MOUNT VERNON — It was only one continent away, but two local residents experienced a whole different world during a recent missions trip to Managua, Nicaragua.
One could call it an eye-opening experience for Ron Meharry and Larry Raabe, members of the First Congregational United Church of Christ, who recently joined those from other churches for a nine-day missions trip, sponsored by the United Church of Christ. The UCC’s Global Ministries mission has taken on a project of sponsoring a missions church in Managua, Nicaragua, called Iglesia Mision Christiana.
Meharry is also a member of Faith Lutheran Church in Mount Vernon. The group stayed in the homes of missions hosts from June 16-24.
The purpose of the trip was to observe the operations of the mission to assure that all aspects of the mission are being managed properly and to see if any changes or additions to the missions project might be necessary. They observed operations at schools, churches and other projects. Reports on their findings are then given at numerous churches and organizations upon their return.
Nicaragua is a severely depressed country, being the second poorest country in the western hemisphere. As much as 48 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, with 79 percent living on as little as $2 per day. So the need for a missions project is paramount. The city has a population of 2 million people, which accounts for more than one-fourth of the entire country.
Language can be an obstacle for those from the U.S. visiting Nicaragua. Spanish is the main language spoken in the country with many dialects present. Interpreters assisted those on the trip at most times to help with the language barrier. Also attending the trip were cooks and drivers who received a small stipend for their efforts. Missions volunteers received no compensation.
“When you see pictures, everything is glossed over. But when you see this in person, it’s baffling, it’s gut-wrenching ... you question why people are living under such conditions,” said Raabe, who explained that Nicaragua has experienced many earthquakes and political revolutions which have caused widespread deplorable living conditions across the country.
While there are those in Managua who are considered rich, “Disparity is much more extreme in comparison to here,” said Meharry. Many homes have limited resources of electricity, running water or even sewage service. Homes can be a bare brick structure with nothing on the walls, nothing in the cupboards and no toys for the children to play with. Many houses have open doors and windows and have livestock running freely in the home.
One project at the mission is known as the International Heifer Project. This is a program which was begun by a U.S. Army soldier who observed the widespread poverty in the country and reported on the situation upon return home. Through the Heifer Project, the mission is given an allotment of livestock, by donations, such as brahmas, chickens, pigs, sheep and goats. “There is no government involvement in this project,” said Raabe. “This is all through the churches. The government does not get their hands on any of this.”