I was 12 years old the first time my parents took me to Nicaragua, and even at such a young age, I could see, smell, and even sense the scars a revolution and fourteen years under communist reign had left behind. Ignorant to the political, economic, and social reasons to why there were barefooted children begging on the streets, I grabbed a handful of apples sitting in the back of our SUV and began handing them out. With grateful hearts and humble expressions, those barefooted children devoured the apples. It was at that moment that I learned what it meant to be poor in spirit.

Fifteen years and many trips to Nicaragua later, I find myself living in my comfortable home where even my cars and clothes have little homes we refer to as garages and walk in closets. I have a lucrative job, a dog who has his own bed, blanket and toys, and my most recent and greatest concern/worry was what color to paint my kitchen. Yup, I’m living the American dream. Now, before you exit the browser because you think I’m about to suggest we all sell everything, move to a third world country, and pass out apples, just hang with me a little bit longer. See, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with our cars, dogs, and great kitchen colors. But Matthew 5:3 says that “blessed are the poor in spirit and that heaven is theirs”. So what does it mean to be poor in spirit? Can you have it all and be “poor in spirit”? Can you have nothing and yet NOT be “poor in spirit”? Those are the questions Mark challenged me with all last week while in Nicaragua with Bridges of Hope . Although I saw it in the eyes of barefooted children fifteen years ago, life happened and I have since lost sight of it. This past week served as a reminder of what it means to be poor in spirit. I saw it in the eyes of an 80 year old woman who got a new home, a 6 year old girl who was sold as a sex slave by her mother for $7.20, an orphan abused and abandoned by his parents, and children living in a dump (literally) but playing and learning cheerfully….at school!

Starting today, I’ll be sharing more about our trip, the projects, and the stories of those we met. The images below are the reality of what is taking place in Nicaragua and the tremendous needs the people there have. This past week wasn’t about me or my photography business, it was about serving people in desperate need, loving the unlovable, and instilling a sense of hope in the hearts and minds of the hopeless. It was an honor for Mark and I to dedicate a week to such great causes and we’re determined that it won’t be the last time.

MONDAY – March 1, 2010

Bridges of Hope doesn’t re-create the wheel, they partner with local grassroots organizations in each country and support their work and their causes. So we got an early start this day and ventured out to one of the poorest and most dangerous neighborhoods in Managua called San Judas (St.Jude). We met up with 9 local college students who volunteer with Un Techo Para Mi Pais (A Roof For My Country), an amazing organization that builds homes for slum residents who live in extreme poverty. In this case, BOH collected enough funds to sponsor the construction of a home for an incredible 80 year old woman named Alba. Oh Albita, we fell in love with her instantly! Her faith in God put mine to shame, her gratefulness and sincerity inspired me, and her excitement over a home the size of the shed in my backyard humbled me. Her silver hair and wrinkled sweet face are a reflection of a hard but content life. This 80 year old lady bore 13 children, buried 4 of them, and has 22 grandchildren. More on Albita on Thursday, so stay tuned.

We quickly got to work with the direction of the college students who definitely knew what they were doing! There were no power tools or fancy equipment, just some shovels, nails, hammers, hand saws, and elbow grease! In fact, you’ll notice a clear hose with water in it used to determine all 15 stilts were leveled with each other! I was amazed at the process and how hard everyone worked, including Mark. The cost to build a home like this is $1,500. If you’re interested in sponsoring an entire a home or making a smaller donation towards one, shoot me an email. Stay tuned for the final product and the home dedication on Thursday.

While Mark and the crew were hard at work building Albita a new home, the rest of the team was putting together an eye clinic for people in the community who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford reading glasses. It was heart warming to see adults who haven’t been able to read in years put glasses on for the first time and be able to read! Their reactions were priceless and their gratitude endless. This was also an opportunity to tell them about a God who loves them. A $25 donation will purchase 25 pairs of eyeglasses. Once again, if it’s something you’re interested in, email Janet Michel at janet@bridgesofhopeinternational.org