Monday, October 27, 2014

Blasts From the Past

Hi there!

Well, would you look at that - it's Monday! We had a very busy week starting to get into a new routine with Ben & Bree being here now. We arrived home from the El Salvador trip Monday night, completely exhausted, but nonetheless, we woke up for service the next morning. It was a good thing that we did because we had a great morning for their first time preaching in the new congregation. Ben picked up his first call and Bree started two studies!

Bree starting her first study with a young girl.
Ben getting his first call.
The advice we received at the convention about learning foreign languages was very useful. Using simple presentations is key! Showing videos from the website has also made things easier. Ben & Bree are excited to cultivate their calls and obtain more in the future.

Wednesday night was their first meeting in La Norte. They both commented and did very well. Everyone was very welcoming and is looking forward to having them here. 

On the left is my friend, Darling. She's spent the last few years in the Sign Language congregation, but recently switched back to La Norte. She was assigned to be the householder for the seven-minute demo (no, we didn't get to watch a video version of it like all you spoiled cats in the States). She was a little nervous since it was her first demo actually speaking out loud in a long time, but she did great!

Happy first meeting, Ben & Bree! Let's celebrate by having an impromptu elders meeting in the background. (Pure coincidence and I love my elders.)
My studies are going well. One of them, Edwin, has a huge family - seven kids! He was doing well in the Good News brochure, but I came to realize that it wasn't really striking the right chords with him. On Friday, we switched to one of the brochures that's much more practical for families (...), and that went much better! It really grabbed his attention and he noticed a lot of points that he could apply in his family life.

I love this picture. Working territory on Friday morning. You can see Erling preaching in the background, crutches and all. He's a trooper!
Saturday afternoon, I got a phone call asking me to do a substitute public talk guessed it: Ojo de Agua! It was great to go out and see everyone again. My friend Ervin was appointed a ministerial servant over the summer (did I not mention that before?) and he's doing awesome! I'm very proud of him.

Again, I forgot to get pictures, and Ed took this, so as much as I don't really like pictures of myself speaking (my facial expressions are just too attractive for one to handle), this is the only evidence of my visit.
As another blast from the past, my old friend Felix, from Esteli, came to visit Chinandega this weekend to give the public talk in Sign Language! He was one of the first friends I made here in Nica, and although my time in Esteli was brief, we have nothing but good memories together.

Just a few years can actually make a noticeable difference. This picture was taken almost three years ago:

Me, Simon, and Felix at an assembly in Esteli (February 2012).
And this is us today:

Felix & I. Isn't it awesome how I'm wearing nearly the exact same outfit? Consistency, guys. Plus, no glasses.
I got to see Felix give his talk in Sign Language. He did an excellent job! I'm really glad that I was able to stay for the entire duration of it. Many good points to be taken away from it.

Felix presenting his talk. The theme was "Stay Awake Spiritually".
HA! Totally kidding, bros. I only stayed for five minutes. I have a pretty bad work schedule on the weekends. But I at least wanted to be able to see a chunk of it, and I'm glad I did. From what I saw, he really seems to know what he's doing! I remember a couple of years ago, him and I were talking, and he wanted to convince me to join the Sign Language group in Esteli. I had already planned to move to Chinandega by that point, but I wonder how different things would be now had I joined that group. I'd probably be just as much of a bundle of joy to be around as I am now. *sarcasm*

That's it for now. As I said, we're still getting into a new routine, but things have been going very well so far. Today is laundry day, one of my favorite days of the week *not sarcasm*. The rest of the week should be fairly busy with all of us trying to get in

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

El Salvador 2014

Hey there!

Remember that time I said I'd be blogging every Monday? That's been working out great, huh? Isn't it nice to be following someone so consistently unreliable? Keyword: consistently. But for reals, yesterday I spent about eleven hours on a bus while functioning off of an hour-and-a-half of sleep, so my priorities rested on...well, resting.

The reason I was on a bus for eleven hours was because we went back to El Salvador for this year's regional convention in English! Once again, it was held in the capital city, San Salvador. We took the same bus as the Leon English congregation, allowing us to catch up with some old friends as well as make many new ones. All of us from Chinandega stayed in the same hotel, which was a lot of fun. There were also many brothers from the San Juan del Sur English group at that hotel, which, again, forged many new friendships.

