Lessons from Six Months in Nicaragua

As you can probably figure out from the title, I have officially been living in Nicaragua for six months. There are times with it feels much shorter and times when it feels infinitely longer. Over the past six months, I have learned a lot about myself, the world around me, and God. I thought the best way to celebrate six months of living in Nicaragua would be to share with you the takeaways I have gleaned from my time here. I am not sure if they will resonate with you and most of them will be reiterations of what I have written in past posts, but, even so, I hope you find them valuable in some way. If not, well, I am going to write them anyway and pretend that you at least find these lessons mildly interesting (the advantage of being the author). So here’s to six months!

The first lesson that comes to mind from my six months here is how important relationships and community are. Certainly this is something I knew was true in the past, maybe more subconsciously than consciously, but it has become abundantly clear now that I am living far away from the majority of my friends and family. I can still remember how truly alone I felt when my good friend Sean, who volunteered to help me move to Nicaragua, walked into the airport to fly back to the United States. Over the next few weeks I realized that I loved and cared about my family and friends more deeply than I had ever fathomed. I also came to understand how important those relationships are in my life and the hole that would be created by the distance that now existed between us. It also became abundantly clear how much my church community means to me and how much we were created to be in such a community. The community I experience at Crossroads Community Church has been a blessing in my life and something I miss dearly. This has been a great reminder of Paul’s words in Hebrews 10:24-25 which say, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (NIV). In addition to relationships with people, the importance of my relationship and community with God has been reinforced. It has been really neat to see how God meets us in our moments of loneliness like only He can. Being disconnected from everything I have ever know has caused me to turn to the One who has always been and will always be there, God, my Father. Thankfully, God has also provided me with great friendships and community in Nicaragua. I have also truly enjoyed becoming better friends with all of the incredible people God has allowed me to partner with in Nicaragua and look forward to continuing to grow those relationships. I have also been encouraged by the community I have found at Verbo Church and the Baptist church in El Canyon. Sometime something has to be taken from us before we understand how deeply we need it. The relationships and community God gives us are things to be treasured and will certainly never look the same for me.

Another big takeaway that has come from my six months in Nicaragua is the need to be patient and trust that God’s timing is better than mine. As I have talked about in previous blog posts, there have been a lot of points in my life when I really didn’t understand why certain events had or hadn’t occurred in my life. As I began to feel God’s call to Nicaragua, many of these seemingly disappointing moments in my life started to make more sense. This has only been confirmed over the past six months as God has made more and more clear that His will is in fact for me to be here for this season of my life. It is interesting to look back at failed relationships or business opportunities that didn’t go as expected and, at times, in ways that didn’t make sense, and realize that God was guiding and preparing me for something else. This brings to mind 1 Corinthians 2:9 which says, “‘What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived’ – the things God has prepared for those who love him” (NIV). I don’t know that I will ever understand God’s timing, but I do understand that it is perfect. This has also been true of our projects in Nicaragua. Whether it has been the papayas, the bike shop, the greenhouse or our activities in El Canyon, God has opened doors at just the right moment that may not have been open if we wouldn’t have been in flow with God’s timing. Being patient and trusting can be difficult exercises when we can’t see the whole picture, but doing so in the One who can leads to more life than we could ever imagine.

The power of hope is another lesson that has been cemented in my heart during my six months in Nicaragua. It is not hard to see that we live in a world lacking in hope, both practically and spiritually. Nowhere is this clearer than in the midst of extreme poverty. In fact, I would argue that a lack of, or stunted perspective of hope is one of the biggest perpetuators of extreme poverty. Without hope for a better future here on earth and hope for an eternal future in relationship with God, people tend to believe that things will never change and that living in extreme poverty is their lot in life. Not only does this perspective harm the lives of those who believe it, but it also harms the society as a whole and becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. At the same time, this means gaining hope and a fuller perspective of what God wants for our lives could change everything. During my time with a team in the small and very poor village of Las Avellanas I experienced this firsthand as we saw many people give their lives to Christ. After we left, we were excited to hear that many more people accepted Christ and the hope found in Him. In a place that most of the world would say there is no hope for a future, people met hope face-to-face in the person of Jesus Christ and their lives were forever changed.  I am excited to see what God does in Las Avellanas over the next few years. We have also seen the power of hope in our projects. With the continued success of the papaya project, people are now seeing an opportunity for things to be different. Additionally, the impending launch of the agricultural training program in El Canyon through the organic gardening curriculum has everyone excited about what is to come. Programs such as this combined with spiritual training will bring a full picture of hope both for now and eternity and has the ability to change many, lives, communities and maybe even a country. If a lack of hope perpetuates poverty, both spiritually and practically, in our world, an infusion of hope just might end it.

Certainly there has been much more that I have learned over the past six months. Some of these things are less than profound such as geckos, not dogs, are a man’s best friend when you live in the tropics, or that you need a master’s degree to determine when an avocado is ripe. Others, like those listed above, have forever impacted the way I see life. In the end though, more than any other lesson, I am even more convinced that life is found “in the river”. Without a doubt, it can be scary to take that first step into what looks like a raging river. I know this was true for me. Over the past six months, there have been days when I have asked God if He is sure this is where I am supposed to be. Sometimes the first step seems crazy, but it is in that first step into the river, where we are fully dependent on God’s ability to come through, that everything changes. For the priests carrying the ark it meant believing that God would stop the water from flowing and for me it meant moving to Nicaragua. I don’t know what river God might be asking you to step into, but in my experience, life is found when we decide standing on the edge asking ourselves “what if” is not what God intended for us. I would venture to guess the priests carrying the ark lived differently after that first step into the river. My life will never be the same after mine. Life is just one step away. The choice is yours.

Thank you for allowing me to share the lessons God has taught me over the past six months. I look forward to sharing all that God will do over the next six!

-James Belt

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