A Hannibal native has taken the reins of a charity that works closely with the people of one of the poorest nations in the Americas.

Changes in leadership at The Rainbow Network have come at a critical time for the organization and the country of Nicaragua, where the Springfield-based charity has worked since 1995 when it was established by Keith and Karen Jaspers.

Protests and rioting have shaken Nicaragua, but Rainbow Network has been able to continue to serve the more than 50,000 people in its “networks.” Megan Munzlinger, the new executive director of the charity and Hannibal native, works closely with the Rainbow Network staff in Nicaragua to ensure that the work continues, while staff and property remain safe.

It has been a challenge, Munzlinger admits, but she is determined to carry on the legacy of Keith Jaspers, who retired at the end of June.

Rainbow Network has been working with the poor in rural Nicaragua for 23 years, established soon after the Central American country experienced a revolution, followed by a civil war, as well as a hurricane and devastating earthquake. Today, the country is again experiencing political turmoil, making travel there difficult.

Munzlinger is in daily communication with the Rainbow Network staff in Nicaragua, making key decisions about staffing, programs and, above all, safety. At the same time, she is working to keep and build the organization’s support in the United States.

“It is an absolute honor to carry Keith’s well-lit torch into the future,” said Munzlinger. “He and I could not agree more in our vision for Rainbow Network programs and our approach to empowering people as they strive to overcome extreme poverty.”

It is a big job for a young woman, but Munzlinger, 31, has a big heart that is dedicated to Rainbow Network and Nicaragua. She first learned about Rainbow Network in 2004 through her church when she was a teenager in high school, when she went on her first mission trip to Nicaragua.

After graduating from Westminster College in Fulton with a bachelor’s degree in biology in 2009, she continued to stay involved with Rainbow Network through her church’s annual pancake breakfast that raised funds for the ministry, speaking at other churches, and signing up student scholarship sponsors. She returned to Nicaragua in 2010 and 2011.

“Throughout this whole time, I had felt like God was calling me to be involved in Rainbow Network in a big way. I knew I was called to be on staff,” she said. “I expected it.”

One of Munzlinger’s immediate goals is to “make Rainbow Network a household name.” She wants the organization to become better known in the communities that have supporters and church partners, especially in Springfield. “I think it is important for us to be involved and engaged,” she said.