When four members of the Westminster Church of the Brethren left for a 10-day trip to visit their sister church in Nicaragua in October, they weren't sure what to expect.
Pastor Christy Waltersdorff said she was afraid she'd come home angry over how unappreciative and wasteful Americans are with all they have.
What she saw in poverty-stricken Managua, Nicaragua, made her both angry and proud.
"The people were warm and loving and gave us the best of what they had," she recalled. "They're very strong in their faith. They have such spirit of hope that they reach out to help others worse off than themselves."
In a country torn by governmental strife, where three generations of a family may live together in a tiny ramshackle hut, another kind of wealth flourishes.
"The United States has such material wealth but such spiritual poverty," Ms. Waltersdorff said. "The Nicaraguans have TC two-hour church service every evening, families live together and take care of their relatives, the children are taught respect for adults and they take great pride in their cleanliness."
Church member Jan Flora noted an example of the Nicaraguans' faith: "They're building a cathedral in Managua with money that could build 10,000 decent homes instead."
The pastor, Ms. Flora and her daughter, Krista Carter, and Howard Miller all were impressed with the devout faith of their sister congregation.
"We all had lunch in a different home every day," said Ms. Flora. "They were apparently vying with each other to see who could do the most for us. They felt they had to do this to show their hospitality."
To get a real look at how the Nicaraguans live their daily lives, the Americans stayed with members of their sister church, the Mision Cristiana (First Church of the Christian Mission).
"These people are destitute, yet they plant flowers around their little hovels. It's their way of showing hope," Ms. Flora said. "There's no water, electricity or sanitary facilities. It's more primitive than many U.S. campgrounds."
The Mision Cristiana, home to about 60 members, was a simple cinder block building. The American visitors said they helped with the work of improving the sanctuary by covering it with stucco.
The four Westminster visitors also got to participate in the Mision Cristiana's 23rd anniversary celebration, which included other area churches, Krista said.
Ms. Flora said the tiny Nicaraguan church, as poor as it is, does an intense outreach ministry.
"They have two primary thrusts, a prison ministry and a program for drug addicts. They have a 60 percent unemployment rate in Nicaragua, and drugs and prostitution have really escalated."
One of the problems in Nicaragua has been with the long war between the Sandanistas and contras, the latter supported by the United States. Instead of spending money where it was needed -- on food, shelter and jobs -- the government waged another kind of battle.
"Nicaragua has beautiful farm land, very good farming land," Mr. Miller said. "It's a wealthy nation in terms of natural resources, but the irony is that people are going hungry because they lack money for seed, equipment and such."
The Mision Cristiana wants to do job training, for such tasks as sewing and other things that people can do at home, he added.
"My hope is, with the new administration [in Washington], we'll see a new attitude toward a nation which desperately needs economic aid," Mr. Miller said. "I sensed [in the Nicaraguans] a deep faith and commitment to each other and that helps them get by."
The four from Westminster returned home different people. The pastor lost her heart to the children.
Ms. Waltersdorff said she discovered in Nicaragua "a peaceful, beautiful country -- not what we see in the news."
Ms. Flora, touched by the generosity of so poor a people, took one Nicaraguan woman's picture in the hope of finding her a pen pal.
And Krista, 17, is taking a second look at her own values.
"It made me think a lot about my values and how to share that with my friends," she said. "It made me feel selfish."