Of Humpty Dumpty, Horses, Men, and God

I spent some time in Matagalpa working though a few inner conflicts


Nutie saw me struggling. I was working really hard and hadn’t any time to write. She said, “We should escape someplace where nobody knows you. Take the entire month of October and finish your book.” 

We went to Matagalpa, a town in the coffee-covered mountains on the Pacific side, and rented a little apartment on a hill. Our street address there was H Bermudez, 3CS, 1CE, MCN, MCO, MCN, which was Nicaraguan code for, From the Hotel Bermudez, you go 3 blocks South, 1 block East, half block North, half block West, and half block North. Even if someone came to Matagalpa looking for me, they wouldn’t be able to find it.

Nutie walks up the hill towards our hideaway 

Then I ran into Melvin Mendez at the supermarket. “Why don’t you come teach a class on cross-cultural mission at the institute,” he said. “And while we’re at it, I want you to preach next Sunday.” I also got a Facebook message from Alvaro, a pastor who had been transferred from Waspam to Matagalpa a year ago, and a phone call from Valerio Linarte, the Director of Rayaka Institute, who insisted I give a class at his school in a place called Mulukuku. “It’s only a couple of hours from Matagalpa by bus,” he said.

Pastor Valerio Linarte and his wife Consuelo stayed with us at Arkarkya House while teaching the first module at Rayaka Bible Institute in Waspam. 

Nutie read a memoir by a missionary who had a nervous breakdown and left the field. She googled the author and discovered she was offering a month-long webinar called “Toward Better Boundaries.” It ran the entire month of October. “Your son told me, ‘My Dad can’t say no,’” she said. “I think you should do it.” And she plunked down $70 for the webinar. I couldn’t tell her no.

So October was about more than merely finishing my book (I got close, but no cigar), it was about building boundaries. With Nutie’s fierce help defending my writing time, I didn’t accept any of my engagement offers except the daily webinar and a handful of other social activities Nutie placed on the calendar.


Children scurrying homeward at dusk reminded me of a scene from a René Magritte painting.

The idiom “Creative Juices” is hilarious to me, but Matagalpa stirred them anyway. In addition to stirring, it did some agitating, blending, whipping, whisking, and brewing as well. Something about Catholicism was ever just beneath the surface. Whatever it was, I had to deal with it.

The presence of the Catholic Church is heavy in Matagalpa. A huge cross on top of the forested Montaña de La Paz looks down over the entire city. It’s a great hike for any heathen who wants to achieve an aerobic heart rate in a spectacular setting, but the Catholic Church created it as a path of pilgrimage, with stations of the cross along the way. You’re supposed to keep quiet.

A huge cross sits atop a hill overlooking Matagalpa

And there are monks. Robed, bearded, and sandaled, dozens of gregarious, white-skinned friars de-cloister to hang out in the town square like Nacho Libre, talking story with young people.

Then we have our dear friends, the Hornsbys, the couple with whom Nutie programmed the social activities mentioned earlier.

Rogers Hornsby's great nephew Jim and his wife, Sarah

are legends in Matagalpa

Jim and Sarah Hornsby defy categorization. Jim is a Presbyterian minister from North Carolina who came of age in the early sixties serving in the inner city. The struggle for civil rights invigorated his seminary education, such that his present social consciousness harkens back to Pete Seeger while his biblical conviction evokes Billy Graham. If Preacher Casy had retained his vocation, he might be Jim Hornsby. He also drives very fast.

Sarah grew up in rural Kentucky, the daughter of a forest ranger. She loves trees, sunflowers, and herbal remedies. As a young woman in the Presbyterian Church she received the gift of speaking in tongues. A prolific writer, composer, and mystical painter, she finds deep meaning in religious icons, and her work shows it.

Together, the Hornsbys founded the thriving Young Life ministry in Nicaragua. They are known and loved by a hundred thousand residents of Matagalpa. Jim and Sarah now dedicate their time to reforestation efforts in their “Sacred Forest,” harvesting medicinal herbs, and ministering in the Catholic Church.

That’s the part that wraps me up. Why would evangelical ministers want to go to the Catholic Church? Whenever I meet priests and tell them I come from a Catholic family, they go all Circe on me—“Come back, come back to the Mother Church”— and I’m like, No Thanks!

To be sure, I’m Irish Catholic. Nutie might say that I’m culturally Miskito, and I’ve spoken more Spanish than English in my life, but Irish Catholic is my culture on the deepest level. I secretly get mad when people badmouth Notre Dame football, and the only TV series I ever binge-watched through 6 seasons was Blue Bloods. That was my family, except the Will Estes character—gentle, principled, and thoughtful—was my older brother John, while the physical, over-the-line Donnie Wahlberg character was me, the younger bro. John, a devout Catholic, is a way-better Christian than me. I just know more Bible.

Nevertheless, I hang with the Pentecostals in Waspam and feel sad that there is such enmity between them and the Catholics. Pentecostals label them religiosos—i.e. unbelievers—and Catholics call Pentecostals “666”.

I explain the gospel to a Catholic Miskito friend from the village of Sawa 

In the States I hear bombs dropping also. In 2016 I was at a supper and we were talking about the odds of candidate Donald Trump being elected. Someone said, “What if he’s impeached?” Another swiftly replied, “Then we would have the first evangelical President in US history!” Immediately I thought of one of Jim Hornsby’s associates. “What about Jimmy Carter? Didn’t he get scorned for saying he was born-again?” If God rejects Democrats, why did He make the sky blue?   

So in the secrecy of my mind I try to make excuses for the Hornsbys. They are elderly and they can’t handle the earsplitting worship music of the local evangelical churches. But I know it’s deeper than that.

Sarah Hornsby with Pentecostal, Nutie-loves-Jesus, Catholic, and Baptist friends

Undeniably, there is a sweet and pure spiritual atmosphere in Matagalpa unlike any other city in Nicaragua. You can feel it. I love that plain white cross on top of the mountain! It seems everyone is going to church somewhere. Even an old lady rushing to Adventist’s Sabbath late on a Friday afternoon stopped to evangelize me in the park. Catholics and Evangelicals both have a strong presence here and call it the City of the Holy Spirit. Jesus knows His own. I have to believe each of His “little ones” who worships Him contributes in some way. One day I won’t feel like I have to figure out how it all works, or put the Humpty Dumpty world together again. If I get my book done you can see how far I’ve come.

At Parque Darío an hour before I got evangelized

Happy Thanksgiving!

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