Two (or 29) Learners

When one teachesGood grief. I am exhausted at the end of a week. Every Friday night I sleep at least 11 hours. And I usually try to sneak in a good, long afternoon nap on Saturdays, too. And as teachers, we always try to suppose why. The heat? The language? The hours? I don’t know about everyone else, but for me, I think a big part is the LEARNING! My brain is tired! The quote to the left speaks volumes about how I feel about teaching.

On our planning day at the beginning of the new semester, I sat down and researched new strategies and current studies, resources, and suggestions to engage students in learning and support students who are struggling behaviourally, academically, or socially. I had a master plan, I tell you. And I thought it was bullet-proof. Even spit-ball-proof. Then the students arrived the following day. Apparently it wasn’t Grade 5-proof…. And I was partly disheartened, partly bemused, and partly entertained. I guess I have more to learn. I’ve said it before and I don’t think there will be a day where I retract the statement: these little souls teach me more about faith, life, and learning than any other job ever could. I teach because I love to learn. My highest goal for my students leaving my classroom is always that they have come to love learning and have become more aware of how to learn. There will be time to memorize facts later.

This week we went on our Grade 4-6 overnight retreat. The theme was The Amazing Race, so I got to spend time with them all outside of our four classroom walls and it was lovely. Here are some pictures:

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Posted by on February 3, 2018 in Nica Life


Merry Christmas from us to you!

We have been very busy the last weeks – a field trip to hike a volcano in a cloud forest. How cool! I certainly didn’t get to do that on MY Grade 5 field trip! We decorated the classroom, planned a Christmas party for two of our local staff members, and put together two gift baskets full of food and presents for them. The kids also treated me to a wonderful surprise birthday party.IMG_0113

My students wrote this Christmas letter.

We thank God for a great 2017 and wish you a joy-filled Christmas and 2018!

Top 22 Best Moments from Our Year:

         Field Trip to Mombacho 


Silly Family Christmas Photo


         Marshmallow & Spaghetti Tower Engineering Project

         Miss Van Kannel’s Surprise Birthday Party


         Culture Club

         Number the Stars novel

         Car ExperimentP1050395

         Dissecting the chickens

        Human Body Unit


Hiking the volcano


          Reading Buddies


         Christmas decorating


         #MissVanKannelFails (tossed markers, tripping over things, mistakes, etc)

         Spirit Week

         Special Programs

         Talent Show


At the talent show, Grade 5 represented themselves well! I danced, four kids won awards (including for Christian spirit), and we blew away the competition in “Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader.” Proud Teacher.


         Science Projects

         Eagles in Training

         First Day of School

         Small chapel groups


         MakerSpace (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math inquiry project time)

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Posted by on December 9, 2017 in Nica Life


The Five Week Old Church

I’ve been looking for a Nicaraguan Spanish church to get more involved in since this summer when my Spanish picked up. However, transportation is difficult for me, so it wasn’t until this month that a church arose. Literally. It’s five weeks old. It doesn’t have a name. It doesn’t have an altar. It doesn’t even have a door. It certainly doesn’t have a parking lot. Settle in, because it’s a long story, but I promise that it’s a good one.

A missionary couple was telling me a story about their summer. They are relatively new here and wanted to go to a market, but didn’t know enough to get there on their own, so they took a taxi. The taxi driver happened to be a gentleman who trains local pastors. Anyway, they got to be fast friends, and this summer when the couple had a mission’s team here, they took the group out to a local church that the taxi driver, P., was helping at. This community is close to Managua but very isolated without electricity or running water. While they were out there at that church P. said, “I heard there’s a single Christian over on that next ridge. Should we go check things out?” So, they wandered over. Sure enough, there was a 105-year-old pastor, but he can no longer get out of bed, hasn’t preached in a long while, and is alone in his faith there. So, P. and the two other men went to the next house. After some conversation with the incredibly grumpy, sick lady there, he said, “Jesus has told me you will be His today. Repeat after me,” and proceeded to say the salvation prayer. He did the same at the next house. Shocked, the men asked him what he was doing and were very uncomfortable with this seemingly forced approach to evangelism. P. responded, “I know! Doesn’t it seem terrible?! But Jesus spoke to me very clearly and gave me the exact words He wanted me to say. He says to come back in two weeks and these two households will be transformed by Him.”

The missionary couple and the taxi driver did return and both of those households had become followers of Jesus and, again, in both of those households, where there had been debilitating chronic physical illness and pain, it was replaced by health and joy and entirely, miraculously healed. And upon this visit, they said, “We don’t know anything about this powerful God, though. Please teach us. Will you do it?” In amazement, the missionary couple and the taxi driver obediently replied, “Yes.”

