Thursday, August 14, 2008


So here I am in the ciber on my last full day here in Chagüitillo. I was on buses almost all day yesterday travling around to get a documentary to show tonight, and I had a lot of time to think about things I´ve learned and things I´ve seen here. I came up with the idea for this entry yesterday. This is a short collection of some thoughts and memories that are flowing in my mind now.

- I´ll remember the little girl with a shirt that was too small and a skirt that was too big walking shoeless up to the car after being in Nicaragua for 10 minutes. She wiped a small portion of the car with a dirty rag, and then walked up to the window and begged for some change either for some bread or so her parents could drink another beer tonight. I´ll never forget the look on her face.

- I´ll remember the biggest, fattest tortillas fresh cooked sitting on my plate. Always eaten with cuahada.

- I´ll remember the perpetual small of burnt diesel fuel and constant roar of buses powerfully limping through the streets in Managua.

- I´ll remember the ever present smile of the man who lives in the house made of plastic bags.

- I´ll remember being safe and comfortable on the bus headed north to my home with a roof while passing one of the countless piles of plastic bags, glass bottles, and rotting food where birds, dogs, and people searched for a single bite to eat.

- I´ll remember feeling uncomfortable every time I sat down to eat a hearty meal of platanos, tortillas, cuahada, chicken, rice, and fresco and thinking of my countless brothers living near by who did not have food that night.

- I´ll remember feeling helpless when seeing people begging for money.

- I´ll remember the countless nights spent hanging out in the streets with Nicaraguans and laughing until we couldn´t breathe.

- I´ll remember jumping over the river (that only appeard if it rained) that separated my house from town.

- I´ll remember the high schoolers playfully taking advantage of my ignorance of Nicaraguan slang to get a laugh.

I´ll remember countless other things. There are so many things I can put here. I want to write more and more, but alas...I have a few documentaries to show this afternoon and a short bus ride back to my community. I´ll write them later, back in the states. I want to share one more thing. After nearly completing my second abroad experience, I have found one thing that makes a trip like this very successful. Often times, we set out on these trips looking for answers about ourselves, the world, or God or whatever. What makes experiences like this successful, is leaving with more questions than answers. And I come back to the States in that exact state of mind.


Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Improper Reaction

If a day goes by where only 5 people beg me for a single coin, I consider it a good day. That would be a very low number. Some parents here have taken their young children out of school and sent them to the streets to sell gum or beg coins from passers-by. Stores of any kind here do not permit customers to walk around the store with backpacks, purses, or any bags. You hand them to a person at the door who stores it in on a shelf until you decide to leave. Today as a friend went into a store to exchange some money, I volunteered to wait outside and hold her backpack so that she did not have to hand it in over the counter. While I was standing there with my sunglasses, Adidas tennis shoes, and shirt that I picked out because it fit me right, a mother holding her baby sent her shoeless 5 year old daughter over to me to ask for a single Córdoba (about 5 cents). I did as I had programmed myself to do and simply ignored it. Later, I realized the full weight of the situation.

What do you do when someone asks you for some money? Should you give them some money so you feel better? Do you ignore them and hope the next person gives them a coin? What is the proper reaction? Matthew 25

There is a young man who "works" at the organization that I work with here. He only gets paid if tourists come. An average of 2 groups of tourists come every month for a total monthly income of around $15 for the museum. He gets a cut of that every month. If no tourists come, he doesnt get paid. He lives with his 4 brothers and his mother in a house that is simply four wooden posts wrapped in plastic. We share a lot of things. If I buy a coke, he drinks half. If I buy some cookies, he eats a bunch of them too. The thing is that he will sneak things away that he needs without asking sometimes. What is the proper reaction? I can buy another one and not have it phase my income or comfort level at all. I have been conditioned by my culture to be upset by this. He has stolen MY stuff. But is that really the reaction a Christian should have? I feel guilty for having that reaction. Here´s why. I have something that my brother needs and I hoard it to myself. I should be giving it to him gladly. I should be happily giving out of my wealth and prosperity to my brother who is in need.

I end with this question: Is the greater theft that he took from my excess what he needed, or that I keep from others what they need?


