August 26, 2015

Teaching Cross Cultural Exploration

This week I (Cassie) will begin a semester long course, Cross Cultural Exploration, through Dordt College’s Study Abroad Program in Nicaragua.  I am looking forward to working with students from my alma mater.  I am also excited to facilitate conversations about themes such as the role of culture in society, our identities and privilege and building our intercultural skills as we develop as global citizens, which are all such interesting and important topics.  I have been working on the syllabus for the last two months, spending many long days on it, but yesterday it went to the print shop and I will not be able to make any more tweaks or changes (Kevin is excited, but I wonder if there is more I could do).  I will give you an update mid-semester with how things are going, but for now I wanted to leave you with a poem by Julio Cortázar that I included in the syllabus.  Enjoy!

Photo Jun 03, 4 41 29 PM














Notice to Travelers

If everything is heart and easy-going and faces shine with noonday light,

if, in a forest of arms, children are playing, and life has captured every street,

You aren’t in Asunción or Buenos Aires, you haven’t arrived at the wrong airport,

your journey’s end is not called Santiago, its name is not Montevideo.

The wind of freedom was your pilot and the people’s compass marked your North;

how many extended hands await you, how many women, how many children and men

Finally building the future together, finally transfigured into themselves,

while the long night of infamy is lost in the neglect of forgetfulness.

You saw it from the air; this is Managua, erect among ruins, beautiful in its wasteland,

poor, like the arms it fought with, rich, like the blood of its children.

You see, traveler, this is your open door; the whole country is an enormous house.

No, you didn’t mistake the airport: come right in; you’re in Nicaragua.

-Julio Cortázar

Photo Jun 03, 4 42 17 PM

August 19, 2015

An End…

On October 11th, 2005 a young girl and young man met and stayed up late talking to one another about their hopes and dreams for the future. She was studying social work and was enthused to change the world (which now makes us smirk) after having recently returned from a year of work in South Africa. He was studying theology and was filled with idyllic hope for a future free of despair and misery without a concrete plan. That night they discovered that both wanted to venture off somewhere, to work abroad, see the world and throw caution to the wind. Soon Cassie and Kevin were married, they worked awhile, bettered themselves through further education and experience in the daily workforce and sought to set off on their little adventure.

In 2010 Cassie and I began to research various organizations that would provide us an opportunity to live and work abroad and also use the talents and gifts we felt called to put into practice. After having called, emailed, researched and networked with some 100 different organizations (this should come to no surprise for those of you who know Cassie well, all the information we had was also neatly placed into an Excel spreadsheet) we decided to contact the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC). No we were not Mennonites, and our parents were not Amish, and yes we do wear at least somewhat “normal” clothes, and no we do not use a horse and buggy.

The initial conversations that we had with MCC staff in Pennsylvania feel like they happened a lot longer than 5 years ago.  However we continue to be thankful for the ways in which the ladies we spoke to welcomed us into the MCC family and helped prepare us for our work. After having almost decided to leave for Afghanistan on our first assignment, MCC called us and told us that they had a position that fit both of us perfectly in the country of Nicaragua. The challenges were great as there was language to be learned, customs to become adjusted to and a culture to learn about, in the hope of living in solidarity with the people here in Nicaragua.

Not all of our dreams have been met, not all of our goals have been reached. We have failed in various ways, culturally, idiomatically and relationally. However, we are thankful for the opportunity given to us, look forward to partnering with MCC in the future and are hoping to soak up the time that we still have working here in Nicaragua. As we look forward to our time in Nicaragua, we are creating a sort of bucket list, if you will, to focus our time in the things that are most important for us here in Nicaragua. Here are a few of the things that have made it on the list:

  • to sit on plastic chairs on Friday and Saturday nights on our dirt road talking with our neighbors.
  • to take in various cultural events in Nicaragua; including our involvement in civil and religious holidays, sporting events and the daily life of Nicaragua.
  • to assist, work alongside and learn from a wonderful woman, great theologian, excellent teacher, dear boss and seminary dean Yeni Bolufer.
  • continue to teach and facilitate important conversations in the various classrooms that we have been given the opportunity to lead.
  • to invest even more time and energy into the kids and adults in our community that we already have a relationship with.
  • to celebrate as many birthdays as we are invited to and attempt to always be the one who breaks open the piñata (and upon doing so, not having any fear in knocking over in well-aged individuals in the hunt for candy).
  • to receive into our home our wonderful children through adoption.
  • to eat and enjoy all comida Nicaraguense!
  • to fully train and pass on all our materials/resources and supplies to the three Nicaraguans who will continue teaching our courses at the seminary next year.
  • to entertain and introduce our lives and experience to anyone else who may want to come down and visit us (clears throat and mumbles - Gordon and Connie).
  • to go to the beach at least once a month each month this year (the midwest is oh so far from the beautiful ocean that is currently in our backyard (comparatively speaking of course).

