April 10, 2014. 5:30 pm. Time for church at ‘Cristo es el Camino’ Christian Reformed Church in Nagarote, Nicaragua.
While Martha was walking from the north end of town she met a good friend whom she had not seen for some time. As they were greeting each other with a hug, the earth trembled. Memories of the 1972 earthquake returned as she watched the electrical wires started to swing. Her friend immediately ran towards her mother’s house while Martha remained to assist an older woman. Martha told her that the house was not safe, that she had to move away from the house since the beams were not strong enough. The old woman, in shock, could not move until a family member came to assist her. Martha, then, wanted to return to her own house but could not find any mode of transportation. Everyone was looking for family members. She was not daunted and set off on foot. After all, she was going on foot to church so she could go back home on foot. When she arrived at her house she found her family members crying and afraid but she says that she felt strong and brave and gave words of comfort to the neighbours.
Martha lived in a house with her husband, Sabas, her two grandchildren, her daughter and son-in-law and their daughter, and another daughter and her two sons. They were afraid that an inside wall would fall on them while sleeping, so for three nights they joined their neighbours and slept in the street on plastic chairs. There was no shelter and the children became sick with coughs and colds. The government brought mattresses and pieces of plastic from which to build shelters but this still did not provide the needed security, both mental and physical.
The government officials came and determined that the house was unsafe and that the family could not sleep in it. For those whose house was condemned the government offered to build them a new one. It would be much smaller than the original. There were three choices. The first was one made with a steel frame with a material called plycen, which is somewhat like a cement plasterboard. These houses were offered free from the government and could be built very quickly. The other options were a house of red brick or one of cement bricks. Each one of these would require some financial input from the homeowner. It was hard to make a decision but Martha and her family decided that they would ask for a house made of red brick. Thankfully, the government agreed to build two houses – one for Martha, her husband and one of the families, and another house for the other family. They would be cramped but it was an offer they could not refuse.
After eight days the damaged house was removed and for the next month the family slept in a makeshift house made of plastic, old zinc panels, and wood. Soon the government employees came with the rebar, zinc, cement, and bricks. Within a month the two new houses were erected and Martha and her family could move in. Martha says, “It isn’t the same as having a nice big house, and the new house isn’t as nice as what she had. The beds are now all in a row and there are no divisions. If it weren’t for the World Renew project, we would all the stuck under the government roof. We can put dividers in over time. I feel safe in my house. The workers knew what they were doing and did a good job.”
Ana spent the day caring for her grandchildren. They just returned home and Ana went into the bedroom to change her clothes. She felt the earth tremble but didn’t know what to do.
She looked outside the bedroom door to see the pieces of wall of the kitchen fall on to the fire and pieces of the roof collapse. She quickly dressed and ran outside to find her husband, Justo, and her son and his family. When the earth quit shaking, they found a 4 cm. crevice in the ground extending from their property line and extending through their house. They did not feel safe. Like Martha and her family, they spent the first nights sleeping in the street and they never slept in their house again. It was a hard decision to accept the government assistance. Ana wanted a larger house, similar in size to the one she had, but the government would only build a small house. After much thought and prayer, they decided to destroy their beloved house filled with memories, and built a house similar to Martha. Justo and his son demolished the house even though Justo’s is suffering from various medical problems. Like Martha, Ana yearns for her big house but she is grateful for the new solid house and the addition.
Carlos Alberto Cuadra Lopez, affectionately known as Pastor Beto, explains that the church service changed. Instead of the normal
service, they spent time in prayer in the church and then went into the streets and prayed with their church members and neighbours who were suffering. His family was forced to leave the house because an interior wall was very unstable and fell. His wife, Claudia, fainted in the street outside the church. But Pastor Beto says that he and the rest of the men were not afraid and that they had the responsibility to protect their families. Both the parsonage and Beto’s house were also damaged.
After visiting Nagarote, Mark Vanderwees of World Renew in Nicaragua requested a small $10,000 fund to assist in the repair of some of the houses of the members of ‘Cristo es el Camino’. The houses ranged from brick houses such as those of Martha and Ana, to smaller one room brick houses, to wood frames covered with wood, zinc, or plastic. Three new houses were constructed with assistance from the government and World Renew added additions on two of them. Twelve houses were repaired. These included installing new beams on the roofs, putting in new corner posts, recovering zinc roofs, and repairing damaged walls. Pastor Ramón Solis, the pastor of the Christian Reformed Church in El Tamarindo, did the construction and repairs. Many of the families used the old materials to repair or cover another small room. Fifteen families can now feel more secure if they experience another tremor.
Nice as a new or repaired house is, it does not heal the emotional and psychological trauma that comes with feeling the earth moves for days on end. CRWM’s Steve Holtrop, with the financial assistance of a sponsoring church in Denver, Colorado, connected psychologist, Lourdes Rivas, with a group of women from the church and community. Lourdes helped them to cope with stress, to gain an insight into their trauma, and to encourage them to go further in faith. The women were afraid and many experienced uncontrolled anxiety. They felt the earth shake when nothing was happening. They were not able to sleep. They were frightened for their families. But now, Ana says, the focus is on the spiritual. The psychological help from Lourdes helped her not to be afraid. She learned that something natural happened but she has to continue on. She is alive because of God’s mercy.
Although the group that met with Lourdes were small, those who were greatly affected when to the talks and now feel that they are much stronger. They feel they are better prepared and have a better way of coping if another earthquake occurs.
The small church in Nagarote is thankful for the greater Christian community. When they asked for assistance from CRWM and World Renew, help came immediately. Although Mark Vanderwees of World Renew left saying, “We’ll see,” he had everything arranged by that evening and within a few days visits were made and work began. Pastor Beto says. “We didn’t have to wait. They were right there for us. And they did more than construction. They helped the ladies, too. We want the people of the Christian Reformed Church of North American to know that we appreciate their help.”
Written by Marg Hoogland