How Real a Relationship Can You Build?
Greenwood Christian Church and San José, Nicaragua
Members of Greenwood Christian Church's 2016 service team with families from their partner village: San José, Nicaragua. More than half of Greenwood's congregation has visited San José, learning about poverty firsthand and forming a bond that has "changed the culture of their church," according to Senior Pastor Bill Davis, bottom row, left.
Bill Davis rides a Harley and leads the congregation of Greenwood Christian Church on the north end of Seattle.
I got him on the phone recently after Greenwood’s annual trip to San José, the Agros village of 29 families in northern Nicaragua that his church has generously supported for the last six years. They’ve sent six mission teams down since 2011 to get to know the families they support and learn what the overcoming generational poverty looks like through individual families’ lives.
I had some big questions for Bill: What’s it been like to journey with a community for six years? To get to know families whose daily lives, language, culture, and struggles are so different from your own?
Bill’s answer: “It’s changed the culture of our church.” He has seen generosity, coupled with a sense of personal accountability and agency ripple through his congregation.
“People have realized that as individuals, they can make a difference. I had some [church members] come up to me recently and ask, What are we going to do about Syrian refugees? They felt compelled to do something. I don’t think that would’ve happened before.
I asked Bill to tell me more about this change. What caused the shift?
Tired of one thing at a Time
We started at the very beginning. Greenwood’s journey with San José began, as many great ideas do in Seattle, in a coffee shop. Bill sat with two other church leaders, flipping through a World Concern catalog. A page opened showing young girls pressed into the sex trade. Bill put his finger down, and the church raised $12,000 at a fundraiser that year to help women and girls escape sexual slavery.
But they wanted to do more. Bill’s team had a sense that they were attacking single symptoms of poverty rather than the root causes. “We were tired of doing one thing at a time,” he told me.
They found Agros online and a lightbulb went off: here was the full package they’d imagined. Housing, clean water, healthcare, agricultural training, and community development. This could transform an entire village, building a social base to lift families up and a network of connections to support them. By focusing first on basic needs, then building toward economic development, they could truly target the poorest families and offer them a resilient chance to build healthy, productive lives.
"110 children attend the school in San José, with young children attending in the morning and older children in the afternoon. It was incredible being invited into so many homes and connecting with the community," wrote Abby, a member of the 2014 service team, on Greenwood Christian's blog.
Bill traveled to Nicaragua and saw San José for the first time. “We weren’t excited at all,” he said bluntly. Compared to beautiful Tierra Nueva on a nearby pair of hilltops, San José was small and scrappy. David Carlson, an Agros staffer at the time, asked him to give San José a chance. The village, established in 2007, had never had a church partner journeying alongside them. They needed support.
Bill took the plunge. Looking back today, he told me, “We really wouldn’t trade our relationship with San José for anything.”
Relationship. It’s a word that’s thrown around a lot at Agros. Bill shook his head skeptically when he heard it back in 2011.
“They kept talking about building relationships,” he laughed. “‘Yeah, yeah,’ I said. ‘One trip, one week a year, how real a relationship can you build?’”
A powerful one, according to Bill today. He plucked out a story – one of many he’s accumulated during their annual trips down to the community – to illustrate.
Bill first saw Armando in San José several years ago: the man with the giant guitar. He looked dour. Bill saw a challenge and leaned in – he wanted to connect. But the opportunity didn’t come immediately. Then, last year, Bill noticed Armando missing and learned he’d had an emergency appendectomy. Bill asked if they could visit – he figured it must be lonely recuperating – and they walked to Armando’s house to entertain him with a little conversation and wish him well.
A year went by, and Bill saw Armando again and asked about his recovery. Surprise and delight crinkled Armando’s face into a smile.
Bill swears he saw a tear in his eye. “He was so pleased that I remembered,” says Bill. “That’s all it took.”
“We were welcomed with songs and scripture readings, and I was doing everything I could do not to cry my eyes out at the excitement and love the people were showing to us. And, the love and respect they have for Jesus is humbling. I want to be like that," wrote Scott Taylor, a member of the 2016 service team, in Greenwood's blog.
