Hello, everyone! Despite the long break in posting, we are still here. So far we have been in Nicaragua for about a year and 8 months, almost a year of which we have been in our house. During that time, we have been to the States together twice (last Summer and last Christmas), and Becky went by herself in January after her grandmother's passing. Right now we are gearing up to make another trip to South Carolina where we will be staffing First Week at Palmetto Bible Camp, and pretty much the rest of June we will be in Charleston. (If anyone would like to get together, please get in touch!)
Another reason we are excited to be coming home for a while is so that our family will have a chance to spend some time with Becky while she is pregnant. Yes, if you hadn't already heard, we are expecting our first child (a boy) in September. So far (¡gracias a Dios!) Becky has been blessed with a fairly easy pregnancy. Doctors visits have all been positive. (We can actually get an ultrasound here for as little as about $14!) Our thought right now is that delivery will happen at the hospital in Managua. If it works out that way, our son should be able to have dual citizenship, and, as his parents, we may be awarded residency for a period of time. Regardless of the legal stuff, we are thrilled at this upcoming change in our lives.
As far as our work here, we have pretty much settled into a routine, and over the last year we have moved out of the "getting settled"/"getting our feet wet" stage to the "getting serious" stage. After we came back here at the end of August from our trip to the States, we hit the ground running working to build the infrastructure of our organization. Mostly this has involved a lot of paperwork and long meetings about protocol and which things should be our focus, but we have put ourselves in a position where our group has been able to get a lot of work done. Becky has taken on the role of secretary/office administrator, while most of the work that the guys (Tommy, David, and Chris) do is out in the field in a community called Yankee. We have narrowed our projects to goat farming, small animal husbandry (mainly with rabbits), stove pipes (to get the smoke out of people's homes), and bio-sand water filters. But, by and large, our focus lately has been on the water filters.
Almost all families in the countryside are drinking water contaminated with E.coli, parasites and other bacterial and physical contaminants. We currently have 53 families using a bio-sand filter in their homes, which is roughly 320 people with access to clean water. We have achieved very good results from our filters with 98%-100% removal of E.coli. We are slowly working on our other projects as well (for example, we recently visited a farm in another area to learn more about goats), but since clean water is foundational to life and health not only for humans but for domesticated animals, we are focusing most of our efforts here right now.
All of these projects are an expression of God's love in Christ Jesus that motivates us to work together with people to alleviate some of their more pressing physical concerns. It gives us a chance to spend time with people, form relationships and show that we care. This allows us to build bridges to sharing the word of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ with those with whom we work.
We've started working on a plan to build a network of community leaders in the Yankee area who can work to distribute our bio-sand water filters on a larger scale. This was an idea brought to us by our friend Reynaldo Gonzalez who is the preacher at the Church of Christ in Yankee and our main contact in the area. Reynaldo has identified people from four areas who are already serving as leaders for their communities. They are excited to work with us to bring water filters to their neighbors. We have started training these people on filter construction and they just completed their first round of test filters built in the field completely on their own without our assistance; so far so good! We are also very excited about the fact that all of these people have expressed a desire to have Bible studies with Reynaldo, and Reynaldo hopes that some new churches can be planted in the future as a result of this effort.
We recently had a great opportunity to partner with an organization called Bread For A Hungry World (www.givebread.org) to raise money to build more bio-sand water filters. Bread is a Church of Christ based missions organization in Texas. They agreed to match our donations dollar for dollar up to $2500. We are very happy to report that our goal has been reached! We want to thank the folks at Bread for working with us, and we want to thank those of you who contributed.
Something else that Tommy has been working on is a Google Earth Map that shows the locations of all of our water filters and has many pictures attached to the waypoints so that you can see the homes where these filters are located and the families that live there. If you would like a digital copy of this map, just send Tommy an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can send him a FaceBook message and he will email it to you. It will come to you as an email attachment and you will need to open it in Google Earth. If you haven't already, simply download Google Earth for free, and when you get the .klm file as an email attachment just copy it to your desktop and then double click on it. At that point, Google Earth will open automatically on your computer and display the map!
We thought that you might be interested to know what our days and weeks are actually like here, beyond the general information about our projects. Here are our individual versions of how things usally go:
Tommy here; I just wanted to give you a quick run down on what my typical week looks like (although, here in Nicaragua things don't always go as "typically" planned due to many different challenges and obstacles that present themselves more often than they do in the States). I usually get up around 6 o'clock in the morning and ride my motorcycle to Misión Para Cristo, arriving at or before 7 o'clock. David and Chris and I start each day with a cup of coffee and an hour of Bible study before going to the Mission devotional with all the staff at 8. The Mission devo lasts for about 30 minutes and includes singing, prayer and a short message from one the preachers. After the devo, the three of us meet in our office with my wife Becky (who serves as our Secretary and general keeper of the order). It is at this time that we discuss anything that needs to be discussed, make plans for the week, month, etc. and basically deal with "business." After that the guys load up in a truck and head for the community of Yankee where we do most of our work. If we need to we will stop at the local hardware store to pick up any supplies that we might need for the day. The drive to Yankee takes about 30 minutes, and sometimes we use this time to make further plans or talk about pressing issues. Once in Yankee we go to Reynaldo Gonzalez's house to pick him up and then go about the business of building water filters, checking on older filters, distributing Bibles and visiting with families in the area. At the end of the day we drop off Reynaldo at his house and are usually back in Jinotega by 5 o'clock.