Out to eat at one of the malls with Mirian & Ivonne and new friends Alexi & Lauren, serving in San Juan del Sur.
I'm just gonna get to the nitty gritty, guys. I was stupidly sick for the majority of this trip. I won't get too gruesome, but let's just say that the toilet in our hotel room probably got to know me better than anyone I met over the weekend. I didn't eat anything out of the ordinary, so it didn't seem to be a parasite. The whole bus ride to El Salvador, I had a pounding headache and it was FREEZING. Seriously, bros, the last two hours of the bus ride was FREEZING and my whole body was FREEZING and did I mention it was FREEZING because it was FREEZING. Wednesday night, when we arrived, I was sick for a good part of the night. Thursday night, I was sick in the bathroom even more. Friday night, I might as well have just slept in the bathroom. It. Was. Miserable. Not to mention I wasn't able to take a hot water shower, one of the only reasons (besides the awesome program) I came on the trip, until the day we left, Monday morning because not only does the hot water come and go but the hot and cold water faucets were switched around and it took me ALL week to figure that out. PLUS the air conditioning in our room was on all night every night even though it was a much cooler climate (love you Ben & Bree) so I actually slept with socks on, guys. Socks. And I was STILL FREEZING. By the time Saturday morning came, I was so out of it that I had to stay at the hotel and miss the morning session. I didn't feel horrible about that since I had already attended the entire convention twice before. I mustered up enough energy to go to the afternoon session, where I was basically dragged to the First Aid department, run by a brother who is also a doctor at a local clinic. He pretty much took me to their "infirmary," which consisted of a bed with makeshift curtains, and basically just said, "Hey so I'm not really sure what's up with you but I've got this huge needle with an antibiotic and I haven't been able to use it on anyone yet so I'm just gonna stick it in your rear end hope that's cool." A sister came in to administer the antibiotic and had me lay on the bed. She says, "This is a strong medicine," and I'm like, "So it's gonna hurt?" and she's all, "Yup." Before she pulled down my pants I asked her, "Um can we please make sure these 'curtains' are closed?" because just about anyone at the convention could see what was going on, so my brother stood guard. She's about to do her thing and says, "Okay, first I need you to breathe deeply and I'll give you the shot. Breathe!" I do so, she sticks the needle in, and says, "Breathe again," and I'm all, "Wait, was I supposed to breathe out?" and she goes, "Breathe!" and I'm like, "Oh! Gasp!" It was painful but I was a big boy and didn't cry/scream. Truth. They then gave me two huge pills and the next hour was just miserable. It was probably the medicine just doing it's thing, but I had never felt more out of it. However, it all worked! I didn't think to ask what the actual antibiotic was until after the program, but it was Amoxicillin. Whatever it was, it worked, and I've felt perfect ever since. So here's to you, Amoxicillin, for entering bodies painfully but for also being a most welcome house guest when you arrive.

Okay. Long, exaggerated, and horribly grammatically incorrect rant complete. The brother was actually really sweet and made sure I got just what I needed. Now, onto the program.

I'm really glad I got to attend this convention in English, even though it was my third time. There are so many practical points to take away from it that I have been trying very hard to apply. Plus, this convention was basically a mini international, with brothers coming from more than 19 different countries!

With my buddy Alex. He was baptized with his sister, Ella, and they have been serving in Granada English with their parents from the U.S. for over two years.
There were over 940 in attendance on Sunday, which is a massive increase on the roundabout 500 in attendance at the English convention two years ago. On Saturday, seven people were baptized, which is huge for an English convention! 

The drama was VERY well done. One of the most realistic dramas we've had!
The Higgs family also did this great demo.
I know I already said it, but this year's program was so practical. You'd be hard pressed not find a point you could apply. The demonstrations were very realistic and the interviews at this convention were very moving. One couple serving in Bluefields was interviewed about learning four different languages! The challenges they faced doing so and the advice they gave comforted those of us who are having enough trouble dealing with just two languages! The resurrection video on Sunday had many people in tears, including yours truly. However, I think the biggest thing I'm taking away from the program is to stop being anxious. Not much more I can say about that.

With Mauricio once again! He was incredibly helpful with so many things, including getting me medical attention. He is one of the most genuinely nicest and loving brothers you'll ever meet. It's impossible not to love him!
With Elkie & Steve.
One of the best parts of the weekend for me was reuniting with my good friends, Steve & Elkie. They served in Chinandega English in 2012, and we got pretty close. We spent quite a few nights together playing music, watching movies, or just venting to each other about whatever frustrations we were facing that week. They went home to Australia for a year and are now serving in San Juan del Sur. It was so great to see them after nearly two years!!

With the guys, minus Jefte!
Zach & I acting all buddy buddy...
...and then revealing our true disgust for each other.
Sadly, earlier this year, the Chinandega English congregation was dissolved after a reevaluation of the need for English in Chinandega. However, most of those who were part of the congregation have since moved on to other territories in Nicaragua - San Marcos, San Juan del Sur, Bluefields, Leon, Spanish congregations - and we were all reunited once again at this convention. Chinandega English may be no more, but that bond will never be broken.

