So often, we give anonymously to a good cause — whether it be a local food drive, national disaster relief effort or an international humanitarian mission — and we never really know the impact of our gift. Wouldn’t you love the opportunity to follow your donation across local boundaries, past international security checkpoints, over the ocean, onto remote dirt roads and into an impoverished village, where you can put that vital medicine, supply or food into the hands that need it most?
I just got that opportunity, as a member of a short-term mission trip to Nicaragua. Mantua-based Living Waters Fellowship for Missions (lwfmissions.org) is a a non-profit organization that organizes several week-long trips throughout the year for groups of young people and adults to travel to Nicaragua to “reach out with the love of Christ to those living in need in the country of Nicaragua.”
LWF was established in 2007 and is directed by Jamie and Carrie Leister, who have adopted two daughters from Nicaragua. LWF teams deliver backpacks of school supplies to children who otherwise would not be able to afford attending school; give thousands of Christmas gifts to poor children who otherwise wouldn’t receive any presents; minister through soccer outreaches; hold medical clinics; provide funds for communities who want to build churches or support a pastor; and support Messiah Project Nicaragua, which provides spiritual leadership and nearly 300,000 meals and parasite treatments throughout the country every month.
The humanitarian needs in Nicaragua — the poorest country in Central America and the second poorest in the Western Hemisphere (one up from Haiti) — are overwhelming. As Carrie says, “The people are grateful to have one meal a day, and going to the doctor when their child is sick is a luxury they cannot afford. They have to depend on God, as He is all they have.”
It seems as though any efforts we might make to turn that tide would be futile. How can one week of holding medical and physical therapy clinics for the elderly and handicapped, and handing out 1,200 backpacks of school supplies to children really make a lasting difference? We swallowed those doubts as we collected local donations of athletic shoes, walkers, wheelchairs, canes and school supplies in the weeks leading up to our January 22 departure date.
For two days, handicapped children, adult stroke victims and the ailing elderly from distant rural villages were literally trucked in to the Land of Judah outreach center built by Messiah Project Nicaragua, in the hopes of receiving some relief from their suffering. Our team — ranging in age from 13 to 63— was ably staffed by a family physician, a physician’s assistant, a clinical counselor, a physical therapist, a physical therapy assistant, a pharmacist, plus a handful of us non-medical types.
People with all kinds of ailments waited patiently throughout the long, hot day to receive care. Children with mental and physical handicaps, those with multiple seizures per day, those born with encephalitis and spina bifida; adults with dwarfism, mental retardation, polio, Cushings disease, the debilitating effects of stroke; the elderly with severe arthritis, nerve damage, cataracts, high blood pressure, systemic and skin infections, intestinal troubles, diabetes and heart disease all were examined, counseled and prayed for.
Some received precious pain medicine, antibiotics, multivitamins and/or parasite treatments. Others were fitted for supportive walking shoes, walkers, canes or wheelchairs. Every piece of equipment we brought from Ohio was put to use for someone in Nicaragua, and their sincere appreciation and joy were evident in their shining eyes, smiling faces, embraces and utterances of thanksgiving. Even those who went away with simply Tylenol and multivitamins were grateful to have been seen — truly seen and appreciated despite their infirmities — because they live out their days as best they can without any medical intervention or physical rehabilitation services at their disposal.
Already, LWF is planning to return soon with even more walkers, canes, wheelchairs plus other equipment and meds for the poor in Nicaragua. Yes, the need is great. No, we won’t ever keep up with demand. But — like the story of the man saving starfish one at a time by tossing them from the beach back into the water — we have the satisfaction of knowing at least these few have been uplifted, encouraged and assisted by our efforts.
Just as Jesus went about doing good and healing the sick when he walked the earth, those who participated in the mission trip feel that they fulfilled their sense of purpose, as stated in I Corinthians 12… “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it,” carrying forward the good work begun more than 2,000 years ago.
Now that’s what I call a good return on investment. If you have an unused walker, cane, wheelchair or other piece of physical therapy equipment, or would like to donate new athletic shoes to this worthy cause, contact Living Waters Fellowship for Missions at firstname.lastname@example.org.