Meet my Man!

I thought would take a moment to introduce you to a man who is so supportive and willing to let his wife and daughter galivant around the globe.

My husband Graeme!

Both Graeme and I have always been mission/relief minded. In fact we met when we were serving on board the mercy ship the M/V Anastasis.

The Anastasis was the flagship for the relief organization Mercy Ships. Mercy Ships uses hospital ships to deliver free world-class health care and community development services to the forgotten poor.

After nearly three decades of service, the Anastasis retired in June 2007.

Built in 1953 and originally named the Victoria, this former Italian passenger liner was modified to contain three fully-equipped operating rooms, a 40-bed hospital ward, a dental clinic, a laboratory, an X-ray unit and three cargo holds with a fleet of over 20 vehicles for onshore work. A volunteer crew of 350-400 from more than 30 nations served onboard.

A new flagship, the African Mercy, with more capacity for service was recently commissioned to take the relief work of Mercy Ships into the future.

Graeme and I joined the crew of the Anastasis in 1983 serving in the South Pacific; Graeme, who is from New Zealand, worked on deck and I worked in the galley*.

We were married on board in 1985 - I guess you can say it truly was a Love Boat!

Don't feel too bad about Graeme staying home while Sarah and I are off on our adventures in Nicaragua - in August he's flying to Australia with our son to visit his family and celebrate his parent's 50th wedding anniversary.

*It's a family affair - my father and mother joined in 1984 and worked with Mercy Ships for six or seven years.


A Ministry After My Own Heart!

Many of you know I love to design and make jewelry so you can imagine my excitement when I read about a group of women at El Limonal.

Maria Saeli wrote in a recent newsletter: "At El Limonal a group of women are excited about recent training (through The Nehemiah Center) making beaded jewelry; plans are underway to set up a business. Their faces were all smiles as they told about expressing their creativity this way, and the fact that people actually paid them money for their bracelets, necklaces and such!"

I immediately emailed Maria expressing my desire to spend time with this women's group. She replied she was sure the women would appreciate spending time with me and crafting together and that, if I wanted to, I could bring jewelry magazines for inspiration, beads , tools and supplies.

After decades of civil wars, natural disasters and corrupt governments from diverse ideologies, Nicaragua is one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere with more than ½ the population living on less than $2 a day.

NicaMade is a business begun by Food for the Hungry (FH) staff member Shannon Ahern to help Nicaraguan families earn a "livable income" by working with others in their community to produce and sell quality products using Christian business practices. While every community has resources and talent, what they often do not know is what they can produce at a profit and how to finance and market these products. NicaMade partners with communities where FH-Nicaragua and The Nehemiah Center are working in order to provide guidance and resources, including workshops addressing such topics as Christian business principles, the importance of savings and technical skill development.


Ministry Highlight: Intercessory Prayer & Ministry Team

Mike and Maria Saeli head up a vital ministy of prayer and counseling at their church, Mount of Olives in Leon.

In their March 2008 Newsletter, Mike writes:

"'I have never shared that with anyone before today,' said a 60 year old woman wth tears in her eyes. "Ana" had just spent almost three hours with us recounting a childhood full of physical, verbal, and emotional abuse that had held her in bondages of fear, rejection, loneliness and guilt for five decades. Unfortunately her story is all to common here in Nicaragua. We had been told this and now we are learning it firsthand as we minister to emotionally hurthing people in our church. We applaud their courage and openness as they seek to be set free from the lies they have believed about God and themselves, lies which have held them captive to destructive dehaviors and attitudes."

The Saeli's goal is to train others in their church to become leaders in this vital ministry in bringing people's painful past into the light of God's Spirit to receive His truth and healing.

"We realize how dependent we are on the Holy Spirit to give us wisdom and
discernment as we look at the often heart-breaking needs around us. It is
essential that we help people by pointing them to God as their source and not
create an unhealthy dependency on us."

People of Nicaragua (Photos courtesy of Willem Moors)


Ministry Highlight: El Limonal

Nine years ago El Limonal was just a dusty cotton field located between the Chinandega city dump and a local cemetery. After Hurricane Mitch in 1998, the land was opened up for refugees of the disaster who were looking for a new place to live. Today about 270 families reside in the various houses of wood, corrugated metal and black sheet plastic that line the community's five principal dirt roads. Many children and adults in the community visit the dump daily, risking their health to search among the smoldering trash for things to sell.

