by James Haesemeyer
James is a CMML worker based in Honduras; he is involved in training elders and workers, and in local church ministry.
A strong breeze blew through the mountain border crossing of Las Manos, bringing a chilling drizzle and encouraging me to dash for the shelter of a groaning metal roof lashed to some wooden poles. I sat down next to a middle-aged woman who, like me, was seeking entry into Nicaragua. She was from Honduras, where I live, and was hoping to transit through Nicaragua to Costa Rica to find employment. My goal was to spend the next several days visiting mission workers in Nicaragua, to hear their stories of God’s work in their own lives and in the assemblies, and to learn of their goals and of opportunities yet unfulfilled. Three hours later, an immigration official beckoned us to his office – a cramped cubicle in a repurposed shipping container. He looked at the woman and said, ‘I’m sorry. You’ll have to try again tomorrow.’ I said goodbye to her, and she turned and left. The official looked at me and said, ‘You may proceed.’ He stamped my visa form. The next days were filled with chatting with workers, revisiting places I had not been to in a long time, and marvelling afresh at God’s goodness and faithfulness.
Nicaragua lies near the centre of the Central American isthmus, with Honduras to the north and Costa Rica to the south. Nicaragua is nearly identical in size to England but with one-tenth the population. The country has three principal geographic areas: the hot, fertile plains of the Pacific lowlands; the sparsely populated, tropical rainforests of the Caribbean lowlands; and the oak- and pine-covered mountains of the Central Highlands. Agriculture remains the mainstay of the Nicaraguan economy, particularly coffee and livestock, but tourism is a rapidly growing source of income.
Nicaragua has had the misfortune of seeing much warfare through its few centuries of recorded history. Initially the struggles were between the Spanish conquistadors, allied with the powerful Nicarao tribe – after whom the nation is named – against other indigenous peoples. Soon, intrigue and subterfuge led to infighting among the conquistadors themselves. Further conflicts beset the land when the British wrested away tacit control of eastern Nicaragua and began preying on Spanish treasure convoys. Indeed, a young Horatio Nelson once mounted a campaign against the city of León, located near the Pacific coast. The 19th and 20th centuries were marred by intense internal conflicts, resulting in sporadic American intervention. Despite its troubled past, Nicaragua now enjoys political stability as well as a much-envied degree of security, boasting, among other things, one of the lowest murder rates in Latin America.
there remains…a wonderfully unified and closely knit group of men and women striving together to make the Lord’s name known among the people
The history of Brethren assemblies in Nicaragua began one rainy morning in 1991, in the coastal town of Trujillo, Honduras. A young Honduran, named Oscar Cubas, listened to missionary Grant Ferrer (USA) as he enthusiastically reported on the newly opened doors in Honduras’ southern neighbour. Oscar took Grant’s exhortations to heart; he was soon making weekly trips across the border into Nicaragua, driving his battered Land Cruiser through remote territory only recently pacified from the Contra War and still thickly strewn with land mines.
After two years of perseverance and despite severe opposition from the local communist party, a small group of believers in the border village of Tauquil gathered together on a sunny April morning and were baptised in a small pond. They then broke bread together for the first time. Soon afterwards, Oscar left behind a lucrative career in Honduras and moved into a dirt- floored, thatch-roofed hut located in the centre of the village, to give his full attention to caring for the fledgling assembly.
Two years later, Oscar, by then married and with a son, moved south to a town named Jalapa. Another assembly was established and, three years later, he and his growing family moved yet farther south to the small city of Ocotal. Once again, an assembly of believers was soon meeting together.
The next years were fruitful, as more and more individuals responded to the newly found opportunities in Nicaragua, including Grant Ferrer himself, who moved to the capital city of Managua and was instrumental in establishing the first assembly there. Some of those missionaries have since either passed on to the presence of the Lord or moved to other fields of service. However, there remains, as I discovered on my journey, a wonderfully unified and closely knit group of men and women striving together to make the Lord’s name known among the people.
Doggedness & Dedication
The strong sense of unity is remarkable, as well as precious, given the diverse background and ethnicity of those serving the Lord in Nicaragua. Many of the dozen-or-so mission workers have come from Honduras, but Canada and the USA have contributed individuals and families to the effort as well.
Ben and Helen Goatley (New Zealand) are notable examples who were labouring in El Salvador when they recognised that, by God’s grace, a propitious moment had arrived for the proclamation of the gospel in Nicaragua. They returned to New Zealand for furlough with plans to move to their new field after six months. Sadly, Ben developed a brain tumour and passed into the Lord’s presence before their plans could be realised. Despite the loss of her husband, Helen was determined to press on. She moved to Managua where she had a unique ministry among ‘disreputable’ women, seeking to pluck them out of their dark lifestyle to become trophies of God’s grace. After a few short years, Helen joined her husband in the Lord’s presence. Her doggedness and dedication seemed to me to be typical of the gospel workers’ attitude.
Impressive, as well, is the range of gifts and the complementary strengths found among the Lord’s servants. I talked with workers who have extraordinary talent in discipling young people; others are gifted in working with children and still another with outstanding administrative ability. Yet I was delighted to find some who were, shall we say, simply everyday Christians but with a heart given to God. As one worker commented to me, as we chatted late into the evening, ‘We don’t need eloquent and persuasive preachers, we just need people who are willing to serve the Saviour.’
Later, as I sifted through my notes, and recalled the many conversations I enjoyed with my brothers and sisters, I felt most impressed by a single thread running through all their stories – the faithfulness of the Lord. Every individual with whom I spoke shared heart-warming accounts of God’s clear and undeniable leading, and of His remarkable provision, particularly in the most distressing of situations. By the world’s standards many of those mission workers have little in terms of resources, but they have something far more precious: they see the hand of God active in their lives.
Six Million Lost People
Since the first assembly was established in1993, in the little village of Tauquil, 12 more have followed in both cities and rural areas. Additionally, several more outreaches in outlying districts are growing and maturing. All these efforts have principally focused on the north and west of the country. Yet there remain vast areas still unreached.
My trip back across the border from Nicaragua was routine. I had only begun to fill out the customs form for re-entry when the Honduran official smiled and said, ‘That’s good enough. Go ahead.’ He then returned to the card game he was playing with his friends, but not before giving a quick nod to the old man operating the pipe barrier who obediently raised it so that I could pass. Before I drove through, I hesitated for a moment. I looked back to the south, back toward Nicaragua, to the land sprawling beneath that high mountain pass. In the silence of that moment I recalled a conversation I had had with Oscar the day before. We had just finished lunch, and as we sat back and chatted about the Lord’s work, I asked Oscar what was the most urgent need for seeing God’s work fulfilled.He said, ‘I wish I could let the world know that there are six million lost people here who need to hear the gospel. Maybe there would be some who will come to help us?’
There is a golden moment of opportunity…
I drove my vehicle through the gate and heard the barrier clang shut behind me. There is a golden moment of opportunity in Nicaragua just now. I pray that it will last.
For further information visit the CMML website here.