Gracios a Dios

October 17, 2009

Missionary Maximo teachingChildren hearing the WordUnder the shade tree, hearing the WordLast March, with the graduation of 3 new pastoral candidates, our Nicaraguan missionaries were freed of their congregational responsibilities and fanned out to begin new outreach ministries. In this report, I will share with you a new beginning initiated by Missionary Maximo in Gracios a Dios, a small community north of the city of Leon.

The name of the community is most interesting. According to one resident, there had once been a large farm in the area. The farmer in developing the land had taken out a rather significant loan. After a number of years he was able to pay off that loan and his wife heard him exclaim in joy, “Gracios a Dios (Thanks be to God!)” Later when he asked his wife what name they should give to the farm, she said, “You’ve already named it!” It’s “Gracios a Dios.” Over the years a community grew up around that farm and it took the name. The farm is now gone, but the community and name remain.

Missionary Maximo made his first visit to the community several months ago. He discovered that there was no church in the community, but that people were open to his visit and the message he brought. He began making regular visits to the community going from home to home sharing a little of who he was and the “Good News” that he brought. Homes opened to his visits; People responded to his message. Soon, one family invited him to use their yard and shade trees as a place for people to gather for study and worship.

On the day that I visited the community, over 30 adults gathered under the large shade tree. Missionary Maximo led them in Bible Study on John chapter 3, the story of Jesus and Nicodemus. Assisting him was Pastor Henry, the new graduate pastor now serving the two congregations that Missionary Maximo had formerly served. Together they shared the message of God’s grace and love for Nicodemus and for the world. They heard how “God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son. . . .”

Under another shade tree in that yard were some 25 children gathered around Deaconesses Jyrll, Maximo’s wife and Deaconess Anna. Using a flannel board and felt characters, they were also telling another Gospel story. After the lesson, the Deaconesses joined with the children in play and then returned to review the story and have a Bible quiz and win little prizes.

Sitting under that shade tree with its large branches, I was reminded of the story of Zaccheus and the words of Jesus, “Zaccheus, come down for I must stay at your house today.” Given the chance to speak, I told that story and how Jesus wanted to stay in their homes too. It didn’t matter who they were or what kind of a mess their house or their life might be in.  Jesus still wanted to stay. And you, dear reader, know the reason why? Because “God so loved the world. . . .” Give thanks to God for “Gracios a Dios” and remember these dear people and our missionaries in your prayers!

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A visit to Potosi

October 10, 2009

Inside view of Jesus El Boen PastorPastor Angel's Plough and Yoke for the OxenSunday WorshipJesus El Boen PastorOur travel this Sunday (October 4th) took us to the community of Potosi, a coastal village on the Gulf of Fonseco in North West Nicaragua. This village like many others had been affected by Hurricane Mitch in 1998 and like many others it was one assisted through the social ministry efforts of our LCC Mission.

Two identified community leaders (teachers) from Potosi who had come to know of the Mission while visiting in El Viejo were recruited to provide assistance to their community. They would travel to Chinandega each week to receive food aid as well as spiritual instruction and encouragement from Missionary Arguello. Upon their return to their community, these leaders would share what they had learned and distribute the aid which they had received. It was through these efforts that a small community of believers began to gather in Potosi. Encouraged by the Mission, the community identified one of their own, a farmer by the name of Angel (pronounced Anhil) Salazar, to prepare to serve as their pastor. He in turn attended the first theological seminary program operated by the Mission and upon his ordination was installed as Pastor of Jesus El Boen Pastor (Jesus the Good Shepherd).

The Sunday we visited the congregation, 12 people had gathered for worship. Pastor Angel shared with us that a tragic accident had taken place during the night. A fisherman, in trying to start a gas generator, had been electrocuted. Many from the community were attending the funeral and caring for the needs of the family. Our worship however was meaningful. Pastor Angel shared a message on the basis of the Gospel reading for the day and we joined our voices with those gathered in singing our praise to God. I told Pastor Angel after the service that I appreciated his ability to start the hymns at a pitch at which we could all sing and that he was able to strongly lead the singing in spite all the sounds coming from the outside. 