Oswaldo Bonillo, pastor of the El Shaddai church, decided to come along side the residents of this struggling community and begin a church with a community outreach emphasis, which is now lead by Pastor Crespin. Pastor Oswaldo recruited a local young Christian woman, Fatima, to help lead the Community Health Evangelism (CHE) program, a wholistic strategy to addressing physical and spiritual needs in communities. "We're not going to tell you to leave. We're going to help you improve your community," Pastor Oswaldo announced.

Fatima and a team of community health promoters and staff from The Nehemiah Center work together to organize the community, visit people in their homes, and provide teaching on basic preventative health principles as well as spiritual encouragement. She also developed a relationship with the local public health officials to bring basic medical services to El Limonal, like rehydration solutions, malaria tests, and basic injections. Meanwhile, teams came through FH to help build latrines and improve basic sanitation in the community.

The church's wholistic vision continues, heading up community activities including providing lunch three times a week to children, pregnant women, and the elderly in El Limonal.

During the past year, FH staff Mike and Maria Saeli have come alongside Pastor Crespin and Fatima to support their ministry in El Limonal by facilitating the development of sustainable organic house gardens, sharing Biblical principles, praying with families, and working to improve the health of the community.

While trash still burns in the nearby dump, today there is a thriving vegetable garden in Fatima's patio; a garden that represents the hope growing in El Limonal.

(Portions of this report are taken directly from the Food for the Hungry-Nicaragua website.)


Ministry Highlight: Women's Cancer Support-Survivor Group

Medical care is very limited in Nicaragua. The people can see a doctor for free, if one is available, but they have to pay for all drugs and treatment/diagnostic services. As a result, the patient may find out what is wrong with them, but cannot afford the treatment!

One ministry Mike and Maria is involved with is the Women's Cancer Support-Survivor Group. In an excerpt from the Saeli's August 2007 newsletter, Maria shares a bit about this ministry.

"The focus is to educate women on cancer prevention, early detection and to attempt to procure funds from inside and outside the country to help obtain diagnosis and treatment for those who cannot afford it. In coordination with the medical college, a trial of a naturalistic rememdy is also underway. Although we are open to helping in these areas, our primary role is in the area of moral and spiritual support for women and their families.

"We have been visiting Yamileth in the hospital for about three weeks now. She is gravely ill and if she didn't need oxygen, her family would take her home. Instead they travel hours by bus to come into the city and then take turns staying for days by her side, sleeping on the floor. It is precious to see their love and care for her."

Sadly Yamileth passed away. The day before she passed she said to Maria, "Tomorrow when you come, I'll be doing better."


Meet the Saeli's

We will spending much of our time in Leon, Nicaragua working with the Saeli's. I first met Mike and Maria during my first trip to Nicaragua in 2004. At that time they were serving with Mercy Ships, Nicaragua. When that base was closed in 2005, they felt the call to remain in Nicaragua and continue to work with the people they had come to love. They became full-time staff with Food for the Hungry (FH) in 2006.

(The following bio appears on the FH website)

Mike grew up on a dairy farm in New York, while Maria grew up as a pastor’s daughter in Tennessee. After getting married, the Saelis lived on a Pacific atoll in Micronesia where Mike taught math and sports, and Maria served as a school nurse. In the years following, they returned to the farm and raised three children, but the idea of serving again in a developing country persisted. They longed to encourage others to enter a life-changing relationship with the Lord.

Mike and Maria both served in leadership roles in the local church, went on short-term missions trips, and felt the Holy Spirit calling them to serve full time in Latin America.

The Saelis have been working in Nicaragua since 2002. Mike is enthusiastic about joining FHI since his background in organic agriculture fits perfectly with the sustainable model of transformational development. Maria’s background in public health, school nursing and hospice will allow her to work with FHI by encouraging good nutritional and health practices. The Saelis will also work as a team to promote healthy marriages.



In October 1998, Hurricane Mitch ravaged the country of Nicaragua. For a period of ten days, Nicaragua was bombarded with torrential rains that produced landslides and floods effectively destroying crops, livestock, dwellings, roads, bridges, hospitals, schools, electrical and water supply systems.

Hurricane Mitch was the most devastating natural disaster in Nicaragua’s history. An estimated 3,800 Nicaraguans lost their lives and 800,000—18% of the population—were left homeless.

Prior to Hurricane Mitch, Nicaragua was already among the poorest nations in the Western Hemisphere. In 1997 it was estimated that 47% of Nicaraguans lived below the poverty line. The hurricane exacerbated this situation. The future was bleak for the homeless families struggling to survive.

