A lesson in perspective and love: Meeting the people of Leon, Nicaragua

■ BY MARCY SHORTUSEwaiting-web

On Saturday, Oct. 15 three members of the Lighthouse United Methodist Church of Boca Grande went on a life-changing mission to a little community in Nicaragua.

They left with a purpose and will be coming home with even more passion to help the people of the poverty-stricken town of León.

This was the first trip of its kind for the church, and for the three who traveled so far away – Bob and Sheila Dorst and Tabitha Jordan. They are scheduled to return on Saturday, Oct. 22.

Pastor Matt Williams of the church has been involved in missionary work to Nicaragua for many years, and he was very excited to introduce his congregation to his friends there. He was the associate pastor at Killearn United Methodist Church in Tallahassee when this program began there, and it’s grown now to involve more than 10 churches stateside. It started in 2007 as a ministry that supports pastors and their families, and helps empower them for the local communities. Williams has been to this part of Nicaragua 15 times or more and is intimately acquainted with the people and the living conditions there.

“This is the first time anyone from our church has gone to this specific mission,” he said. “The name of the organization is Doce Iglesias, or 12 Churches. There are medical mission trips, construction mission trips and mission trips for children and families, pastors training and conferences. It’s a very depressed area. Many people live in squatter communities; the government designates a large piece of land and they give them post and ten for two walls, then families scavenge and come up with cardboard and wooden pieces and plastic to finish off the rest of it. Some people live in small, concrete block homes with dirt floors. There aren’t many jobs; many of the men in the household go to another country to work, to send money and it never comes, they never come back.”

This particular trip was a medical mission trip. Sheila, an R.N., helped out with daily tasks at the makeshift clinic set up in a church in León. She, Bob and Tabitha did everything from sorting meds to checking blood pressures and blood sugars and performing urine tests. On this specific medical mission trip they set up a medical clinic in local churches that are part of the 12 churches. They do health screenings; doctors and nurses there provide medication and more. They also gave out more than 150 personal hygiene kits that church members made up in advance. The kits included things like shampoo, conditioner, razors, toothpaste, toothbrushes and washcloths.

“Diabetes is one of the biggest issues there because of diet and lack of education as to what diabetes is,” Williams said. “The government provides diabetes medication to some who qualify, but they often run out before the next supply comes out.”

The Twelve Churches program also offers “microloans,” and more than 100 microloans have been given to start businesses. They can buy a pig, soda machines, materials to make tortillas to sell to the community … they are encouraged to find any way to make money within the community.

There is also a feeding program that the Lighthouse United Methodist Church of Boca Grande and the United Methodist Women support. Their donations ensure that 300 women and children receive one meal a day in three locations every week, five days a week.

“None of the churches are really connected down there,” Williams said, referring to Nicaragua. “Someone will fill a need, a call, and they just start a church with no education or without knowing what they’re doing. That was why we started to train the pastors for this program in the first place. Then we saw a greater need. We’ve been going back since 2007, and we’ve watched children grow up, we’ve been able to help some of the children go to college, to obtain school uniforms and in some cases, receive secondary education.”

If you would like more information about the program, go to twelvechurches.org.