Well, our last full day in Costa Rica is in the books and we are in full packing mode for the journey home! To say that our time here has been blessed would be an understatement. We are so thankful for our support in the states, our old/new friends in Costa Rica, and God's hand that made it all possible.
The pics above are actually from previous days, but I had to throw them in for good measure. Day Six pics will be shown below. On our last day we had some more time helping in the feeding area with over 100 children coming through for gallo pinto and other Costa Rican delicacies. We also had play time outside with futbol(soccer), sidewalk chalk, jump ropes, and bubbles. The kids had a blast and we enjoyed helping them along the way. After lunch, we had some good time with some young people and adults who wanted to learn English. In the course of our time together it became a joint effort of teaching English and learning Spanish as the need arose. The conversations were sweet and the Costa Rican people were thankful for the opportunity to speak with a native English speaker.
This post will be brief, but we are so thankful for all that we have been able to experience here. These opportunities will be etched in our minds for years to come. Our prayer is that this partnership opportunity will grow to yield much fruit in the days ahead. That God will call others from our church to serve next year as we are already in the early stages of planning for 2017 and dates fill up quickly. We cannot announce dates yet, but possibilities exist even before the Summer of next year for those who would consider serving. Anyone who is interested may simply speak with one of our team members and we will answer any questions that you may have. Thank you also for praying for our team as we return today (Thursday) and will be driving home rather late at night. Once the dust settles, we will share a bit more about our experience and the impressions made by the people of Costa Rica in our lives.
So the sun is rising on our last full day in Costa Rica...:(
As I sit here eating semi-fresh (been in the fridge for a day or two)pineapple likely trucked in from the same vast rolling hills of pineapple farms (they actually grow close to the ground and not on trees as you may have assumed) that we visited yesterday, I'm pretty amazed at all that God has done in this brief visit.
While I will likely blog later to revisit the things that God has done overall on our journey, these last two days have been really good for our team and the work here. On Monday morning we toured La Carpio (I know, if you know Spanish it seems like it should be "El Carpio"...I'm sure there's a logical explanation). This is another barrio (neighborhood) that is extremely poor, filled with gangs, drugs, pollution, and essentially forsaken by most people. Almost 100% of the population in this barrio are Nicaraguan who moved here seeking a better life for their families. While it may be better by some standards, it is still extremely poor in others. The main river that runs next to this land that was known as a garbage dump is heavily polluted with raw sewage and yet the children still play in it as if it were not. During our time there we heard many stories of extreme need as well as people of peace who have welcomed the ministry of CLFCR. They have discipleship groups that meet in this barrio and they have partnered with a Pentecostal church to reach people where the gospel is desperately needed. I could go on and on about this ministry need, but it has challenged me to pray and seek God's direction as we consider opportunities in Costa Rica.
The rest of our day was spent with the soup kitchen in Los Guido at La Finca (the home base of the ministry). After some play time we buckled down in a discipleship time. The people broke into small groups and worked with one another teaching the Bible using discipleship materials. It was refreshing to see people investing in one another's lives in a simple way to help each other grow in the faith. I sat in on a few of these, but my favorite was with William and Joan. Many of my American friends would pronounce "Joan" as Joan, but here in Spanish it is Jo-ahn and a semi-common name for guys. So twelve year old William was teaching Joan who is fifteen (I believe). While unconventional for many in the States, it was in the context of relationship and friendship that this dynamic is working well and God is using it. There are so many other stories and encounters that we have had and ways that these poor children who have very little materially are growing in the faith and leading others, but I can't even begin to express it all in the context of this brief blog.
Tuesday ended up being a "Free Day" for us as the taxi drivers decided to strike. So thankfully we had warning and were able to narrowly escape the gridlock at 5:30a.m. to head out to Hacienda Pozo Azul for some horseback riding and whitewater rafting. For those who have not traveled on a missions journey before, it is customary to have at least one free day to see a different side of a culture and/or country so that everything will not be so very depressing or discouraging. These days also allow for teams to decompress a bit before returning home. So we had a long day as much of our travel was in the rain, but it was a great time to enjoy the natural beauty of this country as we saw howler monkeys, wild toucans, many species of birds (including my favorite-hummingbirds), and many other wonders of God's creation.
