Edinboro University Chi Alpha spends spring break in Nicaragua

Category:  News
Wednesday, April 5th, 2017 at 7:45 PM
Edinboro University Chi Alpha spends spring break in Nicaragua by Macala Leigey

Sunshine and clear skies; palm trees and 96 degree weather. Lush sugar cane fields and sturdy plantain trees line the beaten dirt roads. Gusts of warm winds brush against sun-deprived, Erie cheeks. Shades of friendly yellows, bursting blues, and raging reds coat every house and building, visible for miles past the Central American city. Scents of fresh, crisp air and distant volcanic activity invades every nostril. An entanglement of various languages hangs on every tongue and life is occurring at each corner.

Seemingly the perfect paradise for a college student’s spring break, but relaxation and partying were not a part of the Edinboro University’s Chi Alpha campus ministry’s itinerary when they landed in Managua, Nicaragua on March 9, 2017.

“It (mission work) was the best thing I could've done with spring break. Getting to spend my week with the people of Nicaragua, and spreading the love and joy of God, made for the best spring break ever,” said Edinboro University student and Chi Alpha member Cody Barbarini.

Barbarini, along with over 50 other members of Edinboro’s Chi Alpha organization, partnered with Nicaragua missionaries Ken and Kendra Doutt for the sixth year to participate in a week of mission work for poverty stricken areas in Nicaragua.

With Nicaragua being the second poorest country in the Latin American region, and most of its citizens living on less than two dollars a day, the mission team spent time serving at feeding centers, ministering at local churches, doing construction work and running a three-day children’s Bible camp.

The 2017 Chi Alpha mission team was the largest group Edinboro’s Chi Alpha organization has taken to Nicaragua; consisting of current students, alumni and community members.

“It was very evident that there has been some kind of spirtual awakening going on with (this) Chi Alpha group this year. (They) all work so well together. A true team, very selfless,” said missionary Ken Doutt.

For the first two days of mission work, the team broke up into two smaller groups for community outreach, at the feeding centers and with construction work. The teams switched mission sites each day and then came back together to run the children’s camp. 

“The way the teams worked together and supported each other was done in such a way that I haven’t experienced before. For being such a young and inexperienced team, the way everyone conducted themselves at camp, and away from it, was truly incredible,” said Barbarini.

A little dirt never hurt: Construction work

Currently, the campsite the Doutts hold the children’s Bible school at is rented, but with the help of local construction workers and mission teams, such as the Edinboro Chi Alpha group, they are working to build their own campsite.

“This year was great because we also got to do construction and literally have a hand in building God’s kingdom,” said third-year Nicaragua trip goer Natalie Nye.

“When we were painting poles at the entrance to the camp, I got the opportunity to talk with some kids playing on the street,” she said. “Since I was the one who knew the most Spanish in the group, I asked the kids about their life and where they are from. They lived across the street from the new camp and had been seeing us build it. We literally got the opportunity to speak the Gospel into kids’ lives that have never heard of Jesus.”

Work at the construction site consisted of cleaning and laying brick for the new cabins, painting entrance poles and signs, cutting brush and mixing cement.

“The fact that we all got to experience being a part of the construction team was very interesting and added a very neat dynamic to this year’s team. I feel as though doing that at the beginning of the week, realizing what we are working for, and thinking about how that camp is going to impact future Nicaraguan children was an awesome thing,” said Barbarini.

The new camp is expected to be finished and ready for camp by 2019.

Feed one, pray with many: Feeding centers and churches

In addition to construction work, the teams served at local feeding centers and attended church services; with students sharing their testimonies and performing skits for community members.

“The people down there are just so sweet and so welcoming. We got to go pray for people, and one lady invited us into her house. She wanted prayers for her family to stay healthy and for her husband to know Christ. It amazed me how these people have very little and all they wanted (were) prayers for their family,” said second year Nicaragua mission trip attendee Megan Hitchcock.

During their community outreach days, the Edinboro Chi Alpha team helped at feeding centers located at two of the most poverty stricken towns in Nicaragua: El Camino and Nuevo Jerusalem. El Camino was where the majority of kids who attend camp live, giving veteran Nicaragua mission trip goers the chance to reconnect with kids they had previously met.

