Serving Him in Nicaragua:Eagle volleyball on a mission

DIRIAMBA, NICARAGUA – The following is a series of first-hand accounts of Carson-Newman volleyball players and coaches on their missions trip to Nicaragua.

Serving Him in Nicaragua: Eagle volleyball on a mission, Day 1

By head volleyball coach Shannon Mincey

We left Knoxville, Tenn. at 6:30 a.m. and arrived in Mangua, Nicaragua at 6:30 p.m. (Nicaraguan Time). We were greeted at the airport and driven on a bus to Diriamba. When we arrived at the Hotel Mi Bohio, the Spring Arbor Volleyball team was there to greet us and help us with our luggage. They are just on the tail end of their trip here, so our teams get to bond for two days before their departure.

The thrill of finally being in Nicaragua overrode how incredibly tired we were from the long day. Judy Fox, our leader, shared with us that tomorrow morning (Friday) we would be visiting an orphanage. I was most excited about this opportunity because just before I left, my own children Cami (10) and Cy (8), gave me many of their own toys out of their room. My son Cy pretty much dumped his entire room into one suitcase. It was sweet to see how easy it was for him to say, “Here, take all these toys. I don’t need them.”

When we arrived at the orphanage both volleyball teams played with the children. My husband (C-N Head Women’s Basketball Coach Mincey) quickly gravitated toward the boys since he was the only male in our group. My son had placed a glove and baseball in the suitcase along with some other small sports balls. These were a huge hit. Some of my players brought nail polish and stickers. I brought lots of small jewelry beads which seemed to be what the girls liked. Another player brought bubbles. She pulled them out and blew some. The children opened their mouths to eat the bubbles. We all screamed “No!” as we laughed at the sight of bubbles actually going into their mouths.

It was overwhelming to take it all in. I stood in the middle of all the activities - and the heat - just absorbing what we were doing. I got teary eyed thinking how much is in my home for my own children to play with and how little these children have. Their shoes were so worn, some too small, some way to big – it was obvious all some kids had to wear were hand me downs. I looked down at the cement and a 5 year old boy was playing with a large bag of Lego blocks my son used to play with. I had those in my house for years sitting in the garage. This small boy seemed to gravitate toward one of our freshmen, Kianna Sedlacek. He clung to her pretty much the entire time we were there. At one point he gathered all the Legos and took off running toward the place he resides. He wanted to make sure those were his Legos. These kids were so excited to have all these small toys and to play.

The language barrier was tough. We only have 2 players who can speak Spanish. The rest of us managed to ask questions like, “How old are you?” and “What is your name?” The kids didn't seem to mind though. Lindsey Wells (freshman setter) attends First Baptist Church in Morristown. The children in her church had colored pictures; some had even put a picture of themselves in an envelope. When Lindsey started handing these out, the children swarmed her wanting them. The children loved the colored pictures and even continued to decorate them with sticker and markers. They especially loved the photographs of the American children. The Nicaraguan girls clung to the pictures. I held out my hand trying to say, “May I see who is in the picture.” They wouldn't give it to me they loved it so much. We are excited for today! Today we hold a kids clinic and feed the hungry! I almost feel like we (The C-N volleyball team) are the hungry and thus far we are being fed full of God’s Love.

Serving Him in Nicaragua: Eagle volleyball on a mission, Day 2

By head volleyball coach Shannon Mincey

The sound of rain pounding on our tin roof woke us early this morning. The two volleyball teams (Spring Arbor’s volleyball team is on a missions trip to Nicaragua as well) enjoyed a praise and worship time after breakfast. Little did we know, God had an emotional day in store for each of us. I am blessed to have had this experience with my team and husband. As we walked up the muddy trail through their houses, our hearts were being tugged and our eyes were being opened. I have never held a child so dirty and hungry in my life. There were so many children without shoes and clothing - too many to count. Living conditions were worse than any of us could have envisioned. Yet we saw beautiful sweet smiles and children of God gleaming at us as we stooped down to help.

By freshman setter Lindsey Wells.

The original plan for this morning was to do a volleyball clinic in Diriamba, however God had another plan for our team. Due to the gym already being occupied, we were forced to take on Plan B. Judy (Fox, the group leader for the trip) took the team to the school in Diriamba, which is founded by our translator, Claudia’s mother. She had to be one of the sweetest and strongest women I have ever met. Claudia’s mother had a dream almost 14 years ago that transformed from a vision to a reality simply because of her faith in God. Her dream was to provide a school for the children in Diriamba that would not only give them education, but also regular meals, spiritual education and a safe haven in their lives. She went on to tell us all the possible obstacles like the government and finance that could have stood in her way, yet every mountain that stood in front of her dream seemed to move so easily. When being faced with the obstacles to prevent her dream which God had placed on her heart, she continued to tell herself, “He brought me into this, He will get me out of it,” and smiled.

