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State College Church Sends Helping Hands to Nicaragua

by and on September 02, 2013 2:10 PM

When Gail Drake, daughter of the founder of Mountain T.O.P. (Tennessee Outreach Project), asked Bob Johnson to become part of a team to train leaders for short-term mission trips to Nicaragua, he could not have conceived the outcome.

That first day after he considered the request he said, “What am I doing? I’m not even sure where Nicaragua is?”

He did go, trained, and along with his wife Bonnie, led the first team in 2004 to Nicaragua.

The team balanced medical clinics, educational activities and construction projects at Hebron Baptista Iglesia, a church/school. The team built an addition to the school. Some members taught English. Dr. Rick Vaughn was the physician for the medical team.

Joanne Steindorf and Jim Martin were pharmacists with Nicaraguan translators. On the second week there, Dr. Chuck Rohrbeck and licensed pharmacist Ike Rosensteel joined the group.

The mission group, backed by the St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in State College, had caught a “bug” that has affected over 173 people in the 10 years since. Most of the people, who go on missions, return more than once. In 2005, the team from St. Paul’s undertook the building of the Los Cedros Children’s Home, one of only two Child of Destiny Homes in Nicaragua.

St. Paul’s raised money and the 2005 team built it to the bottom of the windows. Other teams came and worked to complete the building, which today is home to around 30 infants and toddlers.

The Medical Team now stays at both, an older children’s home in Jinotega and also at Los Cedros in the dormitories (men’s and women’s) that have since been built. This is the same home (Los Cedros) that was broken into a week ago by 10 armed men, who cut through fencing, overpowered the armed guard there, tied up the nannies and robbed the home.

Eight thousand dollars was taken (money the missionaries were trying to save for a better vehicle). Computers were stolen along with the only vehicle there; a truck that was later found demolished. The Randall family, the missionaries there, are thankful that no one was hurt, but it has increased the need for help.

St. Paul’s UMC, with its high teacher membership and a heart for education, initiated the Backpack Project in 2004. That year the team gave out 600 backpacks filled with school supplies. By  2013, 28,000 backpacks were placed into eager students hands.

None of these things are made available to students in Nicaragua through the schools, which, especially in the mountains, are small; little more than cement block and metal shacks with desks. Outhouses are the only facilities for the students.

The Scholarship Program is a valuable one to St. Paul’s. It has blossomed to include 200 scholarships for K-12 to attend school and 48 university scholarships.

“St. Paul’s is very proud of our students. We have one student in a school for the deaf, several in engineering programs and one in veterinary training,” said Bonnie Johnson.

Sewing Ministry — Bonnie was eager to explain to me the sewing projects that St. Paul’s has started in Nicaragua.

“These classes have empowered women there. We have collected sewing machines and several team members including Lisa Voight who is a team leader, Barbara Taylor and I have given the women a skill, that enables them to teach others and to sell items to make some money.”

Teacher Training — Bonnie has lead teacher training workshops — in a school that the team had renovated, three elementary schools and four preschools. Teachers, some were college educated and many who were not, learned math manipulations and other helpful teaching aids.

Sports Camp –— One ongoing project for the mission teams is the sports camp at El Salero, a healthy place for children and youth to learn and grow. Every time a team goes there, they add more — basketball courts, etc. Holle and Kathy August, along with Amanda VanDeman Gutierrez, who are missionaries.

In 2003, the Augusts, sold their home in Seattle and with three teenage sons, moved to Nicaragua. They lived in an apartment complex with Amanda and looked for land. Using the money from the sale of their home, the Augusts bought an old ball field, overgrown with weeds and a haven for wandering cattle and horses.

With a home, half completed, they trusted God to help, and moved in. Since then they have added two dormitories, a library (the only lending library in Managua), a computer center, a ranchon (open air meeting area) and attached kitchen. Their ministry besides this camp has reached the community in the form of running a preschool, renovating and supplying a Christian school, and a feeding program, Dios Con Nosotros (God with us).

Medical Clinics — The St. Paul Lutheran Church in Pine Grove Mills heads up the medical team to Nicaragua, but several St. Paul’s members still go with that group, including Dr. Paul Steinderf, Rich Shore, Dave Howell and I. Over the years, clinics have been held in remote mountain villages, the Managua City Dump and remote sugar cane villages.

At a clinic, which is set up in a different area of the mountains each day, the doctors and nurses diagnose and treat the patients with medicines they've brought with them. In the larger cities, Nicaraguans get free care at a clinic, but no medicine is provided. Most of the people in the mountain villages can’t get to the doctors, or afford the medicine when they do. 

The team treats whole families for parasites and sends them home with a three-month vitamin supply. (Hoping that another team may come through after three or four months). They give out Tylenol, Advil, cough medicine, etc. It is worth a lot to a man who cuts sugar cane with a machete all day or picks coffee to receive some Tylenol for his muscle aches.

Shawl Ministry — The women of St. Paul’s and others have a ministry with their knitting and crocheting. Each year many shawls are given out as a token from someone here who sends love and prayers to these poor people who have so little, and yet are so happy. The older women who receive the shawls flash smiles that stretch across the miles.

The most important things about all these missionary trips, according to Bonnie Johnson, are the relationships that are formed. In time, the missionaries and the kids become like family. A young couple, employed at El Salero, who had been married in a civil ceremony, later became Christians and wished to be married in a Christian service.  In 2012 the Johnsons stood up for them as sponsors at their second wedding.

There are many others not mentioned here who have gone on the mission trips — some from other churches who have joined the St. Paul’s UMC and the St. Paul Lutheran Teams. Some people took part in a team and went on to start another mission team. It all builds trust and good will.

This year St. Paul’s UMC and Wesley foundation in State College is celebrating its 125th Year Anniversary. There have been events held to honor that milestone and more are planned for the rest of 2013.

Anyone wishing to donate to help the missionaries whose Children’s Home was robbed can do so by sending the checks to St. Paul’s UMC, in State College, with Los Cedros Children’s Home in the memo.

This story was produced by the staff at the Centre County Gazette. It was re-published with permission. The Centre County Gazette is a weekly publication, available at many locations around Centre County every Thursday morning.

Connie Cousins covers Centre County for the Gazette.
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