There I was, surrounded by
Customs agents at an airport
in a Third World country. To
say the least, the language
barrier was posing an
immediate concern. I knew
how to say “yes” and how to
count to six in Spanish, but
my overall command of the
language was limited to the
bits of slang that I’d picked up
from watching old Cheech
Chong movies – and I didn’t
think that “pendejo” would have exactly been the best word to offer mis amigos at that moment.
My state of panic only intensified when the agents tore open my suitcase and to my dismay, bottles of drugs began spilling onto the airport floor. To make matters worse, I turned around to seek guidance or some kind of moral support from any of my dedicated teammates, but they’d seemingly ALL disappeared! I was ALONE, facing interrogation by Spanish-speaking Customs agents. Gee thanks, Neil Migala – so much for “leave no man behind.” But within a couple of minutes, Pastor Kevin appeared by my side to assist me.
Fortunately, I had in fact, picked up the right bag – it did belong to our entourage from East Coast Christian Center. Better still, the drugs that were found stashed within the suitcase actually were vitamins – approximately $1,000.00 worth, that we were bringing into Nicaragua for the children of Popoyo. I wasn’t arrested, however, agents still would not allow me to enter the country with the vitamins without the proper documentation. We would just have to reclaim them on our way out of Nicaragua.
Back home in Florida, we had just experienced a mighty cold front. So I was caught off guard when I finally was allowed to exit the airport and immediately felt the near one hundred degree swelter – welcome to the jungle, indeed! And I was thrilled to discover fellow teammates, Neil, Sean, Justin and Tom, standing by, along with our driver who was sitting at the wheel of a semi-air conditioned, and rather rusty Land Rover – with the engine idling, ready to whisk us away.
Justin, Tom and Sean patiently awaiting my release from customs.
Looking back at the airport as we pulled away, it was as if we were leaving a movie scene that had been shot twenty-five years ago. But as I soon learned, this actually was the upscale, modern part of the country.
There was a near three-hour drive from Managua to where we would be staying in Popoyo. I’ve seen some crazy, outrageous and amazing things in my fifty years, however, I hadn’t seen jack – not when compared to what I saw over the next three hours.
For starters, there were no speed limit signs posted along the pothole-riddled, dirt roads. In fact, I saw few signs, if any – with the exception of the occasional billboard (one was for Papa John’s Pizza) or red hexagon signs which read, “Alto.” Where the streets have no name, to be sure.
We were surrounded by absolute poverty – people living in shacks with garbage and dirty laundry covering their lawns, and more trash strewn along the streets. I was quickly reminded of The Pretenders song, “Middle of the Road."
Past corrugated tin shacks holed up with kids
and man I don't mean a Hampstead nursery.
When you own a big chunk of the bloody Third
World, the babies just come with the scenery.
(from "Middle of the Road")
Cows, pigs, chickens and oxen all roamed the streets freely – along with human pedestrians. Bicyclists, motor scooter riders and horse and buggies also occupied the thoroughfares. However, the primary means of mass transportation was what I can only describe as dilapidated versions of The Partridge Family bus.
It was crazy to witness street merchants and window cleaners actually climbing up the sides of our vehicle, desperate to score any loose change as we sat stuck in traffic at random intersections.
I was surprised that our driver actually was able to pick up an American-style radio station – and we rocked out in the ol’ Land Rover to the magical sounds of P!nk, Eminem and Shania Twain as our journey to Popoyo ensued. We also passed what seemed to be endless cornfields and breathtaking mountains, secured behind miles of barbed wire fencing – we even caught a glimpse of an active volcano in the distance.
Many of my teammates were surf enthusiasts. We were staying at a luxury surf lodge and they were excited about the incredible surf related opportunities that lay ahead. And to be honest, I too was looking forward to visiting Nicaragua’s world-famous beaches and at least sticking my toes into the Pacific Ocean. Yet we ALL knew why we each had signed on for this mission – to spread the good news of Jesus Christ while blessing the locals by providing them with food, clothing and other essentials.
The sun sets on Popoyo.
By the time we finally arrived at the lodge, it was getting late and clearly, little would be accomplished until the next morning. And as I stood and watched the sun setting on our first day in Nicaragua, I knew that amazing, life-changing things would be happening throughout the week – truly huge blessings for sure. But little did I know just who would be receiving those blessings...
TO BE CONTINUED
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