So that gives you a glimpse into our last couple of days. The nature of our schedule and the fact that we are sharing a computer (with a teenager...ha ha!) can make it a challenge to get updates posted, but we sincerely appreciate all of the prayers and support back home. Pray for us today (Wednesday) as we wrap up our time here and say "ciao" for now. We are doing some more soup kitchen time and then helping with English studies at Los Guido. So it should be another great day! Also, be sure to connect at Peace Haven tonight as Gordon Simms will be sharing in our prayer service one more time at 6p.m. Buckle up!!!
What a great day for our team as we celebrated some wonderful opportunities to worship and study in Costa Rica!
The day kicked off with Graham getting to go with Noemy to a Chinese Church where she helps to lead worship. They worship in both Cantonese and Spanish! He was able to see Anna who knew him when he was "little" at the age of about 2 or 3 years old. It was a sweet reunion and Graham learned about another culture within this culture.
Matt and Craig went on a walk in the neighborhood where we are staying and soaked in the culture. Seeing older men and women get ready to play soccer on a small cancha (field/court), people buying hot bread (a yummy cultural tradition here), a few attending Catholic Church, and many people out for biking and running as groups. We also returned in time to watch a live stream of the worship service at Peace Haven thanks to the legendary Trevor Williams who streamed it live. Others connected to his live stream as well, so we may have unintentionally started a new ministry!!!
All of these opportunities were great, but I can hear the gears turning for many of you all..."Why weren't you in church?" The church/ministry that we are looking to partner with (the Christian Light Foundation of Costa Rica/Iglesia Nueva Vida) doesn't meet until the afternoon so we had some time to explore, study, and prepare for the day. Once we did get to the farm, it was a great time of fellowship as they had various meetings and a service that felt like worship to us, but they call it Sunday School. The praise team did a great job and Graham even played piano for several songs which stretched him a bit. Mark Kuzdas did a great job explaining to the people about the new Heaven and new Earth teaching as it related to Genesis and Revelation. Then we had a spaghetti dinner and some fellowship around La Fogata (the campfire). It was a great time and we saw God do some good things!
As I walk among the people, I keep thinking of the Phil Collins song that repeats over and over "It's just another day for you and me in paradise." It is ironic that we are literally in paradise as we look around us and see the majesty of God's creation in this beautiful country! Yet, the needs and the lostness is very real as well making it a far cry from paradise for many who are struggling to live without Christ. Just an example of the spiritual needs that exist would be the fact that there were only about four men (not counting gringos) in the gathering yesterday who were not involved in leadership. The need for men to be evangelized, discipled, and trained in leadership is a dire need in Costa Rica. One of the hardest things to observe was a family who had suffered domestic violence sitting in the gathering that day when one of the most recent incidents had just occurred that morning between the Father and a young son. Observing such needs drives us to our knees once again as we know that there is a desperate need for people to know this Jesus who has changed our lives. I am also thankful that so many children are being discipled by this ministry so that we can see a difference in the days ahead as these boys grow up to be men who know and love Jesus.
That is probably enough of my deep thoughts for today. Be sure to notice that Matt was able to make an international connection at the local McDonald's here as he met the Manager of the restaurant. She was very gracious and answered questions that he had. Our friend Noemy interpreted and it was a great opportunity for our team.
Thank you for your continued prayers for our time in Costa Rica. We have just a few days remaining until we begin the trek home. Pray for our health as we may be facing the threat of strep throat (just Craig so far) and other minor illnesses that have threatened. Pray also for the neighborhoods of El Carpio and Tejarcillos as we continue to visit, pray, and learn about the work that is being done here. Que Dios le beniga y Pura Vida! (May God bless and pure life to you!)
Just when you thought that it couldn't get any better, we had another great day serving in Costa Rica!
We arrived dressed for some crazy water games and the kids did not give us a choice about participating. They wanted us in the middle of it all! So we tried to use discernment without breaking a hip on the Costa Rican version of the Slide of Doom. Despite the use of laundry soap and bricks on the tarp, a good time was had by all. We enjoyed free time and then had some organized chaos...I mean games. It was a really sweet time with these amazing kids and they loved that fact that we were in the middle of it all!