“Since 2012, I have been investing in a young girl I met my first day at El Camino. I have heard the heartbreaking stories of the things she has experienced — two drug dealers were shot and killed by police in her home when she was about 5 years old (and) I was told her grandmother was a Wiccan, which is not uncommon in Nicaragua. When the mission teams would come to the village center, her and her siblings were rarely allowed out. So, much to my surprise, she was able to attend camp this year,” said six-year Nicaragua trip veteran and Edinboro alumna Brittany Varner.

Barbarini also shared that he was able to reconnect with one of his former kids at one of the feeding centers.

“When we went to the feeding center (in) New Jerusalem, I wound up seeing a boy that I hadn't seen in two years who remembered who I was and loved me just as much as he did when I saw him on my first trip to Nicaragua,” said Barbarini.

‘Bonds that will last forever:’ Camp

“The kids that come to camp have gone through a lot and continue to, but the love they have within them is like nothing I'd ever seen, until going to Nicaragua,” said second year Nicaragua goer Caitlin McCarthy.

She continued: “I have seen bonds that will last forever created literally before my eyes as the kids get off the bus. One of these bonds is with one of my little girls, Ashlee. From the moment she got off the bus last year, I knew that God had brought both of us together for a reason. He showed both of us the love he has for us through each other, which is crazy to think about.”

At the camp, the team members and kids were each assigned to a colored team: azul (blue), rojo (red), amarillo (yellow), verde (green) or anaranjado (orange). Throughout the week, the Chi Alpha members served as counselors to the kids; with some taking the position as team leaders for the various color groups and others running activities for the kids.

“The best part was having a relationship with the kids without even speaking their language, just a smile and loving on them was all they needed, and I think we were all hooked by the first day,” said first time Nicaragua participant Payton Lundell.

“It will be one of greatest experiences of your life. When you play with those kids, you'll make a changing impact in their lives,” said, also first timer, LeRoy Sandlier.

During the week, the mission team members ran five different stations for the kids. These included a sports station, craft station, Bible class, worship time and a prayer station. Chi Alpha members also had the opportunity to swim with the kids, go on beach walks with their color teams and serve the kids at mealtime.

“The most impactful part of the trip was probably seeing the love of the kids. Although I was a leader, I feel that those kids led me more than I led them,” said first time goer Austin Horner.

“They (the kids) are phenomenal and they will change your perspective and views on certain things in your life. It will definitely leave an impact on your life, that's for sure. You will get emotional; I don't care if you're the toughest person in the room, you will tear up a little,” said Nicaragua first timer Jeremias Baez III.

‘Missions isn’t a vacation:’ The aftermath

“Being in a developing country definitely shows me how much extra we have in our lives that we don't need in America. Most people see those in countries like Nicaragua as lacking, but they aren't because they have so much more within their hearts than many people do here,” said McCarthy.

She continued: “Missions isn't about forcing our faith into others — it's about showing them the love that we feel and letting them know it's available to them, along with so much more.”

Returning from the mission trip, many of the Chi Alpha members experienced a period of emotional highs and lows; an impact some of them have never experienced before.

“I definitely didn't come back the same. You really learn that you don't need most of the things we find necessary here. Material things don't bring you happiness, time and relationships do,” said Lundell.

She continued: ”Those people and kids really made a home in my heart, and I really feel like they influenced me more than (I did) them.”

“Missions isn't a vacation. It's hard. If you don't give your all, you are robbing not only yourself, but the natives of the country you're serving in. The lives you will touch will be numerous, and lives that touch yours, even more so,” said Varner.

Dark skies and below freezing temperatures; snow flurries and blustery winds greet freshly Nicaraguan sun-kissed cheeks. The smell of American industrial fumes re-enters numb noses, and the lights from commercialized fast- food chains disgust the eye. Dull expressions of emotionally drained souls accompany physically tired bodies, as suitcases are collected and packed up in cars to go home. A tangible home in Erie that the mind longs for, and an intangible Nicaraguan home where the heart remains.

Macala Leigey can be reached at eupnews.spectator@gmail.com. 

Tags: chi alpha

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