Focus on Friendship
A church/community partnership is about mission, but mostly it’s about relationships.
Delmar Reformed Church’s covenantal relationship with a Nicaraguan village enables both congregants and villagers to develop deep relationships through which they can learn from each other—from deep life lessons to the joys of making s’mores.
Every February for the past nine years, a team from Delmar Reformed Church in New York has traveled to Nicaragua. They stay for one week and do some work, but mostly they work on friendships. For the past four years, they have stayed in the same village, a community with which they have a special connection.
Delmar’s first team, a group of 11, went to Nicaragua in 2005 through a Nicaraguan organization called CEPAD. The organization partners with rural villages in Nicaragua to increase self-sufficiency and sustainability through community organization, agricultural development, and education, and by strengthening pastoral leadership. CEPAD also helps overseas mission groups connect with Nicaraguan villages to build relationships.
“We went down with the idea that we were really going to be changing the world, and the world changed us,” says Peggy Becker, co-chair of Delmar’s mission committee. “What CEPAD helped us understand was that the most important thing we could do was develop long-term relationships with people in poverty so we could understand the causes of poverty and how we could help.
“We understood that maybe the most important thing we could do wasn’t to go down and do, but to learn about the people and the challenges they face, and learn how we can make a difference by telling their stories when we come home and opening others’ eyes to the reality of it.”
“We do work, but it’s not the primary end,” says Dave Corlett, pastor of Delmar Reformed. “CEPAD has the philosophy that our relationships are even more valuable than a little bit of labor we can do.”
CEPAD has facilitated the formation of covenant relationships between faith communities in North America and communities in Nicaragua since 1990.
Delmar’s mission team traveled to a number of villages on their earliest trips to Nicaragua, getting to know people and helping with some of CEPAD’s community development projects. Becker says they experienced incredibly warm welcomes, but they didn’t feel the connection they were looking for.
Until 2010, that is, when they visited El Castillo for an afternoon. “We visited them really not even expecting anything other than a visit to see their community,” says Becker, “but something very special happened and we felt the connection.”
El Castillo is a village of about 250 families in southern Nicaragua. The houses have dirt floors. Villagers cook over open fires and draw their water from communal wells; there’s no running water. The village has only had electricity for about four years.
Despite the economic and cultural differences and the language barrier, Becker says, “When we go into the community we feel a deep love, a deep commitment to the Word of God, and a deep connection between us.”
“We’ve found that not only has Nicaragua been a place where we go and try to be helpful, it’s also become a place where we have friends and people that we’re connected to in significant ways,” says Corlett.
“When we visit each other, it’s like visiting family.”
When Delmar’s mission team is in El Castillo each year, they spend a lot of time simply being together in community. They play sports and do English lessons or crafts with the children. One year they brought lots of yarn and gave knitting lessons. Last February, they brought graham crackers, chocolate bars, and marshmallows, asked the community to help build a bonfire, and introduced their Nicaraguan friends to s’mores.
“Everybody turned out,” says Becker. “People brought guitars, we made s’mores, and we all intermingled. It was a gift from God, this joyful moment when we had crossed what seemed like enormous [language and cultural] barriers to join together as brothers and sisters.”
She says their relationship with El Castillo goes both ways: the mission team doesn’t just go down to teach the Nicaraguans; instead, they learn from each other. “Our relationship is built on equality, on a thing we can mutually bring to one another.”
Representatives from Delmar and El Castillo have signed a formal partnership agreement. Becker says the agreement outlines their relationship as equals who are seeking what God is calling them to do together.
As part of the partnership agreement, El Castillo hosts Delmar’s mission teams, and Delmar hosts visitors from El Castillo. Last November, three representatives from El Castillo traveled to the United States to spend a week in New York.
Church members enjoyed the opportunity to return the hospitality they have been receiving for years in El Castillo.
“When we visit El Castillo, we are given the best,” says Becker. “They show hospitality by serving us meals in their best room—it’s how they show that we are honored guests.
“We wanted to do the same—not through wealth, but through actions, making sure they were comfortable and able to be with our community, our children, our church members, to deepen those wonderful relationships that we have started to build in that community.”
“As we reach out to them, I find that we benefit just as much if not more, because of their kindness and hospitality and warmth and Christian love,” says Corlett. “It’s something that gives us a reward as much as anything we can offer them.”
Pray for your congregation’s long-term mission efforts, and ask God to guide new ones and give them a strong and long-lasting foundation.
Support RCA mission work in Nicaragua with a donation at www.rca.org/bobb-kelly.