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Project Panali: Henderson Couple Journeyed to Nicaragua



At the end of February, one Henderson couple had the opportunity to explore God’s work nearly 3,000 miles away in the Central American country of Nicaragua.

Matt and Dani Siebert were invited on a mission trip to the mountain village of Panali. Their connection came through the couple’s friend, Bryan Olesen, who is the lead singer of VOTA and worship leader at Lincoln Berean Church. VOTA had chosen to partner with Food for the Hungry (FH), and Nicaragua had many villages that were in need of help. According to their website, the mission of Food for the Hungry is: “To walk with churches, leaders, and families in overcoming all forms of human poverty by living in healthy relationship with God and His creation.”

This partnership led to the campaign idea of “Nebraskans for Nicaragua,” in hopes that many others in the state would join in support of this area. My Bridge Radio (95.7) also decided to amalgamate exposing thousands of listeners to the movement. This powerful combination led to a trip of 10 Nebraskans from around the state traveling to Panali to meet the people, see the place, gain insight on how to help, and return to share their stories.

In Nicaragua, Food for the Hungry has a team of people who live there. They are the ones who are continually working with the residents and were in charge of facilitating the Nebraska visitors. This provides a sustainable and healthy model for those visiting to go in and out of the village without inadvertently causing damage.

There are around 3,000 people who live in Panali and the outskirts. “Everyone would invite you into their house, and they were always sweeping their dirt floors” the Sieberts commented. Matt and Dani spent their time getting to know the people and hearing about their lives. Many natives face hardships from poverty, familial deaths, and drug and alcohol addiction.

When they initially were contacted about the trip, Matt had visions of going there to construct a building or do some kind of manual labor. Through Food for the Hungry’s model to strive for community empowerment, however, there were no such plans on this particular trip. Though he held some reservations about how the trip would go for him, Matt discovered just how meaningful prayer was to the people. It was a significant realization that the simple acts of caring conversation and heartfelt prayer could be more powerful in the Kingdom of God than the work of human hands.

Along the lines of community empowerment, a favorite part of the trip for Dani was attending the community meeting. There a select and diverse leadership board of local residents discussed needs and ideas they had for their area. “They had their goals written out and had such ownership and passion,” explained Dani. In the U.S., we are surrounded by resources and books about entrepreneurship or running small businesses, but that is not the case there. This is a great opportunity for the FH staff and visitors to step in to share encouragement or ideas as the people formulate their plans. Even the Nicaraguan government became excited about the work happening there and decided to also contribute to the area.

Another highlight of the trip was for Matt and Dani to meet a little girl they sponsor through FH in Nicaragua. Her picture has hung in their house as they have corresponded with her, so it didn’t take long for Dani to spot her at a church gathering. Sponsorship is a vital part in the work of Food for the Hungry as they desire to change the poverty mindset among the children. Money given from the  sponsored family goes into the community through FH. The staff checks in to make sure the children in the program are attending school and meeting the requirements. They facilitate the writing of letters back and forth between the sponsor and the child that builds a relationship. The Sieberts noted, “Many of the kids have hardly seen beyond their own town, so it is very special for them to know someone in another country is praying for them.”

There are several families in the area who are already sponsoring children there. One neat aspect is that while there are several nationally known child sponsorship programs, flying to Nicaragua is a less expensive travel option comparatively, so visiting your sponsored child can be a more likely reality. If you are interested in learning more about child sponsorship, you can find information here: http://www.mybridgeradio.net/project-panali/

It may have taken a few plane rides and hours of driving for the Sieberts to reach the beautiful indigenous people of Nicaragua, but with Matt already having another trip in mind, it’s safe to say Panali that has been specially connected with the people of Nebraska. FH is committed to its community development work there for the next several years with the hopes that the community learns to utilize their resources and manage their operations to be self-sustaining in the future. It seems, however, that there will be lifetime relationships and impact through the Nebraskans invested in Project Panali.



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