After six years in Nicaragua, four Nikiski residents returned home after several problems kept them in the country longer than expected.
Maria Pedro and her seven children left on a missionary trip to Nicaragua in 1999, one year after a devastating mud slide killed nearly 2,000 near Posoltega.
Pedro and her daughter, Olivia, 23, returned in July, but her children, Gabriel, 15, Teresa, 19, Orlando, 17, and Samuel Cazares, 16, returned in mid-October after running into problems with passport issues, political unrest, road closures, more mud slides and evacuations. Pedro said she left expecting the teens to return within 30 days of her arrival, but as in life, things got messy.
Pedro said though she knew her kids were coming home any day, the waiting was frustrating.
She would tell church members she wanted to go down and get her kids, yet she was urged to stay calm and keep the trust alive.
“They kept telling me, ‘Trust in God,’” she said.
Today, with the exception of daughter Veronica who married and stayed in Nicaragua, the family is finally together and able to share their stories.
The mud slide hit near Posoltega shortly after Hurricane Mitch hit in March 1999. Pedro said after a year of waiting for the initial cleanup, she felt the need to help the people of Nicaragua.
“It just really was in my heart to help people,” she said.
Pedro had visited the Central American country with a group of four other women with the Aurora Heights Assembly of God, a church she then attended.
With her previous experience in the country, she felt she could help in the wake of the mud slide. She said her main goals were to talk to people about Jesus and help those in need. The family became members of the Nikiski New Hope Christian Fellowship, an extension of the Kalifonsky Christian Center, and Pedro was appointed by the pastors to head the ministry.
“We wanted to be of any help we could in the country of Nicaragua to better their lives,” she said. “I really felt like we were to be a bridge.”
Pedro said the disaster had similarities to recent American disasters, but the country is much poorer, and she felt she needed to help.
“To imagine a Third World country, where they have no resources, and how that affects them,” she said. “I knew their hearts had to really be suffering.”
She said she knew the disaster took a large toll on the people of Nicaragua.
“I knew they had to be going through a really rough time, and I knew the country wasn’t rich enough to pull themselves out of it,” she said.
To fund the trip, Pedro and her church held of various fund-raisers and a garage sale, raising about $7,000. The family sold their home in Nikiski and in October 1999, packed up and set out on their journey. She said she did not know how long they would stay.
“We knew it was possible we would live there forever and maybe not come back to the United States. We didn’t know,” she said.
They traveled to Posoltega, a small village where the slide occurred.
Pedro said many asked her how she could take her children to a foreign country. Pedro said she knew if they believed, everything would work out.
“I remember saying specifically to people, ‘Because my children have something that children there don’t have, and they can share what they have,’” she said.
She said she felt they needed to do what they could for the people in Nicaragua that had suffered so such.
“We had to do it, and we just had to trust in God,” she said.
Luis Cazares 21,, who was 15 when the family left, said he looked forward to traveling to a foreign land.
“It was kind of exciting to go somewhere we had never been,” he said, adding it also was hard to leave his friends in Nikiski.
But he said living in the circumstances he and his family endured to spread God’s word was enough for him to make the trip worthwhile.
“If none of that didn’t happen to us, we wouldn’t have seen how they are living down there,” he said.
Luis returned to the United States to finish school in 2003 and currently is working in Kenai.
Pedro said she worked hard after her return to Alaska to bring her children home from Nicaragua. But days of heavy rains caused more mud slides, closing roads and making travel to Managua, the country’s capital, impossible.
Pedro said many area individuals, as well as her church, donated the funds to eventually bring the teens home.
“I thank God that I had resources here,” she said. “They look at it like these are their children, too.”
Pedro said when the family took the trip, the mission became more about bringing the love of the entire state rather than just her family.
“I felt like it wasn’t just me going down there, it was Alaska going down there,” she said.
Today, a five-bedroom home and a Bible school is being built for the family in Nicaragua. Pedro plans to return next November to resume the work and teach and help others, but the rest of the family members are not sure when they will return or how long they will stay.
To prepare for the next mission, Pedro is raising money to keep the missionary in Nicaragua alive with donations from area groups, individuals and many in the Lower 48.
Through it all, Pedro said the most important lesson her family has learned is the one they already knew in their hearts:
“To trust God,” she said. “Trust in him for everything.”
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