Building blocks to community transformation

October 11, 2013
Ryan Gilles
Ryan Gilles

What do a church, a school, a pizza parlor, an agricultural non-profit, and a brand-new coffee shop have in common? To most people, nothing at all. But to Brandon and Hannah Weidman, they are the beginning of transformation; building blocks in a small community called Masatepe.

“This place has so much to offer,” Brandon explains one afternoon while walking down a dirt road just outside the small town tucked away in the rolling hills of western Nicaragua. Barbed-wire fences line the road on each side, separating rural plots of land filled with palm trees, tin-roofed houses, goats, chickens and other animals. Just a half-mile away, the road turns to asphalt as forest and cropland melt into simple shops, churches, schools, and small houses. This is the rural community of Masatepe, and for Brandon and Hannah Weidman, it’s home.

“When I look at Masatepe, I see so much potential,” Brandon says, rounding the corner that leads toward the center of town. Ten months ago this walk to town became a part of the Weidmans’ daily life as they left the suburbs of Indianapolis in order to work with International Teams in Nicaragua. Masatepe is one of the newest communities in the 2020 Vision of ITeams which aims to see 100 communities where no one is invisible and everyone has access to food, freedom, and forgiveness. Changing the status quo means creating a new cycle of physical, social, and spiritual transformation in the community.

In a country like Nicaragua, the poorest nation in Central America, dramatic needs are never hard to find, and Masatepe is no exception. But for ITeams and the Weidmans, the strategy for ministry starts with exploring a community’s assets, not only focusing on it’s deficiencies. “I think it is easy to overcomplicate it when we talk about transforming a community and helping those in need,” Brandon continues. “For us, ministry in Masatepe starts with what is already here: the assets, the leaders, the little treasures in this community. Our first steps have simply involved building relationships and learning what’s around us.”

The Weidmans may be relatively new to Masatepe, but you would never know it on an afternoon like this as they greet neighbors, introduce friends, and explain the hidden gems of their community.

“Our friends who live here just opened up a new little Italian restaurant in town,” Hannah says pointing to a small house behind a gate. “We can’t wait to try it!” At the edge of town, Brandon points to a white building connected to a church called Centro de Fe, or Faith Center. “That’s the school where Hannah teaches English,” he explains. “It’s been a great way for us to get to know families and leaders in the community.”

But near the center of Masatepe, across the street from a friend’s pizza parlor and around the corner from the local supermarket, is the Weidmans’ favorite place in town. Three months ago, the large white-walled structure perched above the street was little more than an expansive, run-down, colonial-style building at the heart of town, quiet and largely empty. But now, after three months of renovations, it is the Weidmans’ home. And more than that, it is a brand new small business. On August 16, Brandon and Hannah opened the doors to “Café Pueblos Blancos Coffee Shop,” the first small café in town.

“A while ago, we started talking about the idea of starting a business as part of ministry,” says Brandon, who studied Business Management in college. “And the more time we spent in Masatepe, the more we felt like a small business could be a great way to connect with the community.”

But a coffee shop is only the beginning. Adjacent to the shop itself, within the same building, stand three currently unused rooms that the Weidmans are excited to begin offering to local entrepreneurs who share their vision for using business as a means of community transformation.

“The idea of transforming a community can be a very overwhelming idea,” Brandon admits with a grin. “You look at it as a new person and say, I don’t think I’m qualified. So it’s important to realize that we’re not trying to do this overnight. We want to go deep here, and as we do, to see small victories that start a new cycle. And for us it’s exciting to see how God has just opened doors.”

Continue to part 2 - Bringing others to the table