Hung on the wall behind the table where teams meet to share daily meals is a simple frame containing a picture of Leon with the verse from Ephesians, “We are an incredible masterpiece of God, created in Jesus to do really good things. This is what God wants from us and what God has wanted from us since the beginning.” It wasn’t until I returned home and began to reflect on my experiences that I realized how wonderfully that verse captures my time spent at El Ayudante. Over the course of three short weeks I grew to appreciate a culture very different from my own, learned more about myself than I could have ever hoped to learn, fell in love with twenty-eight beautiful children, and marveled at sights that will forever shape the way I live my life. The entire El Ayudante staff welcomed my friends and I with open arms and served as incredible hosts, providing us with advice, encouragement, love, and priceless insight into our time in Nicaragua.
As January interns, my friends and I occupied a new sort of role at El Ayudante during the month of January. Prior to our trip, one of the main goals we established along with guidance from EA’s Board of Directors was to contribute to the children’s connection with their sponsors. Through letters from the children in the HCN program and pictures of them spending time at the center, we hoped to foster more communication between the children and those who make it possible for them to be a part of the program. Without an extremely structured agenda, we made ourselves available to complete whatever tasks necessary and meet whatever needs arose while we were there. These opportunities revealed themselves in the form of organizing a large supply closet in the office, visiting the families of the children in the program, delivering food and clothing to local barrios, hosting a sleepover for the older girls in the HCN program, spending time at the nursing home in Leon, assisting with bible school and medical clinic efforts organized by a visiting team, and multiple other odd jobs around the campus. In sum, we were able to accomplish the goals we originally established thanks to the help of the wonderful EA staff. Rather than recounting our daily activities performed in order to achieve the previously mentioned goals, I would like to simply share some thoughts and feelings I had during my time in Nicaragua because the realizations I had along the way are what will stay with me for the rest of my life.
It was the little things that made me fall in love with the children: the wide smile that broke out across Fernando’s face each time we looked his way; Carlitos’s spontaneous reenactments of scenes from Disney movies; Valeska’s high pitched laugh that would automatically draw laughter from us as well; the way Franklin would just crawl into your lap at any moment; the intensity with which Valeria organized and played the games of kickball; Erick’s tap on your arm and expectant smile searching for the approval of his new drawing. It was these little things that each child did on a daily basis that eventually created the experience I wouldn’t have changed for the world. I was fortunate to be able to visit the homes of these children, gaining just a bit more insight into their daily lives. Though I will never fully understand or even come close to comprehending their lifestyles, I did come to develop a great appreciation for the happiness and joy they have despite the situations from which they come. The zest for life that each child showed never ceased to amaze me. When I think about these children, a line from a sermon I heard very recently comes to my mind: “Don’t let your circumstances shape your belief in God, but let your belief in God shape your circumstances.” The kids in the HCN program seem to capture this idea, and for the first time in my life, I was truly inspired to live accordingly. I won’t ever be able to thank the Lord enough for leading me to El Ayudante for this reason alone.
Not only did I gain great perspective on my faith and what daily shapes my belief in God, I also gained perspective on my life’s priorities. I found myself enjoying conversations over coffee rather than continually watching the clock. I saw the love that is incredibly evident within Nicaraguan families. I heard the passion in the voices of those at local churches praising their Savior. I was content to simply sit and look out at the gorgeous landscape without having to multitask while doing so. As a type A perfectionist, Nicaragua just might have successfully broken me of my obsession with stressing about each detail of each day. If nothing else, I am now more aware of the fact that beyond dates and times and schedules, there is a beautiful creation waiting to be enjoyed by those who are in Christ. As a daughter of the Lord, I see more clearly the way He holds each one of His children in His hands and how He has gone before us to place us in situations that will help us live the life He has given us to the fullest. It would be an understatement to say that I am forever changed by the time I spent with El Ayudante and that I hope to continue to be a servant for the organization that has gave me so much over the past three weeks.