Nueva Vida – An Answer to Prayer
By: Tammy Stearns
For many years Project Hope has done ministry within, the dump community, known as Nueva Vida. Beginning with Marvin Sanchez, the first relationships were established within a community well known for its danger, lawlessness and fear. The people in the community lived by picking through trash in the city dump. Looking for anything of worth, plastic, cardboard, clothes and sometimes even food, their daily sustenance was found in the landfill. The smell, the vultures, the flies and the rotting trash led to what many have called “hell on earth” as the piles of trash would be set on fire after it was picked through in order to try to find any metal within.
In 2013, a women’s Bible study started that grew to over 100 women and sometimes double that number in children. We would meet every week to study God’s word together. Each week we would do a craft and play games in an effort to build community. For the first several months, we were required to bring armed guards or police in with us simply to try to guarantee our safety. During one of those Bible Studies, we began to pray for Project HOPE to be able to build houses there. For almost everyone there, it was such a far-fetched dream to even think that someone would come and minister to them in such a way. One of the ladies even referred to their area as a modern-day Samaria in that no one wanted to come near them.
Each year, Project Hope would ask for permission to build here. The poorest of the poor. Literally. Most structures were made of whatever has been found in the dump. No outhouses. No food in the homes but rather living day to day by what was gathered that day in the dump. Each year, we would be told no for a whole host of reasons. The land in which the makeshift community was built upon was considered “green space” or government land. They were squatters. It was too dangerous. They were like gypsies coming and going never to settle down. Most all of the ladies in our initial Women’s Bible Study are still there today participating in our programs.
In August of last year, the mayor asked to walk through the community with us. We had gotten about 30 feet in and he turned and said, “You can build here.” Then we asked, “Can we build here too?”, pointing further into the community. That day, we walked through all of the community, being given permission to build. We were very cautious about sharing this incredible news with the community until we knew for sure that it was to become a reality. Over the year, we in collaboration with the government, surveyed land, conducted an in-depth census and helped those in the community obtain legal documents all without any of them knowing that the building had been approved. We didn’t want to disappoint them, as many other groups have done in the past, if for whatever reason plans fell through.
Ten days before the first team to build in Nueva Vida arrived, we still hadn’t gotten final approval. We were waiting on further confirmation of the identity of those in the community. That afternoon, we received the phone call. It was a go. The next day, we gathered the first 45 families into the Center of Hope. They had no idea what they were about to be told. It brought memories to me of reality programs where families are told that they were going to get a new house. Only, we were about to share with 45 families that they would be getting a new house! After the announcement was made, I had expected cheering and excitement. Instead, we were met with silence. Finally, after a few minutes seem to pass by, a woman stood, weeping, “We thought you were crazy when you first started praying that we might have houses. We never believed that God would bless us in such a way. He has heard our prayers!” Then, the cheers erupted as tears flowed freely from all of us.
In nine days, our construction team began the process of staging for the first team. It has been incredible to see the community come together for a common purpose. Daily large and small groups, along with VBS and the Ladies Tea, is pouring into a community that has never felt love like this before. At first, they were apprehensive and now they welcome our teams with the hospitality in which Nicaragua is known. This is one of the most unique builds that we have constructed. Typically, the houses are built on a blank land with uniformed lots. Here, we literally are building where their structures are standing behind the walls that protect them from the danger at night. The lots are sized as the land that they currently have. Some are square, some are rectangles and a few are quite oddly shaped. Our construction ministry is doing a fantastic job of adjusting to the uniqueness of the build.
The owner of house number two, which was the first house finished, was asked, “Can you put into words what this house means to you and your family?” As tears quickly came to his eyes, he simply looked away. There are no words. A few weeks later, I returned to his house to ask the same question, “Can you put into words what this house means to you?” Tears quickly came again to his eyes and he just shook his head. “What did you do the first night that you stayed in your new house?” “I just sat here in my chair all night in disbelief that this was all real.”
We will be continuing to build in this community in 2023. Come and join us! Come be part of a decade of answered prayers!