Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Second !mpact Trip to Costa Rica

As I look back at what I wrote before I left for Costa Rica, there were three things I predicted. One was that I'd miss sharing it with my family, the second is that I'd be able to use my new Spanish phrases, and the third is that I'd know what to expect.  Well, I did miss my family, but sharing the experience with other strong Christian women turned out to be far more valuable than I ever anticipated. And second,  I did use some of my Spanish and was very greatful to be able to communicate and understand more than last time; however, it was still painfully obvious that I'll need a lot more practice.  And finally, I thought I'd know what to expect - which I did in several physical ways - but I had no idea how differently God would reveal Himself to me on this trip. I am still in both shock and awe... and find myself trembling as I write this.  It is an experience that has many levels and will take me several years to sort out, if ever.  I've been trying to decide who to tell and who not to. But then again, I also feel it's not for me to determine.  What I'm about to write needs to be told. How each reader responds and proceeds is out of my hands.

For those that don't know, our CAV !mpact Missions trips all start out with 5 or 6 weeks of training. This is done to educate and prepare the hearts of its team members.  This is a time for sharing testimonies, collective prayer, and task preparation.  Our team's goal for this mission was to focus on a beautiful experience for the mothers of the children who eat at the Hope Center. They are often forgotten and are living in poverty and many times abuse. We prepared a spa manicure experience, a beaded bracelet session, and an art project where they could decorate their own canvas bag.  My projected task was to assist with the babysitting of the children while the moms got a little away time.  Looking back, our team did all three of these things and did them well. But God had something else in mind for us to do.


In the morning after breakfast we loaded up the bus and prayed before we left the driveway.  I can't tell you how excited I was to see the Hope Center and everyone in it.  The director, Ashley, met us at the door and greeted us with a warm hug. It felt like home.  I saw a few faces in the kitchen I recognized and had to run over for a quick kiss on the cheek.  I then took my seat and waited for Ashley's husband, Julio, to tell us about another project they wanted us to do.  It was a painting project for one of the buildings across the way.  We had been informed before we left that this was something they were going to ask us to do and to be quite honest a few of us were grumbling about the physicality of the project. I imagined sore muscles and a sunburn, but as Julio explained to us that it was a daycare and it's the long term goal of the Hope Center to see the entire street turned into a "Street of Hope", I found myself getting more excited about the project.  I started to visualize all the buildings being painted and how people usually feel uplifted when they are surrounded by things that are beautiful. I started to think of how this might affect the whole community, not just those kids who get to eat at the Hope Center.  Julio continued to explain how they reached out to the woman who runs the government assisted daycare and how the building might possibly have a curse on it, but that they wanted to change that and make it a place of hope.  I noticed his mention of the word 'curse' but didn't dwell on it too much.

We all got together and were escorted [our safety was always a top priority] to the daycare center across the circle.

Daycare across the circle from the Hope Center

Standing outside the main entrance.

The grass was overgrown and there was a chain-link fence around the front of the building. The gate was opened for us and several of the women crowded around the front door.  The door was open and out came a woman and several young children. Our leaders, who are native Spanish speakers, made the introductions and told them that we are the women who have come to help paint the house.  I was lagging in the back and was in no hurry to get to the door since I had no idea what they were saying. Instead I was looking at the walls and imagining the amount of work ahead of us.  As I finally caught up and walked past the front door something happened.  I felt something come out of the door and reach out towards me.  I don't know what it was but it was dark and I instantly couldn't breath.  The air lacked oxygen and there was pressure on my chest. Even though I didn't know what it was and had never had an experience like this before, I instantly knew it was evil.  I kept walking past the door on the outside of the building and felt it slowly release. My breathing turned back to normal.  I continued surveying the exterior of the building with no other incident.  I didn't know what to make of it. No one else seemed to be affected. We were then invited inside.  I followed the women.  It was dark, there were no lights other than what was coming in through the windows.  Once my eyes adjusted I looked around.  There was a small TV, several cribs lined up along the wall and lots of children's books and toys. On the walls were paintings of animals and such.  I think one might have been Mickey Mouse.  It wasn't horrible, but it was kind of sad, dull, dingy, dirty, and dreary.

Inside the living room. The only light is from windows.

We all gathered around the woman and prayed for her. I didn't feel anything unusual.

