Reflections From My First Mission Trip

516Now Mission Trip

Author: Chris Tirone, TeamFS

In March of 2018, the founder of Team Finish Strong, Vince Schmidt, sent an email to the team making everyone aware of 516Now and their Nicaraguan ministry headed up by Scott Votey. I took Vince’s advice and prayed about this opportunity to serve the Lord. After some prayer and a little research, I ultimately expressed my interest in going on the mission.  And thus, on January 18, 2020, I found myself flying to Managua, Nicaragua to meet up with Scott, his wife, Linda, and her sister, Bonnie. Even though I did a little research, I had no idea what I would see and experience in Nicaragua. Traveling with Scott and Linda was a real blessing as we rolled up the Pan American Highway on our way to the “target community” of Palacaguina.  During our drive, the sheer poverty of the country was overwhelming, and it quickly reminded me of a trip with USA Cycling to race the Pan American Championships in Venezuela in the 90’s. Most families have very few material possessions and live without indoor plumbing and the basics that we do not even think about here in the United States.

Once in Palacaguina our days were full of serving from early morning to evening but our team took time for a morning Bible study and after-dinner reflections. Each one of us was always welcomed with open arms wherever we traveled and the opportunities to engage and minister to others were endless. Right away we spent time visiting sponsored children and their families and God’s love was evident in the smiles and hugs that were shared. Along with visiting the sponsored children, our little team was involved in supporting the Smiling School Kids program with many parents and children excited to receive sponsorship for the upcoming school by way of uniforms, shoes, backpacks and school supplies. Each child was encouraged to stay the course with their studies in order to stay within the program, and there is a waiting line to join the program.

Other ministry time was spent helping with a major church expansion project, along with tuning up and distributing bicycles to 6 teenagers on the last day of the mission. It was satisfying to see the smiles and satisfaction on these children’s faces as they rolled down the street on their new bicycles.

Last but not least, I was exposed to two new businesses in Palacaguina that were established by women who had a vision and the support of a 516NOW micro-loan. Through hard work and much determination these businesses have proven to be sustainable and bring work to other women within the community.

A very exciting outcome that none of us expected when meeting with city officials was finding out that Palacaguina has a major bicycle race that takes place each year. The city is always looking for support of their sports programs in terms of equipment and is especially open to help in the area of cycling where knowledge and coaching would be welcome.

Since returning home and jumping back into work and “reality”, I have already begun looking at life and relationships differently. The experience of meeting many Nicaraguans and seeing their love of family, friends and the Lord has made what I know is a life-long impact on me. In life, we all have pivotal moments in our faith and I am thankful to the Vince, the Votey’s, and ultimately the Lord for the opportunity to serve on this mission. I would be remiss if I didn’t also state that I was traveling to minister in Nicaragua but what really took place was that I was ministered to as much as I worked to minister.

I am already thinking and praying about a return trip.

The Mountain Ahead

BE WILLING TO KEEP CLIMBING THIS HIGH mountain with Me. Sometimes you look back nostalgically at a long-ago stage of your journey. You yearn for that easier, less complicated time in your life. But I want you to recognize it for what it was: a base camp. It was a time and place of preparation for the arduous adventure ahead of you.
The mountain you are climbing is exceedingly high; the top of it is hidden in clouds. So it’s impossible for you to know how far up those heights you have come— and how far you have yet to go. However, the higher you go, the better view you have. Although each day is a challenge and you often feel weary, take time to enjoy the magnificent scenery!

This journey with Me is training you to see from a heavenly perspective that transcends your circumstances. The higher up the mountain you climb, the steeper and more challenging your path becomes— but the greater your adventure as well. Remember that the higher you go with Me, the closer you get to your ultimate goal— the heights of heaven!

Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, led them up on a high mountain by themselves; and He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light. —Matthew 17: 1– 2 NKJV

The Lord God is my Strength, my personal bravery, and my invincible army; He makes my feet like hinds’ feet and will make me to walk [not to stand still in terror, but to walk] and make [spiritual] progress upon my high places [of trouble, suffering, or responsibility]! —Habakkuk 3: 19 AMP

Our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. —Philippians 3: 20– 21

Vince Schmidt
Finish Strong

Learning to Rest

I have been mostly off the bike for the past few weeks due to some personal health concerns. For someone always on the move, being still has been very difficult. Much of my world up to now has revolved around my passion, which is cycling. With it unexpectedly taken from me due to some health concerns, I have been left with a void along with lingering questioning as to why God would allow such a disappointing turn to happen.