In Canada, we would call Pastor Angel a worker priest. He continues to operate his farm. He grows corn, sesame seeds and mixed vegetables in his fields; He also raises cattle and goats, chickens and turkeys. He uses equipment very much like that used in biblical days, a wooden plough and two oxen. Looking at the rows of corn, you can see that he ploughs a straight furrow.

The community had also identified two women to serve as deaconesses. Both were trained through our theological program; one in the first program, the second in the second. Both deaconesses however have now immigrated to Costa Rica and so the congregation has been left without the service of a deaconess. Picking up the slack however is Teacher Conception Guerrero.  She oversees the Children’s Christian Education Program (A CLWR and CLMS project) with 25 children registered and an additional six children present.  We admired how clean she keeps the building, the posters she has made for the walls (including Luther’s morning and evening prayers) and the flowers she has planted in the front. Pastor Angel says that she is a very competent teacher.

The travel to Potosi was difficult with the last 30 kilometers in need of serious repair; much easier to reach by motorcycle. Nevertheless it was a blessing to visit this congregation and to worship with them. Keep the congregation of Potosi, Pastor Angel and Conception in your prayers this week.


Mission Medical/Dental Clinic

October 7, 2009

01 Sept 21 (14)Dr. Maria filling a cavityPastor Luis visiting with waiting patientsDear Benjamin and receptionist SantosWith the formation of Iglesia Luterana Sinodo de Nicaragua, our LCC Mission in Nicaragua now focuses on resourcing this new Synod so that they are better able to carry out their God-given mission of Gospel proclamation. In the preceding article, I described two microfinance programs which provide assistance to our church workers. In this article I share a little about our Mission Medical/Dental Clinic that not only provides a service to our pastors and deaconesses and their families, but reaches out to the communities that surround the Mission Centre and provides a witness of care and concern.

The clinic had its official beginning on Easter Monday, 2009, but did not begin receiving patients until May. It opens every Thursday at 8:00 a.m. and remains open until all the patients who arrive for care have had a chance to visit with the doctor (around 4:00 p.m.). We are pleased to have the most basic medicines available at the clinic which permits us to fill most prescriptions provided by the Doctor. Since opening, well over 500 patients have visited the clinic and received medical care from Dr. Benjamin Garcia or dental care from Dr. Maria Andrea. Santos Alvir Soriano, our sewing school instructor, pitches in and serves as the clinic receptionist. There is always one pastor and a deaconess also present to provide spiritual encouragement, witness and support.

We came to know Dr. Benjamin through his service with visiting Short Term Volunteer Medical teams who carry out clinics at our various churches. Nicaraguan regulations require any visiting medical team to have at least one or two Nicaraguan doctors working with them. It was easy to see in that context the passion he has for working with the poor. He himself comes from that background, but had the privilege of attending medical school “It’s a privilege,” he says, “to be at the clinic providing care to those who might not otherwise receive it.”

Dr. Benjamin keeps a record of the various ailments that he encounters at the clinic. Many, patients,  he says, come with respiratory problems. The heavy humidity at this time of the year combined with smoke from open fires has an impact on many and in their compromised physical health, they have difficulty fighting off infection.  On the day of our visit,  He also treated  a variety of dermatological problems such as scabies and ring worm. People came with kidney infections and gastrointestinal problems. Among the elderly, he also treated hypertension and arthritis. When asked whether there was any equipment that would be beneficial for the clinic, he mentioned the need for a “Glucose Meter.” He has run into a number of cases of diabetes.

In the room down the hall, Dr. Maria sees 4 or 5 patients during the day. While extractions are quite common at the clinic, most of the work done this time involved filling cavities. People in Nicaragua appear reluctant to visit the dentist. Many associate dentists with pain and so they wait until the situation is serious. Dr. Maria has also worked with the Short Term Volunteer Dental teams who have visited Nicaragua and on occasion does some follow up work after the team has returned.

