Mark, Jenni, Tate and Theo Stearns
Missionaries to Nicaragua
Making disciples for Christ by loving who are at risk and underprivileged in Nicaraguan society, by equipping and training them to become functioning members of their local church and reach their own people with the gospel of Jesus Christ through the story of their transformed lives.
Who we are: We each grew up in a Christian home, and were baptized in early adolescence. We met in the summer of 2000 at a church camp, and started dating a couple of years later. We were married in December 2003 at Jenni’s home church in Snohomish, Washington. Mark was Active Duty in the Navy and was deployed for three months on a submarine shortly after our honeymoon. A week after he returned we moved to Virginia, where Tate was born in August 2006. We stayed there for about three years and were soon transferred back to the Seattle area. Theo was born in February, 2009, and shortly after Mark’s Naval commitment was completed. Upon finishing his active duty time, Mark went into the reserves and moved the family to Portland in August of 2009 to start work as a Senior Engineer at ClearEdge Power, in Hillsboro.
Mark has extensive experience in power generation, from operating a nuclear reactor through the Navy to fuel cell production and operation in the civilian sector. Through his work as a Naval Officer, he has gained a lot of leadership experience that has been put to good use as a civilian. Mark is a 2002 graduate from the US Naval Academy with a Bachelor’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering.
Jenni has been down to Central America several times. She went on her first mission trip to Ensenada, Mexico when she was 13 years old. At that time she knew she wanted to be a missionary someday, but when she married a Naval Officer she figured it would never happen. Jenni graduated from Old Dominion University in December, 2006 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Biological Sciences and Latin American Studies.
Our partners: We will be working under Verbo Nicaragua with Bob and Myra Trolese, who have been in Nicaragua since 1980. Verbo operates all over Central and South America and in Nicaragua alone, Verbo Nicaragua has planted approximately 15 churches over the past 30 years. In addition to church planting, Verbo Nicaragua runs several ministries including two orphanages, several schools and feeding centers all throughout the country.
Where: Nicaragua is the second poorest country in the western hemisphere, with about 80% of the population living on less than two dollars a day. Most Nicaraguan people would identify themselves as Catholic, but do not have a personal relationship with Jesus. Nicaragua’s school system involves primary school and secondary school. Primary school is kindergarten through 6th grade and secondary school is 5 years. A degree from secondary school is a significant accomplishment, but does not make finding a job easier. Nearly any job that will support a family requires some type of job training or an advanced degree. Currently less than 10% of Nicaraguans have a college degree.
We will be working at Casa Bernabe, one of the two orphanages that Verbo started. Casa Bernabe is located in Veracruz, about 15 minutes outside of downtown Managua, the capitol of Nicaragua. Casa is currently home to about 75 kids, ages 5 to 22. The orphanage is situated on 68 acres that are owned by Verbo. The land not only houses the orphanage but also Verbo School, a private Christian school that the orphanage children attend, along with many local children. The rest of the land is used for cultivation, a team center, housing for employees, and some land is rented out to local farmers for cattle grazing.
Casa Bernabe is a ministry of Verbo Church, and as such, the leadership of Verbo is directly involved in staffing, budget and operation of the orphanage. The children currently attend the church for services on Sundays and occasionally attend special services and activities that are geared toward their age group. Due to transportation issues the kids do not regularly attend midweek youth or children’s services. Some of the children have developed meaningful relationships with families from the church and will spend holidays together with them. However, most contact between church members and orphanage kids is limited to Sundays at church.
In Nicaragua, as in most of Central America, the family members live close to each other and play a major role in daily life. Because of the lack of jobs, some men will travel far from home in order to work, and consequently end up having two families or may be involved with several women at once. It’s not uncommon for Nicaraguan fathers to not be an influential part of their children’s lives. Machismo is fairly popular among Nicaraguan males. Machismo men exhibit a domineering attitude, fierceness, tend to be sexist and can be very violent toward their wives and children. This attitude has been passed down for generations, and has torn at the basic principle of love that Jesus preaches.
