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Reflections on Eye-Opening Spring Break Experience

By Jan Scott Swetenburg '04

May 3, 2001
Contact: Bill Giduz 704/894-2244 or bigiduz@davidson.edu

Nicaragua Group
Thirteen students traveled to Nicaragua with Chaplain Rob Spach and Davidson College Presbyterian Church Associate Kathy Beach-Verhey on the annual "reverse mission" sponsored by the Chaplain's Office. Here is the group at the Masaya Volcano. (left to right, top to bottom) Kate Feidler, Nick Mantini, Kathy Beach-Verhey, Kristin Nickel, Lydia Wilson, Jodi McQuillen, Jan Scott Swetenburg, John Foster, Dan Morris, Rob Spach, Clark Scalera, Leah Vonderheide, Rachel May, and Carrie Porath (not pictured-Margaret Carolla).

"What did you do for spring break?" Over the past few weeks when people have asked me about my spring break, I've found myself feeling a bit overwhelmed. I was blessed enough to spend ten intense days on a "reverse mission" trip to the Central American country of Nicaragua with 12 other Davidson students, Chaplain Rob Spach, and Davidson College Presbyterian Church Associate Kathy Beach-Verhey. The trip, annually sponsored by DCPC and the Chaplain's office, proved to be an incredibly life shaking experience for everyone involved.

The trip was arranged through the Council of Evangelical and Protestant Churches in Nicaragua (CEPAD), an organization committed to helping the poor in Nicaragua, and to helping groups like ours learn more about the country.

"Reverse mission" means we did not go to work or to build. Rather, we spent time reflecting, meeting, talking, and sharing experiences with the Nicaraguan people.

McQuillen and May
Freshmen Jodi McQuillen (left) and Rachel May with their host family in Hialeah.

In weekly meetings throughout the semester leading up to the trip, we worshipped together and studied Nicaraguan history. Our Bible study included lessons in Jesus' direct and personal ministry with the poor. We went representing the body of Christ in the United States to encounter the body of Christ in Nicaragua. Through time spent with local leaders and with families, our eyes were opened.

CEPAD set up meetings with current political leaders, people who had fought in the Sandinista revolution in the 1980s, union leaders in the free trade zone, economic experts, and others. We also spent four nights in homes with poor families. We spent two nights in "el campo," the countryside, and another two in a neighborhood in Managua, the capital city.

For me, these home stays were exceptionally meaningful, but also quite humbling. The families opened up their hearts and homes to us unselfishly. Their hospitality to a bunch of American strangers was overwhelming.

Sophomore NIck Mantini plays basketball with a boy from Hialeah, a neighborhood in Managua.

We also split into groups and accompanied people who work with the poor every day in Nicaragua. I went to a community school and a food program run by volunteers from the neighborhood who are passionate about lifting up their own people. Again, it was incredibly inspiring but also extremely humbling.

One group accompanied Eddy Perez to a Nicaraguan dump where Eddy works. The dump stretches forever, and is nothing but dirt, grime and filth as far as the eye can see. We were floored by the poverty and hopelessness of the dump, but Eddy goes there daily to work with 200 or so families who live there permanently. He encourages their children to go to school and stay off drugs. Poverty such as this is absolutely staggering, and makes it easy to lose hope. But by the end of the week, we began to see God's hands at work.

One of the most hopeful and inspiring experiences was our last day, which we spent at "la Finca," a farm for rehabilitated street children located in the mountains. Latin America has more than 40 million children who have run away from home or have been abandoned by their parents. Many are addicted to shoe glue, a drug that suppresses their hunger and their emotions.

The farm accommodates those who come off the glue and straighten out their lives. Their life on the farm, safe and happy among other hopeful children, is a stark contrast to the harsh lives they have led on the street.

Nicaragua Students
John Foster, Clark Scalera and Nick Mantini take time out for a pictures with three new friends from the "Los Quinchos" farm.

When we arrived at the farm, the children were in the middle of a dance class. They immediately urged us to dance with them. For about two hours, we danced and laughed and sang with these beautiful children. It was an incredible sign of hope in the middle of a struggling situation. It was amazing to see how God can bring his children together through music and dancing.

Our time in "la Finca" was just one example of the incredible experiences of each day of our trip. Before we went I was worried about the food, getting enough sleep, and the language barrier (I do not speak Spanish). But after a few days in Nicaragua, God lifted those anxieties off my heart and allowed me to focus on being there. I am thankful for this experience in many ways and would like to return some day. Not only did I come back with 14 new Davidson friends, but I came back with countless friends in Nicaragua as well.

Near the conclusion of our stay, our group was lucky enough to meet with Father Fernando Cardenal, a Catholic priest who worked with the Sandinistas during the 1980s for liberation of the poor. His passion for the poor and for Jesus was revealed through his gentle words, as well as the aged lines on his face and his worn out hands. An hour of listening to his stories left us with a powerful image. He said working with the poor in the Third World was like walking toward the horizon. "You walk twenty feet and it is still twenty feet away. You walk twenty miles, and it is still twenty miles away. Then what is the horizon there for? It is there so we keep walking."

So what did I do for spring break? I was challenged to start walking with a new set of eyes.

The students who traveled to Nicaragua were:

  • Margaret Carolla...Springfield, Missouri
  • Kate Fiedler...Roanoke, Virginia
  • John Foster...Signal Mountain, Tennessee
  • Nick Mantini...Davidsonville, Maryland
  • Rachel May...Davidson, North Carolina
  • Jodi McQuillen...South Burlington, Vermont
  • Dan Morris...Northfield, Vermont
  • Kristin Nickel...Grosse Pointe Par, Michigan
  • Carrie Porath...Solon, Ohio
  • Clark Scalera...Tampa, Florida
  • Jan Scott Swetenburg...Charlotte, North Carolina
  • Leah Vonderheide... East Amherst, New York
  • Lydia Wilson...Flat Rock, North Carolina

    Davidson is a highly selective independent liberal arts college for 1,600 students. Since its establishment in 1837, the college has graduated 23 Rhodes Scholars and is consistently ranked among the top liberal arts colleges in the country by U.S. News and World Report magazine. Davidson recently launched "Let Learning Be Cherished," a $250 million campaign in support of student financial assistance, academic resources, and community life.

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