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June 10, 2013

Locally Grown: Sharing the Bread of Life with JAM

J.J. with the kids from the bus ministry
By Andrew Sharp

Every Wednesday J.J. Nisly gets in an old minibus and drives more than 20 miles through the vast farm fields surrounding the tiny crossroads town of Partridge, Kansas, to another nearby town to give rides to children who want to come to Partridge to take part in Plainview Mennonite Church’s “Jesus and Me” program. The church, located near Hutchinson, Kansas, has run the weekly Bible-school-type program, known by its short form of JAM, on Wednesday nights for 11 years.

JAM is held in an old school building in Partridge. J.J., who with his wife Joy serves as a director of the program, said on average about 70-75 children have attended this year on a weekly basis, with a high near 90.

When the school building came up for sale 11 years ago, church members had some ideas about how to use it, so the church put in a bid of $5,000 and won it, J.J. said. They held their Bible school there that summer, and then decided to hold the church’s Wednesday night children’s program in the building and try to extend it to community children.

The church went door to door around town and invited children in Partridge to come. One of the families that sent children to JAM moved out of Partridge, but the children still wanted to come, so Joy volunteered to pick them up every week. They started out using a van, but the children told their friends about JAM and the crowd quickly outgrew the van, all through word of mouth without the church ever trying to publicize the program there.

“The hardest thing I ever had to do was leave a little boy standing by the curb when I didn’t have enough room,” Joy said. Soon, J.J. was driving out with an old minibus the school district had used in the past. On a recent Wednesday night, he said, he brought 17 kids in the minibus. “They keep asking me when we are going to get a bigger bus so they can invite more kids.” So by popular demand, he is going to start using a 24-passenger bus owned by one of the families in the church.

Preschool teacher, Jon Miller, getting down on their level
When the kids get to the meeting, they have a praise and worship time, and sometimes an illustration or a Bible story. After that they go to classes organized by grade from preschool all the way up to high school (all high school grades are in one group). For the classes, Plainview uses a Sunday school curriculum called FaithWeaver from Group Publishing. “We felt like this curriculum was about as biblically sound as you could find,” J.J. said. Once a month, one of the church’s cell groups will bring a meal for everyone.

For a few weeks every summer, the teachers take a break, but “The kids just love (JAM) and they don’t like it when we close it down,” J.J. said.

They also seem to be listening in class. J.J. said three girls came to faith recently, and others have in the past. They wonder sometimes how much difference they are making in the children’s lives. But if they see the kids somewhere during the week, he said, “they’ll come running and give you a hug. It’s just amazing to see how God works with these kids ... it is just exciting to see the changes that I’ve seen in kids that started when they were little.” Some of the children he has worked with are grown up and married now, but if they see him they make sure to talk to him.

This kind of weekly project demands a lot from the church. Except for those few weeks of break in the summer, the program runs year-round, and teachers are asked to commit for a year, just as they would for teaching Sunday school. Several teachers have been involved in the program either from the beginning or almost from the beginning.

It also takes a financial commitment. In addition to that initial $5,000 investment to purchase the building, J.J. estimated the church spends about $5,000 a year on the program. Over the years they have made repairs to the building, including installing a new roof, but he said they have been able to avoid borrowing any money for the repairs.

Giving of time and finances has resulted in a program that has been very positive for the church, J.J. said. Running the program requires people to join their efforts, and work together. It takes them out of their comfort zones and stretches them, and gives them an outreach in the community.

It’s also a project that can involve all kinds of people in the church. Most of the teachers are couples, which is helpful for taking care of large classes, and “also models a loving couple working together that some of these kids really need to see,” Joy said. But two of the longest-serving teachers are singles who Joy says are “very passionate about the program,” and serve on an advisory team with the Nislys. The church’s senior members are able to serve effectively as well. “The kids just love them; it’s kind of like Grandma and Grandpa being there teaching them,” J.J. said.

“It takes all of us to make it happen and sometimes we wonder if we have enough people, but it’s just interesting how God provides. Every year we have enough teachers,” J.J. said.