Why: We took our first trip to Nicaragua together in April of 2009 when Tate was 2 1/2 and Theo was just 6 weeks old. We found the orphanage when Believers, our home church in Virginia partnered with the sister orphanage in Puerto Cabezas. Some of the leaders at Believers knew that Mark and I were interested in serving in Central America and we have a heart for orphans so they made the initial introduction. We spent about 4 weeks in Central America and knew from the first day at the orphanage that we would want to build a long term relationship with the orphanage kids and staff. Even though there was a team house at the orphanage, for some reason that was unknown to us at the time, we were set up to live in the Posada, with the boys ages 12-22. During the visit we built very strong relationships with the boys in the Posada. They were very intrigued by Mark’s involvement in our boys’ lives, and were honored that we were willing to live with them in the Posada with our young boys. When we left each of the boys wrote us a very meaningful letter, saying how much they appreciated us living with them, how they were inspired by seeing how our family worked and how they loved our boys and that they had decided that they wanted to be fathers and husbands that are active in their family’s life, like Mark is. It was a very humbling and rewarding experience for us.
We felt like we would be involved in the orphanage from Portland, leading teams to do short term trips, raising support, etc. However, after a few months we began to feel our hearts change. We wanted to be down in Nicaragua on a long term basis. We prayed about this and thought that it would happen “someday”. Our prophetic assembly confirmed our desire and gave us the green light to believe we would be down in Nicaragua sometime sooner. When we went down in May of 2011 we talked with the missionaries about coming down, and their responses combined with a multitude of prayer, encouraged us to start taking steps to going down long term.
Our plan has two facets, a holistic Vocational Training and Development Program located at the orphanage as well as a Transitional Home for adolescent boys who are graduating from the orphanage and moving on to college or a professional training program.
Overarching Vision and Goals:
Vocational Training and Development Program (VTDP):
1. Start a VTDP with a holistic approach at the orphanage, utilizing the land that is currently available. This will probably include, but is not limited to, energy generation (starting with biodiesel production), carpentry, electrician and plumbing work. The purpose of this is to create healthy mentoring relationships between the men at church and the students at the school, enacting the Iron Sharpening Iron principle mentioned in Proverbs. Prior to life in the orphanage, the young men have had very few Godly influences in their lives and since Nicaraguan culture is highly relational, we feel like one of the most effective ways to encourage spiritual, relational and career development is to provide a safe environment conducive to intensive discipling and training in these areas. Our hope is that as the young men are mentored and encouraged in the areas they are naturally and spiritually gifted as well as being taught and guided in areas of weakness, they will be plugged in to ministry in the local church.
*We have worked extensively down in Nicaragua over the past two years. One of the patterns we’ve noticed with the older kids is that when their hands are moving (because they are working) so are their mouths. We’ve butchered chickens, “mowed” the lawn (with machetes), painted, installed fans, and as we work alongside of the kids they start to open up about their lives. Our hope is to open the lines of communication while working with the kids in order to deepen our relationships and ultimately introduce them to Christ.
*One of our highest priorities is to increase Verbo church member involvement at the orphanage. We hope that an effective way to do this is to ask members of the church who have expertise in various trades to come and share their knowledge with us and minister to the boys by sharing their trade with them, and at the same time ministering to the kids by sharing about their lives.
*We want to give the kids the opportunity to learn skills that will translate into jobs that are in demand in Nicaragua right now and in the near future.
*The holistic approach will include spiritual, financial, relational, emotional and social training in addition to the job skills.
*For each program we start we plan to find a North American church or group of people interested in funding the specific project. This will give the donating group an ability to see where their money is being spent and see some measure of a return on their investment (in the form of graduates from the program).
2. Create a partnership with programs that already exist, such as dental and medical assisting, translating, pottery, painting and construction.
*We have heard of other professional programs that already exist in Nicaragua. We would like to locate these programs and facilitate an exchange or partnership with the programs. Utilizing programs that are already in existence will lower the costs of maintaining the VTDP and give the kids more options for their training.
3. Assist in increasing production on already existing programs, including agriculture, farming and the repair and sale of bicycles.
*Currently at the Orphanage there is a greenhouse and we would like to assist in creating a plan to keep the greenhouse fully functional.
*There are several different ideas about what could be cultivated at the farm, but without anyone gathering data and presenting ideas to the board, the land hasn’t yet yielded maximum production. We hope to research several agricultural options for the land to find the program that can produce a cash crop product as well as give the kids an opportunity to learn job skills.
