Bigger Vision in Youth Ministry: Nicaragua

Sometimes I get sensory whiplash before seven in the morning…

It’s any Monday morning in Matagalpa, Nicaragua.  I walk out my front door and am assaulted by the smells and sights of a third world city waking up to a new day.  The sun shines brightly over the mountaintops as I step over a smelly over-turned trash bag.  Before any of the shops open, the lady who sells fruit on the corner is setting up her stand.  She’ll work over 15 hours today, and barely make enough to get by until tomorrow.  As I walk around the corner to the bus stop, I pass by several men and a few children passed out on doorsteps.  They’ll wake up to another day of a cycle they can’t escape on their own.  I ride the bus with a group of contractors, proud in their blue uniforms and sun-worn skin, who are about to begin a twelve-hour shift of hard labor, taking home mere dollars.  They most likely won’t see their children awake today, or tomorrow, or the next day.  As we drive down the highway, we pass by students on their way to class.  They’ll cram into a classroom with as many as 75 other students.  If they’re lucky their teacher will show up today.

And then I hop off the bus, cross the highway, walk down the short dirt road, and suddenly enter a new world.  I step into a new school building that hasn’t even lost its sparkle yet.  Soon, children – some of the wealthiest children in town – will come streaming in and fill the school with its happy sounds, yelling “Good morning, Miss Elisabeth” as they pass by my desk.  They’ll grab a soccer ball and head down to the court to play for a few minutes before classes start, or they’ll run to the library (the only lending library in the city) to return the book they read last night and search for a new one.  The bell will ring, and after their class devotion, they’ll head to class with no more than thirteen classmates and a caring teacher who will challenge them to think creatively and critically about the world around them, to steward the gifts God has given them, and to be courageously different in a world that desperately wants them to just be the same.


I work at Nicaragua Christian Academy in Matagalpa, Nicaragua.  We believe God is in the business of restoration in Nicaragua, and we want to be a part of it.  Our mission statement is “to equip the children of Christian parents with the spiritual discernment, the moral courage, and the academic excellence to impact society through Christian living motivated by a heartfelt love for God.”  Our vision stretches way beyond our sparkly walls.  Our hope is to reach the future leaders of Matagalpa and Nicaragua with the gospel of grace.  We hope that grace causes them to be leaders of integrity and honesty and humility and mercy.  We hope they will be good stewards of the resources God has given them: their land, their minds, their families, even their government.  We hope they will be agents of transformation in their city and in their country and even their world.

It is not easy for me to loose sight of our vision.  All I have to do is stand in the doorway of a classroom and look across the valley that makes up our school’s property.  I see partially-clothed children walking down the steep path to the river to wash their laundry or carry a jug of contaminated water back up to their house.  They probably won’t go to school today.  Some of them may not even eat today.  We have to be working for something more than a top-notch education for a select few.  You have to be working for something more than big numbers on Sunday night and happy parents, or even getting kids across the graduation “finish line”.  But perhaps surrounded by the material comforts of the first world, it is a little bit easier to forget. (Perhaps it’s not.  For me it was desperately easy.)

Let me assure you: you and your students are part of a bigger story, whether you realize it or not.  God is at work redeeming their families, their high schools, your cities, your countries, and your world.  His story certainly doesn’t always mean success as we would define it, but He will accomplish His good work, and He is inviting your students to be a part of it.

“And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”  -Esther 4:14

Elisabeth Elliott Hayes worked in student ministry for 7 years - first as a youth minister at Cathedral Church of the Advent in Birmingham, Alabama, and later as Director of Spiritual Formation at Nicaragua Christian Academy in Matagalpa, Nicaragua. She has been involved with Rooted since its humble beginnings in 2010. Elisabeth holds a Master of Arts in Biblical Studies from Reformed Theological Seminary and is pursuing a ThM in Theology and Ethics from Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, Virginia. She loves to travel, cook, garden, and explore Richmond with her friends and her husband, Will.

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