Saturday, April 13, 2013

Ojo de Agua

Hello there,

These past eight months have been life-changing, to say the least. As I looked around at all the brothers & sisters in Ojo de Agua at my last meeting there on Thursday, I couldn't help but think about how much I've come to love this congregation. Despite all the difficulties it has brought, it has been a truly rewarding experience for me.

When Simon & I first moved to Chinandega, he had already told me that there was an English congregation there. I was pretty happy to hear that because I didn't really want to take on the daunting task of being in a Spanish congregation! Nevertheless, we wanted to go where the need was, so we spoke to David Maragos, the coordinator of the English hall, and asked him if they needed help in their congregation. To my dismay, he told us that they were doing fine at the moment. He then asked us if we would be willing to go to Ojo de Agua, this little congregation in the rural territory that him and his wife, Junea, had been supporting for quite some time. The congregation was in desperate need, especially since there were no local elders. Understandably, supporting both Ojo and English was getting to be too much for David & Junea to handle, so they were very happy that we said yes.

We weren't the first people to be asked to go to Ojo de Agua. Stephan & Maddie were originally in English, but because they both spoke Spanish well and had transportation, they were asked to switch to Ojo as well, over a year ago. Since Stephan was only recently appointed as an elder, the congregation still needed a hand. Their official coordinator was Martin Doubon, also the coordinator of La Florida, but he is so busy in La Florida that he hasn't been able to do anything in Ojo. So Simon & I, two ministerial servants, seemed like a good choice.

Ojo has been through a lot over the years. They've always struggled to maintain their position as a congregation, since they have never had a stable local elder. It even got to the point where they were going to be dissolved, and the Kingdom Hall was put up for sale! Thankfully, after a lot of effort and craziness, they were finally approved as a congregation. Even so, the brothers & sisters have always had this fear of being abandoned. Hence, when somebody moves to the congregation, they want to be sure that they're here to stay.

You can probably imagine that all of this, combined with the heat and language barrier, was very overwhelming for me. I did my best to make it appear that I was doing perfectly fine with everything, but inside, I was losing my mind. Some people saw right through me. Junea, for instance, could tell that I wasn't coping well. However, she told me that despite all the challenges, Ojo is a very loving congregation. I remember thinking, "Even so, what good does that do if I can't understand anybody??" 

As time went on, I got to see how right Junea was. I still remember going to my first meeting out there, and struggling just to give a short comment. I remember the first few times I went out witnessing in Ojo, and having to just stand there & listen to everybody laugh at me because I couldn't communicate with them. That's how it felt at the time, at least. Looking back, I realize that they were simply welcoming me into their family. 

I felt as if I had dug myself into a whole too deep. I cried just about every night for the first month I was here, thinking to myself, "Why did I do this? How can I possibly be of any help to this congregation? Maybe I'm not spiritually strong enough to handle something like this." There were many occasions where I contemplated just flying home, but a part of me didn't want to give up.

Things didn't really reach a turning point until my friend Jamie told me, "Look, I know where you're coming from. Believe me, I've been there. But I'm urging you not to give up. The first couple of months of not understanding anything and feeling unable to contribute - those are necessary evils that you have to go through. If you leave, that congregation is going to be heartbroken. Yes, they may laugh, but they love you and are so happy that you have come. Trust me. You've got a great assignment out there. You just don't know it yet."

After giving some serious thought to what Jamie said, I decided it was time to stop moping around and time to start putting some real effort into it. Was it difficult to cycle out there on rough terrain for all the meetings and service groups in the hottest part of the country? You bet it was! Was it difficult to communicate with the brothers & sisters? Absolutely! But I found ways to enjoy those things. A couple of times, my friend Eduardo & I would race out to the meetings, and I had to learn to laugh at myself whenever I made mistakes with Spanish. I started taking Spanish lessons, taking better care of myself, and of course, prayed every single day. It made a huge difference when we were able to use Simon's motorbike! Having other need-greaters in the congregation was also a major help.

