Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Sorry. This Blog Has No Pictures or Any Mentions of Surfing and Jungle Adventures...

Here we are, well into year two of living in Nicaragua. Erinn and I are both teaching at NCA, we have a bunch of FCA stuff happening, and we're already in the planning stages for summer teams. So why do we feel like we're in a huge rut right now?

I'm not one to usually unload baggage on this blog, but I need an outlet and maybe people need to know that it's not all beaches and 50k rainforest trail races for us here. You see, God made pretty much all of us Izzos as pretty optimistic, easy-going people. We look usually look at the bright side and just sort of roll with whatever life sends our way. But that's been tough lately. The thing that is even more frustrating is that the causes of this heavy burden on our shoulders is something so cliche and predictable, yet mostly out of our current control. That source of stress is, of course, financial issues of various sorts.

Trying to do a job that is paid through donations is a humbling experience. Being raised in the US, we are taught the desire and will for independence. Our culture values self-sufficiency and the ascent through whatever structural ladder one's career can allow them to climb. Completely at odds with these cultural ideals is what we are taught as Christians and as missionaries - that giving is better than receiving, and that asking for financial support is not asking for a handout, but allowing people to take part in mission work in a way that they might be most able.

Of course, we are very thankful for the extremely generous supporters that we already have. The way the fundraising experience has allowed us to reconnect with people that we haven't communicated with in decades, and hear their stories, has been amazing. I have personally been extremely encouraged by experiences like my reconnections with high school friends that now live for the Lord and found the value in what is being done here in Nicaragua.

The hardest part of this is that Erinn is doing her best to supplement our funds, and comes home from school after teaching each day to freelance writing and tech work that not only keeps her up until midnight, but she usually works through her weekends as well. Of course, I can't help but feel guilty about going to the track to do outreach ministry or any other activity that isn't bringing in any income to help. It's a tough situation that we hoped would have eased up with the incoming of support by now. 

Unfortunately, we have not gained enough support at this time to take any sort of edge off of our living expenses, let alone fund FCA projects that we have begun planning for that need money in order to happen.

With plans to partner in a soccer league in Granada, create a boys baseball outreach here in Managua, start a surf huddle for teens who wouldn't otherwise be able to go, etc., the FCA ideas and planning are plenty, but the time constraints from teaching/planning/grading, and the financial constraints, in that money is needed to make many ministry ideas actually happen, is impeding the process. While I fully believe in what we are doing and still believe we made the right choice, the whole situation has allowed thoughts of regret and doubt to creep into my head and taunt me from time to time.

The fact is, when we sent out emails and wrote a blog about possibly staying in Nicaragua, about six months ago, many people contacted us and said they would certainly be willing to financially support this ministry. We realize that situations change, and understood that we couldn't expect all of that to come through. If it had been close, we would have had a nice jump start at about 25% of our budget. Right now, after seeking support for about 6 months, we are being supported at about 12% of budget, and pray that by the summertime, we can be closer to having the whole budget supported.

Of course, I didn't write this to try to guilt anyone into giving money to FCA Nicaragua. We only want people to give if they believe in what God can do through our teaching and doing sports ministry here. I wrote this because we're having a tough time and I just needed to communicate the struggle. While Facebook, the newsletter, and (up until now) this blog pretty much showing the positive, fun, beautiful side of life here, it is by no means stress free. 

Our commitment here is for almost four more years. We intend to trust in Him and do everything within our power to at least fulfill that commitment. From there, we have no idea where we'll be, but we sure do love this country and these people.

If you or anyone you know might be feeling led to support the work that's being done here, whether it's $20 a month or $1000 a month, please contact me or Erinn to find out how you can help. Every bit of financial support is appreciated and helpful. Or, you can go right to this link and sign up for Automatic Monthly Payments (AMP).

You can also sign up for our newsletter in the form on the previous blog post (It's usually full of much more positive stuff). Thanks for listening to my whining ;)
 

Friday, September 13, 2013

Fiestas Patrias (Independence Day Celebrations) in Nicaragua

Today at Nicaragua Christian Academy, and across Nicaragua over the next few days, people are celebrating independence. In Nicaragua, Independence "Day" is actually celebrated over most of the month of September, with a focus on two specific days that celebrate two important dates in their history: Central America's independence from Spain in 1821(September 15) and the Battle of San Jacinto (September 14, 1856).


