For eight days in June, more than 100 members of Fifth Avenue Baptist Church in Huntington, W.V., experienced what pastor Allen Reasons described as “faith in the raw” in Managua, Nicaragua.
A group of 112 from the American Baptist Churches-affiliated congregation worked in Managua to meet the physical needs of 40 orphaned boys and a church that, for eight years, had never had a roof.
“Life in Nicaragua is raw life. Not much is softened by the comfort of the 21st century,” Reasons said.
Reasons observed hogs being slaughtered in the front yard of a house, a pack of dogs anxiously watching nearby for a scrap or two. Machetes served as make-shift lawn mowers. Mothers were astounded at their first sight of a sonogram image of babies growing inside them.
Conditions in Nicaragua were adverse at best, Reasons said. For a local orphanage, lunch was a bowl of what appeared to be chicken bones and broth. Many children slept on beds with no mattresses, and toys and clothes were hard to come by.
Walking to NewJerusalemChurch required a detour around the town landfill and through a ditch filled with trash. The heat was intense, but even more overwhelming were the reactions of children who clamored after basic necessities, Reasons said.
However, the Fifth Avenue Baptist pastor found a few reasons of his own to smile—and cry. The most rewarding experience was seeing the faces of young orphans and townspeople as Fifth Avenue members built a roof and kitchen for the church and installed a wood-burning stove at the orphanage, Reasons said.
“We inched the heavy stove out of the truck and … carried it like a trophy into the eating hall. When it was finally lowered into the middle of the room, the young boys broke out into clapping and cheers,” Reasons said. “I stood in the room and cried. I saw Christ cheering.”
Congregation member Robin Chamberlain made the journey to Nicaragua with her entire family. Both Chamberlain and Reasons recalled how unprepared they felt, despite nine months of gathering supplies and practicing Spanish.
“I thought I prepared myself for the level of poverty I would see when I got there,” Chamberlain said. “We studied about the culture. We practiced the language. We prayed for strength. We were unprepared.”
A different pair of glasses
For 17-year-old Brandon Giles, the trip was a turning point in how he viewed the world.
After helping with construction and a VacationBibleSchool and carnival with 200 children, Giles began to see the world through “a different pair of glasses.”
“I don’t always take advantage of the things I easily could,” Giles said. “I’ve learned to like warm water. I’ve learned that getting to sleep at night is a luxury. I’ve learned that I get way too much money for the little I do.”
Chamberlain said she noticed a different view through the lens of her camera. Life in the United States is cluttered with superficiality, Chamberlain said—material possessions, social status. Tucking children into their beds at night and looking on as emaciated 10-year-olds asked Fifth Avenue Baptist women to be their mothers gave her a new way to look at the world.
During her time at the orphanage, “all those [material] things were peeled away like the layers of an onion,” Chamberlain said.
“I was only someone who loved [the orphans],” she said. “I was me, with no pressure to be anything else. I saw that vision of myself in the eyes of those children. It was so rewarding to see that person again.”
Chamberlain said her family’s week in Central America resulted in spiritual growth for both her family and the church. Members of the church plan to develop the relationships they formed in Nicaragua.
The Chamberlains have set aside time in the fall to return to Managua to build a chicken coop and plant fruit trees for the orphanage.
Fifth Avenue Baptist sponsored a large trip to Mexico last year to assist with construction, provide medical care and lead VacationBibleSchool for children. This year’s trip, like last year’s, blessed the 112 people who made the journey, Reasons said.
“We went there to try to be the body of Christ in small blessings to a few people,” Reasons said. “The body became broken over the massive need. In our brokenness, we received blessing.”
Jared Porter is a senior journalism major at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn.