by Andy Baker, Nehemiah Center Volunteer
In the first two weeks of November eastern Nicaragua was hit by two consecutive category 4 hurricanes, Eta and Iota. In some areas, waves greater than 10 meters (33 feet) destroyed entire communities, and high winds and flooding caused enormous destruction.
In the aftermath of these unprecedented storms, Steve Holtrop, Nicaragua Country Consultant for Resonate Global Mission asked the question “what gift can we share with the people of eastern Nicaragua?” While numerous organizations were organizing emergency food and clothing deliveries, no one appeared to be addressing mental and spiritual trauma. After contacting several trauma experts, it was learned that the earlier people impacted by trauma can express their trauma, and begin addressing it healthily, the healthier they will be long-term. This led to begin putting the pieces together for a rapid response team to visit the east coast to train a team of local trauma facilitators.
For the past two years the Nehemiah Center along with World Renew has trained pastors and leaders to lead trauma healing groups. World Renew’s Trauma Healing Coordinator, Bethany Alms, who has coordinated dozens of trauma healing groups throughout Nicaragua, worked with the American Bible Society, to put together a training curriculum in both Spanish and a local indigenous language (Miskito). At the same time, the Nehemiah Center began coordinating with Verbo Ministries, a denomination it has worked with for twenty years. Verbo Ministries has congregation in Puerto Cabezas which agreed to host a trauma healing training event, recruit local leaders, and handle the coordination of future events. On December 1st, fifteen days after the second hurricane, a team of eight trauma facilitators from the Nehemiah Center flew on two Missionary Aviation Fellowship flights to Puerto Cabezas.
Over three days they trained 44 leaders from nine churches to lead trauma healing groups in their communities. Many of the participants expressed that while their area has long faced many struggles, everything pales compared to this disaster. Several shared that children have been particularly impacted, with many experiencing panic attacks when it begins to rain. Even though many of the participants were counselors, pastors, and medical professionals, they often expressed how ill-equipped they felt to address mental and spiritual trauma. Many expressed they felt substantially more equipped after the training, with one pastor sharing that they “learned more in these three days than I have in the past three years.”
At the end of the training, 23 of these new facilitators visited 50 families in the village of Karata to hear their stories, share God’s plan for healing, and pray for them. One villager told Pastor Earl Bowie of Verbo Puerto Cabezas that “many people have asked about my home and belongings, but this is the first time I’ve been asked how I feel. For the first time, I was able to talk about my struggles, feel that someone cared, and experience God’s hope.” Over the coming months, we pray that these 44 facilitators can share God’s love and hope with thousands of people who need to hear and experience it.
Commenting on the entire experience, Nehemiah Center volunteer, Andy Baker commented that “one of the joys of this experience has been witnessing the amount of collaboration between organizations and churches. Everyone has been singularly focused on helping the afflicted, and through an enormous amount of collaboration and teamwork eight organizations brought hope to an incredibly dark situation. Because we have partners like Verbo and the San Lucas Foundation in Puerto Cabezas, we are confident that this program will continue offering hope and healing for months to come.”