August 10, 2015

Our Adoption in Photos

Photo Mar 29, 8 23 55 AMPhoto Mar 29, 1 54 07 PMPhoto Mar 29, 8 28 11 AMPhoto Mar 29, 8 30 16 AMPhoto Mar 29, 1 53 31 PMPhoto Mar 29, 6 15 46 PMPhoto Mar 29, 2 10 33 PMPhoto Mar 29, 7 39 04 AMPhoto Mar 29, 8 15 42 AMPhoto Mar 29, 7 38 07 AMPhoto Mar 29, 2 26 09 PMPhoto Mar 29, 8 17 00 AM Photo Mar 29, 8 19 47 AMPhoto Mar 29, 2 27 19 PMPhoto Mar 29, 2 28 22 PM   Photo Mar 29, 7 59 40 AMPhoto Mar 29, 8 24 40 AMPhoto Mar 29, 8 02 05 AM Photo Mar 29, 8 06 16 AMPhoto Mar 29, 2 21 56 PMPhoto Mar 29, 8 07 03 AM Photo Mar 29, 8 08 02 AMPhoto Mar 29, 11 14 24 PM Photo Mar 29, 8 10 35 AMPhoto Mar 29, 8 11 36 AMPhoto Mar 29, 8 27 18 AMPhoto Apr 05, 11 31 08 PMPhoto Mar 29, 8 25 07 AM

We cannot wait to “finish off” this post with pictures of our future kiddos.  Until then, we wait patiently, trust the right timing and pray that our little one’s are safe and sound.

August 3, 2015

Quinceañera in Greytown

We headed out from Managua in the dark, around 7:30 pm on a Wednesday night.  Our plans were to leave at 1:00 pm that day, but with organizing the departure of seventeen people which was all overseen by our previous host mother Maria, who is known for her tardiness, we left a bit after we had planned.  The seventeen of us piled into two trucks, we were full both inside and in the back, and headed down the road.  The 400 km (approximately 240 mile) drive took us across the majority of Nicaragua.  One would expect that this distance would take us 3 hours, maybe 4 to stop for bathroom breaks and eating, but we arrived after 17 hours.  The road just outside of Managua is in very good condition, but after only a couple of hours it deteriorates into what most would only call a cow path.  We also had some issues with a tire on the truck and there were some roadblocks of concerned citizens protesting the public transportation system.  We finally arrived the next day around noon.


We were greeted by Maria's extended family, her mother and father, her brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews.  It was a beautiful reunion of people who dearly love one another, but do not get to visit very often.  Her family served us a warm plate of food, including the recently cooked up "chancho" (thats Nica slang for pig) that was killed in preparation for our arrival.



The next two days were filled with quinceañera preparations.  This was only our third quinceañera that we have attended in the last four years and each have been very unique and distinct.  The party is a celebration of one's womanhood, of leaving one's childhood and entering the next stage of life.  From what we have experienced, families invest more money and resources in their daughter's quinceañera's than they do in their weddings.  For this party alone, a cow and several pigs were killed, which is a large financial sacrifice.  It is a big deal for family, friends and community members.


Saturday, the day of the party, finally arrived.  We headed out early in the morning to drive an hour to where the party would be held.  I (Cassie) was asked to take photos, so I started taking pictures of all of the preparation and Kevin was quickly whisked into the kitchen to help.  He and five other ladies prepared a delicious array of food, from pork and vegetable kabobs to steak with jalapeño sauce to chicken fried rice to beet and potato salad to plantains.  Keep in mind that all of this was cooked over firewood.  Over four-hundred people left very satisfied.

But first, before the eating and partying, everyone trekked up a couple of kilometers to the Mennonite Church that sat on the hill of the town.  There, a service was held to honor the quinceañera, there were many songs and a message.  I continued to take photos and tried to keep myself from fainting in the small church, filled with four hundred people and little to no air movement.  A mariachi band performed, people could give their "palabras" or words to the quinceañera and when it was finished we all walked down the muddy hill back to her home.


The rest of the afternoon was filled with photos, food, cake, rain, mud, dancing, gifts and laughter.  We spent another day recovering with family before we started off on the long-journey to Managua.  Our ride back was much less delayed, we only left a half hour after we had planned, there were no vehicle problems and we arrived back to Managua in twelve hours.



These are the days that I will miss here in Nicaragua.  I am so grateful that we have been welcomed in as family by so many who are very dear to us.  We have been able to witness and experience such beautiful events such as this quinceañera.  Life is so full!