For the past nine years, the Lord has allowed me to take high school students and their parents to Nicaragua for week-long mission trips. Here are nine things I have learned over those nine years:
The Gospel can take a long time to grow.
I remember faces more than names at the school in La Panama where we have been working at for the past nine years. So this year, as I taught the 6th grade class, I had flashbacks during the lessons because I was looking at faces that we have taught since preschool. During the invitation time this year, eight of those faces (including the teacher’s) came outside to claim Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Most of them had heard us teach the Gospel since they were in preschool, but on this day, all those planted and watered seeds finally cracked open and began to grow.
The Gospel is the power of God.
For nine years, I have known a man named Luis. He is the PE teacher at La Panama, and one of my dear friends. Over the course of nine years, I have shared with him on and off, and no doubt he has heard the gospel more than once. But this year was different. This year he came to one of our church services, and upon hearing the Gospel preached, he responded to Jesus by faith. What was the difference? This time God convicted and called him to salvation as he listened to the message. Here’s the truth; we speak, but only God has the power to save.
The Gospel must be preached by man.
God is the only one who can convict hearts and save sinners, but God does so through His children sharing the Gospel. That’s why Jesus commands us to go and share the good news with everyone, because unless we share the Gospel, people cannot be saved. God has saved many in the community of San Judas over the past nine years, and He did so through us sharing the good news. We cannot save anyone, but no one will be saved unless we tell someone.
The mission must matter most.
Most of the teams I’ve have taken to Nicaragua have consisted of between 20-30 high school students and their parents. Some weeks have been drama free, others have not. What made the difference? The mission. When teams are more focused on the mission above anything else, they will set aside personal issues and fight for unity. If anything else comes before the mission, teams will get caught up in all sorts of drama and slowly drift apart.
Plans fail, so be flexible.
I used to get worked up when our schedule would change the moment we landed in Managua (or sometimes sitting in an airport). Schools would close on the day we were coming, rain would mess up our work projects, or people would just forget we were scheduled to come and not be home. Then I begin to notice a pattern: when our plans changed, something better always happened. For instance, one plan change lead us to bring running water to a village that had none. The truth is, God will change your plans, so be flexible, or you will miss His blessing.
I am a small part of God’s bigger mission.
We used to end our week doing beach ministry near a very poor community by the ocean. It was there that I met a young man who gave me surfing lessons and spoke English really well. So he taught me how to surf, and I taught him about Jesus. At the end of the day, I couldn’t surf and he didn’t believe in Jesus. Two years later, I ran into that guy again and he came running up to me with a smile on his face. He then told me that another mission team had come to the beach and someone had lead him to Christ. This taught me that I am part of a mission that is way bigger than myself, and God is using other people to accomplish His purposes (not just me).
I still remember the first year at La Panama. The school was cold and so were the people. They didn’t trust us, and we were shy towards them. But then the years rolled on. And over those nine years, we built trust, affection, and deep love. We developed a relationship with them, and that relationship has made all the difference. It’s been said people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. After nine years in Nicaragua, I think that’s true.
Worship has many languages.
One of the neatest cross cultural experiences is to hear another group of believers sing praises to King Jesus in words you cannot understand. This is a simple reminder that heaven will not be one nation under God, but people from all nations under One God.
There are no regrets on the plane ride home.
In all my years of taking groups to Nicaragua, I have never once heard someone say on the plane ride home that they regretted making the trip. Yes some got physically sick, and others got home sick, but when all was said and done, no one leaves a week-long mission trip wishing they had spent that week doing something else. Why? Because there is nothing more alive than living out the mission you were created for. Making disciples of all nations. And that doesn’t always require a plane ticket. Sometimes it only requires walking across your street.