying to Christians around the world to know and use some of the same songs. How cool is it that we both sing Mighty to Save and Open the Eyes of My Heart? It makes it so much easier to worship together.

When we arrived at the church the first day, we asked if they had a guitar. We had been told that there was one here that we could use. So they pulled one out for me. It was in very rough shape, and not playable at all. It was very dirty with cobwebs and looked like it had not been played in a very long time. We decided that we should get them a new guitar, especially since the pastor’s wife plays guitar very well. Not only would it give us a guitar to use on this trip, but we knew it would be put to good use after we leave. So we walked to a local guitar shop. The man there sells guitars that he has made. He had only one guitar that had steel strings plus the electronics to plug it into an amp, so that’s the one we bought. Later that week I was sitting around with some of the ladies from this church. Using my very halting Spanish, we were having a conversation. At one point they were asking me about the guitar. I couldn’t make out what they were saying, but I thought they were asking about how I would get the guitar home on the plane. I was trying to say that my guitar was in Canada, and that this one was for the church here. Finally I pointed to the guitar and said to the pastor’s wife, “It’s not for me. It’s for you.” She looked so surprised, got this huge smile on her face, and put her head in her hands. She got up and said “Gracias. Dios te bendiga.” (Thank you. God bless you.) It was neat to see how pleased she was.

This is a wonderful church here that is obviously thriving and doing great things in many ways. It’s exciting to be able to provide for them in some practical ways to help them continue this into the future. Thanks so much to everyone who has helped make it possible for our team to come and do this. It’s a very positive experience for all of us.

Here are some pictures from Leon where we helped complete the building of a church last year (click any photo for a larger version):