Faith, Land & Leadership
Unlike many of the residents of Agros’ Nueva Esperanza (New Hope) village—located in northern Nicaragua, in the Matagalpa region—Jose Antonio Valle Sanchez (33) was familiar with the tasks and process of growing and harvesting coffee. In fact, he had worked the very same land as a day-laborer for the previous owner. “I worked for the old owners of this farm,” he remembers. “For seven years, I worked for these fields,” he says.
Few, if any, can testify to the transformation these lands have seen since it became an Agros village in 2008. Julio Lopez Hernandez, a fellow partner who was part of the Nueva Esperanza project from the beginning, remembers how the first year the partners harvested the coffee from the existing plants together. Collectively, the 344 acres produced 11 tons of coffee. Just a couple of years later, that same farmer was able to harvest nearly 6 tons of coffee off just his plot of land (about 10 acres)
When Agros bought his boss’s land, Jose Anotio wasn’t thinking about a New Hope for his family. He was thinking about survival. For as poor as his job as a day laborer paid (less than $1 a day), it still provided him a sense of security and instead of applying to be part of the project, Jose Antonio decided to move on with the landlord. “They transferred me to the farm that the bought,” he remembers. “I was always looking for some kind of solution for my family,” he remembers? “Working for a boss is hard, but it doesn’t provide the same benefits for the family… we were always in debt,” he adds.
A Second Chance
It wasn’t until five years later that Jose Antonio got a second chance to become a partner in the Nueva Esperanza village. His chance came when someone else gave up. The partner, who knew Jose Antonio (who was now living with his children in his parents’ house) told him to apply.
“He told me there was an opening here and that if I wanted I could apply for the opportunity,” remembers Jose Antonio. This time, Jose Antonio didn’t waste any time. He quickly got his papers together and submitted to Agros. But, he wasn’t the only one interested. Eight qualified families applied for the land. In the end Agros staff had a raffle to see who would be able to join the community.
The days between submitting their paperwork and finding out their “future” were some of the most difficult for Jose Antonio and his wife, Saida Torres Herrera, 31. “We prayed and fasted for three days,” remembers Jose Antonio. They shared their story and their prayer with everyone in their congregation. Their leaders and fellow believers were all praying for them. Then the call came.
“It was 5:30,” remembers Jose Antonio, animated and excited to be sharing his story. “I got a call. The person told me, ‘Congratulations Mr. Jose… you got the land.’ “Our whole family jumped for joy," he says, "because this is an opportunity for the whole family and not everyone gets these opportunities.” He adds, “this is the place that God has chosen for us. When God moves a family from one place to another, its because He wants to bless them.”
Those who live near but not inside of Nueva Esperanza can see the blessings brought about by the partnership between partners and the Agros staff. “People from outside of the community ask me how we get technical assistance,” says Jose Antonio, who despite having worked most of his adult life on coffee farms has learned a lot. “As a day laborer, you do your work, finish your day and that’s it,” he says. “But, as the owner, you have to learn to have a work plan… there are many more tings that we are learning,” he adds.
Jose Antonio came into Nueva Esperanza with such motivation and momentum that soon after his arrival, he was elected to the community leadership community and now serves as president. At first he was resistant. But, he accepted the nomination because as he says: “we came here with the intent to support others as we have been supported,” he says.
As he realized the importance of the leadership community, “without [it] the village would be like a country without a government,” he says, he decided it was an important role to fulfill, despite his feeling unskilled.
“The Agros staff has trained us,” he says. “I have learned how to lead a community, how to motivate people, how to provide counseling, when necessary, he says.
As he nears the end of his term on the leadership community, Jose Antonio has never stopped reminding people of their first priority, “I always tell them that the spiritual live has to come first. You have to have God as your first priority.” In addition to his words, Jose Antonio also leads a daily Bible devotional time for any and all who want to participate.
In difficult times, Jose Antonio clings to Jeremiah 33:3, which says, “Call to me and I will answer you and teach you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” And, he feels like, through Agros, God has answered his prayers. “As a poor person, even if you work you are never going to have opportunities,” he says. “ Nevertheless God always values His people and He knows who is going to give to,” he says.
“God answered our prayers,” says Sayda. “He gave us life. He can do anything!” she says, confidently.