Nicaragua, the land of lakes and volcanoes as well as 6.5 million souls, is the largest country in Central America and the second poorest nation in the western hemisphere. It is bordered by Honduras to the north and Costa Rica to the south, with a central mountain range that divides the western side with its beaches on the Pacific Ocean from the white sand beaches on the Atlantic side. The more developed western half of the country contains about 90% of the population, mostly Spanish speaking, along with the majority of the cities and industry, while the sparsely populated eastern side has a more Caribbean culture with a mixture of Spanish, English and some indigenous dialects spoken. Although there have been some gospel outreaches in the east, at this point all the assemblies are located in the western half. Over half of the population of the country live in cities where opportunities for employment, education, and transportation are more abundant; over a million people live in the capital city of Managua itself. However, many Nicaraguans still live on subsistence farms not always with reliable access to drinkable water or electricity and are dependent on walking, horses, or ox carts for transportation. It is a land of many contrasts which also poses many challenges to the work.
The seeds for the current assembly work in Nicaragua were planted in 1993 when a younger couple from Honduras, Oscar and Nolvia Cubas, began to visit Nicaragua on a regular basis. In 1997, they were commended and moved here to continue the work of the Lord. Shortly after, the first local church was established in the little community of Tauquil, close to the Honduran border in the northern part of the country. After their arrival many others from Honduras followed and have been a great blessing to the work here. There are currently eight more commended workers from Honduras serving the Lord in Nicaragua with their families: Israel and Flor Ramos, Max and Lola Hernandez, Samir and Maryuri Jimenez, Josue and Jenny Castillo, Daniel and Ruth Rodriguez, Luis and Mariela Gutierrez, Sigfredo and Yocelin Rojas, and Oscar and Eveling Altamirano.
In 2002, Mark Bachert and Ross Vanstone, from Canada, came to Nicaragua for a short visit to see if it would be feasible to bring a group from North America and distribute John 3. 16 Seed Sowers texts door to door. While visiting during that trip, many contacts were made, including a six-hour drive to the northern part of the country to meet Oscar and Nolvia and share with them the exercise for the text distribution. In 2003, I came to Nicaragua for the first time with Mark and others. The first week was spent with Oscar and Nolvia in the city of Jalapa with daily text distribution and nightly gospel meetings. God blessed in salvation and the groundwork was building for what would become a unified assembly work. We then moved on to the town of Dolores in the southern part of the country, and another series of text distribution and nightly gospel meetings. Again, the Lord blessed in salvation. By the end of the two weeks that we had planned to be in Nicaragua, one thing became clear, someone would need to stay and help these new believers. Mark Bachert, who was single at the time, decided to stay, along with another single young man, Isaiah Frazier.
The next few years brought many changes. Mark and Brenda Bachert were married in May 2004 and settled into the work in Dolores. Danelle and I arrived with our family in October 2004 to join them. In January 2005, Dolores became the fifth assembly to be established in the country. It was amazing to see how God was calling different people to Nicaragua at about the same time, from Honduras, Canada, the U.S.A., and elsewhere, some for a short time and some for longer. Through the years, Nicaragua has been blessed by the energy, vision and love for the Lord of many who have had an impact on the work here, including David and Betsy Reeve, Grant and Kandy Ferrer, John and Joanne Clingen, and Kyle and Allison Wilson, just to name a few.
With the number of workers involved and the different perspectives they brought with them in terms of personality, gift, life experience, teaching, and culture, it became clear that developing and maintaining unity would be of utmost importance. The workers began to meet a few times a year to share what was going on and have a chance to pray for each other. Another way of maintaining unity was by means of an annual conference where believers from all over the country could come together and see that, even though their own assembly might be small, the Lord was working in a mighty way across Nicaragua. For many years the national conference was held in Dolores where the Christians here delighted to be able to host their brethren and sisters and serve the Lord for three days during the ‘Holy Week’ before Easter, but, as the number in attendance continued to increase each year, we had to find larger venues to hold the conferences and arranging transportation and meals became more complicated. Even before the pandemic, it was becoming obvious that we would probably need to be dividing into regional conferences to better serve the needs of the work, although it was hard to give up that unified gathering that we had always enjoyed.
Sometimes the conferences served as a reminder of how the Lord was working throughout the country, even while any individual assembly might not be seeing much evidence of growth. While there have been disappointments along the way, e.g., of someone that seemed to hold so much promise but then for some reason just turned back to the world, there have also been believers who have finished their race well and gone home to glory or who have followed the Lord’s guidance to another area, either way, a small assembly particularly feels the loss. However, some growth is not so much a matter of numbers as it is being more deeply rooted in God’s word, which is not as visual a process. We noted early on that the Christians had a hard time trusting and respecting each other, especially in any leadership capacity, although they had a great amount of respect and listened intently to the missionaries who had come among them. An ongoing priority is still the development of local gift and leadership in the assemblies in the country. Another issue throughout the country is the lack of stability within families, which leads to secondary problems including increased poverty, emotional damage, and physical and sexual abuse of children. In Dolores, almost every one of the women in fellowship has either had their husband or father leave them for another woman. Not only do they need to work through forgiveness but learn to change ingrained patterns and make the daily decisions which lead to healthy marriages and secure and happy children. It is a great but easily overlooked victory to see ‘normal’ families in our assemblies.
The opportunities to work among the youth are abundant as over half the population of Nicaragua is under 25 years old. Not only are young people more open to hearing something new in the form of the gospel, but many are looking for reasons to hope amongst all the problems they see around them. When Mitch and Lori Parent arrived with their family from Canada in 2008, they already had the experience and vision to work with young people. While they are centred in the assembly in Jinotepe (only a couple of kilometres from Dolores) where they have a robust Sunday school, their influence and enthusiasm extends much further, from inviting teens from surrounding assemblies to their property for special teaching and activities, to helping organize and run weeklong youth camps in the northern part of the country, and to holding workshops to prepare others to work with children and younger people.
In the seventeen years that we have been in Nicaragua we have had a variety of different experiences as part of the work. We’ve driven more kilometres than we can count, in cities, on highways, and on dirt roads, sometimes winching ourselves from tree to tree when the dirt turned to mud. We’ve even travelled on foot when the road was impassable. We’ve preached to crowds that spilled out through doors and into the yard beyond, and we’ve preached to the one sole person who came to a meeting. We’ve shared fellowship with people around their table and around their sickbed, on their wedding day and their birthday, on the way to a conference and on the way to a burial. We’ve gone door to door giving out gospel texts and invitations, and every year we give out calendars so that the people will have the word of God on their walls to look at all year long. In 2022, the work in Nicaragua will be twenty-five years old, and it has come a long way, with twelve assemblies in the country. For comparison, the work in El Salvador recently celebrated fifty years and Costa Rica is almost the same, while in Honduras the assembly work stretches back over 100 years, so we are still pretty young. As we look to the future, there is a lot of promise in what the Lord can accomplish, but challenges continue from the political and social instability in the country, as well as the adversary who is always ‘seeking whom he may devour’.
We value prayer for the work of the Lord in Nicaragua, specifically: