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Interfaith Service to Latin America (ISLA) grew out of a decade of dedicated successful mission work organized by two Minnesota United Methodist churches in the early 1990’s.  In 1999, ISLA was formed as a Non-Governmental Organization (NG0) and continues working primarily in Nicaragua.

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Partnering with Central America began as a Short Term Volunteers in Missions (STVIM) project of Christ United Methodist Church (UMC) in Rochester, MN, and Faith UMC of St. Anthony, MN. The foundations of ISLA were set in 1991 through the work of Jan and Gene Jones and later, Rev. Marc Well Nagel. In 1992, Jan and Gene led the first STVIM team from Christ UMC to Nicaragua. For the first three years the trips were primarily construction and relational in nature. In 1995 the first medical contingent joined the trips. Since then nearly every trip to Nicaragua has contained both a medical and a construction aspect to its mission.

In 1991 Marc Well Nagel began coordinating various educational and construction trips to Honduras, first for Heifer Project International, and then for Iliff School of Theology, and then the STVIM programs. In 1995 he joined the team to Jalapa, Nicaragua, as a participant. In 1996 Marc helped to co-lead the trip to Jalapa and then was the coordinator of the trips to both Nicaragua and Honduras. Marc was the first Executive Director of ISLA from its incorporation, as a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization, in September 1999.

The number of trips, people and finances had grown so as to dictate a new structure. ISLA was formed as a new and separate non-profit organization to manage the Latin American missions of the two churches. Faith UMC served as the fiscal agent of STVIM programs until mid-year 2000 when that function was turned over to ISLA.

Jalapa, located in the mountains of north central Nicaragua, is far away from its capital city of Managua. Due to the fighting of the contra war in the 1980s and Hurricane Mitch in the mid 1990s, this already economically depressed region became the 2nd poorest nation in the western hemisphere. Without much support of the government, these people and their land have desperately needed the help of people from other countries.

What started out as occasional trips to Jalapa has grown into a long term relationship with the people of this community. Our medical, education and construction projects soon required follow-up work. As we have sought to listen to the people’s needs, we have worked at providing on-going continuity of care in all areas; a successful Pap smear program in women’s health, scholarships for students, and repair work in the schools, clinics and hospital. But perhaps more importantly, we have developed deep relationships with people who are just like us. They work hard to make a living, love their families and friends, laugh and dance at birthdays and weddings, pray and worship in churches, and cry at funerals and tragedies. They express appreciation for acts of kindness. Our hearts have become connected to theirs as we have partnered to strengthen their community.