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Tamra Boettcher and Steven Otten will soon be busy packing their bags to embark on a mission trip to Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua, in less than two months.

The mission trip has been Boettcher’s annual tradition for eight years after attending the first Nicaragua trek led by Dr. Nila Novotny of Columbus in 2010. Puerto Cabezas is the municipality in Nicaragua.

“I go because it fills my bucket,” Boettcher said. “I get more out of it than I ever give.”

Boettcher and Otten will be joining a team of eight from California. The upcoming trip – running from Feb. 13, 2019, through Feb. 24, 2019 – will mark an eighth-year collaboration between the groups from Columbus and California as part of Global Passion Ministries, an organization that plans and coordinates mission trips for groups and individuals to countries worldwide.

People can follow Boettcher and Otten along during their trip on Global Passion Ministries-NE’s Facebook page.

The team is broken up into two groups: Medical and construction.

Boettcher, who is a nurse practitioner at CHI Health Clinic Internal Medicine in Columbus, will be volunteering at the Ditzel Clinic. There, she will perform medical procedures to remove moles, skin tags, scar revisions and address other minor skin issues. Otten, a project engineer at ADM, will be part of the construction team conducting daily building maintenance, from securing water sources to installing sinks and door hinges.

The medical team initially performed a variety of general ear, nose and throat surgeries but has since shifted its focus to cleft lip and palate repairs. Boettcher said these birth defects are a common occurrence in poverty-stricken areas with contaminated groundwater. She said these defects are also caused by pregnant women being exposed to high levels of carbon dioxide.

“Living conditions are somewhat deplorable,” Boettcher said. “Routine and consistent medical care is never guaranteed.”

Nicaragua remains one of the poorest countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, according to information by the World Bank Group, a global partnership working for sustainable solutions to reduce poverty and build shared prosperity in developing countries. Statistics also state roughly 30 percent of the overall population lived below the official poverty line in 2014 and eight percent were considered extremely poor.

Throughout the years, Boettcher said the Global Passion Ministries team witnessed firsthand how its contributions made a difference for the Nicaraguan community. The trip gathered approximately 30 volunteers earlier this year. But, due to the recent civil unrest in Nicaragua, Boettcher said it led to a decline in the overall participation.

“People expect the team and rely on us to show up,” she said. “It is especially important that we show up in February 2019 despite the unrest.”

Boettcher said the patients she served and staff she has worked with during the years have become family.

“They count on us to be there,” she said. “And they trust us.”

Although Otten is a regular patron on mission trips, this will be his first excursion to Nicaragua. He said he didn’t consider the opportunity until he was approached by Boettcher and thought, “Yeah, this is a good idea.”

Otten said he hopes to return home with a changed perspective.

“I need to see how it is in other parts of the world because I think America, in general, is so blessed and people don’t know it,” he said.

The overall trip expense totals an average of $2,500 per person. Each team is expected to bring medications, supplies and equipment.

“If we don’t bring it, we don’t have it,” Boettcher said.

Boettcher and Otten are members of Peace Lutheran Church. In an effort to help defray the cost of their trip, church officials are hosting a spaghetti feed from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Jan. 13, 2019, at the church, 2720 28th St. Attendees are encouraged to contribute freewill donations.

In the past, Boettcher said she has received anonymous donations of supplies like food, silverware and funds for gasoline for the Nicaraguan community.

This year, Boettcher said her team has received donations from Thrivent Financial, Columbus Medical Center, SueZee Soaps, Schwan's and other private donors. She said donations can be made out to Global Passion Ministries-NE and mailed to 3773 Linden Drive, Columbus, NE 68601.

Boettcher said any donations and contributions can help provide an improved quality of life for Nicaraguan citizens. 

“The Columbus community has always been extremely generous,” she said.

Natasya Ong is a reporter for The Columbus Telegram. Reach her via email at natasya.ong@lee.net.

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