June 08, 2013

The Extraordinary Dr. Parajón

Photo courtesy of American Baptist
International Ministries
By Andrew Sharp

In late 1978 and early 1979, Nicaraguan rebels known as Sandinistas battled the troops of dictator Anastasio Somoza for control of the country. RMM missionaries and Voluntary Service workers in Nicaragua, based in the capital Managua and in many rural villages, were swept up in the war. Some of their stories were told in the May and June 2013 issues of the Beacon (“Caught in the Crossfire” parts I and part II).

There is a thick binder at the RMM office that contains hundreds of pages documenting correspondence between RMM’s home office in Rosedale and Nicaragua during this time, along with missionaries’ accounts and magazine articles. The agency’s leaders scrambled to deal with the crisis and get workers out safely.

One name keeps showing up over and over in these pages—a Dr. Parajón in Managua, who gave much-needed counsel to the RMM staff over the phone, helped communicate with all the widespread missionaries, and pulled all the strings he had to getting plane tickets for the trapped workers. He sometimes even escorted them to the airport. Allen and Carolyn Roth had been trapped in a war-torn neighborhood in Managua, not sure whether to leave or stay. Allen wrote in his journal, “At 11:45 (June 16) a stranger walked up to me and in English said, ‘You need to go home. Get ready right away. I can get you to the airport by 1:00 PM.’ It was Dr. Parajón from CPAD.” He had risked his life to get the Roths to safety.

Who was this Dr. Parajón?

Gustavo “Gus” Parajón was director of CEPAD, the Consejo de Iglesias Evangélicas Pro-Alianza Denominacional, or as it’s called in English, the Council of Protestant Churches of Nicaragua. RMM worked closely with CEPAD in its health programs. Parajón founded the organization to deal with the Managua earthquake of 1972, and it grew into an organization that provided disaster relief and development programs that promoted literacy and health, among other efforts. Parajón was noted for living out the gospel through his care for people’s needs—both physical and spiritual.

He was educated in the United States, earning a B.A. at Denison University, an M.D. from Case Western Reserve University, and a masters in public health from Harvard. He met his wife Joan at Denison, and they became Baptist missionaries in Managua, where he worked at the Baptist hospital, in addition to his aid work.

Parajón continued to work for peace throughout the 1980s as the war between the new Sandinista government and the Contras dragged on. For his efforts, he was in great danger from the Contra forces as they tried to destabilize the government, according to Sally Ann Flecker in an article in Denison University’s online alumni magazine (Spring 2013). “That didn’t stop Parajón and his team from going into war zones to assist in the peace commissions,” Flecker wrote. “They traveled without bodyguards, and Parajón carried only a notebook and a Bible. Once his team was stoned by an angry mob. Another time his vehicle was hit by bullets, but miraculously, nobody was injured. While he was gone, his family and members of his congregation would hold their breath.”

Parajón was later selected as one of four members of Nicaragua’s Committee of National Reconciliation, a group that worked with other Central American countries to bring peace to the region and end the Nicaraguan civil war. In 2002, he was honored as an outstanding citizen of Managua during the city’s 150th anniversary celebrations, and in 2006 the Central American Parliament honored him for his peace and reconciliation work during the war years.

He was senior pastor of the First Baptist Church in Nicaragua until 2010. He died at 75 on March 13, 2011 in Managua.

There’s no telling where RMM and its workers—or Nicaragua—would have been without Gus Parajón.


“IM Remembers the Life of Extraordinary Service of Gustavo Parajon,” March 17, 2011: http://www.internationalministries.org/read/33930

Sally Ann Flecker, “Minister of Peace,” Denison Magazine Online, Spring 2013: http://denisonmagazine.com/2012/departments/continuum/minister-of-peace

June 07, 2013

Caught in the Crossfire Part II: RMM Workers in Nicaragua’s 1979 Revolution

By Andrew Sharp
From the June 2013 Beacon
(Read Part I here)

As the dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza crumbled in late 1978 and early 1979, RMM missionaries and Voluntary Service workers were swept up in the events. These accounts from the team caught in the village of La Esperanza are drawn from reports from the time and from present-day interviews.

Verda Mayer

Despite the unrest in September 1978, Verda decided not to leave Nicaragua. “We had to be really careful about where we could go, and it was just a real tense time,” she said. She was associate director of RMM’s rural health program, so she traveled around a lot. At one point she went with VS Director Wilbur Bender to a little town in northwest Nicaragua. A meeting with the local health committee came to an abrupt end when shooting broke out nearby and the committee ran to hide. Verda and Wilbur found out later that some people were killed in the shooting.

