On April 4th, long before it was light, Craig Severtson once again headed for Nicaragua, taking with him Nick Weiland, videographer, and Sandy Jerstad, sponsor of the first ever all women health conference put on by the Lutheran Church in Nicaragua. Once in Nicaragua, we met up with friends of Craig, Bill and Dana Glasscock, former Peace Corps workers in Nicaragua, and Pam Bohl and her 14 year old son Jacob Babb.
Our driver, guide, interpreter, protector and great friend, Sergio picked us up and took us to meet Elena, a woman from the U.S. who has lived in Nicaragua since 1982, teaching, building community, fostering education and strength for women, and owns a hostel-like hotel in a forested, tranquil area of Managua. She meets with the softball girls once a month to help them with their self-image and with lessons of life.
Next was a visit to the Softball Academy, located in a rough part of Managua, where we witnessed a practice session. The temperature inside the faciliity was a steamy 100 degrees, where pitchers and hitters had no problem getting warmed up. Two batting cages were set up with old nets and the baseball-loving men were lured into some batting practice. They were doing pretty well until poor Sergio got hit by a pitch.
Coach Jerstad was asked to speak to the girls, and invited to sit in the dugout during their next scheduled games on Sunday.
On day two we headed for Somotillo after spending the night in Chinandega. After an hour’s drive dodging buses, horse-drawn carts, pedestrians, motorcycles and cars, we arrived in Somotillo and Sergio turned off on a rough narrow road which led to the area hosting the first ever women’s health conference. This conference was planned and put on by Bishop Victoria and Assistant Bishop Katia who had plastic chairs for 100 women, and a large canopy to protect them from the searing sun and 108 degree heat.
The 90 women who came were from the 46 different parishes in the Lutheran Church in Nicaragua, and had heard about this conference from their pastors, some of whom attended the conference. Two female gynocologists from Managua traveled three hours to speak to the women all day about different health issues, from violence towards women to breast exams to birth control. Everyone took a break when a nice lunch was catered in for the participants. These women had never had an exam from a doctor, and knew very little about their own health.
On the second day, the women were given numbers in the order they arrived, and were able to have a full health exam from the female doctors, who set up make-shift exam rooms in the small building on the property. About 60 women participated and received reports on their exams through their parish pastor. During the day speakers and a turntable were trucked in and loud music was played, offering opportunities for Karioke and dancing. The women were incredibly grateful for new knowledge and hoped this would continue.
The following day we headed towards some of the farms that Craig had helped start, observing one with total crop failure, which was very disheartening. A few other farms seemed to be successful, especially since they had an adequate flow of water. We stopped by one of the pastor’s home where we were invited in to share singing and devotions. Everywhere we went people were extremely warm and friendly, and grateful for any help they could get. In another area we stopped by to visit another pastor and were able to give him a beautiful new guitar so he could lead his congregation in singing. His eyes glistened with gratitude and joy.
Back in Managua, we stayed at Elena’s hostel for two nights, enjoying the night breeze, the rocking chairs on the patio, and the yummy food prepared for us morning and night. It was Palm Sunday, and we were invited to go to the Bishop’s church, where Sergio was in charge of the music, drums, guitar and all, and where the Bishop’s husband preached a fine sermon. Our group was invited to come to the front of the church and sing a few songs!
In the afternoon our group headed for the softball game and Coach Jerstad’s opportunity to hang out in the dugout with the girls. She was in heaven! The girls played a double header and won both games. They are the number one softball team in Nicaragua!
On the last day we divided into two groups and five of us headed for Rivas as Bill expertly wove through the usual bus, semi, motorbikes, horse carts, and pedestrians challenging progress on our road. Until he passed a backhoe going 35 and ran into a speed trap. NO ONE PASSES THE BACKHOE! PAY 800 CORDOVAS OR GO BACK WHERE YOU CAME FROM! What can you do?! Nada. Pay up and move on.
In Rivas we met up with Johnys Alvorez, a wonderful man who is in charge of the baseball academy, Working for a Dream. He and his young son drove with us to Lake Nicaragua where we gave away (thanks to Craig) two huge suitcases full of baseball equipment to Efran Gonzales, coach of the Island Omotepe.
Our next stop was to meet Johnys’ guys at their broken down stadium, where he ran them through practie, and where Nick got to hit batting practice. (He could have gone to the pros, really!). The 8 guys showed off their stuff, nailing imaginary runners with precise throws from the outfield, and fielding hard-hit ground balls that blended in with the dead grass and brown dirt and bounced awkwardly on the rocky ground and were still fielded with an ease that took one’s breath away. One of the boys, Nixon Munos, has signed with the Boston Red Sox, and will join them soon. He is about 5’11, 165 lbs, and 17, but a pitcher with a lot of promise!
Craig has provided equipment, money for a coach, and the stabiliity of having someone who cares about these kids and wants to help them realize their dreams. And many do. Craig continues to travel to Nicaragua on a regular basis, bringing resources for young people, the ill, farmers, and others in need. Back in South Dakota, others have joined the mission and are meeting to fund raise and spread the word about sharing what we have to those in need in Nicaragua. Once you have made the trip and met the people, it is impossible to forget them!