Okay, now this is Becky speaking. Most weekdays I get up around 7:00, and then at about 10 to 15 minutes before 8:00 I head to the curb to wait for a taxi to take me to the mission. (The trip to the mission should only take about 3 to 5 minutes if you go directly, but often I have to wait for the other passengers to get dropped off first. It is rare to be the only passenger in the taxi.) After the 8:00 devo, I meet with the guys and pester them about paperwork until they end our meeting with a prayer and head off to do their work for the day. I keep track of a lot of information, but mainly I deal with the documentation for each water filter, each family in the field we work with, and each team member's "Weekly Reports" on what work they did in a given week. I also end up working on layouts for various printed materials we need from time to time. Some days I am in the office all day, but it usually isn't necessary. Actually, a good portion of my time is taken up by the mision's "Casa Materna" (maternity house) ministry.
The Casa Materna ministry is a joint effort by Misión Para Cristo, local Nicaraguan Church of Christ congregations, and congregations in the States. (The government here set up these locations where women from the countryside with at-risk pregnancies can stay to be closer to a hospital. The women are usually there in the last 2 to 3 weeks of their pregnancies and then leave a day or so after they deliver. The government provides some support for these locations but generally not nearly enough, which is why we try to do what we can.) The coordinator of this work through the mission is Janese Davis (a North American from Texas), but I try to give her as much help as I can. I am sort of her "second in command" in charge of organizing the ladies from our congregation here in Jinotega (who do most of the actual work). Once a week we make a trip to our Casa Materna location here in town to give a devotional (I usually lead the songs, while the "church ladies" give the lessons and say the prayers), deliver "baby bags" filled with helpful items for the babies and mothers, and do some kind of craft activity (beaded bracelets, hand-made quilts and baby hats, etc.). When groups are here from the States to help, usually the ladies get pedicures too. Sometimes, especially during the Summer when we have a lot of groups, we go to other CM locations several hours out of town where we do our usual routine and also cook lunch for the ladies. To all of the locations that we service, we try to supplement their food stores (often with uncooked beans and rice). Once a week (usually on Monday) we have a workday in the afternoon when the "church ladies" come to assemble the "baby bags" and do everything else that is necessary to be ready for our trips. (If you are interested in what all goes into a "baby bag" and how you can help, let me know and I'll get you some more specific information.) In addition to all of that, I have spent a lot of time getting our Casa Materna "closet" at the mission organized, and I tend to poke my head in several times a week to make sure that it stays that way.
During the week, I also try to get in a Spanish lesson or two when my teacher (and also one of my best friends here), Tania Hernandez, is available. My Spanish certainly isn't perfect, but I end up having to use it very frequently. I feel that, usually, I am able to communicate fairly well. I know enough to feel that I have real relationships with people here who don't speak English (even though I am by no means fluent).
Of all of the things that we do here, we feel like one of the most important is simply having relationships with people. It is through relationships that we most directly show God's love to people. Becky has been "helping" with the youth group here, but that mostly means that she just spends time with them. The group recently partnered themselves off so that there are pairs of people to study the Bible and pray together, and Becky has been working with one of these pairs. Once a month we try to have the whole youth group over for their weekly gathering. Beyond just the youth group, however, we pay attention to the relationships we have with everyone here, whether it is the mission workers or church members, our neighbors, the people who work in the stores we frequent, or even the North Americans who come to the mission. We believe very strongly that people need people, and there are lots of people here with whom we have made connections.
We want to say thank you very, very much to all of you who have contributed financially to make this work possible. We are humbled each and every month when we sit down to work out our finances and see the list of contributions that have been made. We especially thank those of you who make regular contributions each month; your faithfulness is such an encouragement to us! We are still in need of regular monthly contributions to add to our budget. Ever since we moved here we have made ends meet month to month with your donations, funds from our own savings and "surprise" donations that we didn't know were coming. However, we still do not have enough regular monthly donations to meet our budget without having to dip into other sources. Unfortunately, our savings are effectively gone, and with a baby on the way in September we are facing a critical time here for our work in Nicaragua. If you know of anyone who might be interested in being a part of our team through regular financial contributions please let us know or show them our website: www.1hope4life.com. (Even seemingly "small" donations make a difference.) Thanks!
Blessings to all of you,
Tommy and Becky Brown