The woman running the daycare is in the middle.
After our prayer we split into our teams and started to work.  I was handed some sandpaper and began sanding.  It was loud and dirty work, but it was also pleasurable and almost therapeutic.  The walls had never been touched (other than to be tagged by gangs) so it felt good to take the top layer off.  I thought about the love in the hearts of each hand touching it and how removing this ugly rough layer is going to help make the paint stick.  When the sanding was done, we started priming the walls.

Ashley is in the front, followed by Vicki, Denise and myself kneeling.
The transformation was instant.  With each stroke of the paint roller the building got brighter and lighter.  Our local handy-man who worked hard right along side us promised to bring back a weed-wacker and tidy up the front garden area.  It was taking shape right before our eyes.  I couldn't be happier to be working on the project, but never stopped thinking about what happened earlier that morning.  It sobered me. I felt myself withdrawing from the group. I wasn't frightened, but I felt different.


During breakfast I received a call from Ashley.  I couldn't imagine why she had singled me out to discuss something over the phone.  In addition, I had only allowed myself a short window to finish getting ready and get to the bus so I knew this would make me late.  I got on the phone and said, "Hello?".  She said hello back and then went on to explain that she would not be able to be at the Hope Center this morning but wanted to let someone know which colors were supposed to go on which walls of the daycare.  My first thought was how honored I felt for her to trust me to relay this information and my second thought was that of doubt and fear because I know my own flaws and figured she would have been better telling someone else. I started taking notes and prayed that my mind wouldn't fail me as it has so many times before. When I thought I was clear about the instructions I hung up and raced to the bus.  We prayed together as a team as we always do, and I filled everyone in on the plans.  Once we arrived at the daycare and I saw the building again, it quickly became clear that my brain was going to let me down. Some of the instructions made perfect sense, but there were more angles to the walls than I saw in my mind so I had a few questions left.  My plan was to the direct the team on the parts that I knew for sure and wait on the others hoping Ashley would be there soon to clarify.  It almost worked, but she was delayed.  We started on the easy walls where there was no question in my mind about what we were to do.

I was certain this wall was supposed to be blue. 
Eventually we finished those up and still no Ashley.  People kept asking what color to paint on the next walls, but I wasn't sure.  Then I turned the corner of one wall to see that two women had painted it blue, but I wasn't sure what color was supposed to be there.  I decided to make an executive decision and say 'carry on'.  After that the other colors just sort of made sense.  When Ashely finally arrived she was so enthusiastic and pleased with our progress.  She admitted that the wall that was blue was really supposed to be yellow, but I think everyone agreed that it look very good the way it was, or if not, no one said anything to the contrary.

I think the middle front wall was supposed to be yellow. 
Our painting day was a success and judging by the people who walked by and pointed and smiled, I think all agreed.  Except someone wasn't very happy.  Unbeknownst to me, they would let me know the following day.


The final day of mission work always comes too fast and with many mixed feelings.  I remember this part from last time.  Some of me was tired and ready for it to be over, but a huge part of me never wanted it to end.  At breakfast I was thinking about how the time was going by so fast and of all things, I haven't spent that much time with God.  It sounds strange because we were praying and doing God's work all three days, but that's different than spending time alone with Him.  For some reason we had a delayed start and our leaders told me to relax and not rush because we had some extra time.  I went back to my room and noticed that my roommate was not there.  I thought this would be a good time to pray.  I prayed about my heart being open to whatever God has planned for me. That I was His servant and would be happy doing anything that needed to be done.  I don't remember much else, just that I was thankful and open to the Holy Spirit.

On the bus that morning after we prayed our leaders told us that we were going to anoint the daycare today and pray a blessing on the building.  We wanted to walk around the whole building but for safety reasons that was not possible; however, we would be allow to go inside.  I hadn't had any more experiences like the first day but it was never far from my thoughts.  I had shared the story at our team debrief on Monday night but other than our two leaders, no one else seemed particularly alarmed at my experience.  As it turned out, my leaders had both been having their own experiences different than mine, but also very compelling.  One of them told me about a dream and something about the kitchen at the daycare being a place of darkness. The other had a powerful prayer experience prior to our trip.  We knew all our experiences were interconnected, but at this point, I was still unsure of the depth or meaning that they would have.