4. We would like to assist the orphanage with cutting cost and increasing revenue. This will allow the orphanage to not be as reliant on foreign donations.
5. Once the VTDP has been established and the model has proven successful we would like to use the VTDP platform as outreach for local young men. One way for us to do this would be to include an evangelism course as a part of the training and have the target be young men in the area.
*One potential monetary benefit to allowing local teens into the program is the possibility of charging a tuition fee, assisting in cost reduction of our program.
Transitional Ministry Home for Adolescent Boys (TMH):
1. Build/buy or rent a home in Managua for transitional ministry. Our family will occupy this home as well as up to 12-16 boys that are transitioning from living in the orphanage setting to living family style. In order for the transition home to be successful in helping the young men learn how to be a biblical husband and father, we’re going to need Verbo members to be intense in prayer and very involved in assisting with the TMH. We view the transitional home as another piece to the holistic approach we’re using to equip young men to be godly husbands and fathers and leaders in the local church.
*Choosing to live in the home will teach the kids about regular family life. Many of the kids have lived in an orphanage for most of their lives and have not observed family function in a day to day context. In order to have a healthy family in the future, we feel it is necessary to have them experience it prior to starting their own.
*The boys will be a part of grocery shopping, cleaning, meal planning, family devotions and family meetings.
*Living in a family situation will give the boys the opportunity to continue with the intensive discipling they have received at the orphanage during very formative years (about 17-25, depending on the kid).
*In Nicaragua, it’s customary for kids to live with their families until they get married, and it’s not uncommon to stay even after marriage. This custom, combined with the boys’ need to experience family, have made us realize that although it’s not normal in the US to continue to live in a family setting in college, it will be socially accepted in Nicaragua.
Specifics for the first two years/Timeline:
*The first two years will lay a very important foundation for our ministry in Nicaragua. Our focus during this time is going to be specifically on building relationships. We want to build a strong network of relationships within the church, with the children that are at the orphanage and at the transition dorms, the staff at the orphanage, among the other missionaries in Nicaragua, the neighbors in Veracruz and with other vocational ministries that are working in Nicaragua. Nicaragua is a relational based culture, and in order to have any sort of business agreement, a relationship needs to be cultivated first.
*These relationships will assist us in learning language, culture and about daily life in Nicaragua. We desire to assist the local Nicaraguan church with their goals, not implement our own. Through the relationships we build with Verbo church members we hope to encourage and empower them to determine what programs they think will be successful, and we will assist them in the implementation of these programs.
*Specifically, for our first year, we would like to get an idea of what kind of vocational training programs will be a benefit to the kids and which programs are out there that we can build a partnership with. Because we’re starting from scratch, we’ll need to do a lot of research to determine what skills are useful in the Nicaraguan economy.
*We would like to be making biodiesel at the farm for the vehicles that are in use there.
*For the transition side of things, we would like to have strong relationships built with the boys that are living at the current transition apartment. We’d like to have a regular schedule where we have them over for dinner once a week (one or two at a time). We would also like to do regular Bible studies and devotions.
*We’d like to become aware of (if it already exists) or if not, help set a plan for the kids leaving the orphanage. Identifying a group of skills necessary for the kids to have before they leave the orphanage will assist us in assessing placement and postsecondary plans.
*At the end of the second year we’d like to have 2 vocational training programs and 2 partnerships up and running.
*We’d like to have a plan for a cheaper energy system for the orphanage.
*We want to have a timeline and a plan in place to start a transition home. We’ll need funding, a firm plan, church support in order to start.
Who: We feel called to work with adolescent males in Nicaragua. We believe that change comes through the young, they are moldable, passionate and less hardened by the circumstances of life. As much as we love Nicaragua and desire to see every person in Nicaragua reached with the true gospel, I don’t feel like we can do this by ourselves. But we can work with “broken branches—native-born, orphaned and abandoned children–,sharpen them with education, faith, [love], a heart for the Great Commission, and launch them like arrows back into all the regions of [Nicaragua] that have never heard the truth about Jesus.” (J. Ferwerda, One Million Arrows, p. 17).
**While these plans sound “firm”, we are absolutely available and open to do whatever work God has planned for us in Nicaragua. This is where we feel called after much prayer and council, but are open to doing whatever the Lord asks of us in Nicaragua**