“The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so the birds of the air come and perch in its branches.”
The Mustard Seed
It was on my third or fourth trip to Nicaragua when it hit me. I stood at the lookout above Tiscapa Lagoon gazing down on Managua, and I had the thought that we could be part of a work of God that would change this nation. I was reluctant to share it with anyone, and didn’t for years. It seemed presumptive to think that way, but what if God was speaking to me?
That was in 2006, and since then our partnership has grown from 3 U.S. churches working with 1 Nicaraguan church to 11 U.S. churches working with 8 Nicaraguan churches. We have also had the opportunity to partner with diverse organizations and ministries that all share the vision and heart to bring change to this beautiful country and its beautiful people. I can’t say that anything radically transformational has happened yet, but as God continues to connect the dots, adding people and resources, that vision is alive and continues to compel me to press on. The tiny mustard seed has germinated, sprouted and started to grow.
Prior to joining the Vineyard Missions Partnership I knew very little about Nicaragua. I remembered some scuttlebutt from the Reagan era about the Iran Contra Affair and that Howard Hughes had once holed up atop the Intercontinental Hotel in Managua for a while as his mental health deteriorated, but that was about it. I first got involved in Nicaragua for purely practical reasons. After doing youth ministry for 13 years, I had seen time and again the effect cross-cultural ministry had on a person’s life; I wanted that experience for my church. A couple Northwest Vineyards were already involved in Nicaragua, I found that appealing and along with the proximity, relatively low cost of travel and low language barrier. It seemed like a no-brainer to get involved in Nicaragua. My initial goal was to get as many people as possible from our congregation in suburban Portland to Nicaragua to experience the stretching of faith and development of gifts I’d seen in so many young people.
Until, looking down over Managua that afternoon, I heard that still, small, voice whisper in my ear that we could be a part of something that would break 500 years of oppression, bring food and clean water to some of the Western Hemisphere’s poorest poor, redeem countless lives, and really change a nation. That moment changed things dramatically for me. I still want my church—and everyone else I know—to experience the transformational reality of getting outside of their comfort zone, to see and feel and know the presence of God in ways unimaginable in the hustle and bustle of our daily lives. But beyond that, I now also want to partner with the Spirit of God and other people of God to genuinely change a country.
Throughout my ministry I have held onto the sociological phenomena of “redemption and lift” taught to me by John Wimber. (Essentially, when the gospel permeates a people or an area things change: standards of living go up, health improves, other social issues like hunger and poverty are addressed, and so on.) That’s why the partnership model endeavors to plant churches with indigenous leaders in established communities. As that happens those communities are transformed. After taking on leadership of the partnership I have been contacted by folks involved in ministries that care for orphans, improve education, bring school supplies and build schools in impoverished places, medical professionals who desire to provide healthcare, people interested in staving off hunger, finding clean water, and even helping to remove young girls from an almost certain life of sexual abuse and slavery in La Chureca, the dump on the outskirts of Managua. And the mustard seed grows.
Nicaragua is geographically about half the size of Oregon, my home state. The population is just under 6 million people. It is diverse culturally, ethnically, and in almost every other way. The laid back Caribbean culture of Bluefields couldn’t be more different from the hurried and crowded streets of Managua. The coffee country in the north around Matagalpa is beautiful and rich while the coast near San Juan del Sur offers some of the most spectacular beaches and surfing to be found anywhere.
Nicaragua also has the distinction of being one of the most impoverished countries in the Western Hemisphere, only behind Haiti. One thing is consistent though, the people are gracious, hospitable, warm, and caring. Despite being ravaged by civil war, a series of natural disasters, and corruption both from within and outside influences, Nicaraguans remain welcoming and kind. There is also an amazing openness to the Spirit of God.
Recently we took a team door-to-door to local businesses asking if we could pray for the business. Every person responded positively. Our team ended up praying not only for the businesses but for healing, family situations, and a variety of needs. We have had the opportunity to lead dozens of people to Christ and pray for numerous healings as we’ve participated in community outreach with the churches there. And, slowly, little by little, the mustard seed grows.
I’m confident that God has his hand on Nicaragua. I’m confident that as we continue to press further into his heart for the country that our eyes will be opened and our hearts will be transformed. That tiny mustard seed is growing, and we really will see a nation transformed.