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11-25 matthew 1

Missionary Matthew Jun gives hope to the homeless and poor in the Mercado Oriental in Nicaragua through programs and services funded in part by the Westlake Hills Presbyterian Church.

As F1 traffic sent the city into overdrive in mid-November and people trying to get to work left their homes with carefully crafted plans that circumvented all major roadways, Matthew Jun sat quietly in a small reception room in the Westlake Hills Presbyterian Church. Time calmly slowed down around him.

Jun spoke softly, a gentle glow on his face, gray etching proof of the years into his hair and the smile of a shy child often punctuating his words. A small notebook sat in his hands; inside it, page after page was filled with writing in Korean, short daily reflections of his time spent talking with God and affirmation of the simple goals that came from that.

It’s this type of meditation and determined focus that has made Jun so successful in changing lives of the poor and homeless in Central America. Through determined reflection of his basic goals, the Presbyterian minister has established a shelter for the homeless in one of the poorest places on earth and established a successful clinic for them that will soon serve people from all parts of Nicaragua.

“Matthew has such an amazing heart for those who are suffering,” said Nancy Pickett, the director of missions for Westlake Hills Presbyterian Church, which helps to sponsor Jun’s mission and clinic. “He lives in the middle of it; he sees the need from the inside out.”

During a sabbatical visit to the country in 2004, Jun, was struck by what he saw.

“I’ve been to many different Latin American countries, but in Nicaragua I saw poverty – more than any place else I had been,” he said. “I saw children asking for food, begging for pennies.”

Jun, his wife Jennifer and their children moved to Nicaragua, determined to help alleviate some of the suffering. Jennifer began teaching. Jun spent his time hanging out with the multitudes of homeless in Managua’s infamous Mercado Oriental, a 70-block maze of merchants comprising the largest open air market in South America. It’s one of the few places the U.S. Embassy in Nicaragua forbids employees to visit.

“I had heard from other missionaries that there were a lot of homeless people and children with glue-sniffing habits,” he said.

In the Mercado Oriental, you can find just about anything under the sun, except one thing – hope. In his stubborn, gentle way, Jun was about to change that. When he organized the Hope Nicaragua Foundation, people began to call him “Crazy Matthew.” No one believed that anyone could do anything effective for the homeless there.

Jun’s notebook shows the same daily goals now that gave him the courage to start the mission eight years ago. During his spiritual meditation, he talked with God about how to restore basic human dignity to the homeless. He doesn’t need to look in the notebook to remember.

“They needed one meal a day, a way to be clean, a bathroom and a place where they could reflect spiritually,” he said.

He ticked off on his fingers the practical application of those needs, “ One nutritious meal, a washing station, a bathroom and a place to worship.”

A few months after he arrived in Managua, Jun opened a small building that provided those things in the middle of Mercado Oriental. The first day, 200 people showed up. People have been showing up every day since.

“They love it; it’s their home,” he said simply.

Every day, Jun spends time talking to God and adding a few lines to his notebook. He saw the homeless coming to the shelter beaten and hurt, so in 2008, he quietly added another simple goal – a clinic. The Clicina Providencia opened later that year close to the shelter. It has grown from caring for the homeless to providing pediatric checkups to 1,300 children, gynecology services, general healthcare, dental and eye care to those who live in Managua. The clinic is on its way to becoming largely self-financing. Paying patients help cover the cost of the indigent. But the clinic is limited in what it can achieve by space. So, in June, Jun took a leap of faith and purchased a larger building on the outskirts of the Mercado that can serve existing patients and attract other patients from around the country.

Jun visited WHPC over the weekend, talking to members and initiating a capital campaign to raise $125,000 of the $245,000 he will need to renovate and open the new clinic. The task may seem gargantuan to others, but to Jun, it is another simple line in Korean in the notebook.

“For us on the other side, you give because you can give,” Pickett said. “You see lives change, and that makes you want to give again.”

To find out more about Jun’s work and how to contribute, contact Pickett at 327.1116 or email her at nancyp@whpc.org.

BELOW: Matthew Jun visited with Nancy Pickett of Westlake Hills Presbyterian Church Friday as he helped kick off a capital campaign to fund a new clinic.

Photo by Dane Anderson

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