Since 2010 Lutheran Campus Ministry at the University of Iowa has been taking spring break trips to Nicaragua. In 2010 and 2012 we visited a town on the north side of Lake Managua known as San Francisco Libre, where we worked with a remarkable group of young adults called La Red de Jovenes Contra Violencia/The Youth Network Against Violence. The group was first formed in 2008 by United Methodist missionary Nan McCurdy of Managua under the auspices of the Women and Community Association of SFL.
Today they have grown to include 46 youth and young adults from villages all across the municipality of San Francisco Libre who regularly conduct workshops and training sessions for children and teens that address issues of domestic violence, sexual exploitation, gender equality, and how to protect oneself from sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies. These gatherings often attract more than 300 youth at a time who march and demonstrate to change the machismo culture that dominates much of life in Central America.
In March of 2012 the idea was born to create an ongoing cultural exchange between Lutheran Campus Ministry students and members of the Youth Network. With a grant from the Philip N. Knutson Endowment of St. Olaf College* and Krumm Grant for Iowa Lutheran Campus Ministry, along with grants from the Gloria Dei, Iowa City Mission Endowment Fund and the Zion, Muscatine Trust Fund, as well as individual donations and funds raised by students and congregation members, the dream became a reality. In April of 2013 six members of the Youth Network, chosen by their peers and adult sponsors for their ability to articulate the core values of the organization, came to the U.S. to spend time at Lutheran Campus Ministry in Iowa City, under the direction of Campus Pastor Robert Dotzel, and Lutheran Campus Ministry at the University of Marquette in Milwaukee, under the direction of Campus Pastor Jessica Lippold-Short. The six Youth Network delegates were Elder Garcia, Rebeca Sarai Perez, Manuel Mendoza, Gema Cristina Delgadillo, Edwin Antonio Urbina, and Marlyng Barrios Moncada, accompanied by travel guides and translators Memo and Amanda Jones-Dominguez of Between Cultures ( www.betweencultures.org). Memo and Amanda are based out of Managua and have arranged and accompanied past LCM trips to Nicaragua for both the University of Iowa and Marquette.
During their stay in Iowa City (April 2-7) the Youth Network interacted with a variety of youth and student groups, conducting workshops and engaging area groups and agencies in conversations about healthy sexuality, gender equality, and sexual responsibility. Besides spending time with LCM and Gloria Dei members, the Youth Network interacted with students and youth at the University of Iowa Wesley Foundation, United Action for Youth in Iowa City, West Liberty High School, and Scattergood Preparatory School in West Branch. They also learned about the work of the UI Women’s Resource and Action Center and held a workshop with the WRAC Men’s Anti-violence Coordinator Jacob Oppenheimer and Rape Victim’s Advocacy Program Coordinator Katryn Duarte. Gloria Dei members donated $1,370 to help the Youth Network build and operate a radio station that they having been dreaming about for years. The station will help them to keep in daily touch with youth in the more remote areas of their municipality and update them about things that are happening with the organization.
For fun, they were accompanied by LCM students for ice skating at Coral Ridge Mall (an absolute first for Nicaraguans, where the annual temperature hovers between 86-101 degrees!) and dancing at Studio 13. Shopping at the Crowded Closet for clothing and gifts was a huge hit. Then, April 7-12, the group was off to Milwaukee where they held similar workshops with youth and students. While in Milwaukee they went bowling (also for the first time), visited the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, and toured the Sprecher Brewery. All in all, it was the experience of a lifetime for these youth adults who had never traveled outside Nicaragua before.
*The Philip N. Knutson Endowment in Lutheran Campus Ministry provides special funding for programs, exhibits, and conferences that address timely life issues and concerns facing Christians in higher education, including the subject of human sexuality and the Church. (copied from the Philip N. Knutson Endowment website: https://wp.stolaf.edu/church-relations/knutson-endowment/)
Article written by Pastor Rob Dotzel, University of Iowa Campus Ministry