In May 2011, 24 Foursquare leaders will graduate from a Foursquare Bible institute in the northern region of Nicaragua. These will be the first formally trained leaders raised up through a unique partnership of a local Foursquare church in the U.S. and Foursquare Nicaragua in the north. And it’s been a long time coming. Twelve years to be exact.
The story begins over a decade ago when people from Grace Covenant (Cornelius Foursquare Church) in Cornelius, N.C., were introduced to the country of Nicaragua during a short-term missions trip. Jeff Lamont, senior pastor of New Song Louisville (Louisville 2 Foursquare Church) in Kentucky, was their host for the first trip, and he worked primarily in the southern region of the country. Grace Covenant hoped to establish relationships in the north, and this first trip launched what has become a very successful partnership.
“We began our ministry in northern Nicaragua by listening to the vision of the district supervisor, Pastor Ruben Amador,” Grace Covenant Missions Pastor Michelle Hoverson tells foursquare.org. “We asked a lot of questions.”
Michelle says the teams sought the input of then-regional coordinator Serafin Contreras, who now serves as Foursquare Missions International’s area missionary to southern South America. Together, they formed a long-term strategic partnership. They worked diligently to match the varied gifts and abilities of people at Grace Covenant with the needs in northern Nicaragua.
Four years ago, the church committed to send two teams each year to help fulfill the plan.
“We wanted to develop a deep sense of trust in the relationship with the northern Nicaraguan pastors, and we knew serving once a year was limiting,” Michelle says.
During the last 10 years, almost 500 people have joined the partnership, serving on 16 ministry teams from Grace Covenant. Teams have included people from other churches in North Carolina and Virginia, as well.
Volunteers from the Cornelius congregation and Nicaraguan believers share responsibility for erecting church buildings in communities where healthy leaders are in place to grow healthy churches. Medical clinics help communicate that the local Foursquare churches care about people.
The plan calls for formal and informal education of ministry leaders, and the training includes an emphasis on effective children’s ministries in every church, helping to reach the next generation.
Michelle says that every Grace Covenant team supports one or more of these purposes during their trips to northern Nicaragua. Here’s how they make it happen:
“When we build a church, it is in complete partnership with the local congregation and even other Foursquare churches in the vicinity,” Michelle asserts. “We will only build alongside the congregation members.”
Grace Covenant will sometimes help the Nicaraguan congregation purchase property and, in other cases, they provide funds to help lay the foundation for the building. Often, they help construct a portion of a new church building or an addition to an existing building. In all, building a new church from the ground up in northern Nicaragua takes about one year, at an approximate cost of $10,000.
The plan is about more than building structures. It also includes building people through marriage, youth, men’s and women’s conferences, at the request of the district supervisor. Teams from Cornelius are preparing for their second Nicaraguan men’s conference in 2011 and expect over 200 men from the region to attend.
Leadership training is a fundamental value for Grace Covenant Senior Pastor Farrell Lemmings, and he has thoroughly instilled this value in the teams that travel to northern Nicaragua.
About four years ago, it became evident to the teams that pastor’s conferences alone were not accomplishing the goal of ensuring fully educated leaders. The nearest theological training in the country is in Managua, and the eight-hour travel time to get there ruled out most of these bi-vocational pastors from regularly attending classes.
“That’s when we began our discussions about establishing a Foursquare Bible institute in a central area of the northern region,” Michelle says. “It’s because of Pastor Farrell’s focus on training leaders that our Nicaragua teams recognized the need for a Bible institute there.”
With the availability of an institute manual already developed in Spanish by Central American Foursquare leaders, much of the groundwork was already completed.
Students pay tuition to attend classes, and this tuition covers the cost of their textbooks. People from Grace Covenant and other churches sponsor individual students for $40 a month to cover additional costs of the training.
The plan is working. The first class of 24 will graduate in May 2011, and additional classes are following right behind them.
Grace Covenant sends medical and dental teams into a variety of places, from towns to remote mountain locations. They partner with Nicaraguan doctors and dentists, whom they bless with love offerings for the time they give to the people. Teams purchase medical supplies and medicine, and also receive donations from outside sources to bring with them.
Local Nicaraguan church members always serve in the clinics and help pray for people. Before seeing a doctor or dentist, small groups of people gather, and teams use either the Evangacube or faith bracelets to share the gospel with them.
Every patient is touched and prayed for by a local believer. When patients leave, someone gives them a toothbrush or other small gift as a reminder that the local Nicaraguan church helped sponsor the clinic.
On a recent trip, Michelle says they traveled to a location where people had not seen a doctor for many years. A 17-year-old man rode up to the clinic on horseback, having ridden for two hours to get there. He had a large tumor on his shoulder. As the team talked with the man, they discovered that he had never heard the name Jesus Christ before.
They used a faith bracelet, with different colored beads that help explain the plan of salvation, to help him understand the love of Jesus Christ. He happily received Christ as Savior, and he said, “I must tell my friends this wonderful story.”
Michelle says, “We were so excited about him coming to salvation, we almost forgot to pray for his healing!”
Every Nicaraguan Foursquare church is encouraged to establish a strong ministry to children. To help in this process, Grace Covenant offers training and modeling for conducting an annual vacation Bible school (VBS). It’s a three-year plan to help a church or a region fully adopt the process of ministering to children.
During year one, a team from Grace Covenant plans the VBS and provides the necessary resources, while the local team in Nicaragua hosts the VBS. Teams fully share responsibility for planning and running the VBS during year two. At the end of year two, the team from Grace Covenant leaves resources for the following year.
By year three, local leaders are ready to host the entire VBS without any outside assistance. The Grace Covenant team that once showed up to help now moves on to another church and begins the process all over again.
Some of the children’s leaders who previously have received help from a Grace Covenant team now join them in other cities, helping other Nicaraguan churches learn how to reach the next generation.
“It’s their version of a missions trip,” Michelle says.
Ten years ago, none of the Foursquare churches in northern Nicaragua had separate children’s ministry programs. Now almost all do, and 16 of the children’s ministry leaders have graduated from a children’s ministry certification program. They have such good response that many now want additions built on their church buildings to handle the increase in children.
“We are so proud of how hard the Nicaraguan leaders have worked to achieve the vision for building this future generation,” Michelle says.
Friendships and Partnerships
Teams from Grace Covenant view their partnership with Nicaragua a bit differently than other short-term missions teams who help with one project and then go home. These teams have become friends with the people in Nicaragua.
“It’s not just a place we go,” says Michelle. “These are our friends. We go to support our friends as they reach people for Jesus Christ.”
Recently, one of the Grace Covenant teams noticed that Fidel Gonzales, a Nicaraguan pastor, spent almost six hours each week walking and then riding a bus in order to attend classes at the Bible institute. When team members talked with Pastor Gonzales about the situation, he shared how a mule would save him travel time down the mountain and would be low maintenance—no gas required.
“The team bought their friend a mule,” shares Michelle.
And it’s this kind of trust among friends that makes it all work.