In June 1979, when the national strike broke out that paralyzed the country, Verda was in La Esperanza, a village some 200 miles from Managua. She had just helped train one of the local health leaders and she felt it was important to help him get started. The strike and subsequent fighting cut both communication and travel, so Verda was stuck in La Esperanza with fellow VSers Jay Yoder (from Pennsylvania) and Alan Miller (from Delaware).

VSers in the capital, Managua, were now leaving on emergency flights, so Clayton and Thelma Nisly began their misadventures traveling out to La Esperanza to try to tell the team what was going on (see May 2013 issue). The Nislys never got there, but the team was able to keep up with the national news via shortwave radio. Dan Byler (currently working with RMM in Thailand) was in the region, but no one knew where. It was a real relief, Verda said, when he showed up after a week. He had been out in a remote location called El Castillo working with a growing church there.

The VS house and the clinic had been robbed a number of times, so government troops were posted to guard them at night. These guards warned them that if they came out at night, they would be shot. “So we were pretty tense,” Verda said. They were tense enough to consider trying to take a five or six day hike through the jungle to Costa Rica, but decided to try to get to Managua instead.

1979 - The VS house in La Esperanza
became the Sandinistas' command post immediately after the war began and
they placed their flag above the sign.
Jay and Verda were able to catch a ride to Managua on a troop transport plane that they shared with 25 government soldiers, sitting on the floor of the plane without seat belts or security belts. Once they landed they got a ride to the VS center. “We were really shocked by the destruction we saw as we rolled across (Managua) on the back of a Red Cross pickup truck,” Verda said. None of the North American workers were at the VS center, but Nicaraguan believers who had fled from heavy fighting near their homes were staying there.

Alan Miller was still in the La Esperanza area, but eventually got out on the last plane that left before the Sandinistas took over the area. It was a good thing he did, because he was coming down with an illness from the drinking water that turned out to be hepatitis (swelling and inflammation of the liver). Verda said it would have been disastrous for him to be stuck out in the village with hepatitis.

As the situation deteriorated in Managua, Verda took the advice of RMM administrators and left for Costa Rica, but when the fighting ended a few weeks later, she came back. She discovered a detachment of Sandinista troops camping in the clinic in La Esperanza. In one room, guns were lined up all along the walls, and her former bedroom was the commander’s quarters. When the Sandinistas realized the RMM workers had come back, they graciously gave back the clinic and all the medical supplies they had appropriated for their use.

Verda moved to San Antonio, Texas, after her time in Nicaragua, where she helped Henry and Esther Helmuth plant Abundant Life Christian Church, a Hispanic congregation now part of CMC. She is still very active in this church. She recently retired from substitute nursing as an RN with a local school district.

Dan Byler

As the country moved toward revolution, Dan moved out to more peaceful rural areas like La Esperanza and El Castillo, which were still very calm, so he was able to continue his work. Since these areas were very remote, staying in touch with RMM was difficult for Dan even at the best of times, and of course he was completely cut off when the war started.

As the heavy fighting started, communication began to buzz between the RMM missionaries, the base in Managua, and the offices in Ohio, but nobody knew where Dan was or what he was doing. The first thing the rebels did was cut the roads, he said, which made it impossible to get to Managua.

Such a situation would be expected to cause some stress, but Dan’s description made it sound almost like a relaxing vacation. “We were doing just fine in that area, because there was no activity, no war … we were having church every night, it was a really wonderful time for churches to grow … I enjoyed staying there. There was an abundance of food.” In fact, there was more food than people could eat, he said, because that area supplied food to the surrounding villages, which were now closed to business.

After about ten days, Dan decided to strike off for La Esperanza to see how the VSers there—Jay Yoder, Alan Miller, and Verda Mayer—were doing. He had to cut cross-country on foot, taking a route he had never taken before, then hitchhike on the main road. After he got there, Verda and Jay were able to get out, but Alan stayed a little longer, unsure whether to go or stay.

Alan Miller
A friend of Dan’s, a Sandinista sympathizer, gave him a tip that the Sandinistas were going to attack the village, and that they wanted to take the mission’s shortwave radio. “I remember thinking, I wish I didn’t know that,” Dan said. Knowing too much was dangerous. Keeping the information to himself meant government troops would consider him a rebel collaborator; sharing the information would make him a government spy.