Today, Claudia’s mother has a school containing 6 classrooms. The school is continually growing thanks to her buying new lots to overcome the slow yet awesome support of the people that care for Nicaragua. Although the success of her dream has been incredible thus far, she has no desire to stop now. More lots to buy, more children to help and a God that is big enough to accomplish all of that and so much more. Through this experience, I felt Claudia’s mother witnessed to me and my life more than I could have ever done with her. She had faith in improvement and success because God placed such a desire on her heart; she knew He was in control.

Rather than looking at what she needs or doesn’t have at this moment, she is so very thankful for every little piece God has provided her to build her dream for these children. In such a discouraging environment, there is absolutely no reason to believe, yet Claudia’s mother clings to the unseen hope in the amazing possibilities God can accomplish. A banner was hanging at the door of the school with the verse that I feel truly describes Claudia’s undying desire to please God and help the children. It should also be a desire of all of us. “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have the kept the faith.” 2 Timothy 4:7. If we could only have the faith in God that Claudia’s mother has. She has that faith with the small things throughout our life and trust that if God places a desire upon our hearts, He will provide a way to reach those dreams. So amazing!

By senior outside hitter/libero Rachel Bowlin

Today was absolutely amazing for me and my teammates. We worked an outdoor soup kitchen in two different villages. All these soup kitchens were were a bucket of rice and a bucket of beans. The children in the villages were allowed one scoop of each in their bowl with sprinkles of cheese. Claudia, our translator, explained to us the children were fed one hot meal a day five days a week. After hearing that I still don't think our team was prepared for what we witnessed.

When we entered the villages there were a bunch of shacks side-by-side lining an all a dirt road. Once we started walking and getting closer, we saw a line of about 50 kids. We could see they didn't have many materialistic things like we do, but they certainly had more love than I have ever seen before. All of the kids wanted a hug or for us to at least say hello to them since our Spanish doesn't go much further than that. I found it interesting that they loved to see themselves after a photo had been taken of them. They don't get to see themselves very often. Our team had a blast with all the kids. We played games, took pictures, hugged, and even just stared at each other.

While we were at the soup kitchen at the first village, I got to see God in so many ways. At one point I got chills. When we left the first village, we all got back on the bus and noticed many of the items that we had on – headbands and bracelets - were now on the little children. The kids kept pointing at them. We would give them away and the smiles the kids had on their faces were just heart dropping - all for a headband. It was also cool to see how giving our team was. We all were laughing on the bus afterward at how we all looked.

Today set the bar really high for the rest of our trip because it was so incredible. We know there are many more great experiences for us still to come. We are so fortunate we get to open our eyes and our hearts together as a team.

Serving Him in Nicaragua: Eagle volleyball on a mission, Day 3

By freshman Sara Fairley

Speechless. That was my reaction to our worship tonight (Saturday). A Nicaraguan family came and led worship for our team tonight, and it was hands down the best worship experience I have ever been a part of! I had tears in my eyes towards the end of the first song. I was amazed at the woman singing; her love for the Lord was flowing from her face and through her voice. God was so evident in that room, we all felt his arms around us, loving us, holding us.

Tonight our team grew closer as friends, as teammates and, most importantly, as sisters in Christ. I cannot begin to describe how thankful and blessed I am for being led to Carson-Newman. I pray that we can bring God’s love that we felt tonight back to campus and share it with our fellow students. I know in my heart that this trip has prepared the minds and hearts of our team, and no matter the outcome of our season, we have a perfect record in his eyes. “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Romans 10:13

By head volleyball coach Shannon Mincey

We departed from the Hotel and drove to Managua. Our bus drove through the windy streets to the Villa Esperanza. As we stood at the gates of the Villa preparing to walk in, I wasn’t sure if I personally could go through this learning experience. The director of Forward Edge shared with us what their ministry was about. It intentionally rescues girls ages 9-18. I am the mother of a 10-year-old little girl and can’t even imagine that such a lifestyle exists. My daughter isn’t with me in Nicaragua; I just wanted to wrap my arms around her and tell her how much I loved her. There is so much hurt in our world. We are shielded from it at Carson-Newman. This YouTube video tells the story of at-risk girls being rescued from a garbage dump in Managua, Nicaragua. Encouraged by their families, they are transferred to a safe home where they receive the love of Jesus, education, life-skills training, consistent health and emotional care, as well as tools for ending the cycle of poverty in their families. I hope you watch the video and experience with us what God allowed us to experience with such an amazing morning with these girls.

Our players and the girls in the Villa danced and did cartwheels. Senior Angelle Hayes shared how we tend to plan our lives and get everything in our order, yet God’s plan is bigger and we should keep Him at our focus. Angelle brought with her to Nicaragua many small wooden crosses with Spanish written on it.