Our whole team met in front of the daycare that morning.  One of our members brought anointing oil and we were each given a cotton ball full of oil to mark crosses all around and pray for God's blessings.  I took my cotton ball and began at the outside right window. This window and I had become good friends as I carefully painted the trim and removed all the rocks and broken glass pieces from the ledge.  I prayed for the window to have no more rocks thrown at it.  I prayed that the window would shine light through and be a blessed place.  Then I moved to another area outside.  I made a cross and prayed in my head about how I hoped this would be a place of hope. That the woman's business would prosper and people would want to come and bring their kids. Again I moved along the outside and prayed more blessings on it and thought about what a beautiful building this is now and how people will see it every time they walk by and that it would be a blessing to the community.  Then I thought it was time to go inside.  There were others walking around whispering prayers and making crosses.  I started by the beds and thought about the kids that would be taking naps. I prayed for them to have sweet dreams and lots of rest that would refresh their bodies.  Then I went into the kitchen.

In the kitchen I saw my leaders reading a prayer on the wall. It was in Spanish so since I didn't know what it said I moved away to another area.  I saw a counter space near a window and looked outside imagining that it would be a nice place to prepare food.  I took my cotton ball and made a cross on the wall as I had done several times before. I bowed my head and began to pray quietly in my mind.  I prayed for the women who would prepare the food here. I prayed that there would be enough food and that the food would nourish all who ate it.  And then I prayed, "the Holy Spirit is here."  As soon as the sentence was spoken in my mind, something came rushing at me from the other side of the room. It came from behind and I could feel it all around me. It was dark, heavy, and oppressive. It was exactly what I had felt on the first day.  I could barely breathe.  I said again, "the Holy Spirit is here."  It didn't let up.  I thought I could run. I knew where the door was, but I was afraid it might never leave me alone. My next thought was that I wanted to stay and fight. I wanted good to prevail. In times such as these I've heard that calling upon the name of Jesus is a powerful weapon, but for some reason I could not come up with the words. It was as if I was in the middle of a battle and wasn't able to change my weapon.  So I said "the Holy Spirit is here" again. I said it over and over and over again, but it wouldn't leave me. I wasn't winning... I was just holding it off.  Then I felt compelled to say it out loud. At first my voice cracked because I still had a sense of who I was and what was around me. I didn't want to be disruptive to the children or embarrass myself in front of the other women, but then somehow I knew this was a matter of life or death.  I said it out loud, "The Holy Spirit is here."  "The Holy Spirit is here."  "The Holy Spirit is here." I was weeping though I do not remember starting to cry.  I was breathing heavy as if I was running out of air.  I was speaking as if in tongues because although I knew what I was saying in English, I no longer felt like I was the one producing the sound.  One of my leaders heard me from across the room and rushed over. She didn't try to stop me, but laid a hand on my shoulder confirming everything I was saying. Together there was more power, or I had more confidence, or the Holy Spirit was stronger, but somehow it started to release me.  I felt it slowly dissipate and move away from me. It came on forcefully but left weakened. I don't know if it left the building, but it left me.  My breath came back to me and I knew it was over.  I praised God, then turned to the one who helped me and hugged her.  I left the kitchen immediately and went outside.  I sat on the steps and tried to catch my breath. I felt exhausted like I had gone to battle, yet I had done nothing physical that morning.  It was the most surreal moment of my entire life.  Here I was in a foreign country, having just done battle with an evil spirit, and people were walking around going about their business as if nothing unusual had happened.  I could hardly process it.  It took me a while to get my bearings, but there was one thing I knew immediately following the experience and that was that GOD HAD WON.  There would be no doubt in my mind from this minute forward that there is good and evil on this planet.  There is both and it's everywhere.  Even if we don't recognize it immediately - as I did the moment it hit me in that kitchen - it is still at work.  There are battles going on all the time.  They are real and they are not to be taken lightly.

I kept most of this to myself for the rest of the trip because to be honest, I wasn't sure what to do with it.  I felt like I had been given this amazing gift, this glimpse behind the curtain if you will, but wasn't sure if it was only meant for my eyes or if it was meant to be shared.  I knew I needed some time, prayer, and spiritual guidance before I could speak openly about what happened.  I'm still processing it and trying to figure out why I was allowed this opportunity to discern what most people do not. Then again, when I hear the joyful sounds of a song being played, or hear the beautiful words of a prayer being spoken, or listen to the wisdom of a pastor's message, I see gifts that I enjoy from the outside.  God spreads the Holy Spirit's gifts out differently to each one of His believers.  No one gift is better than the other.  Perhaps that is also why I haven't shared it until now.  Each women on our team had their own unique and wonderful experience that serves as a powerful testimony.  Mine is no more or less valuable. It has a its place, but it is not the sum total of my trip.