In the Battle of San Jacinto, an out-manned, out-armed Nicaraguan army defended their land against a US mercenary army led by William Walker. Behind the financial backing of the Vanderbilt family, and the blessings of the US government, Walker attempted to take over Nicaragua and declare himself president. Students, teachers, and parents at NCA celebrate these dates through a Nicaraguan cultural festival that includes presentations, skits, food, as well as traditional clothes, music, and dancing. Here are some pictures from the early part of our celebration. For more pictures of the holiday weekend and celebrations, go to my Facebook album here.


The Fifth & Sixth graders


High School Freshmen


Nate with his friend Josh.

Freshmen

Sophomores presenting to an elementary class.

Elementary kids heading to the upper school presentations


Juniors

Juniors performing a skit

Seniors performing a skit

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Newsletter Sign-up

We are going to start writing a twice monthly (-ish) newsletter. If you'd like to keep up with what's happening here with teaching at NCA, FCA Nicaragua, and the other parts of the work we're doing here, please sign up below.

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Monday, May 13, 2013

Some News from the Izzos



So our last blog expressed our feelings that we are called to stay here in Nicaragua and become supported missionaries, but posed the question of if we could raise enough support to make that a reality. We sent out an email to friends and acquaintances, old and new, to explain what we feel called to with a ministry here, and asking them to let us know if they would be willing to financially support such an endeavor. The feedback we got was very encouraging, and it was very useful in making a decision about whether this would even be possible. So, a decision has been made, which many of you might already be aware of if you follow any of us on Facebook. We’re staying!


Not only did we make a decision since the last blog, but we have really started to work at getting our ministry work started here. After many Skype meetings, emails, and prayers, we have become prospective staff with Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA). With FCA, we plan to use sports as an outreach to athletes and coaches, and help them to use their influence to impact others.  Although FCA will be a large part of our ministry, we look at the ministry as having three main components:

  • Fellowship of Christian Athletes – FCA is a huge sports ministry. If you don’t know much about them, please spend a few minutes browsing around their website. Through FCA, we will be equipped to use the draw of sports to draw people closer to God. We have already made some valuable contacts and preliminary partnership s to work with athletes and coaches involved with track & field, baseball, soccer, MMA and surfing. There are so many possibilities for this ministry to reach people, and it has us very excited!
 
  • Teaching – Erinn and I will be teaching at Nicaragua Christian Academy. This is an international (English-speaking) school, where our kids, Julia, Nate, and Sam, have been attending. Erinn spent most of this year teaching AP Calculus and Geometry there, and will continue with a similar schedule next year. I will begin teaching three sections of 10th and 11th grade English (not English language learning, but literature & writing, just like in the US). We are also involved in the youth group, sports, and other events offered by the school and within the NCA community.
 
 
  • Teams – Short-term missions introduced us to international service and made a lasting imprint on our hearts - enough so that we felt the calling to make a long-term commitment to it. Because of this, bringing short-term teams to Nicaragua is very important to us. We want others to feel the closeness to God that is experienced when two cultures come together to bless one another. We plan to do this through sports camps and other possible mission experiences through FCA, as well as a continued relationship with Campo Alegria.

 
The initial commitment to our ministry here is going to be a minimum of another three years (2016). At that time, Julia will graduate from high school and we will need to re-evaluate, especially with Nate graduating the following year. 

Since we originally came to Nicaragua prepared for a one year trial, we will be heading back to the US for a few weeks in July to take care of some things that need to be done as a result of our lengthened commitment. Those things include getting rid of some of our stored property, tending to some fundraising efforts, and (most of all) spending some quality time with family and friends. We will in the US from July 2-24, and will be visiting the Baltimore area and Utica/Rome, NY. Hopefully we will get a chance to see many of you. 

While we are in the US, we are looking for fundraising opportunities. If you or someone you know might be willing to organize and/or host a fundraising event of some sort (a dessert, gathering of friends, etc) please let us know. It would be a huge help!

