Buford-based Amigos for Christ is celebrating 15 year of helping Nicaraguans receive clean water, medical support, education and economic growth. (Special Photo)
BUFORD — For a year, Lornezo Tercero lived in the city dump.
At age 27 he lived in Chinandega, Nicaragua, with his mom and siblings. In 1998, Hurricane Mitch hit and ravished the city and that’s when they had to move in the middle of a cemetery, the city’s septic system and the garbage dump.
“At the dump, the smoke that came into the community was horrendous. It made us all sick,” he said in Spanish.
That same year, newly founded Amigos for Christ visited to help with the devastation. The Buford-based nonprofit was able to move Tercero out of the trash heap into a new house.
“Where I live now is so much healthier than the dump,” he said. “Where I live now is out in the country. It’s clean, beautiful.”
And he works full-time for Amigos in Nicaragua building water systems.
“I always wanted to get out of there, so I thank God to get out of there,” Tercero said.
That is only one example of the impact of Amigos for Christ, which was originally based out of Prince of Peace Catholic Church in Flowery Branch.
What started as 38 volunteers taking a mission trip in the late ’90s has grown to between 1,000 to 1,500 volunteers traveling to Nicaragua 38 weeks out of the year.
In 1997, John Bland, Amigos Executive Director and one of the orginizagtion’s co-founders, took a mission trip to Chinandega. He and his group built a feed center outside of the city dump, after raising funds for the project.
In 1998, Hurricane Mitch hit the city that Bland and his people worked so hard to feed.
“I knew then that we needed to do more,” he said.
Through his church, he helped to gather a group of volunteers to travel into Central America to assist in re-building houses that had been destroyed in 1999.
Since then, it’s grown out of the church where it was formally based, regular mission trips began to bloom, the nonprofit acquired donated office space in Buford and has hired 65 Nicaraguans and 14 U.S. citizens, who live there and work full-rtme.
Beside re-building, Amigos began as a “feeding the poor” nonprofit. Now it focuses on four things: water and sanitation, health care, education and economic development.
“We want to eliminate parasites and diarrhea. Diarrhea kills more people in the world than any form of cancer. We know we want to eliminate that and we can,” Bland said. “Health care ties into water and education. We’re trying to get kids to get passed second grade. We try to eliminate the barriers to get them through college. We also help with micro-loans and animals as capital.”
There is also a surgical team and nurses who travel to Nicaraguas. The group wants to help get rid of respiratory disease as well, by putting new stoves in that get smoke out of the kitchens.
But the Nicaraguans don’t get the help for free. They front about 10 percent of the costs and help with the work under the guidance of someone at Amigos.
Beside the natives who have gotten a full-time position with the group, there are several U.S. folks that decided to dedicate their lives for the mission.
Case in point: Jeremy and Kristin Sutton. Both took their first mission trips in 2004 and both made the life-changing decision to move to the Central American country in 2008.
They were later married in 2009, now raising their 8-month-old daughter Lilah in Nicaragua.
“One thing that made me stay involved was on my first trip down was when we were moving families out of the garbage dump into a new community,” Kristin said. “It was being part of a start with them. I had to go back to see what was happening with it.”
Jeremy on the other hand was excited for a fresh aspect on life.
“There was such a freedom in Nicaragua. The freedom from the pressures here and trying to live the ‘American dream,’” he said. “Down there, you live simpler and you actually experience more life there. Here were get inside of our boxes. Every day is an adventure. I think that’s what drew me, knowing that you’re helping other people out by devoting your life to making the world a better place.”
You don’t need to move out of the country to be a part of Amigos for Christ. The nonprofit takes donations year-round and weekly missions trips. People of all ages from around the country travel down to give their time.
“The people who come down from the States, it’s about creating an experience that they otherwise wouldn’t have but gearing everything we do toward a super meaningful experience for people,” Bland said. “We have tons of work going on and what they’re doing is allowing it to move a little quicker, but they’re doing it with people in the community that their view of Americans is — who knows what it is. People’s opinions of the world change. We’re trying to impact people for Christ and we want to make it more visible.”
For more information, visit www.amigosforchrist.org.