July 25, 2013

God at Work in Nicaragua

The Riverside Youth Group expected to serve the less fortunate when they went to Nicaragua, and they did. They helped feed countless children and washed their tiny feet. They taught Vacation Bible School, led worship, and made a way for 97 children to give their hearts to Jesus!
What they did not expect was to meet perhaps the most Christ-like servant they’ll ever meet in their lives.
Martin was a humble, cheerful man charged with caring for the group, looking after their safety, getting them where they needed to go, and in general, meeting their needs. He rode an old bike, or carried it, through the mud and rain, up steep mountains and down—even in the black of night—always watching after them, leading them, ready whenever they needed him. A woman in a town at the top of the mountain that needs prayer? He took them. The bus stuck again in the mud? He rode up the mountain to help push it out. Lead the horses down the narrow mountain pass in the dead black of night? He was there. To say he went the extra mile for them would be a gross understatement. 

Martin's willingness and eagerness to serve them made a tremendous impression on the team. Zach and Michael both felt at times like they were watching Jesus. “Was this what Jesus was really like? Is this how He cared for others?” Michael says Martin was like love personified. Zach confides, “I want to be like that...like Martin...like Jesus!” How powerful to witness such an example. And it was catching. Zach recalls how awesome it was to watch the guys and gals on the team not only serving the kids in the dump, but also each other! Matt challenged the students to continue to walk it out—be on mission here, loving and serving all the time and everywhere—at home, at school, at Riverside.

There were other strong impressions made on the Nicaragua trip. Many students express how powerful the worship was, as if everything faded away and they were alone with God. Bryce says he has always felt most affected by the message preached at services, but during these nightly services he was struck by how strongly the worship time impacted him. Another student, agreeing, noted how amazingly God worked through the worship, crossing language and cultural barriers, providing a way for them to experience God together.

Several students share how eye-opening it was to see the absolute poverty, a state much of the world lives in. Carly shares how it makes her realize how ungrateful she’s often been. Bryce confesses it has opened up his heart to a whole new world. Jazzy says it was very humbling, helping her to break out of her own shell and teaching her to be comfortable being uncomfortable. Crystal was impressed with how these children lived off one meal a day that was usually gulped down in less than a minute and recalls how devastated a little girl was when half her only meal was accidentally spilled by another child. “People really do live off less than a dollar a day!” Stephanie had to learn to lay others’ burdens at the foot of the cross, allowing God to carry the weight of suffering and poverty around her.
 “My compassion makes me want to fix others’ pain, but even that I must give to Jesus.” 
The mission experience was influential in other ways, stirring up hope, confidence, and a desire to be real with others. Taking a break from the TV, iPods, video games, and social networking devices allowed the team to really focus on the relationships in front of them...and to hear God. The masks were peeled away and the students opened up their hearts and got real, facing their own brokenness, hopes and dreams. Although she does not yet know God’s way or His timing, Alexis now feels a definite call to full-time missions. Another lady confides that on the trip she learned so much more about herself. “I felt like what I did and who I am really does matter!” It gives her hope that she can overcome her own current circumstances. Alex recalls how tough many of the boys were, living in such a harsh environment. Still, he felt God calling him to challenge these young men to step up and be leaders in their community, serving and protecting the younger kids and uniting to be that positive influence their community needed to be a better place.

For ten days the Riverside Nicaragua Team watched loved in action. Devin says he will never forget what it was like “watching the kids respond to [their] love.” At the beginning of that first day the children were shy and awkward, but before long they clung to the students, mobbing them, starving for all the love they could get. What a beautiful picture of our universal desperation for the pure, saving love that only our Savior Jesus Christ offers. In the dumps of Nicaragua, our Riverside students and leaders recognized the power of love, worship, a servant’s heart, and God’s patient pursuit, calling each of us to play our unique role in His magnificent story of redemption. Praise God for the work He did in each person’s heart in Nicaragua!

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