And speaking of that, for the purposes of this writing, I have chosen to focus on this one very powerful thing God revealed to me while serving, but this really only took up a very short amount of time.  I have so many wonderful memories of time spent with the children, conversations I had with my tiny Spanish vocabulary, and incredibly powerful testimonies I heard from some of the people living and working in the slums.  I got to know Kirk Nowery, who first spoke at our church about Costa Rica inspiring me to go there, and his beautiful wife, Violeta.  Most importantly, I can not go without mentioning the amazing group of women I had the privilege of serving along side of.  We also had a wonderful bus driver that kept us safe on the roads and a charismatic tour guide/interpreter, and so many other people who came into our lives for a short time and made us better for it.

Sweet little baby Brianna.

My new best friend Naomi. 

Our bus driver Jeffrey had great skills behind the wheel.
Children being fed.

The ladies being pampered.

I think back on the six days we spent in Costa Rica and smile at the many wonderful experiences God allowed me to have.  I have no fear of going back nor would I begin to imagine that I would encounter the same thing.... and even if I did, God always prevails.

On our final day before we went to the airport we had a chance to go back and see the daycare with the new windows, black trim, and the new sign that was lovingly painted by someone from our team.

The daycare of Hope (roughly translated).
I hope we left the place a little better than we found it. I know I'm a little better of a person by having been there. I'm excited for its future and I'm looking forward, if it's in God's will, to go back. A piece of my heart is already there.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Heading Back

It's been several months since I've been to Costa Rica.  I'm finally feeling like myself in my own life except for one thing. A piece of my heart was left behind.  I find myself wondering how things are going for each of the kids I met.  I'm thinking about the women in the kitchen and wondering what's for lunch.

I've seen the pictures from the last group that went to visit and I watched with teary eyes feeling as if I was seeing pictures of my own family.  I hardly imagine they are thinking of me, but that doesn't matter.  What matters is that God introduced me to some people whom I will always think of for the rest of my life. Even if I were to never see them again, they still live in my heart.

The good news to report is that I will get to see some of them again!  As of now I'm preparing with a team of women to go back to the Hope Center to minister to the moms and children living in Pavas.

I am so excited to see the faces I've fallen in love with.  I can't wait to hear more about their lives from my fellow teammates who speak Spanish.  I'm looking forward to reconnecting with the director of the Hope Center and hearing all about its future plans. I'm also looking forward to seeing Costa Rica at a different time year and visiting a coffee plantation on our final day.

This trip will be different in many ways. First, I won't be traveling with the comfort and security of my family.  I have a feeling I'll be spending many moments wishing my husband and kids were with me to share the experience.  I'm excited about our team of godly women, but there's nothing like sharing it with family.  Second, I've been trying to learn a little Spanish and hope that I can communicate a little more than last time.  Our church has provided us with several weeks of language geared specifically for missions trips.  And finally, I know what to expect.  I not only know what things will look like and where we'll stay and what we'll eat, but I also hope to see a few familiar faces.  I long to see and recognize some of the kids from the last trip.  I know there will be plenty of new faces, but there's nothing like seeing a child grow and change in just a few short months.

We are just a day away from leaving for Pavas, but in many ways my heart is already there.  If you are a praying person, please lift up our team as we travel, serve, and continue building relationships. I know there are many suffering and in need, but there's nothing like serving where God leads your heart.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Well, how was it??

I've been asked quite a few times how our !mpact trip to Costa Rica went.  I usually come up with some lame dis-jointed comment about how wonderful it was and how much I enjoyed it.  Truthfully, I'd like to say a lot more, but some things are hard to express on the spot so I've written them down and although this is quite lengthy, it really only hits a few of the highlights of the trip.  - Andrea

I never expected to go on a missions trip. Ever. It really isn’t my thing. Physical discomfort, potential danger, and food dissidence doesn’t sound like a good time. No thank you.  Except that’s not how God works.  He doesn’t let you sit and be comfortable. Instead He plants teeny tiny seeds and watches them grow.  He places little reminders and random thoughts over time until you become uncomfortable in the very place that you feel comfortable.  At least that’s how it was for me.  I’ve grown uncomfortable being comfortable.  How long am I going to say no? How long will I insists that it’s someone else’s calling?  How long can I remain blissfully unaware while at the same time being made aware. That’s the road I took to the mission field.  I was kicking and screaming at one point, then listening and considering, and then seeking and running towards.  By the time our church presented the idea of a family !mpact trip to Costa Rica my heart was ready.