Monday, July 21, 2008


So here in rural Nicaragua there are some major highways that would be considered hiking paths in Chicago. I never knew a Hyundai could do half of the things that we do in them here. Like climb up a potholed 25 degree rocky slope with water running down it. There were 7 of us in the Hyundai that day. I never knew that a micro-bus could cross a river. These cars are tough little guys. I mean, they do things that a lot of people in the States wouldn't do in an SUV or pick-up truck. They take a beating and I feel a heck of a lot more comfortable in my car now that I have more of an idea of what I can do. But the cars aren't my focus today. I'm thinking about the roads.

These roads have potholes all over them. Sometimes 3-6 inch deep mud if it has rained a lot recently. I love them. I think they're the greatest thing in the world. Everyone here thinks I'm weird because these rocky, bumpy, winding, dangerous, improbable, unpredictable roads are normal for them. It's life. I love it. It's an adventure for me. I see it as an adventure always. It's something new and it's a challenge. I want to drive down them some time, but nobody wants to let me. I understand...the car is pretty valuable to them and they sure can't afford another if something happens. These roads...we can look at them in a few ways. I see two principle ways of looking at them. We can look at this dirty, rocky, dangerous pothole road as hard and difficult. As something that we would rather not pass. Something that we don't want to do because we might get hurt or something might go wrong. We can be afraid and avoid it and make someone else drive.

Or we can see it as an adventure! It's totally different and we've never done it before! Let's do it...because hey! We MIGHT get hurt, but that's ok, it'll get better. It doesn't matter, because it's an adventure. It'll be tons of fun and we might never get the chance to head down that pot hole road that doubles as a waterfall ever again!

That's how I try to view my spiritual life. We can see the difficulties as hardships designed to make us feel terrible and make our lives difficult. Or we can see adventure. Find joy in the uncertainty. It may not always be fun, but sometimes 7 hour hikes are miserable when it rains, but it's tons of fun to talk about later, and that gets us through. Today, I want you to see your spiritual walk as an adventure. See difficult times as adventure.

Thanks for reading. I have more to write for you guys. We have two projects underway and two more in progress. =) That's great news! I'll keep updating.


Wednesday, July 9, 2008

What about them?

So I have to go to the next town over for internet because the internet café in town is down for repairs. There are a bunch of micro-buses that run between the two towns and only cost $.25 each way. The internet is faster here anyway. On this bus ride I see a lot of things that get me thinking about who I am.

I am from the United States of America.

That means that chances are pretty good that I have more stuff than a great majority of the world. The U.S. is very close to a lot of countries that aren´t as materially well off and cannot feed all of their people because of it. That reality became real to me in the fall and there are tons of examples of it here in Nicaragua. What does that mean for me as a Jesus follower?

The wealth divide in Nicaragua is stagering. I don´t know how well words can describe this and a picture would be nice. Maybe later. Back to the bus ride on the way to town. It´s only about a 5 minute ride, but you can see the difficult and not so difficult situations in Nicaragua in those 5 minutes. One thing that creates a pain in my chest every time I see it is a small community of people I see from the road. They live off of the highway about a half kilometer on the side of a mountain in small houses. These houses are made of large sticks pushed into the groung with garbage bags stretched over them to create the walls. The houses are maybe 15 feet square. There are maybe 15 or so of them. I doubt they have water and I have never been very close to them. This is difficult enough to deal with knowing that I just ate a giant plate of rice, beans, and deliciously spiced pork with a tortilla on the side. What makes this even more difficult is seeing the enormous Spanish tile roofed mansion less than 100 feet away from these houses. The divide is painful. That man makes enough money to feed the whole community below him for weeks, but he has a giant fence around his house to keep the desparation of poverty away from him. He keeps himself separated from the difficulty of poverty.

I feel that this is a problem for us Jesus followers. After looking at this scene a few times, the realization hit me that as a citizen of the United States of America, I am the man in the stucco mansion feasting and drinking fine wine while my neighbor goes hungry. Jesus talked about that a lot. Did you know that Managua, Nicaragua is closer to Miami than Chicago is? Haiti is even closer to Miami and the United States and that is the poorest country in this hemisphere. One of my favorite writers today is Shane Claiborne and he said that the problem isn´t that we don´t care for the poor but it´s that we don´t know them. I have spent my life building walls so that I don´t have to encounter the poor. I´m working on breaking down these walls. Purposely separating myself from those that Jesus spent the most time with is something I do not want to do anymore.