In addition, FCA has set up our account to start raising support for this FCA - Nicaragua. It is through the generous and sacrificial giving of others that God will provide for our ministry. If you would like to make an offering to God on our behalf, and partner with us in this ministry, you can do so at this link: https://my.fca.org/3822-izzo-jeff.aspx

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

What to do?



*Some of you might receive the following post in an email -  maybe multiple times (sorry) - but we wanted as many people to see this as possible, and don't have access to everybody's email. Please read this and consider it. If you have any questions or would like to respond, feel free to email or Facebook message Erinn or me. Thanks.

Most of you know that we have been living in Nicaragua since July as independent missionaries. We want to sincerely thank you for praying for us during this time. So far, God has answered and made it an amazing experience. It is great to be a part of His work here.  When I say that we have come as “independent missionaries,” I mean that we did not go through a specific organization or raise support. 

So, the time is coming where we have to make a decision about our time here in Nicaragua. We feel that over a commitment of another year or two, we can really help accomplish some amazing things. In just six months, in addition to Erinn’s teaching at the Christian school, we have worked regularly with children’s feeding programs and worship, a Bible study and feeding program in the dump, Bible-based summer camp-type getaways for kids from various Nicaraguan dumps, youth group leadership and activities, and sports ministry activities like running and fitness groups. We will also be hosting mission teams this spring and summer.

What we are asking from you is to help us in this decision and our planning for the future. The number one thing necessary for us to stay in Nicaragua is financial support for ministry. Aside from raising some funds to provide a van for Campo Alegria, we did not raise any financial support for our living expenses or ministry this past year. We have been making ends meet with freelance educational writing, which has really put an extra burden on Erinn, since she is both teaching a couple of classes at Nicaragua Christian Academy and doing the majority of the freelance work. She just happens to be the more employable of the two of us in the freelance market with her math background, creating a large imbalance in the family workload.

In order to create more focus in how and where we serve, we have begun to talk with a couple of different organizations to partner with if we stay in Nicaragua. One organization, for example, is a large organization focused on sports ministry, while another is a mission organization that does outreach through a variety of programs. The less we have to freelance, the more we would be able to commit fully to this sort of ministry. This is where we need your help.

We are not asking for an all-out commitment right now. What we are asking from you is to pray about and give us an honest answer to two questions: 1) Would you be willing to provide financial support for ministry in Nicaragua on a monthly basis? 2) If you have a number in mind, could you include it in your response. We are mainly looking for an idea as to our possibilities for the future. The answers to these questions would help us tremendously in knowing what resources we will have going forward and if we will be able to continue with ministry here in Nicaragua. Please keep us in your prayers as this unfolds and a decision becomes clear. Thanks so much!

Friday, February 8, 2013

Catching up - December & January



 December:

Men’s Retreat: December got kicked off with a great weekend at Campo Alegria with guys from the ICF community.

Worship time at the Men's Retreat

It was a great time to build relationships, grow in our faith, and blow up watermelons launched from a trebuchet. 



Rivas Camp: Julia and I helped with a camp at Campo Alegria for the kids from the Rivas dump. As usual, we played, swam, and hung out with the kids from dawn to lights-out. We also taught English and crafts. It’s always so much fun seeing these kids enjoy their time there.

The kids arriving from Rivas

Desayunen
Fun in Lake Nicaragua
Surfing: We finally tried out surfing. I’m glad we did because it’s amazing, and has become a fun way for me and the boys to spend some time together.



Erinn’s Parents Visit: We had a full house at Christmas time, with Mom, Dad, and Josh all staying with us for the week from Christmas Eve to New Year’s Eve. It was an awesome time. We did a lot of things that we hadn’t tried yet here in Nicaragua. The highlight was going zip-lining as a family at Laguna de Tiscapa. Everyone did it despite any fears or anxieties. I’m especially proud of Sammy who was pretty terrified before he was sent zipping down the line.


