20 March 2019

Baha'is of Nicaragua

Baha'is of Masaya, Nicaragua
Today's sunset will mark the spring equinox, the end of 19 days of fasting, and the Baha'i New Year. It also marks my family's halfway point of a 3-month stay in Nicaragua.

We came here for a variety of reasons: to learn Spanish, to expose our kids to a new culture, to escape the terrible Oregon winter, but also to contribute to the development of the Baha'i Faith. We were able to make this happen with 3 little kids because we saved up for over a year and made the trip during a transition between jobs.

We were also able to make it happen because our friend's parents retired to Nicaragua 11 years ago. We visited them 5 years ago and got to know the city of Granada, where we now stay. Granada has an interesting history. It sits on Lake Nicaragua, an enormous lake on the narrow strip of land between the Caribbean and Pacific. Granada was founded by Spaniards in 1524, before they even knew where the river was that dumped into the Caribbean. It hosts amazing old Spanish architecture and was among the most prosperous cities in the New World, which is why it was repeatedly sacked by pirates. Before the Panama Canal was built, Granada was on the shortest land route across the isthmus and many Americans passed through while going between New York and Los Angeles.

The first Baha'i in Granada arrived in the 1970s. Rose Mangapi, from the Philippines, successfully taught dozens of people and there was a thriving Baha'i community. Last night someone on the street told me that they remember the Baha'is and their teaching efforts from the time of Somoza. Then in the 1980s the civil war in Nicaragua tore the country apart. Many were displaced, Baha'is included. By the time relative normalcy was restored in 1992, some of the remaining Baha'is in Granada retained their faith but married into Catholic families and no longer maintained a community life.

One family in particular stayed very active. The founding couple, now in their seventies, have 8 children, 14 grandchildren, and 4 great-grandchildren and spouses that are all Baha'is. Many of them have studied Ruhi books, hosted children's classes, and taken ISGP courses. Outside of that family there are 3 other active adults, and many more that are inactive.

Nowadays Granada is normally full of tourists and thriving on foreign dollars, but last summer protests arrested the country and the government killed hundreds of people to regain control. Tens of thousands left, and hundreds of thousands more lost their jobs as the economy went into recession. Granada, heavy on tourism, was hit harder than the rest.

Since the crisis, Baha'is have continued to teach. The nearby towns of Masaya and Nandaime have been very active in organizing growth activities. I visited Masaya during one of the outreach campaigns and found brilliant young folks dedicating all of their effort to growing their cluster and bringing spiritual education to their neighborhoods. They are trying to reach the third milestone of self-sustained growth in a year. I can speak Spanish, but not well enough to teach advanced concepts, so someone suggested that I could visit with seekers just to show them that there are Baha'is in the United States too, and all over the world. They said that sometimes people don't believe it when they are told that there are Baha'is all over the world, and they struggle to make it clear that the Baha'i Faith is not just a small group of Nicaraguans.

This was special to me because Baha'is in the United States have the same problem, often trying to dispel the belief that the Baha'i Faith is a largely American phenomenon. Here the ephemeral Nicaraguans that I use to show diversity are using me as an example of diversity.

Despite its progress in other cities, the Baha'is of Granada feel like the Faith hasn't done well in their city. When they joined in the 1970s, they were expecting entry by troops in the near future. 40 years later, they have seen very few new converts. But the large family also has many children and enormous capacity. Expansion and consolidation is not easy. The little flame that was ignited will stay lit, and it can be fanned as opportunities arise, like institute campaigns or travel teachers. Our stay of 3 months is not long enough for some kind of large-scale teaching effort, but we have been able to bring some life to the Feasts, children's classes, and devotional gatherings. Tonight we get to host the Naw Ruz party at our house!

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