It also helps that the ministry in Ojo is awesome!

Each day got better than the one before. Gradually being able to help out more in the congregation, conduct Bible studies, and building relationships with people was exciting. I remember my major goal upon first arriving was hoping to be able to give a number-three talk. I had no idea I'd be doing things like conducting the book study! (Ironically enough, I still haven't done a number-three talk. I've done literally everything else - Bible highlights, Watchtower reading, and service meeting parts - but not that!)

Like every other congregation, Ojo has its fair share of problems, but I realized something: among all the problems the brothers & sisters have, none of them are with each other. This congregation truly exemplifies the feeling of being in a family that we're supposed to have! 

Kelvin & I out in service.

A lot of these people have made incredible sacrifices for the truth. Take Esperanza, for example. She was baptized at the District Convention this past November, and it was a long journey for her. She was living with the father of her children, Ervin & Yorleni, under one roof for over 30 years. Once she began studying and raising her kids in the truth, he was never interested. When she was serious about getting baptized, she either had to marry him or leave him, and he refused to marry her. So what did she do? Rather than beg him, she took a huge leap of faith, and left him! She moved out of their house, which was just across the road from the Kingdom Hall, to all the way down la linea, almost to Chinandega! She now cycles to all the meetings and service groups herself. Some days, she even walks! Ervin & Yorleni still go stay with her a few nights a week as well. As difficult as it has been, she is so much happier now, especially now that all three of them are baptized. And when her former partner came knocking on her door begging her to take him back, what do you think she said? "NO THANK YOU!"
Esperanza with my good friends, Ervin & Yorleni.

It wasn't until my last meeting that I realized how much I've come to appreciate everybody in Ojo - Esperanza who always calls me "Samuel the baby," Ervin who always makes fun of how fast I walk, Kelvin who has picked up some nice English phrases while we've been here, Domingo who is one of the most easy-going brothers out there, Esperanzita who always gives me enough mangos to make me happy, and many more.
Stephan (who was made our official Coordinator, by the way!) and Domingo, the only local servant and our acting Service Overseer.

The Grillo family, left to right: Sophia, her daughter Paula, Esperanzita, and Moises, Sophia's son. Esperanzita is a riot. We have the service group at her house on Wednesdays, and she is always very hospitable. Because she's pretty advanced in age, it's difficult to understand her sometimes! She'll ask me questions, and a lot of times, I have to ask her to repeat herself. But even if I ask her to repeat herself just once, she just looks at the person next to her and says, "He doesn't understand me," and gives up. Even so, she always makes sure that I have all the mangos I want and that I eat enough food!

It has amazed me how close-knit this congregation is. They work together on many projects but also get together to socialize often as well. Although they are very close as a congregation, they are very welcoming to newcomers! So if you are qualified, have a basic knowledge of Spanish, and can handle the heat, then Ojo is the place for you! We definitely need the help. If anyone is seriously interested in coming to check it out, let me know.

Notice our year text finally arrived!

Roberto & I at my last meeting. He's another ministerial servant, making us four servants total. He is also acting as the School Overseer.

I don't know why I keep saying that it was my last meeting, because it certainly won't be! I will definitely be returning to Nicaragua once again this fall. Hopefully I can be back in time for the Spanish District Convention in September to make the trip down to Managua along with everyone else in Ojo. Until then, I will continue to think about them and pray for them every day. It's a great congregation, and it has been a true blessing to be there.

I know a lot of people say time goes by fast with experiences like this, but honestly, I'd be lying if I told you that. There were periods of time that felt like an eternity! Of course, April has arrived sooner that I thought it would. I cannot express how life-changing it has been for me to move here. This place has become my home over the past eight months. Although I am excited to be home in the States for a while, I will definitely be back here as soon as I can. It was hard to tell people in Ojo that I was leaving. Many of them said, "You can't leave! We're not giving you permission! Are you really gonna come back? We'll be here waiting for you." I reassured them that I would return. When I first arrived and told people that I would be going to Ojo de Agua, everyone told me that it has a great reputation and is a very friendly congregation. They were right!