Dan told Alan if he was going to leave, he needed to leave immediately, but he refused to tell Alan why. He didn’t want to burden him with the same excess of knowledge he had. So Alan left, on the last flight out.

Why didn’t Dan leave when everyone else was getting out? “I didn’t want to,” he said simply. “I wanted to be with the people who were there. I don’t know if it crossed my mind.” He also knew if he could get back out to El Castillo, he would feel safe there. “There was a lot of church work going on. It was a wonderful time … for churches to grow,” he said. “It was too good to leave and it looked like the war was winding down.”

Dan was not the only person who knew the Sandinistas were coming to La Esperanza. Government troops were waiting for the guerillas when they arrived, ambushing and killing four of them. “The whole village was in an uproar. It was probably the most stressful time I had during the whole war was that night,” Dan said. The troops rounded up villagers and tortured some of them to find out who was collaborating with the rebels. They shot some of them. Dan’s friend, the one who told him about the attack, was a believer and also a rebel collaborator. He stayed with Dan while the army jeeps rumbled past outside, and was understandably quite worked up. But he and Dan were left unharmed.

Dan, worried that he would be questioned, took a journal that he had kept for six years and threw it down the latrine. “You do things differently during a time of stress like that,” he said, laughing. “It was a time of stress but it was also a time when the Christians had banded together to pray, and God did really protect us.”

A few weeks later it was the government sympathizers’ turn to worry. The war was over, and now it was the Sandinistas who were looking for collaborators. Dan said they were relatively humane and investigated cases before they killed anyone—not a high standard, perhaps, but more scrupulous than the government troops.

As it turned out, during the fighting Dan had refused to turn over a VS vehicle to Sandinista sympathizers, feeling it was intended for clinic work, not revolutions. These sympathizers denounced him to the Sandinistas as a government sympathizer. So they imprisoned him overnight until they could look into his case. Dan led a service that night among the prisoners, who requested a message from Acts 12—the story of the angel releasing Peter from prison. Some of the prisoners were taken out during the night and shot, but Dan again downplayed the danger. “They just hadn’t gotten to my case.”

The next morning, some of the Nicaraguan believers went to the Sandinista commander and vouched for Dan, so the commander released him and even gave him a signed pass giving him safe conduct.

“That whole time showed how vulnerable people are in times of conflict,” Dan said. One side would come and demand something from people at gunpoint. If they complied, the other side considered them collaborators. Some Christians he knew were killed by government troops because they had given food to the Sandinistas.

But it was also a good time, he said. “It was a wonderful time for the church to grow.” Starting in 1978 when the violence escalated, “There was a wonderful spiritual opening that lasted the whole time I was there up to ’86 when I left.”

The churches in Nicaragua have now started sending their own mission workers out. Some of these are working in Bangkok, Thailand, where they are learning about missions from a veteran RMM worker—Dan Byler. “A lot of what happened back then built a strong church,” Dan said. “That is what we’re seeing the result of now in missions.”

Continue Reading:

The Extraordinary Dr. Parajón.

Read Part I, from the May Beacon.

If reading these stories brought back memories, whether you were in Nicaragua—or in the States worrying about someone in Nicaragua—send us your story so we can publish it on our website. Photos are welcome as well!
Email info@rmmoffice.org

June 06, 2013

Disciples Making Disciples

RMM’s Thailand team is working in Bangkok to try to start fellowships of believers there. Now they are seeing some exciting results from their work—in a neighboring country. Several people, including Pon and his friend Lan, came to faith and participated in the house church led by the team in Bangkok. They have since moved back to their home country. Tom* sent in the following report about recent events there:

On Sunday afternoon, April 14, Lan and Pon, along with some church leaders who came in from outside the village, baptized Lan's older sister and Pon's older brother. These are the first baptisms to be held in this village. This is a significant and exciting step as it marks the foundation of a small fellowship in the village.

They went in boats to a small island in the Mekong River for the baptisms. Some of the other people in the villages knew what was going on, but not many. Believers from a nearby village came to support and encourage them.

