Amigos for Christ continues work in Nicaragua amid political turmoil

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy Amigos for Christ

By Priscilla Greear

Ga. (CNS) — The Buford-based Amigos for Christ nonprofit serving Nicaragua’s
poorest has canceled all summer mission trips due to an upsurge in violence in
the Central American country.

several Nicaraguan churches near the organization’s Chinandega headquarters
have stepped in to serve their neighbors and partner with Amigos to finish construction
of 100 modern bathrooms and a clean water system for El Pedregal village.

normally have about 1,800 people come down each year, and we’ve had to postpone
the trips until we can tell people it’s going to be OK to travel,” said
executive director John Bland from the group’s headquarters, a three-hour drive
from the capital, Managua.

rights groups put the death toll in Nicaragua at more than 350 since April 18,
when protests erupted over reforms to the country’s social security system. Catholic
clergy have been attacked and anti-government protesters are besieged by Nicaraguan
police and paramilitaries.

the turmoil, conditions remain relatively calm and peaceful around Chinandega
and daily operations continue.

in Chinandega we’re able to get around without any problems,” and Amigos asked
local churches and organizations if they would be interested in doing one-day
mission trips to help in El Pedregal, said Bland. “It’s been phenomenal to see
people ‘ taking time away from their work, which is tough, to come and work in
other communities.”

Pedregal is the 18th community in Nicaragua served by Amigos. Families had no
running water and their hand-dug shallow wells all contained E. coli,
contaminated from nearby latrines. While treating residents for diarrhea,
intestinal parasites and severe dehydration, Amigos also is providing clean water.

drill a deep well about 160 feet, and we’ve got good clean water so we’re going
to pump that into a tank and distribute through pipes and gravity to
everybody’s home,” said Bland, who lives in Nicaragua with his family.

his home parish in Atlanta in late June, Bland said there are some “basic
things that are barriers in people’s lives to growth,” such as having clean
water or a school to go to.

the local people are able to serve other people to eliminate those barriers,
they in turn get to see people grow,” he said at Marietta’s Transfiguration
Church, which had to cancel its planned mission trip with nearly 60

trying to model Jesus, and his model was to make disciples and those disciples
go out and make other disciples, and we’re doing the same thing through
service,” he said.

long term, Amigos has always invested first in local community leadership to
make projects sustainable, said Bland. And they’ve either built schools or
supported existing schools in partnership with Nicaragua’s ministry of education
with a goal to get kids to complete at least high school. Amigos stays
apolitical amidst the protests.

we work with a community with no school ‘ one of the first projects we do is to
build a school,” said Bland. Amigos focuses on attractive physical structures “so
that the kids really want to go” to school, “because we know that education is
going to change the country for the long term.”

farmers are going greener through crop diversification and organic
certification. “We’re growing dragon fruit, a lot of papaya, getting farmers
access to capital and helping them have access to market,” he said. “We’re
going to be investing heavily in that over the next 10 years.”

has come a long way since Bland, a former software engineer, established the
nonprofit in 1999 as an outgrowth of a youth mission project through Prince of
Peace Church in Flowery Branch. The nonprofit now has 116 employees, a $3.6
million operating budget and an extensive network of churches across the United
States. About 80 percent of Amigos’ workers are Nicaraguan, which is a key to
growth and sustainability, said Bland.

member and Prince of Peace parishioner Sue LaFave has participated in mission
trips to Nicaragua every year since 2002, most recently leading a team from her
parish over spring break.

even owns a home a few blocks from the nonprofit’s headquarters and eagerly
awaits a return to Chinandega.

her first trip, LaFave accompanied her teen daughter and others from Prince of
Peace. Since then she has taken her niece and nephews and many parish teens.

is the Nicaraguan people who inspire her to continue service.

humility and their strong faith set such a great example for my daughter when
we first went and for me always. They are so grateful for the hand up that we
give them. ‘ We are the Lord’s hands and feet when we go to Nicaragua,” she told
The Georgia Bulletin, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Atlanta.

who said she has never felt unsafe in Chinandega, first met the Narvaez family
when they lived in a plastic shack with a tin roof near the city trash dump.
She worked side by side with the family and other Amigos to relocate them to a
new home in Villa Catalina. Now living in a decent home with running water, the
mother has a small business and her children attend an afterschool program
called Teatro Catalina.

now see them being very successful in their daily lives, and it makes me very
happy,” said LaFave.

she sees firsthand the difference having clean running water makes to the 18
communities served by Amigos. Parents would spend half their day fetching water
instead of looking for employment, and children would babysit siblings instead
of attending school, she recalled.

faith through action has profoundly impacted LaFave.

shovel full of dirt that I’ve dug ‘ helps me to understand that we can’t always
do big things, but every little thing adds up to something big. I see the Lord
there,” she said.

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writes for The Georgia Bulletin, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Atlanta.

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