After the water games, we had lesson time with the children. Earlier when we arrived, the young high school student who was to lead the activities of the day for the children, Joseph, approached us. Joseph wanted to ask if we could do the Zaccheus story that we had done with the students the night before and, of course, I was happy to oblige him. Little did I know that he was going to take it and run with it commanding the children's attention and explaining each detail of the story as we enlisted three helpers to enact the account. So essentially, Joseph was not assisting me...I was assisting Joseph! What a proud moment to see this young man duplicate through an unwritten code of discipleship the teaching that he had received in the student ministry the night before. The children responded well to his leadership and he did an excellent job guiding the lesson time!
Once again I am reminded of the importance of training up our children in the discipleship of service and even leading others. I pray that we can be a church that moves ever more in this direction to equip and train young people to lead others so that they do not arrive at adulthood with little to no experience with such things. Guiding them when they are young and giving them responsibilities, is one of the best things that we can do as disciples who make disciplemakers. I am convinced now more than ever more that if these poor kids in Los Guido can do so, that so can our young people. We just haven't raised the bar high enough. We make the fruit too low because we underestimate what our kids are capable of and we rush in to do things for them so many times that they miss the lessons of failure that have been so vital for many of us.
It is getting late and I'm dangerously close to rambling, but I am proud of Graham as he has stepped up and participated. You will see pictures of him in the middle of a scrum of kids grabbing for tootsie rolls as well as one of several egg breaking experiences that he had as part of his upcoming birthday celebration.
Thank you all for your prayers as God is answering them in so many ways. We can't wait to worship tomorrow with our Tico friends and see all that God has in store! We are praying as well for our Peace Haven family back home as they will gather for worship and for our family as they are dealing with some pretty horrible illness.
Our Costa Rica team has landed and is off to a great start as we serve with the Christian Light Foundation of Costa Rica (www.clfcostarica.com) for a week. Matt, Graham, and I will be spending time with people in some of the poorer areas of the city as we prayerwalk, help with a feeding ministry in Los Guido, play with the kids, hang out with and teach youth, and many more activities.
We have only been here two days and we are already seeing God at work in the lives of people. This all started over ten years ago when Lori and I brought our family here under the leadership of the International Mission Board to learn Spanish at the Spanish Institute that is in San Jose. In the course of our time here we met a very special lady who worked with the children's department in the institute as well as taught guitar lessons. It was this relationship with our friend, Noemy (which is Naomi in Spanish), that has been such a bridge for us to grow to love the Ticos (Costa Rican people).
So our first day was essentially a day of travel. We awoke at 4:30a.m. and left Wilkes-vegas in the midst of a pretty significant storm that had caused a lot of standing water for the first 45 minutes of our journey. Thankfully the rain dissipated and there were clear skies in Raleigh. The rest of our travel was relatively uneventful. Just some close connections, long immigration lines, and a longer than expected trip to the guest house due to San Jose traffic. Bottom line was that we were safe and our luggage arrived safely.
Time with Mark and Meg Kuzdas has been great as they have helped us get settled in and we have had some flexibility due to the smaller size of our team. They also have a student intern working with them named Paige who is from Arizona and she has been a great help in the adjustment/culture shock of our first days in country.
Our first day was full of great opportunities as we prayerwalked the neighborhood and then took sidewalk chalk, jump ropes, and bubbles to play with the children after they had lunch in the feeding ministry. They were very excited and we had some good time playing and talking with them along the way. There were also older youth who came through and played soccer with Matt and Graham which was a lot of fun until a young lady came out and started playing circles around almost all of the guys. The kids really enjoyed the play time and we had some good interactions with families as well. Its amazing the things that we take for granted as that bag full of toys was on clearance at Wal-mart for about $50 total, but the kids had such a great time and those supplies will last them for a while.
Friday night was youth night in Los Guido at the Farm (the land that the church is on used to be a farm...La Finca). They typically have a good crowd of students who come to play games, eat, and have a small group study together. This particular Friday was a festival day for many of the students in which they did not have regular classes but participated in artistic tours, music competitions, etc. So our attendance was a little lower than usual, but we still had a great time! More pictures will be posted in the upcoming days but we played soccer, volleyball, ate burgers, and shared the story of Zaccheus from Luke 19 with them. They had a good time acting out the story and then breaking into small groups to study.
We returned to the guest house tired, sunburned, and ready for showers/bed after a great day full of sweet time among these people.