Lan's older sister has been very bold in talking about her new faith. Both Pon and Lan report there are many other people in the village who are curious about Jesus and even interested in learning more. But they are waiting to see what will happen to this small group of new believers. These potential seekers are also wrestling with the implications of following Jesus—what would it mean for their continued participation in the culture and activities of the village?

The situation is complex and it's hard for us to fully understand all of the dynamics. There are several layers of political or police authority—from the national government down to the local village leaders. Any one of them can cause problems for Christians if they want to—or if the other villagers complain to them. So, it's difficult for a small village church to meet regularly. Even if they get permission from one source, there are other people with power who can step in and stop them.

Lan has also been talking with Boon, a young man from his home country who is working in Thailand. When Boon heard about Lan's faith, he was interested and asked questions. Lan had me send him a Bible and he's been reading it and sharing with his wife.

Boon's wife is from a village that worships spirits. Boon was worried about this because he didn't want to worship them. (This would be the expectation since he's married into that tribal group and they hope to live there.) As he found out about Jesus he decided this was the answer. Since this process started, he and Lan had never met face-to-face. At one point Boon lost his phone and Lan couldn't contact him. He was worried about this and prayed a lot for Boon.

Eventually Boon got back in touch and they made plans to meet. Boon asked a lot of questions, Lan did a lot of explaining, and at the end of the conversation Boon asked to be baptized. His wife wasn't ready that day but Lan thinks she will be soon. So Lan, Boon and Nixson (one of the Latin American workers in Bangkok) walked through the rain to the river and baptized him!

Praise God for these baptisms, and pray for those in the village as they decide how to meet for Bible study and worship. Pray for protection from the enemy’s plans, for joy in their new life, and for endurance in the face of suspicion and ridicule.

*We want to avoid making new believers and seekers in other countries feel like “projects,” so we have omitted Tom’s last name for privacy. Find out more about our Thailand team on the “workers” page on our website.

Caught in the Crossfire: RMM Workers in Nicaragua’s 1979 Revolution

By Andrew Sharp
From the May 2013 Beacon
(Read Part II here)

In 1978 and early 1979, Anastasio Somoza’s powerful and oppressive dictatorship in Nicaragua crumbled as rebels called “Sandinistas” launched increasingly violent attacks against the dictator’s “Guardia,” or National Guard. By June 1979, the seesaw violence had broken out into full-scale war. At the time, RMM missionaries and Voluntary Service workers were serving around the country, with headquarters in the capital of Managua. Those who had not left the year before were soon swept up in the events.

Wilbur Bender, VS Director at the time, shared a typical story. “We had a VS retreat in Costa Rica and on the way down… I was driving and a couple Sandinistas came out and stopped us. One of them pointed his gun in my ribs, and I got out and had to show him the papers and stuff, and that was sort of scary.” Sort of scary indeed.

The following accounts are the experiences of RMM workers after the violence exploded in June. The stories are drawn from reports and articles from the time and recent interviews.

Lois (Swartz) Orozco

Lois, a VS worker from Michigan, taught missionary children in Managua. When the nationwide strike started in early June, she was unable to leave the VS center. She wanted to stay, although many VSers had already made the decision to evacuate from Managua. But as things fell apart, she questioned the wisdom of staying. “Normal life ceased to exist,” she said. “Some days students were not able to get to school… when we could no longer work, travel, or even buy what we needed to live, it was time to go.”

The evening she packed up to leave, “Shooting close to the house sent us all to the floor several times. The night was noisy—shots and bombing seemed close and furious.”

Along with several other workers, including VS Director Wilbur Bender, she tried to leave on June 10. Their progress to the airport was blocked by barricades of burning tires and cars, and troops were out on several main highways. After navigating all these formidable traffic hazards (Lois made the trip twice to ferry more mission workers), they discovered it would be virtually impossible to go anywhere. “The airport on June 10 was an absolute madhouse,” Wilbur recalled.

“Hundreds of people were desperate to get out of the country at any price, but the airport officials were unable to help,” Lois wrote. American journalists swarmed Managua, and ABC reporter Bill Stewart came up and spoke with one of the missionaries Lois was with. (Ten days later, Stewart would become famous for being shot dead by a government soldier in cold blood.)

