Maria Pedro and her seven children left the comforts of their home in Nikiski in 1999 to serve as missionaries in Nicaragua. While there, the family learned firsthand many lessons that would last a lifetime.
When the family arrived, the living conditions were different than they were used to. Pedro and her family lived a short while with another family, a drastic change from Nikiski.
“That was really hard because sometimes they brought their animals in at night so they wouldn’t get stolen, and we would be trying to sleep on the floor and there would be chickens, pigs and ducks running around,” she said. “That was kind of rough.”
A short time later, the family was able to move into a small, one-bedroom home with plastic sheets used to help with privacy. But for Pedro, the location worked to their benefit.
“That was a good place for us to be because we were on the main street of the village where the villagers and some refugees lived and all the youth would hang out on the street so at night we would go out and talk to them,” she said.
“That was a real good opportunity to connect with the people.”
The family then moved into a home on a 4-acre banana farm outside of Posoltega, with no electricity or running water. Pedro said the only thing her crew knew about bananas was how to peel and eat them.
“There was a lot of learning that needed to happen here,” she said.
Pedro said she had to learn to cook over an open flame and wash the family’s clothing by hand. Yet the experience, while hard at the beginning, was worth the trouble.
“It really helped us to stay humble,” she said. “There were a lot of things we had to learn to survive there and it brought us closer to the people.”
While the living conditions brought them closer to the native Nicaraguans, the people of the country learned about Americans through the family, as well.
“Many people did not like Americans, and we were able to show them that it is not like they had thought,” she said.
While in the country, Maria and her children spread the word of God to all who would listen.
Teresa Cazares was 13 when the family moved. She said she spent most of her days teaching children ages 1 to 14.
The children she worked with daily did not have shoes or clothing. She taught the lessons from the Bible on whatever she could find.
“Usually the only thing I had to work with was paper and crayons and they were happy with that,” she said.
Lessons also delivered messages to help teach the children to brush their teeth and address other hygiene issues.
In rural areas, the family had to lean how to deal with everyday problems that Americans don’t.
“We were going to villages were there was not one Bible in the whole village, no schools, no health,” she said, adding she had to deliver babies and take care of staph infections, while the family also dealt with their own problems, including various bouts with malaria and scorpion bites.
Pedro said the family tried to concentrate on the villages that had no schools, while other areas had schools up to third grade.
Orlando Cazares, who was 11 when the family traveled abroad, said he worked with youth ages 14 to 24. He would read to them from the Bible and the group would memorize verses.
“Lots of them did not know how to read or write,” he said.
He played sports with them with a rolled up sock as a ball and only two bases for baseball. The family also dressed up often as clowns to entertain the communities and provide dramas based on biblical teachings. Recalling the humid climate of Nicaragua, Orlando said he missed the snow in Alaska the most while away.
As well as learning to live in strained conditions, the family found a taste for various animals, including turtle, turtle eggs, possum, armadillo and iguana. Many would bring the family food to show their appreciation.
“They were really happy to have us come to their village,” Pedro said.
Luis Cazares, now 21, said he enjoyed trying some of the foods.
“Iguana was probably the best meat I tasted,” he said.
Transportation was an issue the family had to overcome. Most of the time they had to walk from place to place.
“I remember thinking, ‘This is so hard to do, at least we have God that we could trust in,’” Pedro said.
At times, she said she would pray for a vehicle, not for herself, but for a pregnant woman or crippled villagers.
“I would just say to myself, ‘God, give us our truck back so we can give these people rides again.’ You don’t even think about yourself.”
Pedro said she ran into many obstacles in the country because she was a woman.
“There are a lot of people that didn’t believe women should be in the ministry, so sometimes they would have a hard time with me being the head of the ministry,” she said.
While there were many rules for women about wearing long dresses, no make-up or jewelry, Pedro learned throughout the years to respect those wishes yet help many realize it is not the messenger, it is the message.
She began dressing to their style when preaching in church, but chose to dress as an American the rest of the time.
Because some churches in the area believed one could only be baptized in running water, rivers or oceans, she helped baptize many who were dying and unable to travel.
“So we would go in and baptize them. I would always try to find another pastor to go to help along, but many times we had to baptize people before they died, even though there was a church two blocks away,” she said. “Sometime we had to do things because we thought they needed to be done.”
Luis said he learned an important lesson he soon will not forget.
“Don’t take anything for granted,” he said.
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