GHS student prepares for sixth mission trip to Nicaragua this fall
Nicaragua is beginning to feel like a second home to Gainesville High School junior Shelby Kinsey, who is making plans for her sixth mission trip later this year to the country, where her cousin Tammy Conner Stearns, along with her husband Travis and their children, are missionaries at Project H.O.P.E. Central.
After a year of fundraising, Shelby celebrated Christmas 2017 with her parents, Gary and Heather Kinsey of Pontiac, and packed her bags to leave for Nicaragua on Saturday, Dec. 30. She, her friend Grace Elliott, and other members of her volunteer group flew to Managua and boarded a bus for an hour-long trip to the city of Ciudad Sandino, where Tammy and her family, along with Shelby’s boyfriend Bailey Elliott were waiting.
“We stay in the Project H.O.P.E. outdoor hotel in Ciudad Sandino,” Shelby said. “It’s a U-shaped building with six sleeping rooms, a laundry area, cafeteria, library and office. In the middle there’s a cabana, where we gather in the evenings with Tammy and the other volunteers.”
The little children
The children of Nicaragua have stolen Shelby’s heart, she said. “They’re the sweetest things. As we got off the bus, they ran up to us and hugged us, wanting us to pick them up and give them piggyback rides.”
Shelby said she is especially moved by the little children living in the city dump, scavenging for their food and survival in one of the most dangerous and unreached areas of Ciudad Sandino. “Tammy and Travis started a ministry called Center of Hope at the dump, where they feed the kids who are living there,” Shelby said. In partnership with Convoy of Hope, the center provides lunch to the children five days a week – many times the only meal the children receive that day. In addition to the meals, the center also provides a safe haven for women and teenagers. “ Teenage girls make bracelets to sell, kids come in to read,” Shelby said. “Tammy also takes them on outing days, where she teaches the children table manners, and how to save and spend their money to buy things.”
A typical day
On Sunday, Shelby’s first full day in Nicaragua, her volunteer group attended church, enjoyed a meal, then changed into work clothes. “This is one of the best days,” Shelby said. “We got to meet our ‘adopted’ family and sit and visit with them. We learned a little about the basics of building the home we were going to construct for them. It’s a light work day, and we had fun getting to know them with the help of the translators.”
The volunteers work a full day, usually until about 4 p.m. “We work hard,” said Shelby. “One day, after work, I looked down at my legs and thought, ‘Wow, I’m getting tan!’ But then I took a shower and found out it was just dirt from work.”
After work and ministry, the group has dinner around 6 p.m. then they clean up and make their lunches for the following day. “After that, we have cabana time,” Shelby said. “We’ll have a speaker; then we will sit around and visit. This time, while I was there, we got to celebrate the New Year. In Nicaragua, they have this tradition called the Burning Man. It’s like a symbolic burning of the regrets and failures of the past year. We wrote down stuff we wanted to forget from last year – our sins and mistakes – and stuck it on the Burning Man and lit him on fire. It was cool.”
In addition to working on the building projects, the group reaches out in different ministries such as Vacation Bible School, house-to-house ministering or volunteering at Taellor’s House, an outreach to single mothers and their children. Named after Tammy and Travis’ daughter Taellor Stearns, who died in June 2014 at the age of 19, Taellor House provides after-school care for children, along with various programs for mothers. On weekdays, more than 80 children receive lunch, tutoring, biblical teaching, English classes, a school uniform and school supplies. Mothers receive biblical parenting skills, vocational skills and get help securing a job.
Shelby said she also enjoys the house-to-house ministries in the village. “We go in groups of three to five people with five loaves of bread,” she said. “As we approach the house we tell them we have a gift for them and want to know how to pray for their family. Sometimes, we only made it to one house because the people want us to stay and talk and pray with them. If we’re there the whole time, it’s fine. However God leads us through the village is fine.”
Nicaragua is calling Shelby again, she said, and she’s working to fund her next mission trip set for August of this year. “It costs between $1,200 and $1,600 to go, but the feeling you bring home with you is priceless,” she said.