Lois couldn’t get a flight, and so she went back to the VS center. Later, Wilbur called from the airport asking Lois to come pick them up, as they had also been unable to get a flight. On impulse, she called a missionary who told her that there was heavy fighting on North Highway and there was no passage to the airport. “That impulse was from the Lord,” she said. (Wilbur, Assistant VS Director Marc Hershberger, and his wife June were able to book the last seats out of town late that evening.)

Lois found out she would be able to leave from the American embassy early the next morning. Or so she thought. While she and other Americans waited at the embassy, troops struggled to clear their route to the plane. That they were having some trouble doing this was evident by the gunfire that broke out just outside the embassy gates, prompting the embassy guests to run for cover inside and stay there while the firefight went on for an hour. The evacuation was postponed until the next day, so they were taken to the ambassador’s residence for the night. “It was really a haven but… we could look down and see the town burning, bombs being dropped, and we knew there were hundreds of people suffering while we stood there and watched,” Lois wrote.

In the morning, U.S. Marines came to escort the U.S. citizens to their flight. The convoy flew through town, ignoring red lights and even a flat tire.

Their flight was on a cargo plane and definitely was not first class. The bathroom consisted of a pail, ringed by a curtain. In these conditions, the two-hour flight seemed very long and “none of us felt that great by the end of the ride!” Lois wrote.

Lois returned to Nicaragua after the war was over and resides there to this day. She and her husband, Marcos Orozco, a pastor, live in Managua. She recently retired from teaching at Nicaragua Christian Academy.

Clayton and Thelma Nisly

Clayton and Thelma were working with other team members in the village of Puertas Viejas, north of Managua. They lived in a state of great uncertainty. “You heard the faint rumblings of war on the fringes of daily life,” Thelma said. “Would it come near enough to endanger our lives? Would the rumblings go away and be resolved?” Rumors about what the Sandinistas were up to and how the government troops would respond kept people worrying. “No one wanted any shred of incriminating evidence anywhere near them—Somoza was famous for arresting people for the smallest suspicions of subversive activity,” Thelma said. “Hour by hour the rumors changed and grew. And we waited. For what? Well, even we didn’t know.”

After the general strike was called in June, effectively shutting down the country, they called the VS center. Things seemed calm, but that evening on Voice of America news they heard the Sandinistas were advancing in five cities and had announced an attack on Managua that weekend. Things were not calm.

Naturally, they tried to get in touch with Managua again, but communication had now been cut off. Assistant VS Director Marc Hershberger and his wife June had to drive the 40+ mile trip from Managua to Puertas Viejas to inform them the decision had been made to evacuate personnel.

A milk truck that was burned and used
to block a bridge.
But since communication had been cut, someone also needed to drive 180 miles southeast to the village of La Esperanza and let Jay Yoder, Alan Miller, Verda Mayer, and Dan Byler know about the evacuation. The Nislys volunteered for the trip, taking RMM’s Scout (a vehicle similar to a Jeep). About halfway there, however, a man came running up to their vehicle and warned them to stop. His vehicle, he said, had just been stolen by the Sandinistas. They wavered, but still felt responsible to make contact with the team in La Esperanza.

They cautiously (or rashly, depending on how you look at it) kept driving. After only a few miles, a vehicle whipped out across the road in front of them. Two men immediately ran up and pointed automatic rifles at their windshield. Clayton quickly held up his white handkerchief as a sign of neutrality and began trying to explain their mission. The Sandinistas, however, piled into the vehicle with their weapons. The Nislys argued and pleaded, which was gutsy considering they were considerably outgunned, but the Sandinistas left them standing on the road. “Hardly believing our eyes, we stood on the bridge with our few belongings and watched them drive away,” Thelma wrote.

They were very shaken and upset that their mission had failed. They stayed overnight with a local family and then hitched a ride back toward Managua. Their ride got them to the village of Acoyapa, where they decided to stay for the time being with a missionary lady who lived there. It seemed relatively safe, but they were stranded nonetheless.

“Over and over, we begged [God] to keep us from being paralyzed by fear. The devil worked hard to upset our imaginations, minds and emotions. We felt so alone,” Thelma wrote.

They were stuck in Acoyapa for a week before they got word that their Scout had been found and was at the Guardia station some miles away. Clayton went to get it. He found it sunk deep in a mud hole, covered in mud inside and out, with 70 extra miles on the odometer of what Clayton optimistically called “rough use.” Through immense effort, Clayton managed to get it out and back to Acoyapa, where they continued to stay.