In some ways I felt prepared to see the poverty.  As a child in the 70’s I remember the slums and ghettos that weren’t too far from where I lived.  In Costa Rica the slums start out towards the middle of the hill and then deteriorates the further you drive down.  Our team had spent the previous day sightseeing and that morning at an upscale church in another part of town before we took the tour of Pavas.   As our taxi van descended down the hill it felt comfortable to look out the window and take in the surroundings.  I made eye contact with several of the locals as our van passed comfortably by carrying us rich Americans with all our valuables placed nonchalantly in our laps.  I didn’t mind looking at the poverty of their houses. I wasn’t affected by the trash littering nearly every inch of road.  The stray dogs digging through garbage bags didn’t move me.  The toddlers and preschoolers playing in a blow-up swimming pool on the side of the road didn’t make me feel sorry for them.  The three drug dealers on the side of the road didn’t especially scare me. But then it happened.  I looked into the eyes of a woman walking on the side of the road and God got a hold of me. Something in her eyes made me feel shame for who I was sitting in that van touring an area where they call home.  It happened so fast and yet it was so profound. I didn’t feel superior to her, if anything I felt lower than her.  Is that how God see me?  Shielded by my Goodwill clothes that are still designer-labeled, my body cleanly showered and hair pulled back neatly, with my iPhone 6 tucked in my Nike bag and old Croc sandals?  I didn’t feel that I deserved better than this woman yet I’m offered opportunities and options that this woman can’t even dream of. How do you make peace with that?  Why am I in the van and her on the street?  I felt this wave of uneasiness that didn’t let up.  Our van turned the corner and we could see La Carpio in the distance, a place worse than the one we were in. All of a sudden it got very real.  This place was sobering not just because of the way it looked or smelled, it was also the way it felt. I felt something deep in my bones that I still can’t describe.  Even from a distance it was hard to look at and imagine what life is like there.  

La Carpio
The ride back to the hotel was nearly silent.  How do you ever feel comfortable again surrounded by luxury?


I dreaded the first day at the Hope Center. Up until Monday the whole thing felt more like a vacation than a mission trip. Now it was time to work, and I didn’t know if I was up to the task.  I felt like someone holier or more loving should be there in my place.  I was an imposter. I was someone who liked the idea of a mission trip more than the reality of it.

We entered the building and looked around.  Not so bad I thought.  

Inside Hope Center
We found out what needed to be done and we were left to tackle it anyway we saw fit.  I immediately gravitated toward sorting clothes that people had donated.  It was an easy job that allowed my mind to wonder.  Who donated these clothes? Who will end up with them? Is that why it’s hard to tell who the poor kids are? They are dressed in Justice and Tommy Hilfiger clothes?  As I continued to work, I noticed that my kids were working too. James was moving furniture and mopping, the girls were wiping walls and then came and joined me, and Dennis was starting a painting project.  Humph… nobody works that willingly at our house I noted to myself.  

Emily and Kat sorting clothes by size and gender.

Eventually the kids started trickling in and it was time to serve lunch.  Because of the jobs that needed to get done in the morning, no one was helping the women in the kitchen and they had prepared the meal as they have done every day for the past 20 years.  The three of us moms were tasked with placing the food on the plates and the kids were asked to bring the trays out and serve the children.  The Hope Center serves about 200 children a day so as you can imagine it’s no small task.  I stood in front of a large vat of freshly made spaghetti and green bean concoction while my fellow moms served rice, beans, and salad.  

Rice and spaghetti

First one plate was filled, then another, and another… tears welled up in my eyes.  It was unexpected and unexplainable.  Somehow the meaning of this trip flooded through me.  We are here to serve, and I was literally serving one scoop of spaghetti at a time.   How can such a mundane task bring so much joy, so much meaning, and so much pleasure?  Plate after plate, with tired arms and an aching back, the pleasure never stopped.  When lunch was over the clean up commenced immediately.  I was stationed in front of a make-shift sink with a dirty sponge, solid soap container, and cold water.  I washed for an hour.  It was not fun but the appreciation I had for what these women accomplish every day went through the roof.  How can they do it? Why do they do it?  Unanswered questions. 