And then I enter the scene. After hearing this story, I asked, “Can I come see this?” This sounded like the early church to me. How exciting! The burning zeal that characterized the early church those many years ago sounded like it was present here, too. In that ancient world, where we must also note that most people were illiterate, it was asked that every new believer spend their first three years learning all of God’s word in community. This is how the book of Revelation can have “more than 500 allusions to words or phrases from the Old Testament” with not “a single direct quotation from the Old Testament,” and be fully understood by the early church believers. They had it infused into every fibre of their being. “The early church took seriously Jesus’s statement that people can’t live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the Lord’s mouth (Matt. 4:4). And when Jesus told His disciples to teach others “all that I command you,” they did it (Matt. 28:20).” Wow. How many of us can even say we remember the order of the books of the Bible?

This community is only about 20 km from Managua, but it takes us two hours. We can drive 19 of them (the pastor of that first church the couple had visited walks 18 kilometers to pastor her church each week). Talk about commitment and zeal. When the road gets worse, we stop and park. We walk the rest of the way. As we walk, we attract attention. Three white people out there draws a bit of notice. People say hi and give us a

Sunday School

Our Sunday school classroom. You can see some of the kids at the top.

questioning look. We say we’re going to church and they’re welcome to join us. Many do. Especially the kids. One teenaged girl hands us drawings that she’s done, along with a letter asking for new clothes. Eventually we arrive. The woman from that first house, remember her? She has opened up her “porch” to anyone wanting to learn more about God. So, there are 6 adults and 7 children gathered and ready to begin. Although we don’t have communion (the concept is still foreign), someone has brought pico (a bread filled with a sweet jelly) and Pepsi to share, and it reminds me of the communion and sacrifice that we reflect on during formal church communion in a deeper way than ever before. Next, us girls take the kids. Our Sunday school classroom is the path and our chairs are the logs that have been cut for firewood. We hear the adults joining in song, singing the choruses that they’ve learned since their first week of church. Both the kids and the adults learning the foundations of our faith for the very first time allows me to re-experience my faith like it’s the very first time again, too.

I think my praises and prayer requests for this month are pretty obvious! Help me lift up this house church and its people in prayer, and praise God for this miraculous work.

All quotes taken from Preston Sprinkle’s “4 Ways the Modern Church Looks Nothing Like the Early Church” (Relevant Magazine):

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Posted by on October 29, 2017 in Nica Life


Teachers Teaching Teachers

With my improved Spanish abilities (albeit, only moderately improved!), this has opened up many new opportunities for me to help in the area of education here in Nicaragua.

This summer I have started to explore how I can help other teachers and schools, especially local ones. Education here, while improved from what it had been, is still terrible.

Out of all the 15 Latin American countries, Nicaraguan students gained the least growth in their skill levels between 2006 and 2013. In Grade 3, 15% reached satisfactory levels in reading and comprehension and 12% in math. Only 20% of those taking a basic math requirement exam for university entrance will pass. 7,000 Nicaraguan primary teachers do not have a degree. A person can have 3 years of high school, 6 months of training, and no follow up, and be considered a teacher. A teacher’s salary does not cover his or her basic needs, there are not classrooms stocked for subjects such as physics, chemistry, or computers, textbooks are not always linked to content, can be 25 or more years old, and often a class only has one copy – for the teacher, from which she reads and the students copy onto paper.

This is a documentary done by a Nicaraguan film crew last year. I would highly recommend watching it if you can spare an hour. In it, the director of Escuela Montessori Jan Amos Comenius, Elba Rivera, says, “The teacher is key. We should invest much more in teacher training.” And that is precisely where I have focused my energy.

While I was in Esteli for language school, I had the opportunity to attend a public school for the afternoon (students only attend class for half a day – morning, afternoon, or evening). I sat in on Grade 9. One teacher was great and did her best with the limited resources she had. She mostly had control with classroom management, and asked good questions to engage the students. She even had a hook at the beginning of her lesson! One teacher was planning (and learning) the class content as she was teaching it. It was about synonyms and antonyms. Questions were very basic and there was one textbook, which she held and dictated from. There was no classroom management. The next teacher came in, plugged her cellphone in, sat down at the desk, waited 3 minutes to begin, dictated a paragraph from the textbook, told the students to think about what they just wrote, and then reached for her phone. 12 minutes went by (yes, I was timing and writing it down) with no changes. Students were chatting about everything but class while she played on her phone. Then, she pulled out a chocolate bar and ate it. 3 more minutes. She said, “You should be working,” from her desk, with barely a glance up from her phone. Then, 16 minutes later the bell rang. I still do not what subject that class was. Once teachers are hired here, they cannot be fired unless they’ve committed a crime, so even more so, teacher training is essential.Grade 9

The classroom was very bare. There was nothing on the walls except a photocopied alphabet (with a few upside down letters tossed in for good measure), a couple of old alphabet colouring sheets, and a peeling bulletin board of upcoming holidays (from two months prior). Two out of six fluorescent lights worked, the desk chairs were by far the most uncomfortable things I’ve ever sat in, and the chalkboard was so scratched up and plastered with mystery something that only one of the teachers bothered to write something on it.

