Villagrana family travels to Nicaragua on mission trip

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In today’s economy, most Americans have found themselves struggling to make ends meet. Jobs are hard to come by, the cost of food, gas, and daily necessities have risen, the housing market has had some major ups and downs, and morale is low. Through all this, we Americans sometimes focus on our own troubles and forget about those who are less fortunate, even more so than we are. However, there are those people and organizations who haven’t forgotten and continue to make it their mission to help those at home and abroad. Pastor Hugo Villagrana and his family, the Westboro United Methodist Church, and The Rainbow Network are some of those people and organizations.

This past August, Pastor Hugo, his wife Norma, and their two children, Mariana and Luis traveled to Nicaragua in Central America to help those in need, particularly, to help them build new housing. Sponsored by the Westboro United Methodist Church and traveling with The Rainbow Network, the Villagranas came face-to-face with the hardships that some people deal with every hour of every day.

Pastor Hugo said that he’s always been one of those people who felt that sending money to those in need around the world was more beneficial than spending that amount of money to actually travel to the country itself to help. However, most of the time, people enjoy seeing people. Visitors and missionaries represent hope and a better future. They see that others care for them and that their current living conditions can be improved. The Villagranas joined up with a group from Missouri traveling with The Rainbow Network and headed to Nicaragua, one of the poorest countries in Central America. The Rainbow Network has been involved in rural Nicaragua for more than 20 years, serving in more than 105 villages in rural Nicaragua. Pastor Hugo has worked with the organization before in some ministries and looked forward to having the opportunity to join them again.

For one week, the group from Missouri used their muscles to build homes using concrete blocks. First off, however, the group toured the current living conditions of the people they were going to help. Most are living in rundown shacks, thrown together using pieces of wood and tin. Though most of the shacks did have electricity and running water, they did not have indoor plumping. Most used hot plates as their stoves and there were no refrigerators or microwaves. Their kitchens doubled as rooms and rooms were separated with blankets, if there were more than one room. Some shacks were so small that not every member of the group could even fit inside.

Pastor Hugo said they started off with introductions on a chilly, rainy day. He remarked that though they (the unknown people) crowded into these homes dripping wet and most being unable to fully communicate (a translator was present to help), the occupants were extremely welcoming. The amount of hope and thanks coming from these people was overwhelming. These Nicaragua residents have lived through such hardships most of their lives, yet they have more hope and faith than most of us who have a lot to be thankful for. The group learned that most of these people do not have jobs that they go to every day, though some do work in factories. Instead, they sell goods and provide services to make a living, whether it be selling pottery or jewelry or shining shoes in the city (they have to travel there as their homes were in the hills), or converting a small shack into a grocery/conven-ience store. While there, the group did get to see the children learning in a classroom environment and they were also able to sit in on a doctor visit/clinic day, where all of the villagers come to be healed for whatever ails them. These doctor’s visits are comparable to the mission trips some local Atchison County residents have been on, such as Doctor Carpenter and his helpers. The group was also able to witness The Rainbow Network representative distributing funds to the villagers, funds provided by donations. These funds went to extremely grateful people and Pastor Hugo said it was so humbling to see their reactions to getting just a small stipend to help them make ends meet and put food on the table. 

While constructing these concrete-block homes, ones that would provide a more leak-free, draft-free environment, the group began to connect with the villagers on a personal and, for the Villagranas, a spiritual level. The villagers were eager to share their faith and hope with the group, which Pastor Hugo said never seemed to waver. Hugo and his wife Norma, both pastors, were able to share their thoughts and faith and make wonderful connections. 

The Villagranas also had a very special visit from a Nicaragua resident who they had helped in previous years and who is now living only three hours away from where they were based. The Rainbow Network brought  the young woman to the United States many years ago for eye surgery and the Villagranas provided housing for her and her cousin. During her stay in the United States, the woman, about 15 years old at the time, couldn’t believe that she was provided an actual bed to sleep on (something she had never had) and was amazed that they had fresh milk and plenty of food in their home. Norma and Hugo wanted to make her a part of their family, and when they were unable to do that, Hugo said he was absolutely heartbroken and was so worried about what fate awaited her living in Nicaragua, especially being sight-impaired and with little to no support from others. Fast forward to this visit in 2013 and the young woman is now happily married, has a nice job, and is a true success story in what is a hard-to-come-by-success country. Hugo said that even today, he, a pastor, is reminded that God has a plan for everyone and even those working most closely with the almighty may not see or understand God’s plans, but what is meant to be will be.

While in Nicaragua, the group members toured the city and area sights, including a volcano. While in the city, the members saw people selling their wares and shining shoes and better understood what they go through to earn money. Hugo said that many times, those selling items in the city must bring their young children with them, so not only are the people trying to sell their items, but also care for their children at the same time. 

Also in the city, the group saw several PETs (Personal Energy Transportation). These vehicles consist of three tires, a platform, a seat, and handlebars in which the rider can crank in order to get the vehicle to move. These forms of transportation are used by people who have no legs or are unable to use their legs. Members of the Westboro United Methodist Church and residents of Northboro, IA, have been making these for years and during the trip, the Villagranas actually saw one that the Westboro and Northboro residents made. This was another wonderful reminder that even small acts of kindness from smalltown USA can have a big impact in making a stranger’s life easier thousands of miles away.

In the end, the Villagranas helped to build a few sturdy houses. Hugo said the trip was amazing. The young group members enjoyed working with the adults as a team, feeling that they, too, are very useful in helping others. The trip was full of experiences, laughs, hard work, fellowship, prayer and worship. All participants (visitors and locals) enjoyed it very much. He’s so glad that he and his family could take part in this special project. He also said they all learned valuable lessons about the strength and perseverance of the faith of others. 

The United Methodist churches of Westboro and Tarkio are now committed to support housing projects in 2014. A number of community activities are planned to raise funds for the cause. One of the activities is the Fall Flying Roll Feast that the Tarkio church will soon host and the other is a 5K planned for the spring of 2014. A mission team is being formed and preparing to travel next year and the churches would like to extend an invitation to anyone interested in joining this special ministry. The churches encourage everyone to get involved in helping others both at home and abroad. For more information on how to get involved, contact Hugo at 660-736-4602 or 816-351-4195 or visit The Rainbow Network’s website at or call 417-889-8088.

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