Nicaragua mission trip – March 1-5, 2018
Linda Ross, Mary Ann Herr, Bruce Grove, Julie Grove, Joe Reed and Lisa Shank
Left to Right – Mario Rugama Jr., Mary (Mario Jr’s daughter), Rosa Dormus Rugama and daughter Blanca, Joe Reed, Maximo Dormus and daughter Daniela, Betesda teacher Claudia, Gloria Rugama, Betesda teacher Marta, Pastor Mario (kneeling), Samar, Linda Ross, Marvin, Mary Ann Herr (kneeling), Lisa Shank, Julie Grove, Bruce Grove, Dionicio (team cab driver). March 4, 2018
Dear First United Methodist Church,
Greetings from Pastor Mario, his wife Gloria and their family. They send their gratitude for our continued prayers and monthly support. Your generosity and faithfulness bless their family and the many children in the Loma Fresca community of Bluefields, Nicaragua.
Our team is thankful for our good health and safety during our travel and stay in Nicaragua. Thank you, First Church, for keeping us in your prayers. Linda Ross, Julie and Bruce Grove and I have been to Bluefields many times, and we were blessed to have Mary Ann Herr and Joe Reed on our team, traveling to Nicaragua for the first time. Though the poverty in this region is widespread, the joy and kindness of the people of Nicaragua is always a vivid reminder of how little one truly needs to be a blessing to others. A generous spirit and a willingness to work together are what consistently unite our teams and the people of Bluefields each time we visit. God continues to bless the Loma Fresca community and the Betesda School. It is our blessing and privilege to represent First United Methodist Church and those outside our church who continue to support this mission.
BLUEFIELDS AND NICARAGUA INFRASTRUCTURE NEWS
The biggest adventure during a trip to Bluefields is usually the plane ride from Managua to Bluefields. Depending on the number of passengers seeking to travel cross-country on any given day, the plane selected for transportation may be a larger 40+ passenger plane or the usual 12-seat prop plane. On this trip, only the prop plane was required. The best part of not rising over 10,000 feet in altitude on the cross-country trip is the opportunity to see changes to the landscape. This trip provided an amazing view of the new highway (white line in photo 1.) that is under construction connecting Bluefields, on the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua to Managua, which is close to the Pacific Ocean in western Nicaragua. You can read more about this project here. The new highway should impact the lives of the people on the isolated Caribbean coast with improved access to resources and opportunities. Our taxi driver, Dionicio said that it is possible to travel by road from Bluefields to Managua in about 8 hours, and he makes the journey several times each week.
When we arrived at the school, we noticed four water company employees walking through the school property. Pastor Mario said that a few years ago, the regional water company began the project of building water lines from a nearby river and filtration facility into the Loma Fresca community, with the goal of connecting each home to the water lines. The water line project will continue downhill into the town of Bluefields over the next few years. What a blessing to see such large scale improvements to the Bluefields area.
During our taxi rides from Bluefields to Loma Fresca, we noticed that the main streets appeared much cleaner than in recent years. Pastor Mario said that a group of 45 pastors has been working with the communities and especially the youth to educate them about discarding trash in the streets, encouraging them to carry a small bag to hold the things that they want to discard until they find an appropriate place to dispose of the items.
A beautiful new hotel recently opened very close to the hotel where we have stayed for many years. The new hotel is very secure and includes a wonderful new restaurant.
PASTOR MARIO AND GLORIA RUGAMA FAMILY UPDATE
Pastor Mario’s oldest daughter, Rosa is married to Maximo Dormus. They have two children, Daniela, age 8 and Blanca, age 2. Maximo works with Pastor Mario at the school site, assisting with improvement projects and the weekly bible teaching in the Betesda School classrooms. Rosa manages a small store that the family opened at their home two years ago.
Pastor Mario’s oldest son, Mario Jr. completed training in renewable energy at a technical school a few years ago and is now studying for a teaching degree at La Normal teaching school in Bluefields. He is in his second year of study will receive his degree after one more year of school. Mario Jr. is also an artist and is part of a government-funded organization that travels throughout Nicaragua to provide art classes to communities. In addition, Mario Jr. and his mother Gloria make jewelry and other craft items that are sold throughout the community and to tourists. Mario Jr. has one daughter, Mary, who is 2 years old.
The second youngest of four children, Gabriela Grace (Gaby) is in her second year of medical school in Managua. Becoming a doctor was Grace’s dream from a young age and through a financial connection made by Pastor Arturo Sanchez with another pastor in Georgia, her dream is being realized. We were able to talk with Gaby on Facebook while we were in Nicaragua. She said that her school is difficult, but she knows this is the path she wants to pursue. Her schooling is six years total and she will live in Managua during that time.
Josue, the youngest of four children, is thirteen and is attending the Adventis School in Bluefields. He will be there for five years. Josue’s future plans include IT training or veterinary school.
