About a year ago, my daughter went on her first mission trip with a group of teachers, students, and a couple of parents from her high school (yes, she goes to a public high school, but this wasn’t a “school sanctioned event”). The trip was to Managua, Nicaragua. When she came back, she told me, “Dad, it was awesome. You need to go.”
Well, on the evening of Friday, February 12, along with a group of adults and teenagers, I boarded a Delta Airlines flight from Atlanta to Managua, Nicaragua for one of the most life changing events I have ever experienced.
This trip was successful through the efforts of Jeff Flavin and Kelli Williams, two outstanding Christian leaders, teachers, and (I am honored to now call) friends. I was also blessed to get to know Jerry Parrish, Wayne Bishop, Rodney Martin, Melonie Flavin, and a host of awesome teenagers who came on the trip. Our group stayed at a missionary “compound” run by the Buzbee family. Michael Buzbee, his wife Sue, and their children have lived in Nicaragua for some 20 years. Their home is on a five-plus acre plot of land on the outskirts of Managua. This compound (and it really is a compound) is surrounded by a 15 foot high metal wall, with on-site (armed) security guards, a couple of guard dogs (and one old dog who is such a sweetie he only barks at the doves), an on-site deep water well, and a full-time cook who makes the most excellent food!
In my 10 plus years in the U.S. Army, with travel to over 15 foreign countries (including a combat tour in the Middle East), I can honestly say that I never felt more at ease and safe than I did during the week we spent with the Buzbee’s. Their facility feels more like a resort than a missionary complex in Nicaragua. Of course it didn’t hurt that we had an active duty Georgia State Patrol officer, a former Georgia State Patrol Officer, and a professional airline pilot (along with me) to complement our “sheepdog” cohort. Clearly, the dads on this trip were all Type A personalities who had a strong focus on safety. But that aside, Michael and Sue Buzbee run a first class operation, with the upmost emphasis on the comfort, safety, and security of the missionary groups that they host.
Our week in Nicaragua was spent primarily at the Buzbee’s off-site location, Ruby Ranch. This 200+ acre property in the countryside of Nicaragua is in a very rural, impoverished area. But the local families, in particular the children, are some of the most gracious, excellent people I have had the pleasure of getting to know. Our group spent several days working at Ruby Ranch on various projects, including rebuilding and painting the main entrance gate, planting flowers, and cleaning and painting the ranch’s only house. We also spent several afternoons’ ministering to a group of local school kids. We spend one afternoon simply playing with kids, riding bikes, playing soccer, and having fun on the ranch’s waterslide. As Wayne remarked, this must have been like “Six Flags” for these Nicaraguan children. Several of them told our group it was the most fun they had ever had (and that was just the first day!). The other highlights of the trip were when we took the group of local kids to a movie–most, if not all, of them had never even been to a movie before—and to the Managua Zoo. To see the wonder and amazement on the children’s faces when they saw their first movie or first zoo visit was pure joy. I harkened back to the first time my own daughter saw her first movie, “Monsters, Inc.”, when she declared, “Daddy, it’s like big TV.”
Perhaps the most impactful events were the evening we spent on top of the “mountain” (really a big hill”) at Ruby Ranch watching the sunset, watching the stars come out, and talking about the wonder of God’s awesome creation. And second was the morning we spent in deep and impactful prayer at Ruby’s House—the home of Ruby Temple (who went home to the Lord a few years ago).
Overall, this mission trip was a tremendous blessing to me. I went into this expecting that our group would impact some local families and children in the countryside outside Managua, but instead I found that I was more impacted personally and spiritually than I ever expected. I suppose this is how God often works in our lives. We go into some situations expecting one thing, and instead we find that He actually has plans for us that we never anticipated.
“Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand” (Proverbs 19:21 ESV).