Pastor Matthew Martens with the Black Diamond Gospel Chapel led the group to the second poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere from Oct. 20 to Nov. 3.
While in Nicaragua the group distributed food, eyeglasses and built a Sunday School.Martens
spoke to Black Diamond town council about the trip at council's meeting on Dec. 6."At some point or another, we were all pulled out of our comfort zone and that's always a good thing," Martens
said.The group, which included residents from Black Diamond, Turner Valley and Millarville, did what they could to make the children smile, which included going to the park, making balloon animals or playing soccer.Martens
said it was unbelievable to see the poverty, with up to 12 people living in a typical 12-foot square wood hut with a tin roof.Families are primarily made up of women and children as many of the men work on cruise ships eight or more months of the year. Churches are the lifeblood of the community, offering help with food, shelter and clothing.One other thing Martens noticed was that lawns are cut with machetes, which can take three to four hours, as there aren't any lawn mowers."They do it with a smile on their face, it's amazing," Martens
said."It's hard to wrap your mind around how poor they are."He noted that translators couldn't come up with the Spanish word for Black Diamond at first.
"When they finally came up with the word, I thought we should change to that.I thought it sounded very romantic," Martens
said with a smile, adding that he
can no longer recall the word.The group distributed 250 eyeglasses while in the country.Martens
said the people were thankful to finally be able to see clearly and it was a highlight of the trip to watch people go from being almost blind to reading the fine print.Before leaving on the trip, the group raised $500 to purchase rice and beans and then distributed the food to 100 families."There were tears like crazy from every one of those homes because it was the first food they'd seen in weeks," Martens
said.The trip has given Martens
and others in the group a new appreciation for Canada. After visiting a hospital in Nicaragua, he
will never complain about Alberta health care.The group also shared their stories and the message of Jesus Christ with the people of Nicaragua."There's always hope and that's one of the things we could give, that there's a better life if they trusted in God," Martens
said.The church now plans to send a group on similar trips bi-annually and is spreading the word about what others can learn from their experience."We want to encourage you as a town to continue to look beyond yourselves," Martens
said."Everyone on our team said they came back a different person, myself included.It changed me in terms of getting my eyes off myself a little bit more.It put my eyes on people around me, even my next door neighbour."The church would like to send another group in the fall of 2008 and will consider either returning to Nicaragua or travelling to a different country.Cutline 1: Pastor Matthew Martens with the Black Diamond Gospel Chapel visits with children in Nicaragua.Martens recently led a group of 11 foothills residents to the country where they distributed food, eyeglasses and built a Sunday School building. photo submitted