A legacy of love
On 25th July we received the sad news that Julita Alemán, one of our friends in Nicaragua, had peacefully passed away. In this special edition of the SIFT Insight we pay tribute to Julita and reflect on a life well lived for Jesus.
Julita Alemán was born in 1930 to a poor family living in the Chontales region of Nicaragua, on the east side of Lake Nicaragua. During her life Julita witnessed many of the key events of Nicaragua’s turbulent 20th Century – the rise to power of the Somoza family dictatorship, the Sandinista revolution, and the US-backed Contra War – as well as the devastation caused by natural disasters such as Hurricanes Mitch and Joan.
Julita became a Christian in her childhood through hearing a preacher in Chontales on a Sunday morning. Because of Nicaragua’s tropical temperatures, all churches open their doors and windows during worship and the overflow of that brought Julita to Jesus. Julita was consequently always in favour of Christian worship being heard throughout the local community.
Julita moved from Chontales to Managua, where she attended and graduated from the Nicaraguan Bible Institute. She was still living in Managua on the night of the December 1972 earthquake, which destroyed much of the city centre, killing over 10,000 people and leaving more than 300,000 homeless. The house in which Julita was living at the time survived the quake; she and her housemate emerged from their home frightened, but very thankful to be alive.
Seven months after the earthquake, the Evangelical Fellowship of Nicaraguan Churches (FIEMCA) sent Julita to Ometepe, the island which would be her home for the next 47 years. She initially lived in a village on the south of the island, but soon moved to the village of Urbaite on the northern volcano. She worked in the local church, praying, teaching and running Bible schools, and worked as a seamstress to provide for her own needs.
At the time of Julita’s arrival, Ometepe lagged behind the rest of the country in many aspects, including educational provision. There were no secondary schools or universities on the island, and most people lived their whole lives without leaving Ometepe and travelling to the mainland. In the mid 1980s FIEMCA founded the Christian Vocational Centre (CVC) in Urbaite and appointed Julita as its first director. The goal of the CVC was to provide local people with vocational training in areas such as sewing, computer skills and English, in a Christian environment where they would also have the opportunity to hear the Gospel. Julita very successfully pioneered this initiative for 17 years and today the CVC is still blessing the people of Ometepe by being home to the island’s first university.
Julita was stepping down from her role at the CVC at the time that Dick Bell, SIFT’s founder, first started visiting Ometepe. However this retirement was merely going to mark a transition to a new ministry for Julita. She had become concerned that the children of Urbaite were not receiving adequate nutrition, due to their poor family backgrounds, and was keen to establish a feeding programme for them. Julita shared these thoughts with Dick, and SIFT provided the finances to make her vision a reality. In November 2002 children started coming to Julita’s house to sit on her large verandah and receive a glass of high-vitamin milk. Julita, however, also wanted the children to have the opportunity to hear about Jesus and so each session included them singing some choruses and listening to a Bible story.
The Feeding Programme was favourably received by the local community and soon it became a regular sight to see crowds of children walking to Julita’s house on a Monday and Friday afternoon, cups in hand! Then, as you got closer to the house, the sound of enthusiastic singing could clearly be heard. The track from the street to Julita’s house became so well travelled that a SIFT team, helped by a Costa Rican youth group, constructed a concrete path for the children and Julita to use.
The ministry of the Feeding Programme has developed over the years, particularly as Julita built relationships with the mothers. She ran sewing classes for them, so that they could provide for their young families, and spent time during these classes talking with them and sharing encouragement from the Bible. It was always an encouragement to Julita when one of the mothers became a Christian. In more recent years some of the women who attended the Feeding Programme as children have returned with their young families.
In Julita’s later years her health prevented her from being as active in the Feeding Programme as she would have liked. Nevertheless, she was always on hand to offer a word of encouragement and was faithful in her prayers for the children and their families. Julita handed on the running of the sessions to a team of local Christians, including one of SIFT’s nurses, Gabi Barrios, and they are continuing to help the children grow, both physically and spiritually. The team also organise Bible classes for the mothers whilst the children are doing their activities, so that they too can learn from the Word of God.
Julita was a gentle, caring, Christian lady, whose faith in Jesus was the foundation of her life and the motivation for her ministry. She was wonderfully generous, big hearted, much loved, and will be greatly missed. Her faithful obedience in following Jesus touched countless lives and the ongoing ministry of the Feeding Programme will be her lasting legacy to the children and families of Ometepe.
A warm welcome
Mark Catley, SIFT’s Chair of Trustees, introduces us to the newest member of the Board of Trustees:
I’m delighted to introduce Freja Brown, an architectural designer, as our latest Trustee to the SIFT Board. Freja is no stranger to Nicaragua having spent a year in Masaya and Managua working with a long-term friend of SIFT’s, Matthew Falkiner – a Scottish architect who has been living in the country for over 30 years.
Freja secured the position of architectural assistant at Simplemente Madera in Managua between her first and second degrees in architectural design at Oxford Brookes University’s School of Architecture. She now works as Part 2 qualified Architectural Designer in private practice in London and has a real passion for Nic (as she affectionately calls it). She attained upper second class honours in her first degree and a distinction in her Masters.
She became a Christian at a local Baptist Church in East Anglia and believes that ‘God is in the design’. I, and the rest of the Trustees, are delighted that she has accepted our invitation to join SIFT. She will bring a freshness to the Board and her own, much appreciated, brand of humour. Welcome, Freja.
We rely upon your generosity to be able to support projects in Nicaragua such as the Feeding Programme. If you would like to make a one-off or regular donation towards our work please either send a cheque to the SIFT office or give online.
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