Making a lasting connection in Nicaragua
After graduating from Mac High and Pacific University, Kim Kushner decided to get into missionary work. Bilingual in English and Spanish, she ended up being placed in a health care ministry in a remote village in the impoverished Central American nation of Nicaragua.
Kushner, daughter of Paul and Joan Kushner, has since moved on to other missions in other parts of the world, working through International Ministries.
But her experience led McMinnville First Baptist Church to adopt the Nicaraguan village of La Pimienta on a long-term basis. And it has proven extremely rewarding on both ends.
The Rev. Kent Harrop said the seed was planted when Paul and Joan came back from visiting their daughter there. They described a need so great the church couldn’t resist getting involved.
The church’s first trek to La Pimienta, in the mountainous north near Nicaragua’s border with Honduras, was made by a group of 14 in 2004. Its immediate task was construction of a building to house a clinic, which it accomplished.
“It was a really great experience for us,” Harrop said. “But we left and we never went back.”
Not for several years, anyway.
The initial visit was made under the auspices of Provadenic, formed by Gustavo Parajon in 1967. When that program failed for lack of financial support, Gustavo’s son and wife, physicians David and Laura Parajon, created AMOS.
AMOS is an acronym for A Ministry Of Sharing. It is also the name of the Biblical prophet who advocated for the poor, organizers point out.
The Parajons decided when they founded AMOS that they would ask their partner organizations to commit sustained support for four years at a time, not just on a one-time basis. They wanted to see providers and clients develop mutually beneficial long-term relationships.
In 2008, the First Baptist congregation committed to adopting La Pimienta for an initial period of four years. It agreed to raise $5,100 a year during that period, enough to meet the needs of the approximately 800 townspeople.
With the first four-year commitment concluded at the end of this year, the church signed-up for another four years with an increased amount of $5,600 annually, plus an added goal of actually being able to fundraise for the amount of $6,728, which is the full annual cost for the clinic’s support.
“It’s been a great experience for this church,” said Harrop. “Not only do we feel we’re making a difference in Nicaragua, but developing friendships.
“The idea of AMOS is to serve really impoverished communities that are underserved by the government,” he said, and the little Nicaraguan farming community certainly qualifies. In La Pimienta, he said, “Farmers live on less than $2 a day.”
When church volunteers go there to lend a hand directly, they stop first at AMOS headquarters in the capital city of Managua to the south for orientation and training. Then they travel on up to the village by truck, which typically takes six to eight hours.
One year, a church delegation arrived during flood season, so had to pack in by horse. It was the only way to navigate flooded streams safely.
First Baptist funds a clinic and pharmacy staffed by village resident Silvina Lainez, who was trained as a medic by AMOS. Her capabilities have earned her official government recognition as a first responder.
The church not only funded her training in Managua, but also the purchase of a horse and saddle, so she can get to remote residences to see patients, even in flood season.
She works with a health committee whose members are elected by the village. In addition to providing basic health care, she and the committee are responsible for fostering good sanitation and conducting screenings for preventable disease.
Harrop said infant mortality averages 49 per 1,000 births in Nicaragua. But she said there have been no infant deaths in La Pimienta this year, and he thinks improved sanitation and health care have a lot to do with that.
In 2009, First Baptist augmented its effort by joining the Advent Conspiracy campaign.
Harrop said each household in the church was challenged to buy one less Christmas gift that year and put the money toward a mission program. He said the church adopted as its mission providing all 99 households in the village with a water filter, as virtually all local water sources are polluted, leading to rampant diarrhea.
He said the filters have a projected 10-year lifespan. The filters supplied by the church were tested earlier this year, and 95 percent of them were still free of E. coli.
“A lot of the children were dying of diarrhea,” Harrop said. But the death rate is down dramatically now, as is school time lost to illness.
Jennifer Scott, who has coordinated church trips to Nicaragua, said it’s been heartwarming to hear about the dramatic impact clean water has been having on the children.
Scott said village men used to head to their farm plots with nothing more than a machete and empty bottle, which they would fill from the nearest creek for drinking water. But after seeing how much healthier their children are, now that they are drinking filtered water, the men are filling their bottles before they leave and returning home for refills.
Another health issue the people suffer from is worms picked up from the soil.
Before the clinic was built, most residents of of the villagers had worms in their intestines. The worms can rob villagers of up to one-third of the nutrients they consume, and many of them are already malnourished.
But it only takes ingestion of a five-cent pill twice a year to ward off the problem, and those pills are now being routinely administered by the clinic.
Lainez is also promoting simple precautions like hand-washing as a preventive measure. And to facilitate that, she has set up public wash stations all around the village.
Thanks to measures like that, “The general health has gone up significantly,” Harrop said.
Scott said the church has gotten help with its mission from other elements of the McMinnville community, including the Mac Prescription Shop and its sister Mac Medical Shop, which have helped it obtain affordable medical supplies.
Harrop said strong friendships have been forged along the way — another plus. “People develop a relationship with the villagers,” he said.
First Baptist member David Hallett gave the pastor of La Pimenta’s Pentecostal Church a photo of his family when he visited last year.
When Hallett made a return visit this year, he found the pastor had fashioned a frame for it and hung it next to a photo of his own family. The pastor told him he had been including the Hallett family in his daily prayers.
“That’s the power of relationships,” Harrop said.
Hallett’s involvement has been instrumental in developing another local aspect as well, according to Harrop.
As a dean in the Chemeketa Community College system, Hallett was preparing to take some students to Mexico in 2011. But their intended destination had landed on a State Department watch list, and two weeks before the scheduled departure, their carrier pulled its insurance coverage.
Harrop said Hallett contacted AMOS, and the students were able to switch their destination to Nicaragua at the last minute. That led to a followup trip earlier this year, and the college has a third one planned next year.
The trips are being taken in conjunction with a humanities class, International Community Service in Action, taught in Salem every winter term by Ceceila Monto.
Hallett said the course is taken by students from a variety of majors, including nursing and health care. He said it helps them develop a better understanding of global issues and how they affect developing nations.
In preparation, they study issues such as public education, public health and water and food needs.
Hallett values the partnership that has been created.
“It is especially nice, because they work side-by-side with community members on health and education projects that are designed to create long-term, sustainable health for the local community in Nicaragua,” he said. “The AMOS team is so organized and well-run that we have never had any safety concerns.”
Dr. Laura Parajon recently made a trip to the U.S., and she took the opportunity to meet with Chemeketa’s board, students and staff.
She told them AMOS only operates in places where it has been invited. Its focus is on teaching the community how to care for itself, so when volunteers go there, they work under the direction of locals, she explained.
Someday, Harrop hopes to be able to bring someone from the village to McMinnville for a visit.
Harrop said the Parajons and their staff at AMOS are living a life of kindness and selflessness rooted in their faith. He said the relationship has been inspiring, and has helped the church “put priorities back in place.”
Currently, AMOS has 17 other villages on its list that are going unserved. He encouraged other entities to consider stepping up, saying they would find it life- and faith-affirming.
For more information about the program, call First Baptist at 503-472-7941 or visit www.fbcmac.org/La_Pimienta_Nicaragua.php.