Relief organizations such as Food for the Hungry and Mercy Ships Nicaragua*, who already had an established presence in the coutry, were available to begin immediate relief efforts in tandem with other community and international organizations.

Response involved procuring and distributing food, clothing, medicine and medical supplies. They were also instrumental in the decontamination of drinking water wells that were compromised during the flooding as well as assisting displaced hurricane refugees.

Communities such as El Limonal and Villa Soberana, sprung up as families sought to rebuild their lives after loosing everything.

Although the staff of Food for the Hungry Nicaragua remain 'positioned' for relief work**, their emphasis has been on longer term developmental transformation of rural Nicaragua and working with the people of El Limonal specifically.


*Mercy Ships closed their Nicaragua land base in 2005. Mercy Ships continues to serve the people of Africa.

**This year’s category 5 Hurricane Felix and the multiple effects of two months of heavy rain have again required significant intervention.


A Short History of Nicaragua

Settled as a colony of Spain in the 1520s, Nicaragua gained its independence in 1821 and became an independent republic in 1838.

Over the last 75 years, however, the people of Nicaragua have been plagued with oppression, revolution, civil war, economic devastation and natural disasters.

In 1937 General Somoza, head of the National Guard, became president by holding fraudulent elections. Somoza ruled Nicaragua as a dictator for the next 20 years, amassing wealth and lands. Although General Somoza was assassinated in 1956, the Somoza dynasty continued through the succession of his sons until 1979.

Widespread opposition to the regime had been present for a long time but it was the devastating earthquake of 1972, and more specifically the way that international aid poured into the pockets of the Somozas while thousands of people suffered and died, that caused opposition to spread among all classes of Nicaraguans.

One group formed to counter the regime was the FSLN (Frente Sandinista de LiberaceĆ³n Nacional), better known as the Sandinistas. The revolt spread and former moderates joined with the Sandinistas to overthrow the Somoza regime. The Sandinistas marched victoriously into Managua on 19 July 1979. They inherited a poverty-stricken country with high rates of homelessness, illiteracy and insufficient health care.

Prior to 1979, about 4% of the landowners controlled about 52% of the arable land. The Sandinistas quickly set to work on the equalization of wealth by targeting lands for expropriation.

The Contras were a counter-revolutionary group made up of rightists left over from the Somoza regime. With the discrete help of the US, this counter-revolutionary group, began a guerilla war on the Sandinistas. Through the highly controversial Iran-Contra Affair, the US provided the Contras with financial aid stemming from profits from an illegal arms trade with Iran. The result was a long and bitter civil war that lasted 10 years.

In 1990, Daniel Ortega, then president of Nicaragua, decided to hold free elections within Nicaragua; the civil war was over at last.

Since the 1990s, the country has slowly been working towards rebuilding its economy, but was hard hit by Hurricane Mitch in 1998 and more recently by Herricane Felix in 2007.


Nicaragua 101

If you're like me, your geography and demographic statistics on Nicaragua may be a bit rusty; so I thought I'd give you a little refresher course!

I would normally inundate you with pie charts and graphs (I'm such a nerd), but I'll spare you and just state the facts.

Located in Central America, Nicaragua is bordered by Honduras, Costa Rica, the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean and is slightly larger than New York State.

With a population of 5.4 million, 61% of the population is between the ages of 15-64, with the median age being 21 years. Average life expectancy is 70 years (78 years USA) with infant mortality at 27/1000 (6/1000 USA). More than half the deaths of children under four are caused by preventable diseases such as diarrhea, pnuemonia, malnutrition etc.

Ethnic Groups
69% Mestizo (mixed European and indigenous)
17% White
9% Black (Jamaican origin)
5% Indigenous

While the country is predominantly Roman Catholic there is a rapidly growing percentage of Evangelical Protestants.

Elementary education is free and compulsory; however, many children in rural areas are unable to attend due to lack of schools and other reasons. Only 28% of first graders eventually finish the sixth grade. Overall literacy is only 67% of the population, with only 7% holding a university degree.

Nicaragua is primarily an agricultural country, but light industry (maquila), tourism, banking, mining, fisheries, and general commerce are expanding. Nonetheless, Nicaragua remains the second-poorest nation in the Western hemisphere.

Out of a population of 5.4 million, 6% are unemployed with 47% underemployed. Forty-eight percent of the population in Nicaragua live in poverty.