This past weekend I had the opportunity to make an extended visit in the community of Santa Patricia, one of the first communities to be touched by our Synod’s Gospel proclamation in Nicaragua.
Santa Patricia began as a small refugee camp for families moving in from the surrounding rural areas. Settling in this camp just outside of Chinandega, they hoped for better economic opportunities in the city. After the devastation of Hurricane Mitch the population of Santa Patricia exploded. Hundreds of people left their villages and homes devastated by the Hurricane. Their refuge in Santa Patricia became a piece of land that they would stake out and their home, whatever dwelling they could construct with wood and plastic and tin. Battles soon developed between the owner of the land and the squatters. Some 3 years later, the Government stepped in, purchased the land, surveyed the community and deeded the small plots to the residents. But the community continues to grow as more and more people find refuge in this area, stake out new parcels of land and build their make-shift dwellings.
It goes without say that the community is extremely poor. I am told that over 65% of the population is illiterate. They eek out a living making tortillas and other products for sale on the streets; a few may work in small businesses around. Many do not have the resources to give their children the opportunity to get an education.
Though the community is poor, many of its inhabitants became rich in faith. Outreach ministry began in this community before the hurricane. A small community soon gathered together under the ministry of Pastor Sandor. When the hurricane came, this small worshipping community became the vehicle to bring hope to the hopeless and the instrument through which a multitude of resources from outside could be shared with those who had lost everything.
This community of faith, taking the name “Jesucristo Nuestro Salvador” early had identified several individuals from their midst to prepare for ministry. One of those men, Pastor Mardo Calero, continues to serve the congregation as pastor; Another, Roberto Carlos Acuna Rivera, now serves as our Missions “Volunteer Mission Coordinator.” Serving as deaconesses and teachers and also coming from the community are Sonia Urey, Midgalia Acuna, Luisa Taleno and Lucia Barba.
The ministry of the congregation continues to be strong. Worship is held each Sunday afternoon, there are programs for women and children. The congregation hosts the Christian Children’s Education Program in their midst with 25 children on scholarship. These children receive their school tuition, uniforms, shoes and supplies. They also participate in a daily Christian Education Program that includes tutoring, catechesis and Nicaraguan cultural activities. We want these children to feel good about who they are as children of God and Nicaraguans. The first building erected to serve as a worship center for the community was a “ranchero” In 2004 a cinder block worship center was constructed with the assistance of a volunteer mission team. A Christian Education addition was added in 2008.
Assisting this congregation for the past six years in social ministry has been an LCMS congregation from Gainsville, Florida, First Lutheran Church. This congregation has sponsored numerous medical and vision clinics in the community. They have also set up a program which facilitates the sponsoring of families from the community by member families in their congregation These member families remember them in prayer and they also provide the necessary resources so that their sponsored family is able to have their children attend school and receive vocational training.
The weekend of my visitation, a small delegation from First Lutheran was in the community. Their goal was to identify, with the assistance of congregational leaders, four worthy families whose living accommodations are the worst in the community. A team from First will be returning in April to build and provide a new 10X15 dwelling for these families.
Please remember Iglesia Jesucristo Nuestro Salvador and their work in your prayers. Remember Iglesia Luternana Synodo de Nicaragua and our LCC mission in this country. Pray that God’s Word might continue to have free course in this land.