Together again in El Salvador.
Although I'd already attended the convention twice in Spanish, it was still very refreshing to receive the program in English. I was able to dissect more specific points for application. On the bus ride home, I had everyone who was on the bus write down their favorite points from the convention to finish filling up my notebook, which has been very entertaining to read!

Oh yeah, someone also wrote, "I honestly don't remember much."
I was especially glad to share the experience with Ben & Bree. Now we're back in Chinandega and getting them settled into La Norte! I really missed being away, even though it was just for a few days. We're getting into a new routine, and it should be an exciting journey along the way. More to come soon! I have other things to write but it's 12:08 AM now, not even Tuesday anymore, which leaves me with no more saving grace for not writing on Monday. Plus, we've got a mouse in the house once again which is just nothing short of comforting. But hey, stop being anxious, right?

Take care,


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Frenchies, Mainers, & Earthquakes

Hello there!

Is it Tuesday already? Oops! We've had another eventful week here in Chinatown. Most of you are probably wondering about the 7.4 earthquake that struck us last night. Everyone is okay and no one has lost anything, but more on that later. Too much to tell this week! I don't have photos for everything, so I've dispersed some witnessing photos taken throughout the week to keep you entertained...please don't leave me!

Salomon sharing some points from the Good News brochure Wednesday morning.
Things in the congregation are good. Now that we have five elders, they've rearranged the service groups so that there are now five groups, one for each elder. The first Sunday of this month was the first day with the new group arrangement. That morning (we have our public evening on Saturday night), we had 50 people out preaching that day, which is over 75% of the congregation! Our local needs this past week included commending the congregation for the support and encouraging them to maintain it in the coming months.

Elvis and his wife, Margarita, taking a rest on Wednesday morning. They both regular pioneer together.
As I mentioned earlier, Erling, our newly-appointed elder is my group overseer and I'm his assistant. He's still on crutches, but, despite that, we went on our first shepherding visit together this past Friday evening. We were both nervous as both of us had only been on a couple visits as servants in the past, and this was his first time going as an elder. Thankfully, with good preparation and help from Jehovah, the visit went very well and we're looking forward to working together more in that area!

Santiago discussing the tract about a happy family life on Friday morning.
My studies are going great. I've been really trying hard to return to people at the times I say that I will, and it's been paying off. I've started the Jehovah's Will brochure with Max, and he really enjoyed that. He captures points fully and quickly. He expects us every Friday and has expressed interest in going to one of the meetings soon!

In other news, Maddie & Stephane came to visit Chinandega this weekend! We had served in Ojo de Agua together for about a year, during which time Stephane was our only elder. They had decided to make a change and to move up the cooler region of Matagalpa (I wrote about all this here). They had returned back to England for about a year to save up enough to be here long-term. They came down to Chinandega this weekend to gather the rest of their things, including their motorbike, which I was keeping in my garage. It was a very quick and busy visit, but it was so good to see them again after nearly a year! They came over Saturday for coffee and to catch up. All I remember is laughing and laughing for three hours straight. We have so many memories together from our time in Ojo, which is a great bond to share. The three of us actually ended up going to Ojo's meeting together the next morning, where Stephane gave the public talk! It was really nice to see everyone again, and it felt just like old times. The good thing is that Ojo is in a much better place now, with a local elder and three servants. The three of us are all very happy with the changes we've made, but Ojo will always hold a special place in our hearts. Sadly, I completely forgot to get any pictures of the three of us together from this weekend, so here's one of Maddie catching up with our old friend, Yorleni! Sorry I stole this photo, Maddie!

Yorleni & Maddie out for pizza.
Yesterday, Zach and I went down to Managua to pick up (drumroll) Ben and Bree from the airport, who are officially coming to stay in Chinandega for six months! They've visited me twice before, and have finally taken the plunge to join me down here. They're gonna live with me and join my congregation. It will be really nice to have the extra support and companionship. They're up for the challenge of learning Spanish and enduring the sauna that we call Chinandega. Sidenote: They always bring down supplies that I've been requesting, be it more clothes, chocolates, or in this case, pumpkin spice to add to my coffee. Every time they've arrived, I always ask within the first two minutes, "You brought my stuff, right???" However, I'm proud to say that this year, I actually waited a solid twenty minutes and caught up with them before kindly asking if they managed to bring everything. Look how much I've grown, guys. Look how much I've grown.