While my experiences in public Nicaraguan education are more limited, I know that the day I had in Grade 9 is not uncommon across the country. And this is in a city. Rural schools often mean less, too.

So, this journey of mine in teacher training started out with me heading off to Jinotega (a city in northern Nicaragua) to spend a weekend working with a newly hired teacher and school which will open in January. There currently is no Christian school in Jinotega and options are lacking for quality education. So, I spent all day Saturday helping Ruth plan her first week of school, a daily schedule, list of procedures to teach the wee ones, ideas of class rules, and centre ideas. Then, on Sunday, I met with a group of students studying at the university to become English as a Second Language teachers. We talked generally about best practices, pedagogy, etc.

Upon returning to Managua before school started, I spent a week working with Tesoros de Dios (God’s Treasures). It is a centre for kids with disabilities with physical therapy, speech, horse therapy, and so much more. I observed each of the classroom teachers during their educational times, and especially focused in on the Grade 1 & 2 class. I was able to collect some observations and easy-to-implement strategies and activities to suggest to them. I also redesigned a poorly used spaced as a “secret” reading nook with a mosquito net tent, comfy pillows, books, and sparkly stars, with butcher paper on the three surrounding walls to allow for some child-inspired graffiti.  IMG_1326

When I presented my suggestions to one of the directors of Tesoros, she was so thrilled by the ideas, but said that the staff really needed a whole professional development session to be able to practice with some of these strategies. So, she asked myself and our Special Ed teacher at NCA to put together an afternoon PD session for them. We were able to host this at NCA, so the staff also got to see our classrooms and some of the tools and set-ups that we use.

Finally, this year I have been paired with a new teacher (who has my old job of teaching Grade 1) to be a mentor. I can’t say that I am doing a great job of this area, but enjoy being able to share some of the things that I have learned thus far.

I had some really great pictures to include for you, too, but my phone disappeared.


Prayer Requests:

  • Jinotega Christian Academy – that they would be granted their paperwork to be an official school (political reasons are saying that the current teachers are not acceptable)
  • NCA – that they would continue to be accessible to Nicaraguan families as a high-quality level of education, and raise up future leaders who can have an impact on this country’s education
  • Teachers – desire to strive for excellence in spite of challenges, wisdom
  • Students – desire to strive for excellence in spite of challenges
  • Government – wisdom to provide better for education (Nicaragua has one of the lowest percentages of their budget going towards education in Latin America)
  • Praise God for his work in these areas so far, with people and organizations who care deeply about education and are making a difference
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Posted by on September 9, 2017 in Nica Life


Language School: Take 1 (of 16?)

So, as many of you know, this summer I spent the time in Nicaragua doing 5 weeks of language school and one week volunteering with a ministry for children with disabilities in Managua. And the reason for the title is because I think it may take me another 16 years to actually say I know Spanish! I learned a lot, but still feel I have a long way to go.

How to choose highlights from the last month… There are really and truly too many to count. I’ll list just a few in very short form. There are beautiful stories behind nearly every one that would make you shiver. Next time I see you, ask me!

Conversations with grannies about underpants on a breezy porch in a rocking chair with coffee and mamones (yummy seasonal Nica fruit kind of akin to cherries..?). Attending my first Nica funeral. Understanding more places and stories of the contra war. Translating the public service announcements from Spanish into charades for a sweet man who was deaf in the bus terminal. Having parakeets wake me up from my nap by playing hide and seek with me in my room. Debates in Spanish about politics and social systems. Many glorious hours reading and praying. Teaching English. Teaching teachers. Participating in amazing Nicaraguan worship and service. Making paper out of bananas and onions. Having class beside a waterfall. Preparing and serving meals at the dump. And finally, realizing I understood the message at church. What a good feeling. Then, the next day, not understanding the question at breakfast. Well, can’t win them all!