Bill is proud of the improvements he’s seen in the lives of families in San José: they’re turning farms into businesses, growing profitable peppers, and making payments on land loans. Families organized a pre-school in the community center. He met a mother, Petronilla, who was skeptical of water purification, but is now her community’s biggest advocate for it. That’s how great a difference she saw it make in her children’s health.
Yet equally profound changes have taken place on the other side, in the hearts and minds of each person from Greenwood Christian who has traveled to San José.
“The bottom line is we probably get more out of the relationship than they do,” says Bill.
"These relationships are lifelong… even when the day comes that we are not able to return. Our hearts are forever and always entwined," wrote Trisha, a 2016 service team member, in Greenwood's blog.
More than half of Greenwood’s congregation has visited San José. “People are much more aware of what our missions do. They’ve become our stories now. We’re different,” says Bill.
The Agros guy
Bill closed by telling me that his friends introduce him as the Agros guy: “'You know, the guy I told you about ...' they say, '... who leads all these trips to Central America with this organization that buys land for poor families and eventually deeds it over to them.'”
Bill’s not one to boast, but he’s proud of this reputation. Especially when he hears it coming out of the mouths of friends who wouldn’t normally be interested in the world’s poor. He finds talk about trips to Nicaragua are a safe way to start conversations about global poverty.
"Where’ve you been?" they ask.
“Nicaragua,” replies Bill.
Their response is predictable: "What - why?"
“I tell them what we do,” continues Bill. “They think it’s incredible that we’re buying land. That it would be deeded over to poor." For Bill, Agros's foundational focus on helping families own land is a magnet that draws people into conversation about the work.
"Everybody understands owning land," he says. "They get that it’s a fork in the road to be able to leave something of value to our children. It’s an incredible idea.”
Raise your voice for the poor
We’re day-in, day-out grateful to Bill and everyone at Greenwood Christian Church – for supporting the families of San José for the long haul, for holding families close in their prayers, but more than anything for their openness to having their hearts changed.
By journeying down to Central America to listen to and learn from poor families, they've become true advocates for the landless poor, offering their hands, their resources, their hearts and their voices to the cause.
At Agros, like everyone at Greenwood Christian, we're motivated by Jesus's love for those on the margins.
If you asked an Agros staffer, "If Jesus were alive today, where would he be?" you'd hear: "Among the forgotten rural poor, walking alongside them." That's why we come to work each day, striving to build God's just kingdom in each one of our communities, here, today, on Earth.
In La bendicion, 50 families are looking for a partner like you
Walter moved into La Bendicion with his wife and son last April. “No one would have loaned to me in my conditions …" he told us. "But, with the help from [Agros], my effort, and God, I am going to get ahead. My goal is to work as hard as I can in order for my dreams to become reality.”
Fifty families founded our newest community, La Bendicion, Nicaragua, in 2015, and they're looking for partner churches or groups to walk alongside them. They've just completed their grueling first year building houses and putting their first crops in the ground, all while organizing community leadership, starting community banks, and training brigadistas, or healthcare volunteers, to protect the community from preventable diseases like zika.
They're full of hope. For the first time they're in control of their futures. But their journey is just beginning.
They need support to develop as leaders, parents, and farmer businessmen over the next 5-7 years, so they can quit the cycle of poverty forever.
Would you or your friends be interested in partnering with the families of La Bendicion on their journey towards hope & opportunity?
Village partnership is a longterm relationship. You'll meet families and learn, in an immersive setting, about rural poverty and sustainble development. Your support will transform the lives of families like Walter's. But, by coming face to face with poverty in families you'll grow to know as friends, you'll find the greatest transformation often takes place in your own heart.
Would you like to talk about partnership?
Please reach out to Philanthropy Services Officer Guillermo Jimenez to start a conversation at email@example.com or 206.528.1066 x503.
P. S. See video of Greenwood's journey with San José and how they fund their partnership with an annual fundraiser here.