Thank you all for your help and support! It has meant the world to me. Please continue to stay in touch! I probably won't be posting much on here until I return, but thank you all for keeping up. I should probably wrap this up since I have to head down to the airport soon. I'll be seeing all of you in the States very soon.

Talk to you all as soon as I can.

Take care,


P.S. - I don't know why I put a "P.S." People just always seem to write something really profound when they write a "P.S." 

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Nicaraguan Sign Language

Hey everyone,

Yesterday, I got the chance to go out witnessing in the Nicaraguan Sign Language congregation with my good friend and neighbor, Jefte. It's something that we've been meaning to do together for a while now, so it was nice that it finally happened! 

That's Jefte on the left. I think I've mentioned before that he's fluent in English, so communicating with him is no problem at all. He's been my rock ever since we moved here - he helped us find an apartment, has helped me a lot with Spanish, and is always there when I need to talk. I took that picture a couple months ago while we were doing early-morning witnessing at the bus station.

Going out in Sign Language was certainly a different experience for me. It immediately made me remember the first time I went preaching in Spanish - having no idea what was being said, not being able to contribute much, and being happy if you could just say "hello" correctly! Thankfully, we had a nice day of going on calls & Bible studies, so I didn't have much to worry about.

This is Oscar. He's been in the congregation for a few years now, and has also picked up quite a bit of English. He's one of the best taxi drivers you'll find - he's helped us get out to Ojo on a number of occasions! In this picture, he was telling one of his studies how important the meetings are.

Jefte telling one of his studies about the Memorial last month. He's been involved in the Sign Language field for about nine years now, so he really knows his stuff!

The congregation in Chinandega was made official three years ago. At the moment, they have 26 publishers, including 7 that are deaf. They had a Memorial attendance of 91, including 61 deaf people! They have two elders and 17 regular pioneers. Yeah, that may make it sound like they're pretty stacked as a congregation, but they still need a lot of help. About 500 deaf people have been found in the territory, but because the territory is so large, they are only able to reach about 250 of them regularly. So it wasn't surprising that they were trying to convince me to try out Sign Language myself, especially since I gesture a lot anyway! 

Also in the Sign Language congregation are Kimmy & Ashlee, two sisters from New York who have been here together for about five years now. They form a major pillar of the spiritual environment in Chinandega. Kimmy knows all the ins and outs of Nicaragua; she's super helpful! They're a great team, and are always fun to be around. 

Jefte & I in the triciclo, ready for the day! Our driver was clearly very happy as well.

I'm so glad I got the chance to go witnessing with them! It was certainly different from what I've gotten used to, but it was nice to see other aspects of the ministry here in Chinandega. The preaching work in Chinandega is fruitful no matter what field you're in, be it Spanish, English, or Sign Language! 

Combined with my study Jorge coming to the meeting, yesterday was one of the most encouraging days I've had here! I'm so happy with how everything has turned out here. It's hard to believe I only have one week left before I go! 

Talk to you all soon,


Friday, April 5, 2013


Hello there!

Today was just the encouraging boost that I needed. Let me give some history about my most progressive Bible student, Jorge. I've written about him before, but this will tie everything together.

I first met Jorge while doing census work with the English congregation in the downtown marketplace back in October. He introduced himself, speaking English very well. I simply shared the Truth tract with him, and he was hooked instantly. He told me, "These are all excellent questions. Could you come back so we can talk more?" 

Soon after that, I returned and started a study with him out of the Good News From God brochure. Things started off slowly but surely. He starting surprising me more and more with each passing week. His comprehension of Bible truths is incredible. We had been able to answer questions he's always had about the Bible and Jehovah's Witnesses. He always responded favorably. We had even discussed the topic of blood transfusions in just one study, and everything made sense to him right away. He was raised Catholic, and thus had been disgusted with the behavior of religious leaders, along with their teachings. He started preparing for each study, and it got to the point where he was expecting me to come every Friday.