Here’s one zoomed-in experience:

One of the most powerful moments this year came when I attended a Nica street worship concert. People came from all over Nicaragua and gathered at an intersection in the city. There was a song where all the chorus said was, “Somos juntos con Christo,” which means “We are together with Christ.” The worship leader invited us to embrace those around us, so we all gave one another hugs and hellos (sounds weird to Canadians, but it’s expected to hug and kiss people when you greet them here). Then a group around us formed a circle and started dancing and singing with absolute, genuine praise (also sounds a little hokey and teen-ish, but it was sweet and joyful). Within seconds, we were pulled into the circle, and it is the first time since being in this country that I felt the same in all the right ways. It is hard to go too many places without having people stare at you, try to get more money from you for an item, or any other number of things. But this. Here, now, we were focused on unity in Christ and not economics, nor skin colour, nor education, nor language, nor household, nor experiences separated us. Nothing could come between us. We were all joyful. We were all offering praise. Jesus filled every part of us so that there was room for nothing else. Because we were only together with Christ. It was so, so good and a beautiful reflection of what I imagine heaven will be.

I wish I could share all the stories with you, but I think many of them (maybe even the one above?) are a “you’d have to be there” kind of thing. But being in this country when I am not an exhausted, hot, cranky teacher did wonders to my soul. And I thought I was only there for the Spanish!


If you are of the praying sort J and want to offer some specific prayers, the following could be considered:

Praises: new opportunities (moving to Grade 5 for this upcoming school year!), Spanish, new friendships, time to rest, positive changes in NCA like new programs for struggling students through resources and teachers, great ministries created by Nicaraguans for Nicaraguans (like the dump meals and education, and the new school), hope for the upcoming year

Requests: 2 main ones: those same new opportunities mean a lot of changes for me. Also, please pray that I could accept and show grace, above all else – for myself and for others and in all areas of my life.

Education in this country – I’ve been able to have a much better look at and understanding of education here this summer because everyone I have met (whether teacher, director, student, or university student studying to become a teacher) has been hugely impacted by the education system here. I have seen and discussed teachers’ lives and work, textbooks and other resources, professional development, government policies, and physical structures. And it’s not pretty. Many students outside of Managua (the capital) do not live with their parents because their parents have had to seek work elsewhere, student motivation is very low, teachers are unequipped in their level of training, and actual retained knowledge is limited. This summer I have seen many, many high school students who don’t know their multiplication facts, how to tell time, or how to read fluently. They attend school for about 4 hours a day. My host mom has 550 students in a week. The English teacher at the school doesn’t actually speak English. I could go on. I won’t. There are people trying to make changes in all these areas. Pray for the teachers, the government, the finances and resources, and schools like NCA who are providing quality Christian education.


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Posted by on July 22, 2017 in Nica Life


I Never Thought I’d Ever: Year 2 Edition

I Never Thought I’d Ever:


The ladies of Grade 1. I do not exaggerate when I say I wouldn’t have survived this year without each one of these precious, loving, Jesus-filled women.

  1. Have enough new experiences in this same country in this same job to fill another entire year with crazy experiences!
  2. Love as deeply as I have this year- both my students and the colleagues surrounding me.
  3. Want to, or actually complete, a half marathon.
  4. Hurt so terribly.
  5. Heal so carefully.
  6. Fear so greatly.
  7. Trust so wholly.
  8. Sled down a volcano.
  9. See hummingbirds, toucans, and parakeets mere feet from my face.
  10. Have my house flood so completely and so frequently with each days’ rain. Ya, I didn’t think that after last year’s flood water could keep coming!
  11. Have to deal with storms, lice, centipedes, beetles, and mice all in a single day. Not to mention the additional tarantulas, cockroaches, and other critters.
  12. Own a cat. Even if only temporarily.
  13. Eat octopus.
  14. Eat fresh mangos, avocados, and coconut from my own yard all in one weekend.
  15. Freeze my patootie off in this country.
  16. Have a parasite.

And a couple highlight stories from May:

When we learned about David and Goliath I told the kids that whoever beat Goliath didn’t have to pay taxes (among other rewards). Well, the kids had to re-enact the story and the boy who was playing Saul said, “If you kill Goliath you don’t have to pay for taxis.” HAHAHAHAHA!


This has been SUCH an adventurous, interesting class that has taught me oodles about life, love, and learning. And they’ve certainly thrown pretty much everything I know about teaching out the window!


Also, one dear student strokes my back and says, “Don’t stress, Miss Van Kannel, don’t stress,” whenever I’m upset with the boys. How can you stress with her around?!