Around 2:00 pm the children started to come back for our quasi-VBS experience.  It was the first time I got to intermingle with them.  Prior to this I had been in the kitchen.  I was nervous to interact with the kids as I spoke no Spanish, had little heart for entertaining children, and wasn’t sure if I might “catch” some childhood annoyance such as lice or who knows what else.   I hung back as the group started singing.

Singing kid songs in Spanish and English.
I noticed a girl in the back sitting alone. She had the most gorgeous long hair.  She seemed a little older and perhaps more sophisticated.  I went down and sat next to her, saying nothing at first.  A few minutes later I asked her name (the one Spanish sentence I learned).  She said, “Carla”.  I touched her hair and said, “bonita”.  As I sat there stealing glances at her beauty, especially her pristine hair that fell to her lower back, it occurred to me that this was not a good thing.  How long will it be?        I thought.  How many years does she have before her fate will be decided?  Will she have a say in it?  Is she already being groomed?  In plain terms, will this girl become a child prostitute, or is she perhaps already one?”  My heart sank.  I don’t know her story. I may never know her story. But in that moment, what I could do is be someone who wants nothing from her. I could be someone with a warm smile who can sit next to her and keep her company so she doesn’t have to sit alone.  It seemed like such a small task, but I wanted to do it as best as I could.  So I sat with her.

Carla's beautiful long hair.

The next day came and I had more confidence.  I knew where we were going, what it would be like, and why we were there.  I was asked to help in the kitchen which compared to being in the sun painting a wall, it seemed like a dream job.  I entered the kitchen not being able to say a word beyond “hola”.  I was handed a knife, cutting board, and some vegetables.  I watched as they demonstrated what I needed to do.  Please don’t let me cut myself I thought. What a burden I’d be if I had to go for stitches! 

Everything is cooked from scratch with fresh veggies from the market.

I started chopping as I quietly observed the women.  Each time someone new entered the kitchen they were greeted and kissed on the cheek.  No one was overly enthusiastic in a fake American way, yet no one was grumpy or stressed or rushed, or anything else suggesting they’d rather be somewhere else. They all worked together on different tasks consulting each other from time to time and perhaps sharing a detail from the day before.  I had no idea what we were making but everyone else seemed to and the kitchen ran like clock work.  After a few hours of chopping and preparing, it was time to serve.  Again, the three of us moms took our places in front of the vats of food and carefully scooped out the exact amount the ladies had demonstrated for us.  Tray after tray went out and in its place more dirty dishes came back.  

The plates and cups went out full and came back empty.

We worked hard and moved fast, but never in a stressful frenetic way, but rather in an organized purposeful way.  I couldn’t help but think of the kitchen as a perfectly oiled machine, working with many hands and many hearts to accomplish such a task.  At the end of service, we started on the dishes. 

The kids and moms took turns doing dishes.
There were many to wash, many to dry, and many to put away.  The task wasn’t done until the last thing was put in its place.  Again I asked myself, how is it that no one is getting sick? There is no hot water, dirty sponges, and dishes being washed by so many different people with different ideas of what’s clean. 

Sink to wash pots and pans and dishes.
Is it possible that we in America have become so germ-o-phobic that we drive ourselves crazy with ultra cleanliness?  

After clean up the women made us workers a special and different meal.  Each and every day they’d pull out the finer plastic china and utensils and real glasses for us Gringos.  The food was fantastic and never disappointed us.  

Special lunches made fresh for the Gringos.
When the meal was over, we’d sneak back to the kitchen and wash the dishes we had just used.  The cycle never ended but no one complained.  Meanwhile in the next rooms the dental clinic was underway.  This was the first time many of these children (and some of the women in the kitchen) had ever been to a dentist.  The first day was just to check the kids’ teeth and the second was to do the more complicated procedures and the cleanings.

Rooms set up with dentist chairs.
While the kids waited, our team did the best we could to entertain the kids. There was something different about these kids in Pavas. First of all, they were physically tough, meaning that they were able to play hard, get bumped or bruised, but not cry in the corner. They laughed it off and kept playing.  I don’t know if that was a good thing because it suggests that what they experience outside of the Hope Center is much worse than a few bruises from indoor soccer.  Next, they were starved for physical attention and affection. Many of them jumped on our backs and wanted to be carried around. 

Kids always wanting a ride.