That weekend, they heard the Sandinistas were going to attack. Before long, a plane circled the town, then there were five or six loud explosions. They rushed to the back bedroom, which seemed slightly safer, and finally the plane left. “At that point I was finally able to be very honest with the Lord and pray that God would take either both or neither of us in death,” Thelma wrote.

At that point, they prudently decided to change locations and headed for Managua. But they ran of gas, then got a flat tire, and despite a valiant effort had to abandon the Scout. They had to hitch a ride the rest of the way to Managua. Their volunteer mission had been more or less a failure, except that they were still alive and back in Managua in one piece. They were dropped off at the airport to try to leave by whatever plane they could.

They struggled with the decision to leave. “We could soon see the end of these long days of uncertainty and fearfulness. But on the other hand, we couldn’t help but think of all our national brothers and sisters. They couldn’t leave—they had to stay and face whatever came. Now our help is needed more than ever. The struggle went on down in our hearts,” Thelma wrote. But they realized they were burdening the Nicaraguans with two more stomachs to feed, and they were very limited by not being able to buy gas. Also, Thelma was pregnant (with their first child, Duane), so they decided it would be prudent to leave.

On their last night before leaving, it was absolutely quiet, until they both awoke at 3 a.m. to the sound of machine gun fire. “As we listened, we could hear a plane flying somewhere in the distance, strafing the area,” Thelma wrote. “We listened and the plan came closer. We wondered if we should get under the bed, but instead we just prayed. Finally, the silence returned.”

By the night of June 27, they were in Columbus, Ohio, “very thankful to be alive,” Thelma said.

“My faith grew stronger as we saw how God opened the ‘Red Sea’ so we could pass at a safe time, but how he also kept us tucked away safely when it was dangerous to press ahead (when we were unaware of the dangers),” Thelma said.

Allen and Carolyn Roth

Note: the Roths were unable to answer questions about their experiences because of a busy international travel schedule, so this account is drawn exclusively from their reports at the time.

The Roths, with their daughter Lanita, were living in a Managua neighborhood called Villa Libertad (which roughly translates to “Freedom Town,” oddly appropriate for a soon-to-be center of revolution).

By June 6, martial law was enforced. That meant everyone had to be in the house by 8 p.m., or face the consequences—getting shot. On June 8, the neighborhood exploded into war. The Roths had gone inside to avoid being shot for the evening, when the electricity went off and they heard shooting in the distance.

The next day, the neighborhood noisily joined the revolution, as people built barricades and shouted slogans. The only traffic was Sandinista jeeps. Planes circled threateningly overhead and the Roths heard heavy firing not far away. Rumors flew—there were fears of bombing reprisals and reports of contaminated water. Allen was standing outside when he heard a bullet whine and a man fell not far from him, badly wounded.

He spent his day reading Scripture and keeping up with the rumors. Exercising a remarkable ability to mention catastrophe in passing, as simply part of the day, he noted he was “doing some research on Theological Education by Extension for our convention—if we survived.” He described that night as “a beautiful moonlit night punctuated by heavy arms fire.” The family slept fitfully, needless to say, in their clothes.

The next day, the neighborhood had lost its revolutionary swagger and was terrified that government troops would come to “clean up.” There was chaos as people fled. A number of neighbors were gathering at the Roth home for prayer. Allen wrote, “I have no fear of death—it will be my ‘graduation exercise,’ but I do have a lot I’d like to do yet. I haven’t won very many people to Jesus.”

In the afternoon two planes circled overhead and fired on an opposition post about a kilometer away. That was followed by very heavy firing that involved some tanks. Then the dismaying news spread that troops were coming to kill all the men and boys, so people continued to flee in large numbers. At a neighbor’s house, a group gathered to read scripture and fervently pray, confessing sins and pleading for protection and guidance. At the end of their prayer time, a drizzling rain turned into a downpour and the government troops retreated.

On June 11, Allen wrote “Awoke—alive!” Planes bombed an opposition trenches on a nearby hill most of the day. People were at their house all day because “from our house there is a good view of the bombing and because we have some rooms that give protection.”