At one point, I offered to bring him his own copy of the Bible. I returned with a copy of the New World Translation in English, but he actually turned it down. Why?! It was because his eyesight isn't that great, and his wife usually reads to him. She can't speak or read English, so they requested that I bring a copy in Spanish. I did so when I returned the next week, and ever since then, they read a portion of the Bible together (which she chooses!) every night at dinner. Their example in daily Bible reading has encouraged me to keep up with my own!

As time went on, his wife Sandra became more and more supportive. Not only does she encourage the Bible reading, but she also makes sure he reads his Good News brochure every night! A lot of times, we study for a couple hours, and are there until 9:00 PM! However, she stays right up with us and always serves us coffee & a snack afterward. She has sat in on the study in recent times, asking questions of her own. We end up having a lot of studies in Spanglish - explaining things to Jorge in English and to Sandra in Spanish. Their five-year-old son, Jorgito, also loves when we come around.

Of course, the main frustration we experience when conducting Bible studies is trying to get the students to the meetings. I had told Jorge the meeting times for the English congregation on numerous occasions, but he never made it. That's why I was so happy when we started using the Who Are Doing Jehovah's Will Today? brochure. The first time I showed it to him, he snatched it right out of my hands and couldn't put it down. We studied the chapter about what you experience at our meetings, and that seemed to put him at ease. 

While I was away in the States, I had Simon cover the study for me. I was sad to find out that Jorge got really sick and landed in the hospital for two weeks straight! He's always had problems with his heart, but it was getting pretty bad. Thankfully, he's recovered fully and is doing much better now. 

I told him about the Memorial, and Sandra encouraged him to go. They all planned to go to one of the Spanish ceremonies. Sadly, they were unable to go because of last-minute work. However, to make up for it, Sandra said that they should really try to go to one of the regular Friday meetings. They showed up to the Kingdom Hall on Friday last week at 5:00, only to find out that the Kingdom Hall was closed up! The English congregation actually ended up having their meeting earlier in the day because there was going to be a big festival later on that would disrupt the meeting. I was so bummed, but happy that they at least made the effort to go! But Jorge said that he wanted to go this week no matter what.

I showed up at Jorge's house an hour before the meeting today, and he immediately started rushing to get ready. He was very excited to meet more people - he had gotten little previews every time I took someone different with me to the study. Sandra helped him dress up a little, something he rarely does! But it was well worth the effort. We made it to his very first meeting!!

The meeting went very well. I shared my publications with him, and he understood everything perfectly, despite all the different Australian accents! Afterward, I asked him what he thought, and he said, "It was beautiful!" He was especially impressed by the fact that we use the Bible so much. He immediately said that he wanted to bring Sandra & Jorgito to the next Sunday meeting in Spanish. I was delighted to hear that, and what happened next was even better. One sister from the Congregacion al Sur was at the Kingdom Hall. It turns out she used to work with Sandra! Jorge told her that they all wanted to go to the meeting on Sunday, and this sister offered to help them get there and save seats for them. I took Jorge home afterward, where I answered some of his questions and he told Sandra all about his first meeting. They are all really excited to go as a family on Sunday!

I am so happy for Jorge and all the progress he has made, especially being able to be there with him from the very beginning. If Sandra is sincerely interested, maybe they will all have to switch to Spanish altogether. In either case, the most important thing is that they'll have been directed to Jehovah. I told him how proud I am of him, and hope he continues to progress. I'm having one brother from Australia that's just moved here cover the study while I'm away in the States. I hope he takes really good care of him! 

Oh, and by the way, it started raining during the meeting! In APRIL! We all had to keep ourselves from jumping for joy in the middle of the program, despite all the noise on the roof. I was ready to jump for joy anyway since Jorge finally made it to his first meeting! All the hard work in this brutal heat definitely pays off.

Hope you all are well.

Take care,