Guest post by Claretta Bellamy, short-term missionary from Christ Church New Jersey.

Sometimes in life, it’s the small steps that lead to a journey beyond our imagination. For me, I began taking those baby steps a few months ago. During a church service, I saw a video about mission trips and how participating in them can make a difference in the spiritual lives of yourself and others.

After the service, I ventured over to the mission information booth with my interest fixated on a mission trip to Kansas City, but our missions director steered me to the Women’s Trip to Nicaragua. Little did I know, that day would be the start of something new, exciting, and life changing.

As we met to prepare for our trip, a room that I viewed as full of strangers at the start quickly turned into a group of strong, spiritual, loving women with whom I was so happy to be traveling. 

Villa Esperanza, which translates into Village of Hope, is where we were going to serve. I believe the love these women in my group had for God and others was ultimately shared with the young girls that live at the Villa program so they too can have hope in the Lord.

We arrived early in the morning and were bused to the program. The Villa is surrounded by luscious green palm trees, colorful flowers, and orange bungalows. During the day, the sun gently warms your face, feeling like a heavenly touch. Occasionally, a fast, pouring rain sweeps in until the sun comes back shining again.  

I feel the same about life. Rain and sadness will come, but the sun will always come out and joy will return. 

After we got settled, our first day consisted of going out into the city to visit the homes of three families who have children with special needs. As I entered each household, I could feel the atmosphere saturated with the heaviness of burdens, sadness, hopelessness, and despair. As members of the team prayed over them and embraced them with hugs, tears ran down their faces. I saw the sadness start to lift from their expressions as they began to feel comfort and hope. 

The remainder of the days involved spending time with women from different churches in Nicaragua, the girls in the scholars program, and the girls who lived at the Villa.  

I had the opportunity to meet Reyna, a 20-year-old girl who lives at the Villa. Reyna is currently in her third year of college studying international relations. What is most heartwarming about her story is that Villa Esperanza is the safe haven that allows her to strive toward her major goals and desires. Many of the girls at the Villa have difficult lives at home but, by living at Villa Esperanza, they have the opportunity to live in a safe place, become educated, learn new skills and, most importantly, learn about God. 

As a person who is quiet and shy at first, I tend to listen rather than be heard. However, this trip allowed me to do both. I learned a lot about the girls, the Villa, and Nicaragua while also being able to share my testimony to the girls: that although life is hard, God will give you the strength to endure, and He watches over you and protects you. What God chooses to remove, He will replace. 

Before I even decided to join the trip, so much had happened. I lost my mother in 2017 and a relationship shortly after I decided to join the mission team. My heart was heavy while coming to Nicaragua, but the love that I received from the girls – who had nothing material to give – was enough to make me feel so much better. This trip contributed to my own healing. 

One of the major highlights of the mission trip was being able to perform in a praise dance called “You Say.” The lyrics mention that even when we think we are worthless, God sees all the beauty in us and the great plans he has for our future. I believe this proclamation of self-love and faith is exactly what the girls needed to hear. After I performed with some of the other women in the group, the song played in Spanish and the girls took their ribbons and praise danced with all of us in unison. 

One of the members of the mission team, Lorena, designed these beautiful necklaces that hang heart-shaped glasses filled with mustard seeds. Her creation was inspired by the scripture in Matthew 17:20: As long as you have the faith of a mustard seed, anything is possible. Each of the girls was given Lorena’s necklace and gleamed with happiness while wearing them. They can now carry that with them and remember to never lose hope wherever they go. 

Even though my mission trip has ended and I am back home, Villa Esperanza is always on my mind. I believe everyone should do a mission trip at least once in their lives to see how the world is like outside their own. This was my first time outside of the United States. I have to admit that I was a little scared and homesick on the first day. However, the love I received from the staff and the girls reminded me that love is universal. When love is present, hope will never diminish. Love always hopes and love never fails. Villa Esperanza is what true hope looks like.