One last image from my town before I end and something to think about. I spend most of my days at the town´s Pre-Columbian Art Museum translating and writing proposals. Right accross the street is the town´s baptist church. I´m sure they love Jesus very much and want to follow him. I have no doubt about that. The church was founded by some missionaries from a very Western culture not too long ago. Right next door to the church´s brick wall that closes it off from those on its sides is a very small house with no electricity or water. It is made of sticks and plastic garbage bags. About 7 people live there and none of the children have shoes.


Saturday, June 21, 2008

Riding the Express

I would love to develop this more, but there isnt a lot time right now, but here goes.

Yesterday, I went to Managua for a meeting. I got on the regular $1.50 bus in the morning and settled in next to 2 women. The busses here are old school busses from the states, so keep that in mind. Every seat was packed and people were crammed into the isle. You had to push to get out. The man behind me was carrying his machete to cut some firewood or harvest some plantains. The woman in from of me had 2 live chickens in a bag that she was probably going to sell at the market. People carried their belongings in plastic bags and mostly wore tearing sandles. It was a long, stuffy 2 hour ride. It started to rain, so all of the windows were closed. We got to Managua and crammed 7 of us into a taxi for a 45 minute ride accross the city that involved waiting for the horse cart to pass and a child throwing up out the window.

After the meeting, we hurried to a nice taxi that had all of the knobs inside and were charged a fair rate, and it was just 2 of us. We got there in time to get the express bus back costs $3. Live chickens, fruit baskets, and machetes were replaced by iPods and mp3 playing cell phones. The bus was quiet and nobody tried to sell me fruit so that they could eat dinner that night.

For those who dont know, that is Nicaragua. $1.50 is all the difference in the world. $1.50 defines those who can barely afford to get to where they HAVE to go and those who commute 2 hours so they dont have to see poverty. $1.50.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Chagüitillo, Nicaragua

I'm here...finally! I'm in a little internet cafe surrounded by the northern Nicaraguan mountains. There's an Eskimo ice cream store accross the street and my 89 year old grandma's house is just down the road. The street (yes...there is only one actual road here) is dirt and rocks. And everyone knows eachother. It's awesome. Pretty much everyone here is family. Everyone's family lives with everyone else. The best way to describe Chagüitillo is as a tiny revolutionary commune. All the teenagers walk around in Che Guevarra shirts and hats with a single star on them. And there's fresh fruit juice every day. There's also fresh coffee. When I say fresh, I mean that my grandma roasts the beans in her yard. It's that good. I'll run through what I've been doing REAL fast and what's been going on and what the near future holds.

I was in Managua for only 2 days and we visited all of the sites that everyone goes to see (and the ones I visited on made me miss you guys a lot). We had few conferences and charlas (short talks) on history and economy of Nicaragua. Then we went to the coast.
We were in Pochomil for 4 days (I think). It is soooo hot on the coast. We were sweating all day and all night. We had some relax time and some conferences and stuff. Oh! We went to Masaya (an older town about an hour outside of Managua) before we went to Pochomil and did an activity on what it might be like to live on $2 a day. We were given $2 and sent to the market with a ficticious family situation. We had to get food, medicine, and school supplies with $2. Needless to say, someone's needs were missed. It was powerful, and I'd like to write about it, but that's for later.
After Pochomil we were eager to get to our homestays, but the 3 of us in the northern region of Nicaragua had to wait. I stayed the night at our program director's house and talked with her children and had good times there. The next day we packed 7 of us into the Kia Sportage (it's totally normal for us to put 7-8 people in a cab here) and went to a restaurant for a meeting, and then the 3 of us and 2 supervisors set out for the north. After 3 hours, we got to one site in Estelí. Then we set out for Chagüitillo. We got here at sundown. There is another intern here in this town with me. We'll be working on separate projects, but it's good to speak English now and then. We went to our family's houses, and finally...I was at a house. My family here is super nice. We "have" electricity and water. The water goes out pretty often and the electricity is sporadic. I've taken one regular shower since Friday and the rest have been bucket showers. I've played 4 pick-up games of soccer, watched a lot of the Euro Cup (Go Spain!) and eaten mountains of rice. I've ignored roosters and had to move to the side of the road so the cows could pass. I start actual work next week. This week is getting to know the community and the organization. I'll be doing a lot of work at a farm that the organization owns. Tomorrow I get to go see the petroglyphs (cave art wall drawing things) that this community is known for. There is a lot of poverty here, and I'm still internalizing it while I'm getting over culture shock and getting accustomed to speaking and hearing spanish all the time again.