Just a freeze frame from the epic welcome I gave them at the airport.
Of course, no one can ever have a normal arrival in Nicaragua. Last night, we had a huge thunderstorm, which is normal this time of year, and the power went out, which, again, is normal. While the power was out, we started experiencing a mild tremor, which (sad to say), is also normal once in a great while. However, that mild tremor grew more and more intense within a matter of seconds. All I could think was, "Doorways. Doorways! I know that doorways, safety, and earthquakes are somehow related!!!" So the three of us immediately went and huddled together under the doorway into my living room. It really did get a bit scary for a minute there! All my framed pictures shaking and almost coming off the walls, my fridge was this close to tipping over, and my one battery-powered lantern fell off the counter and broke. We immediately packed our go-bag just in case. (You can read Ben's account of the earthquake on their new blog.)

Once it was over, we stayed put for a minute. I have a tendency to overreact about these things (shocking, right?! Quiet, you), but once we saw a lot of people in the streets making a fuss, I got the feeling it wasn't all that normal. I tried calling friends to check on them, but no one had cell phone signal in addition to no power. Ladislao, one of my elders, lives with his family just a couple blocks down from my house, so the three of us took a walk to go check on them. They were all okay, thankfully, but he even told me, "That was the strongest one I've ever felt living here." We heard word from Erling that he managed to run out of the house in his crutches!! 

I managed to get in touch with Jefte, hoping he would say that it was completely normal. Instead, what I got was, "Sam, I'm not afraid of earthquakes, but I have never felt anything that bad. It was terrifying!" Thankfully, everyone in his household was okay.

The epicenter, just off the coast. Chinandega is in the northwest region of the country.
The power returned about an hour later, and we got reports that it was a 7.4 magnitude quake, with the epicenter being in El Salvador. Tsunami alerts are in place with a high chance of aftershocks. Thankfully, we didn't feel anything else during the night, so we're just trying to stay calm but prepared for anything. Everything is back up and running this morning. There's no use just staying home and being paranoid, so we just focused on getting things done today.

Taking Ben & Bree on some of my studies this afternoon.
Everyone is okay. I'll keep you all posted! Miss you all. Let me know how you're doing!

Talk soon (Monday!),


Monday, October 6, 2014

Rollercoaster Week

Hi everyone!

How goes it? It's been a pretty eventful week here in Chinatown. For starters, Erling hurt his knee playing soccer, is on crutches, and is gonna need an operation!

Erling with his wife Rebecca.
He's in good spirits. He hasn't missed a single meeting and is still fulfilling all of his responsibilities! Our service groups were recently rearranged, one reason being because Erling was just appointed as an elder. I'm the auxiliary overseer for his group, so in the meantime, I've been covering those duties for him (well, except yesterday because I wasn't feeling that well. Shhh!). However, he still wants to do as much as he can, which is encouraging to see. Him and I are getting together later to organize shepherding visits for those in our group. He told me, "I'll have to take taxis to get to their houses, but either way, we're doing it!"

A little update on the weather: We are currently in the peak of the rainy season, which is one of the best times of the year! Early last week, it was raining nearly all day every day. It was so cool at night and we were all saying how nice the weather was! But, of course, we spoke too soon. The past few days have been HOT with no rain, until we finally got a brief storm on Saturday. Seriously, though, that morning out in service, I was probably the grouchiest I've been in a while because of the weather. It got to the point where I said to my preaching partner, Miguel, "Okay, here's the English lesson for today." I taught him how to say, "It's so hot I'm literally going to die!" Again, teaching the important things, guys. Even the locals were complaining about the heat! We're in October, which is supposed to be the rainiest month of the year, so hopefully, we'll get some steady rain soon.

My preaching partners on Saturday, Miguel and Eliezer.
Once again, the ministry here is what makes it all worth it. You may come home feeling disgusting and like you could never be clean again, but you know that you accomplished something and gave your best. Case and point, I found one of my calls, Ervin, who I haven't been able to call on in a while. He was happy to see me and I left him the latest magazines, making plans to go back on Friday afternoon. Of course, when Friday afternoon came, it was boiling hot and I was struggling to gather the energy to go out. However, Eduardo and I went out anyway, and we got him home again! He's been out of work recently (which, let's face it, is great for starting studies with people. Come on, we all were thinking it.), so he has plenty of free time. We started a study out of chapter eight of the Good News brochure and I'll be going back Tuesday afternoon to continue it! We also had another great study with Max afterward. I gave him a copy of the Jehovah's Will brochure for us to consider at the end of each study. Again, it's always worth it to make the effort to go out!