Dr. Benjamin also has the same experience. In fact, one of the reasons for establishing the clinic was to meet this need for on-going care especially with patients suffering from hypertension or diabetes. Dr. Benjamin has a small number of these patients; more will be added to it after the visiting clinics in January and February of next year.

Now that the clinic has been established, our annual budget runs about $10,000.00 per year. The two major elements of that budget are the stipends for our doctors and money for the purchase of medications. We are grateful to LCMS World Relief who provided a start-up grant of $5,000.00 enabling us to purchase some furnishings and other basics for the clinic in addition to several months of operating funds. Our goal is to finance the clinic through individual donors willing to become Clinic Sponsors  through a gift of $500.00 or more. Gifts can be made on line at http://www.lutheranchurch.ca/donate or by cheque to LCC 3074 Portage Avenue, Winnipeg, MB R3K 0Y2. Our American friends can receive a tax receipt by sending their gift through Immanuel Lutheran Church, 415 N 9th Street, St. Clair, Michigan 48079. (This congregation has sponsored a number of volunteer medical teams over the past years.) Please designate your gift, Nicaragua Medical Clinic.

I said earlier that a pastor and deaconess are always present at the clinic to provide spiritual encouragement, witness and support. By God’s blessing the result of this ministry has been the establishment of a bible class each Wednesday afternoon and a Sunday Worship Service at the Mission Centre. As our Synodical theme says, “Give Jesus Glory!”


Our Mission Microfinance Program

October 2, 2009

Deaconess Milagros MartinezFrancisca Rivera's Family StoreOver the following weeks, I plan to share with you some of the programs that your mission in Nicaragua carries out as together we assist Iglesia Luterana Sinodo de Nicaragua, her pastors and deaconesses carry out the work of Gospel proclamation. The particular project addressed in this article is not directly related to proclamation but it does help in relieving our pastor and deaconess families of some of the burdens of living in poverty by providing them with additional sources of income in addition to the small stipend that they receive.

The program is entitled the “Mission Microfinance Program.” It’s goal is to provide small loans of up to $500.00 U.S. to pastors and deaconesses and their families for the establishment of a small family business. The loan is extended for a six month period at a small interest rate which covers the administrative costs. Over the past two years forty-four loans have been extended to our families from every part of the church. Twenty one have been paid in full; All of the other loans are being paid back as arranged. There has never been an outstanding loan to date. A record that is much better than some North American banks.

Some of the small business funded include a (1) Phone Recharging Service, (2) Grocery Corner Stores, (3) Using Clothing Business. (4) A hair stylist shop (5) Some of the farming families have used loans to purchase seed to plant crops of beans or plantain. The families here are most creative in identifying a community need and seeking to respond to that need with a business. By God’s grace, all ventures have been successful to date.

LCC Mission is grateful to Martin Bender and other members and friends of Faith Lutheran in Kitchener Ontario. They provided the original 10,000 dollars to establish the program. The program is administered by Deaconess Milagros Martinez. Because of the interest in securing a loan (some requests have been put on hold because of insufficient available funds), our goal is to increase the available funds by another $5,000 dollars. If this program appeals to you and you would like to make a contribution, please do so through our LCC Office in Winnipeg or through Faith Lutheran in Kitchener.

And yes, there is another loan program available at the mission as well. We give it the name, “Health Loan Program.” Loans are provided through this fund to our pastor/deaconess families without interest to assist them in paying any unusual medical/dental or pharmaceutical costs that a family might encounter. Because of our own Medical/Dental Clinic, the loans from this program have been minimal. We have approximately $2,000 dollars available through this program. It too was initiated through members and friends of Faith Lutheran. As mentioned above, neither of these programs is directly related to the ministry of proclamation, but they do provide a resource for our workers which assists them in meeting their materials needs. Relieved of some of these concerns, they are able to center their attention on the work to which they have been called.


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