I love you all...and I think about LASP so much while I'm here. I love you mom and dad!! =)


Saturday, June 7, 2008

Hello, Managua

Hello Managua.

Hello Joel. Welcome back.

So many memories, and so many things are already difficult to see and deal with. Yet this will be incredible. For those LASPers reading, what Im doing this summer is a lot like the LASC concentration´s project placement...but in Nicaragua.

More later! And thats a promise.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Mustard and Dandelions

"He told them another parable: 'The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches.' "
- Matthew 13: 31-32

Mustard. Personally, I don't like the stuff. Occasionally a dollop or two on my burger is tasty, but not very often. Mustard. Why the boota did Jesus choose mustard? Is it pretty? Well, looking at the Psalms and a bunch of other Jewish descriptions of beauty, mustard doesn't appear too often as a symbol of beauty and majesty. If you haven't seen a mustard plant, head on over to and run a search for "mustard plant." You get a lot of pictures of this puney looking weed-type plant. we know that a mustard plant is no forest of California Redwoods or Cedars of Lebanon. What did Jesus' audience think of his association of the kingdom of heaven and mustard? I think Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw said it best in "Jesus for President":

"[Jesus] told his listeners that the kingdom of God is like mustard, which grows like a wild bush...The mustard seed's growth would have been familiar to first-century Jews, since many of them were farmers and peasants well acquainted with its way of taking over gardens...Jews valued order and had very strict rules about how to keep a tidy garden, and one of the secrets was to keep out mustard. It was notorious for invading well-trimmed veggies and other plants and quickly taking over the entire garden. Jewish law even forbade planting mustard in the garden." (p. 103)

So Jews were familiar with mustard. Personally, I am not a 1st century Jewish subsistence farmer. In all honesty, I am a 21st century white dude from what I guess you'd call a suburb (for lack of a better name). I get the mustard thing to an extent. But I think I have a good way to explain this parable in some more culturally familiar terms. We Americans love our grass. Don't deny it, you know you do. We cut it so that it looks nice. We take the cut grass off of it so that the grass looks even better. We water it so that it gets greener. We give it fertilizer so that it'll be greener than the neighbors (you know you check almost every's ok. I do too). But those pesky dandelions. They keep showing up. You can dig every one out every day and there would still be more tomorrow. We put so much work into making life difficult for those dandelions, but they keep coming back. You have to admit, those are some very rugged stubborn plants...that nobody really wants. Perhaps our "mustard plant" is the dandelion. In their two respective cultures, the plants are an extreme nuisance that won't go away. The Jews and United States citizens are engaged in an endless war against our pest plants. That's what the kingdom of heaven is like. It will keep coming back no matter how hard anyone tries to eradicate it. We spend so much time and money in trying to eradicate the dandelion. The kingdom of heaven is so intense, that nothing can keep it away. Jesus went on to say that birds would make their nest in these bothersome bushes. Can you imagine a falcon or eagle making his nest in a dandelion?'s like that. God's kingdom is so invasive and contagious that it won't go away despite valiant efforts by the world.
(Thanks to my good friend Trent in Zimbabwe for inspiring this )

I have less than 2 weeks before I go to Nicaragua. It's exciting, and kind of scary. Remember to follow God's call and love everyone without reservation.


Monday, May 12, 2008


Plane ticket is purchased. Appointment for shots and malaria meds is made. Still looking some more funds, but that's ok. Selling possessions on eBay is a great way to make money and make move-in time at school easier! Friday June 6 at 8:00pm, you'll see an American Airlines plan leave O'hare airport headed towards Miami. I'll be on it.


Saturday, March 8, 2008

Preparations Begin!

So I'm going to Nicaragua! As the plan looks now, I'm going to leave June 7th and get back August 23. There isn't really anything exciting going on right now. The next step in the process of obtaining the internship is an hour long phone interview. That comes in about 2-3 weeks. Until then, I will only be reading as much as I can about Nicaraguan history and anything sustainable development!