The Lord reminded me in this unexpected sabbatical that when Martha and Mary were with him, Jesus commended Mary as having made the better choice (Luke 10). Resting at the feet of Jesus is in fact the only thing we ever really need to do. God can get along just fine in the world without our help. When we do participate in the work, we should see it rather as a privilege on our part to ride along with him, so to speak, and be a part of what he is doing in the world. I say this because I think I was falling into the trap of needing to do the work of sharing Christ, rather than needing to just be a child of God.

Consequently, I have been learning the practice of rest. As I draw near to Christ, my hope is that he will give clarity for when/how to move forward in the way the he wishes for me to go.  This passage from John comes to mind as I write these words:

“The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” John 3:8 (NIV)

The Spirit of God moves the people of God as he pleases, and as with the wind, we may not know where the Lord may be taking us at times, however we can rest in the hope that God’s best purposes are fulfilled as we draw close to Christ and follow as he leads. It can actually be liberating to be free from the demands that others or we may place on ourselves.

Only one thing is important, and I am choosing what is better.

James Fowler

Construction in Progress

Construction: it’s the bane of every cyclist. To find out that our favorite Strava route or segment is under construction is among the worst things we can imagine happening to dampen our riding spirits.  With the immediate loss comes a temporary inconvenience, which can overshadow the positive, future benefits the improvements will bring.

We can be the same way with people, too.  New, inexperienced cyclists can be perceived as an inconvenience, with their ignorance of cycling etiquette, group pace, and other aspects of the group riding experience. Nonetheless, we were all newbies once, and as one who is still new to group riding (last year was my first year) I can recall instances when I have been treated with distain by more experienced riders for my perceived slights.  I have also been in groups where cyclists have spread gossip about other riders in the group. Whether a cyclist’s behavior on the bike is worthy of correction or not, talking behind other’s backs achieves nothing except to alienate individuals.

Rather than tearing people down, I strongly believe we should be looking out for each other instead. The person I help and show grace to today may be the person who watches my back tomorrow. While I have had my negative experiences, I can honestly say (thankfully) that over the course of the past year I can recall many more instances of those who coached me gently through my inexperience instead of mocking me or developing a distain for my participation.  I am truly grateful for their mentoring and hold these folks in very high regard – ones who serve as a model for the rest of us.

The bible, as you would imagine, also weighs in on the matter:

Don’t be jealous or proud, but be humble and consider others more important than yourselves.  Care about them as much as you care about yourselves.
Philippians 2:3-4

As with a construction project, there is a worthy goal awaiting when we invest in the lives of others, whether we’re simply out there on the road showing grace to a fellow cyclist, or (more importantly) when we take the time to care about people while we’re on this journey through life.  It’s a lesson we can all pass forward….

James Fowler
Finish Strong

Thoughts from Vince…

WHEN YOU ARE GOING THROUGH A DARK time— a hard time— it’s easy to project that darkness into the future. The longer you struggle with adverse circumstances, the darker the way before you appears— and the harder it is to imagine yourself walking along bright paths again. The temptation is to just give up and let misery become your companion. So it is crucial at such times to remember that I am your constant Companion. Moreover, because I am Sovereign God, I am able to turn your darkness into Light.

When you feel on the verge of sinking in despair, turn to Me for help. Cling to My hand, and walk by faith through the darkness. Do not focus on the circumstances that are weighing you down. Instead, through eyes of faith, look ahead to brighter times, and praise Me for them. While you worship Me in the midst of darkness, I enable you to see the first gleam of dawn on the path before you. Continue walking worshipfully with Me— a walk of faith. As you persevere along this path, the dim light will gradually shine brighter and brighter till the full light of day.

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners. —Isaiah 61: 1

You are my lamp, O LORD; the LORD turns my darkness into light. —2 Samuel 22: 29
We walk by faith, not by sight. —2 Corinthians 5: 7 NKJV

The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter till the full light of day. —Proverbs 4: 18

Vince Schmidt
Finish Strong
P.O. Box 25189
Greenville, SC 29616

Spreading the word of Christ through our sport!