The Betesda School staff includes one director, 11 classroom teachers and 1 gym teacher. In addition, Pastor Mario, Maximo and Gloria provide bible classes to the children each week. Currently, 210 students are enrolled. The school year in Nicaragua begins in early February and ends in mid-November. Their “summer break” is from mid-November to early February. The Nicaragua government continues to place trained teachers in the classrooms and pays all teacher salaries. Additionally the government provides beans and rice, which are stored in a secure room in the school. The parents of each classroom take turns preparing the rice and beans for the students’ lunch each day. If they are able, they may supplement the rice and beans with additional food.
The Betesda School is considered a private school in Nicaragua; therefore the government does not provide materials to the students which the public schools receive – uniforms, backpacks, paper, pencils, erasers, books, educational posters, teacher support materials, etc. Therefore, the annual request to the congregation for school supplies is extremely important. The First UMC Special Ministries Fund graciously contributed $800 toward the supplies and another $700 was contributed by the congregation. Linda Ross, Julie Grove and Mary Ann Herr accompanied two teachers, Marta and Claudia, on Saturday afternoon to the Bluefields version of Staples. Each year the teachers prepare a list of needed school supplies including an estimated cost. We were very happy to be able to purchase their complete list. These supplies will likely last 6-8 months of the school year and additional funds will be needed during the summer months.
The metal roof of the school’s detached bathrooms was leaking. We purchased 20 new sheets of metal to replace the roof. The metal was delivered from Toby’s Hardware to Loma Fresca on Saturday morning. Bruce Grove and Joe Reed assisted Mario Jr., Maximo and Marvin, a young man currently living with Pastor Mario. He is a Nicaraguan baseball player and spends a lot of his time traveling around the country with his team. He was extremely helpful with the roof replacement.
Our team members were honored guests at a Saturday morning children’s program, a rollicking “Little Miss Betesda” pageant where one winner was crowned for the pre-school to grade-2 age group and another winner was selected for the grades 3-6 age group. Three Bluefields community members volunteered as judges for the event. Many parents were present for the event as well. The 2017 pageant winners were on hand to pass their crowns to the 2018 winners. Festivities during the event also included dance performances by children in both age groups.
Following the pageant, Gloria prepared lunch for our team and the Betesda School teachers. We enjoyed a wonderful meal and were able to hear the teachers’ concerns and requests, thanks to Linda Ross, our translator during our trip. Just like in the US, the teachers use some of their own salary to purchase school supplies when needed. We explained to them that asking our congregation to support the purchase of school supplies is just one of many missions at First Church. Financial needs are great for most projects that our church supports. They are grateful for the supplies that we are able to purchase and the sports equipment that was donated by our church and organized by the Steed family. The lack of government funding for the school however, makes it difficult for them to teach the children in the ways that they desire.
FUTURE PROJECTS AND NEEDS
A big improvement for the school would be the purchase of approximately 250 chairs for the large building on the school property. This building is used for assemblies in which all students attend, like the pageant that was held during our visit, or for community events. It is also used as a play area during the rainy season from May to September. Currently, the students carry their desks from the classrooms to the building for organized assemblies.
Security around the school and campus has always been and continues to be the biggest concern in the community. Pastor Mario has used the infrastructure-designated funds of our monthly support over the past year, to begin to replace sections of the original perimeter fence with an improved fencing material. Each roll of the new wire fencing costs $150. Mario estimated that he needs 4 more rolls of the new fencing to complete the project.
An important need for the safety of the school and the entire campus is the replacement of the electric pole on the property. Last year, when the electric company had climbed the pole to address a problem, they told Pastor Mario that the wooden post was rotted on the inside. There was a fire at the top of the pole at some time, which caused the damage and the pole is unsafe, though still standing. The electric company won’t replace the pole with another wooden pole. Replacement poles are now made of concrete, and we saw an example of a new one near Mario’s house. The replacement cost estimate in 2017 from the electric company was $2,000 to install a concrete pole, transformer and the labor for the project. Since this pole is on private property, the electric company will not replace the pole at no cost.
Our trip to Nicaragua raised new opportunities for the people of First Church to continue to support a mission which is improving the lives of more than 200 children each day. Pastor Mario wants to continue to serve this community. He is dedicated to the children and believes that God has placed him here to support this community and the school. Pastor Mario is an energetic, hardworking man, focused on serving the families in the Loma Fresca community. He is a true example of what it means to lead with a generous and welcoming heart. I would ask that you consider supporting this ministry in 2018 with your financial gifts and prayerfully consider joining us for the February 2019 trip. Watch for more information regarding the 2019 trip coming soon.
With gratitude on behalf of Linda, Joe, Mary Ann, Julie and Bruce,
Click here to view Lisa’s Nicaragua team photos on Google Photos