Early preaching on Friday morning, still waking up.
I was debating whether or not to tell you guys this next piece of news. I've always tried to keep this blog as positive and as encouraging as possible, but at the same time, I think it's important to be aware of the realities that come with serving in a country like this. This is especially true for those of you who are seriously considering trying this for yourselves, so here it is: a group of us were robbed Saturday night.

Everyone is okay, rest assured. Eduardo, Chelsey, Ebony, and I went to Zach's house to watch a movie, which didn't finish til late at night. We we all live in the same neighborhood, so we were walking the usual route back to my house when we encountered two guys sitting on a street corner. As soon as they saw us, one of them came running over demanding money or anything we could give him. He had a huge rock in his hand if we resisted. They were mainly going after the girls. Eduardo gave the guy his smartphone before he could take anything from Chelsey, and I just pushed Ebony out of the way before they could get any closer to her. She had an expensive UV umbrella with her, which the guy managed to snatch and then brag about how selling it would make him rich. We were able to walk away after that, but he still managed to throw the rock anyway, which bruised Chelsey's foot. Eduardo & I made sure the girls got to their house safely, and Eduardo spent the night at my house rather than walking home alone.

That's what happened. Now, I'm sure many of you from back home are scoffing, rolling your eyes, shaking your heads, and saying, "See?! I knew it! I told you so! That's exactly why you can't go to these places!" Before you continue doing that, how about you let me explain some things first? Okay, buddy?

In reality, this was largely due to a lack of common sense on our part, and we all readily admitted that. I mean, come was close to midnight and we were walking on a sketchy road. I was also carrying my leather ministry bag, which not only contained my iPad but also my wallet. I broke many of my own rules, such as never walk the streets at that time of the evening, especially with valuables.

Things to be thankful for:
  • At least we were together. I was going to leave before the movie ended because I was so tired, which meant I would've encountered the thieves alone.
  • Nobody was seriously hurt or injured.
  • All they took was a phone and an umbrella.
  • He only had a rock. He didn't have a knife or a gun. It could have been a lot worse.
Things to keep in mind:
  • Crime rates may be higher here in Central America, but crime is everywhere, guys. You shouldn't assume that your area is exempt from it. Read a local newspaper and you'll see how true that is.
  • I have been coming back & forth to this country for over three years now, and that was the first time I have ever had a run-in like that. Overall, I'd say I've had a very safe experience serving here.
  • For the most part, robberies like that will only occur if you're careless. That doesn't only apply to this part of the world.
Things to be aware of if you're going out at night (this will sound like you've heard it all before, but you'll wanna pay attention):
  • Don't be dumb. Arrange a ride home or, if it's getting late, spend the night at your friend's house. Don't go down dark streets or ones that are known to be dangerous at night. Never walk anywhere at that time of night, especially alone. Also, our experience proves that even walking with a group at that time doesn't guarantee your safety.
  • Don't bring your wallet. Only bring the cash you'll need for that night's activities.
  • IMPORTANT: Overall, just don't do anything that you wouldn't do back home. Would you walk home at midnight on a dark street with all of your valuables? If you would, you might need some help (which means I might need some help, too, actually...)
  • ...ALSO IMPORTANT: Do not assume that something like this won't happen to you. I did for the past three years, and I got a much-needed wake-up call by means of this incident.
Rest assured that I'm in very good spirits and that my determination is just as strong as ever! I just now know that I need to be a little more cautious.

Let me sum it up by saying this: If one of the main reasons you hesitate to come to a country like this is crime, don't let it be. It's important to be cautious, but if hearing one story about a mild robbery is going to deter you from trying something like this, I'd be very sad to hear that. If you were to use experiences like this to discourage others from serving in this region, I think that would be even worse. For every story you have about crime in Central America, I've got one about crime in the States - or even just in Maine! Jehovah will protect you as long as you keep your wits about you. Nicaragua is still considered the safest country in all of Central America, and I still feel very safe where I am. Don't let one or two stories like this hold you back from experiencing one of the greatest opportunities available to you.

Wow, sorry if all of that was a bit intense! That's so unlike me. Honestly, I'm probably making more of the situation than it was, but it was a good opportunity to present my opinions on this subject, as intense as it may have been. But to even things out, here's a picture of a puppy!

Many of you have seen this before, but I can't get enough of it!
That's all for today. I better get going because I have some JW TV to watch - wait WHAT? The new broadcasting channel and language learning apps are incredible! Check them out right now! I wish I'd had the Language app available when I was first starting out. Both of them are true gifts from Jehovah.

I hope everyone is well. Miss you all and let me know how you're doing! Check back in next Monday.

Talk soon,