Each player sat with a girl and gave them the cross and drew on paper who Christ was and how important He was. They used pictures to communicate so that the language barrier wasn’t so large.

After our visit at the Villa we drove three hours to Matagalpa. We checked into the Hotel Lomas De San Tas. This will be our new home for two nights. There, we were introduced to the Nicaraguan National Team. Kianna Sedlacek, Rachel Harper and Kristen Pickett shared their testimony with the volleyball players. Each spoke of personal experiences and how great God is. We ate dinner with them in the hotel after. A worship team visited our team after dinner and sang with us.

Serving Him in Nicaragua: Eagle volleyball on amission, Day 4

Jeremiah 20:9  - "If I say ‘I will not mention his word or speak anymore in His name’, His word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed I CAN NOT.”

By Kianna Sedlacek

First and foremost I would just like to thank everyone who helped each of us to raise the money to make this trip possible. I knew that this experience would be life changing for all of us if we allowed God to work in us, but I was never expecting for the trip to be this life changing. Most of my teammates and I thought that we were prepared to be the light for these children who are starving and have so little. But this experience has been flip-flopped. I was prepared to minister to the people of Nicaragua but instead I am the one who is being ministered to each and every second. Instead of us changing their lives and being a help to them, they have changed my life in a way that I didn’t know was possible.

Yesterday (Sunday) we went to a church in the city of Matagalpa. I was anxious to see how they portray God and worship Him compared to us. Well, after being a part of that church service, I very clearly found out that they worship the same exact God that we do in mostly the same ways - with one exception. The people of Nicaragua worship God in a way that I didn’t even know existed. All of the music was in Spanish, but they were the same songs that we sing at home. Just looking around at the faces of the people here - they have a smile and a certain demeanor about them that can only come from God - it is truly amazing. We danced the whole time in church. I don’t mean just clapping our hands to the beat, but literally jumping and dancing for joy - the joy of the Lord.

These people love people God in ways that I didn’t know was possible. We feel sorry for them and think that they have so little. But in reality they are so rich, rich with the spirit of God. After church we ran a clinic for middle-aged women. This clinic was a challenge from God to us because we had mostly worked with children up to this point. We can play with the kids without having to really communicate with them, but not with the women. Those women were some of the happiest people that I have ever seen, it was great. Sure we played charades for the first couple of minutes but once we played with them it was as if we could communicate with them just fine. Again, this trip has been so life changing for me in ways that I cannot even explain, but each day that I wake up in this beautiful place, I thank the Lord for all he has blessed us with and I say Psalm 118: 24 to myself, “Today is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it”. I really think the people of Nicaragua live by this verse and I think we should too.

Serving Him in Nicaragua: Eagle volleyball on a mission, Day 5

Isaiah 6:8  - “I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me.”

By sophomore outside hitter Rachel Harper

Today was our last day in Matagalpa. First we went to a volleyball clinic where we taught 50 middle school-aged children at their school. Compared to other things we have witnessed here, I would say this was a much more well off area of town. Compared to the USA, it was still a poverty-stricken area; however, these girls were rich in heart with joy and laughter. I could barely teach one group of young ladies because they just couldn’t stop laughing and enjoying our company. After the clinic was over, Lindsey Wells talked to the girls. She told them about the love Jesus has for them, how He is our best friend. She did an amazing job; I am so happy to have her as a teammate. When she finished speaking, it was time for some pictures. While most of us were taking pictures with the girls and laughing with them, God was moving through a young girl’s heart.

This 13-year-old girl spoke with Lindsey about how there aren’t many good best friends here, so her mom had always filled the role of being her best friend. But now, she realized that Jesus is her best friend, and decided to live her life for Him. He is alive and has made that known to us in so many different ways throughout this trip, but the last place I expected to see that was at a middle school volleyball clinic at one of the more well off schools. We have so many clinics at Carson Newman throughout the year that are set up exactly the same way as this one, yet nothing like this had ever happened. I am so thankful that He proved to us that He can truly work on our hearts anywhere and everywhere.

Next we went back to the hotel, packed up our stuff and began the two our journey to Managua. But Judy had one last surprise in store for us in Matagalpa, ice cream from downtown Matagalpa. It was delicious! Once we had our ice cream, we were ready for Managua.

This trip has been life changing for me. I am so thankful that God allowed us to travel here together as a team. He is an astounding God. I have learned so much more about His love and mercy throughout this one week than I have learned in years. Many thanks to all the people who made this possible.

By head volleyball coach Shannon Mincey

Our team has grown in so many areas. Last night we ate at a Pizza Hut and spent our dinner conversation discussing our disbelief of all the things we have seen. I couldn’t be happier as a coach to spend this week with my players. We look forward to coming home and shining for Him on the court. We will have a lot of work to do, but the most important thing is that our hearts have already been at work. Our passion is greater. We desire to make a change on campus. We will desire to Ignite Greatness!