Meeting Distant Tefels: Okay, so Erinn has studied her family history, probably a lot more than most people. Well, there is a bit of Nicaraguan family history that is explained here: http://www.izzosinnica.blogspot.com/2012/06/for-month-of-june.html
In fact, we even got to meet a couple of Erinn’s extremely distant cousins in Granada back in 2011. Anyway, on the way into Campo Alegria, there is a large sugar cane plantation that we must pass through to get to the lakefront camp property. (This is related to the Tefels, I promise). We’ve been through this huge farm many times. Well, Peter Willard, who started the camp, was invited to a dinner hosted by the plantation owners a while back, and he noticed that the owner’s last name was  Fernandez Tefel. Knowing about Erinn’s family history, Peter said to him that he had to meet Erinn, and that they must be related. So he passed along his number.
Forward to the final week of 2012: With the family visiting, it seemed like a perfect time to get together with this possible relative. So we met Gabriel and his mother, Gloria, for lunch and compared family history. It turns out that, Erinn and Gloria are fourth cousins. The family who owns the plantation in Nicaragua that we had been through a number of times over several years just happens to be family! But wait, it gets better. The family, like many, moved during the Sandinista Revolution, when Gabriel was very young. It turns out that they settled in Towson, Maryland –only about 30 minutes from our home in Maryland – and moved back to Nicaragua about the same time that we moved to Maryland. Weird.

Christmas and New Year’s: Did I mention that Nicaraguans enjoy their firework?


January:

House of Hope Camp: Along with the Willards, we started the month by bringing a group of little girls from House of Hope to Campo Alegria for a few days. House of Hope takes in girls and women who have been trapped in lives of prostitution, and tries to help them reclaim their lives. To see these little girls playing and enjoying the camp after all that they have been through in their short lives was incredibly moving, but Erinn said it best when she posted, It doesn't matter if you had a perfect childhood, or you've been through horrors. The giggle of a 9 year old playing in the waves is the same.”

Visiting Sucuy√°: After many drives through the plantation, we finally got to pay an actual visit to the farm owned by Erinn’s relatives. It was a really good day, riding horses and getting to know Gabriel a little better. We got to get a good tour of the farm that mostly produces sugar cane, but also grows plantains, mangos, and some teak, among other crops. After lunch, we returned to Managua, but we hope to have Gabriel here for dinner soon.

An awesome day with family.
Julia starts school: After a semester of being a full-time online student, Julia started at NCA part-time (remaining online for the other part). Now all three kids are at NCA - Julia and Nate part-time, and Sammy full-time.

Costa Rica: When renewing a Nicaraguan Visa after 90 days, one merely has to go to the immigration office and pay some fees. After the second 90 days, the visitor is required to leave the country for a minimum of 72 hours. While many people told us we could probably get away with just going overnight, we didn’t want to take any chances. So booked a relatively cheap hotel and bought some bus tickets to Costa Rica. It was sort of cool to go to Costa Rica again, with the last time being on our honeymoon in 1998. At that time, it was the first country, other than Canada, that I had ever visited. Back then, we didn’t even need passports. We just brought our driver’s licenses and copies of our birth certificates. After 3 days, we were glad to return to Nicaragua. While Costa Rica was a bit more “American” in a lot of ways (including prices), we’ve found that we actually like some of the disorder that we experience here on a daily basis.


Spiritual Emphasis Day: At NCA, they provide all the 7th-12th grade students with a sort of youth retreat/convention with live worship, a keynote speakers, and breakout sessions with guest speakers. Erinn and I were asked to do one of the breakout sessions, and we were really happy to be a part of this day. As Casey Bonham sang, and I watched students respond to his music, I was overwhelmed with appreciation for both NCA and Mountain Christian School. I really do feel so privileged to have had my children attend these schools - not because they are private schools, but because they are Christian schools. Both schools aim to give an outstanding education while creating outstanding characters by putting academic and spiritual growth side by side.
Erinn and I got a chance to talk to students about what the Bible says about parents and how kids should respond when parents fail.
Pictures of NCA's Spiritual Emphasis Week
Pictures of NCA's Spiritual Emphasis Day 

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Catching Up - November



Since I’ve been so bad at keeping everyone up to date on what’s been going on since the last blog, I’ll give you a brief update on what we’re currently doing. Then, I’ve decided to post an update on each one of the past few months – one month every few days this week. So before I get writing about what’s to come in the future, let me update you on what’s happening now, as well as the past few months.