The next night the government started a vigorous bombing campaign in Villa Libertad, so they took shelter in a Red Cross station. “People crowded everywhere. Wounded babies, crying, panicky people, circling planes, zinging bullets. Laying down on muddy floors and ground to avoid bullets. It was a long four hours till the planes finally stopped. We passed a long, dreary night,” Allen wrote. He spent the night in the infirmary, praying for wounded and dying people.

He tried to think of a way to get Carolyn and Lanita out, but couldn’t. Then on June 16, they were contacted by a doctor who had worked with RMM, who insisted that things were going to get worse—more bombing was planned—and that they needed to leave. Although they didn’t feel good about leaving, they reluctantly packed some things and gave some things away, and with the doctor’s assistance they were able to get out on a flight that afternoon. “In tears, prayers, handshakes, and embraces we left, all in a daze, with deep sadness … Lanita was so happy and thoroughly enjoyed the flight. It was hard to share her joy as we thought back to our friends,” Allen wrote.

Gary and Ruth Troyer

The Troyers lived with their two young children in the small town of Rio Blanco, about 125 miles northeast of Managua. When the strike came, all telegraph and phone communication was cut. An unfortunate milk truck driver trying to keep working was stopped, stripped, and tied to a tree. His truck was strategically placed across the one bridge into town and set on fire, which Ruth noted effectively stopped traffic.

Government troops were building barricades, and rumor had it that the Sandinistas had taken over nine cities and were coming for Rio Blanco. The troops made Gary go to places they thought the Sandinistas were hiding out and come back to give them reports. So then a rumor started that he was a CIA agent, which, Ruth said, was “a very very dangerous position to be in.”

Ruth and Anthony Troyer hiding out
in the La Ponzona Church.
Another time, they were traveling near curfew time and were surrounded by a dozen or more troops who pointed their guns at them. The Troyers could hear the safeties click off. “We were all so calm; that is until we got home and really thought about it. Many times we wished we could die—it was the thought of what we may have to go through before that, that was frightening,” Gary wrote.

By June 17, the Sandinistas were in town, searching village houses for arms and food. Society was breaking down. “People took advantage of the chaos to fight their own wars, settling grudges or scores,” Ruth said. They could hardly tell the difference between the private wars and the larger revolution. “Murder is rampant these days,” Gary wrote on June 19. “Last night, a woman that lives by the church was shot at four times and hit twice.”

Conditions were miserable. People continued to flee. Those who stayed were losing heart, Ruth said. Their guns were confiscated, their food was stolen, rodents destroyed their gardens. Stray animals wandered everywhere—dogs, chickens, and destructive pigs. Pigs and chickens ate each other when they died. By the end of June and early July, the Troyers were running short on food. Gary was sleeping poorly. “I really feel incapable to do the job of a missionary here,” he wrote.

Finally on July 13, they fled to their church in the countryside outside town because they “didn’t want the children to have lasting effects from what they would hear.” There was no latrine at the church. “My fear was that I would see my children starve,” Ruth said. Eventually, she stopped cleaning the maggots out of their rice. “I figured that was more protein,” she said.

After Somoza and then his replacement left the country, taking plane loads of troops with them, Rio Blanco was one of the last outposts to fall. The Guardia there certainly had no reason to suspect they would be welcomed as brothers if they surrendered their weapons. The night of July 20 was punctuated with lots of bombing and shooting as the two sides resolved the situation. The Sandinistas surrounded the barricade until the troops ran out of ammunition, then killed them as they tried to break out, although some made it through. The Sandinistas then rounded up people, shot them, and buried some of them in the churchyard in Rio Blanco.

Since the fighting was over, Gary and Ruth finally could escape and get back to the United States. They spent some time wrapping up, saying goodbyes, and trying to see if they could get food to people. The scars of the war were everywhere. In one town, Gary wrote, “there was still a strong smell of decaying bodies.”

They had survived, so they no longer needed the goodbye letters Ruth had written to their families, just in case.

Continue Reading:

Read Part II, stories from Verda Mayer and Dan Byler in the village of La Esperanza, from the June Beacon.

The Extraordinary Dr. Parajón.

Editor’s note: the stories featured here were greatly abbreviated to fit in the Beacon. We welcome past missionaries, and their friends and families, to share their stories and memories from this time so we can post them on our website.
Email info@rmmoffice.org
, or post your memories here.