Home for the Holidays

There’s no place like home for the holidays has a whole new meaning when I visit with my brother Mark about his recent trip to Nicaragua. He’s been there four times, not as a tourist, but as part of a mission team from my uncle’s church in Florida that goes to build houses and offer eye care to people in need.
     I admire Mark for giving up work time, fundraising for supplies, overcoming language barriers, and spending his time and talents to give these people a home.  Not a fancy home, mind you, a cinder block cubicle much like a tool shed that many of us would have out back. But the recipients of these homes are incredibly grateful. I know, because they write Mark these beautiful love letters, in Spanish, of course, and I get the pleasure of translating their heartfelt notes.

Today, a Q & A with my brother, the builder.

What made you want to go to Nicaragua the first time?

My Uncle Roger and Aunt Karen had been going down there for years, continually talking about how much I would love it and kept inviting me to come along on their next mission trip.  Given my sense of adventure, love of travel and desire to help others, I made the decision to join them.

What made you want to go back?

Francisco's kitchen
A number of things: an unquenchable sense of adventure, seeing joy and thankfulness on the faces of the families we help, the opportunity to do an honest day’s work filled with physical labor, the camaraderie with other trip participants and the chance to serve others in a tangible, concrete way. We get to spend a week working in a refugee camp/village/slum, building 13’ x 20’ cement block homes for people who live in an area where residents make an average of $3-$5 per day and who otherwise couldn’t afford the $3000 homes we build. We replace homes made of whatever materials were on hand at the time they built the structure – usually plastic, tree limbs, rusted tin and cardboard. To be able to build a structure within a week and leave them with a dry, secure home is fulfilling and to see firsthand how it improves their daily lives and general outlook is humbling and heartwarming.

What do you have to give up to make this happen?

A week or so of vacation time and approximately $1500 - $2000 of my own money for the trip and ancillary expenses; the comfort of my own bed instead of the one at the musty hotel where we stay; the ability to converse freely in this country versus the challenge of working side by side with Nicaraguans who don’t speak my language.

What do you get in return?

Much more than I give up, that’s for sure.  I get to travel to a tropical climate (leaving chilly Wisconsin in November or March is a huge plus), make new friends and reconnect with existing ones, mentor Nicaraguan children who rarely get to spend time with adult males, live out my Christian faith and see the fruits of my labor in the form of a completed house.

What would you say to someone who’s contemplating this sort of service?

To borrow the slogan from Nike’s oft-quoted campaign, “Just do it!” For years I was the guy who sat on the sidelines, giving money instead of time and while there is nothing wrong with that approach, you’ll be more fulfilled if you take the time to get your hands dirty and have a more tangible role in the outcome.  Being part of the mission field by taking a trip like this will allow you to reset your compass by showing you how others live abundantly with so little while we complain yet have so much. Those “all-important” issues (like traffic congestion on the way to work when you’re already late for a stupid meeting, not getting enough sleep because your baby was crying all night, getting a B + when you expected an A, having a husband/wife who travels for work and is gone a lot, losing $100K of your home’s value in the past five years, not getting that Lexus for Christmas that you see in all those darn commercials, being passed over for a promotion - again, watching someone else get the latest insert gadget name here while you still have a previous year’s model, eating leftovers for the third night in a row, watching your child not make the select soccer team this year and dealing with mean kids at their school) become trivial when see how others struggle to find something to eat and to stay dry and secure EVERY DAY of their lives. Make the leap, take the trip. Trust me on this one…

***A reflection from Mark to those who supported his trip with donations and prayers:  As you look through the pictures to see what your donations and prayers accomplished, they tell a limited story; what they will not allow you to do is to hear the laughter of the children, the sound of Francisco’s machete chopping down trees on the side of his new home (you have to view the photos to find out why he did that), the barking of dogs and blaring of music, the singing and praising of the congregation during the closing ceremony, the Lord’s prayer spoken in English and Spanish during the blessing of the houses, their silent tears of gratification falling to the ground. You aren’t able to note the constant smell of smoke from the fires that cook their meals and burn their garbage, you can’t feel the humidity that swells with every rainfall, you can’t taste how refreshing the cold Tona is after a long day’s work, you can’t feel the camaraderie that grows among our group throughout the week, and you can’t know the joy and glimmer of hope we bring to that village and how grateful they are for the blessings we share with them that week. 

Perhaps this is why he's suggesting Just Do It!


  1. Good Morning!

    I was freaking out because this post didn't show up on my Blog Roll... It got later and later... No Barbara!

    HERE YOU ARE! Phew!

    Wonderful post. Your brother sounds like an amazing person!

    I saw this link and thought of you... sounded like wonderful books you would enjoy:


    Merry Merry!

    Finding JOY in 6th Grade

  2. Oh, Kim - thanks for the lead on the books, they look super! Yep, you caught me - I forgot to change the time on the post to 6 am and today's entry was L.A.T.E . . . .but worth the wait!!!

  3. Great story!! Service is such a blessing to all involved - and life changing for both the server and the recipient! Thanks for sharing :)

  4. Hi Barb! I've been enjoying your blog so much I just HAD to pass along another little award:

    The Liebster Blog award! It's being given to up-and-coming blogs. Have a GREAT day!

    Grade ONEderful

  5. Kim and Barbara -- thanks for checking out the two books I reviewed today! They are really fun!

    Up for tomorrow is a blog post entitled "Numbers and Letters." Another fun pair of books!

    Barbara, hats off to your brother for living a life of service in such a big way!


I really enjoy hearing from my readers; thanks for sharing your reflections with us!

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