Right now
Erinn is hammering away with work, teaching two classes at NCA and coming home to hours of freelance work each day. It’s a blessing that the freelance work is coming in because money has been tight, but it’s really tough on us because the work burden is almost completely falling on Erinn’s shoulders. While I have only had some sporadic freelance assignments, work for Erinn has been streaming in pretty consistently since Christmas. While we’re grateful for the work, we definitely wish some of that load could be shifted over to me. Hopefully things will turn, and this imbalance will only be short-term.
Other than that, we feel that we are at a crossroads here that we will be sharing with you in the coming week or two. Just remember to keep us in your prayers.

For now, here’s the past-due update on:

November:

It was pretty mild to begin with, but it was as if the rainy season switch was suddenly turned off in November. It dried up and the breezes pick up. Beautiful.

Some of the kids in Acahualinca.
 We continued to visit the feeding center and help out with the kids’ program in Acahualinca, near the dump. We also made a visit to Granada where we sometimes visit the dump for a Bible Study and feeding program. That trip was far from routine after some problems we encountered, which I’ll describe below. These are some of the memorable moments from November:

30 Hour Famine: During the first weekend of November, Julia, Nate, and I were among the NCA students and adult leaders that took part in fasting for 30 hours to pray and raise money for World Vision’s aid to Afghanistan. It was a difficult and fulfilling retreat where we saw a lot of spiritual growth.

Josh Arrives: The same day that the 30 Hour Famine began, Erinn’s youngest sibling, Josh, arrived in Managua for the beginning of a 3 month visit, that is now in its fourth month…and counting. Josh came down to really experience Nicaragua, immersing himself in the culture and language. Though he visits us occasionally, we dropped him off in San Juan del Sur about a week after his arrival, where he has spent the majority of his time here at language school. San Juan del Sur is a beautiful Pacific beach town about a mile from where Survivor Nicaragua was filmed. It’s been amazing having him here, sharing part of our life here together.

Car Accident: On the morning trip to Granada to help out at the dump, we were driving through the narrow, somewhat chaotic streets of the city when we began to cross an intersection and got hit from the side by a pickup truck. In Nicaragua, after an accident, the vehicles are required to stop where ever they come to rest, despite what that may do to traffic, so that the police can get a better understanding of what happened. So, I stopped just through the intersection, and everyone was okay, but the van sliding door was pretty messed up. The guy driving the truck was okay too, and quite friendly given the circumstances. You see, unknown to me, I ran a stop sign. Not any ordinary stop sign, but a sort of phantom stop sign. One was supposed to be there, but it wasn’t. There was just a small hole in the sidewalk where the stop sign should be. Take a look:
See that dark gray patch of concrete? That's where the stop sign should be.
I called my friend Mario who leads the Bible Study program at the dump and he rushed over to give me some translation help. The officer who came to the scene was really nice too, contrary to what I’ve heard, and even complimented me on my Spanish (That rarely happens, trust me!) All in all, no ticket was given at that time because of the sign situation. I was just supposed to appear at the police station to officially exchange insurance info with the other driver. Well, when I showed up at my appointment there the following week, they wrote me a ticket for running a stop sign anyway. How could I be that upset though? It was a $25 fine and nobody was hurt or angry, and the damage was relatively minor (The van could still be driven). It eventually was fixed up for a fraction of what it would have been in the US (Thanks to some generous friends!)

Erinn’s Birthday: Erinn celebrated her 29th birthday this past November ;). We celebrated with a movie. As a bonus, when we got home, we saw our first tarantula in the house. And thankfully, the only one…so far.

Changed our look: Normally this wouldn’t be noteworthy, but considering how long it had been - Nate and I each got haircuts. Some would say they were way overdue (like a year for me).


The NCA Talent Show: So many talented students. Nate performed two acts – he played his cajon drum in a band that a few kids in the neighborhood put together, and he did his well-known cover of Brian Regan’s stand-up comedy. 
The Colonia Becklin Band
Nate doing his comedy act
Spanish Class: I finished up my first 5 week session of Spanish (2 classes a week/3.5 hours each class)

So, that’s November in a nutshell. I’ll tell you about December in a day or two.