Part of their Bible homework one week was to write a question they had about faith and ask it to their parents. One student shared with the class that she asked her mom if she had a connection with God. She told her mom, “I know I have a connection with Him because when I sing worship, I feel God calling my name, like Samuel felt. My Mom said she felt a connection too. She feels a connection to God when she reads the Bible.” WOW. What a powerful question and testimony from such a young child. I asked the kids how they feel connected to God.


Camping isn’t a thing here, so we made our own camp with a real campfire, some good old camp songs, and s’mores OF COURSE!

Oodles of hands went up and they came up with more ideas than I ever would’ve (worship, reading, talking about God, telling others about Him, praying, being with their families, learning about Him). So cool. I also had them pray for each other this week in groups of two and two boys went on their knees with their heads bowed, eyes closed, grasping one another’s folded hands, and with their foreheads touching. It was the cutest thing I’ve ever seen. I wished so desperately someone else had been in the room to see or that I’d had my phone on me to take a picture. But I suppose the moment wouldn’t have been the same then. I learn so much from them every day.

The year is coming to a close and I will be off to Canada for a short break and then back to Nica for language school and some work with some Spanish missions. Woo! Keep me in your prayers!


Easter Joy, Peace, and Community

Last year I got to share my thoughts of peace and beauty during Semana Santa (Holy Week) as I spent it in the Corn Islands. This year the focus was also the pursuit of peace and beauty, but in a much different climate! We headed up to the Nicaraguan mountains and rainforest. It was windy, cloudy, and rainy every night. I had on all of the layers I could possibly find and could usually be found curled under a blanket or two. We stayed at an ecolodge coffee farm. Only our group and 3 other people were there. The only electricity came by way of solar panels and was strictly used for lighting. It was inaccessible except by 4×4. There were a few hammocks, lots of comfy chairs, and miles of trees. The peace that I was seeking (and that I found) this year was very different than it was last year.

This year, I sought to find peace in the midst of mess. Peace with who I am. Peace with what I am doing and with how I am doing. Peace with others. Peace in chaos. Restoring peace. Grasping onto God’s promise of peace. Allowing peace to reign.IMG_3628

Imagine perching on the lodge’s porch, watching toucans, butterflies, hummingbirds, and parakeets, then the sunset, then the fireflies, then the stars. Or nestling into a perch on a high hill amongst the wildflowers, gazing upon the coffee and banana fields with the wind blowing through your hair and the warm sun on your face. How can one not feel peaceful in those? But I didn’t. So, I set out to discover why not.

What I found was: it’s not about the place. So, I thought about the moments from the week where I did feel most peaceful. One of those moments was sharing a hammock with one of the loveliest people I know who I also have the privilege of calling “friend.” I could rest in the fact that I am well-loved, known, prayed for, and invited into friendship exactly as I am. This is community.

Here are some words that help highlight how vital this community is (from “Community: God’s Design for Growth“)

“The practice of Christian community, quite simply, makes the gospel a lived reality. It embodies a specific, personal way of life together in Christ. It strengthens us to live the life to which we are called; it conveys God’s life and power to the world at large. And it is necessary.”

“One of the most important ways the community helps us is by embodying Christ’s continuing presence on earth.

SO good, right?!


Two of the amazing members of Jesus’ community who evidently show his joy and peace really well.

However, this general lack of peace led me to feeling guilty. Easter is the biggest holiday of the year for Christians. We are meant to sing for joy that our God reigns, that our King lives. And I didn’t feel very peaceful, let alone celebratory, even though I believe these things with all my heart. However, someone shared a profound insight with me about this today. When Jesus rose, there was no huge church service or jubilant party. There was doubt. There was uncertainty. There was confusion. There was desperation. Here are some examples:

“They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost.” (Luke 24:37)

“They still [after seeing the empty tomb] did not understand…” (John 20:9)

Yes, there was hope when they heard the news. But I imagine there was also exhaustion. Frustration. Probably some fear.

And yes, there was also joy and amazement (Luke 24:41 & 52), but there was a whole lot more than that, too. And Jesus was absolutely okay with that. Jesus met all of these emotions with immense love. He treated the doubter the same way as the joyous worshipper. With love. And peace. “Peace be with you” he says over and over again. And don’t even get me started on the evidence of community throughout these days following the resurrection. I’ll save that for another day.

And so, this Easter season, I do joyfully acknowledge that my God is a living and God who has overcome death itself, but also this joyful worshipper is learning how to let Jesus love the doubtful, fearful, frustrated spots as well. And a big part of that is gathering up the peace that He shows in the community that He has given me. So, thank you, Jesus, for your death and resurrection and for the fact that this means you are incredibly tangible in the community of people who surround me.

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Posted by on April 17, 2017 in Nica Life