They craved anything to be touched lovingly or be paid attention to.  Another observation is that these kids were loving to each other.  It’s not that I didn’t witness some pushing and shoving between kids, but when it came down to it, these kids looked to each other for comfort and protection. They were bonded in ways far beyond what I usually see between siblings and friends.  Finally, these kids wanted to play.  More than anything, they wanted to have fun. 

Kids doing what they loved best: play time!
I can’t imagine the hardships they face outside of the Hope Center, but inside these wall they have permission to be kids.  Speaking of that, it was on Tuesday that I met Lispby (Leslie) and her sister Kimber (Kimberly).  They were as tight as two sisters can be.

Kimberly (left) and Leslie (right)
Kimberly clung to her big sister like she was her only source of comfort.  I’m guessing they are probably half sisters as Lispby has much darker skin than her much lighter sister.  Again, Kimberly is another little girl that is so cute and has such beautiful curly hair that it makes me afraid for her future and she is only 4 or 5 years old.  I befriended the pair by just sitting with them and smiling at them.  It seems to be the universal language for friendship. 

We made necklaces, colored bible story pages, and kicked the ball around.  These girls will be in my heart forever.  As the day closed at the Hope Center, we watched several of the kids walk down the hill further into the slums where I presume their homes are.  It was strange to see them leave.
The view from inside the Hope Center walls looking down the hill.
There is no one around in this picture but the cars, trucks, and motorbikes careen down the hill quite fast. 
They weren’t picked up by their mothers. They weren’t upset or crying as they left. They were just existing as they always have and I suspect will continue to do so.  It was such a strange sight. In America you wouldn’t dream of sending such little kids out to walk dangerous streets alone and here no one is expecting them at home or looking out for their personal safety. They must navigate the busy street alone doing the best they can.  In some ways it made me sad for our country that we have become so driven by fear that we can’t bare to allow our fully capable teens to go anywhere alone yet these little elementary school kids can walk through crime, drug, and gang infested streets and do just fine.  It is in these moments that the slums are teaching me where I have room for improvement.   


By the third day at the Hope Center I felt like I was part of the team.  I greeted the women with a kiss, took a knife from the drawer and began chopping garlic and the largest carrot I've ever seen.

Wow... that's a big carrot!
Shortly after one of the women came in speaking Spanish while pointing at her shirt and giving a disgusted look. It was so funny because her sentiments translated perfectly.  She was unhappy with the color of her shirt and wanted a different one.  A few minutes later she left and came back wearing a pink t-shirt and a big smile.  I guess you can say some things are just understood.  The morning continued on with lots of painting outside and chopping inside. 

Someone had the idea to put handprints on the outside columns of the Hope Center in each color that represented the logo on the sign outside.

This sign is on the outside wall of the Hope Center.
At first the idea was to use a child-sized hand as a model for all the hands, but then someone suggested we ask the women in the kitchen if they would like to add their handprints too.  Turns out they were delighted and each chose their favorite color and placed it lovingly on the walls. 

Vanessa (in a pink shirt instead of yellow) adding her handprint to the wall.
Before long we drew quite a crowd and the children all wanted a turn at placing their mark on the wall.  

This little girl was the daughter of one of the women in the kitchen.
Back home it might have been a non-memorable event, but here in Pavas where most things are dirty and unkempt it was a great display of pride in ownership and genuine effort to make things just a little bit nicer for the kids.

The blue paint is new and the handprints make it colorful.
The lunch service that day was bitter sweet.  There was hardly time to ponder that this would be our last time serving because there was so much dishwashing to do.  That really sums up a lot of experiences at the Hope Center… there is so much to do that processing the meaning behind each task has to wait for another time.  

Another healthy hot lunch.
Around 2:00pm the kids came back to the center for our “esquala” (little school).  A few of our team members sang songs in the front while the rest of us mingled with the kids who were sitting on the sidelines.  

I went and sat next to two girls who were alone. 

I don't know their names but they loved looking at pictures on my iPhone.
I asked their names but they were so soft spoken it was hard to hear.  I was having a hard time connecting so I pulled out my phone and showed them a few random pictures.  When I got to one of a swimming pool at Disney World the girls took a quick breath and exhaled, “booo-nitaaaa!!”  I couldn’t decide in that moment if it was a good thing or bad thing to show them pictures. That’s the kind of thing that comes to mind when working with these kids. My main thought was do no harm, so I put my phone away and I encouraged them to listen to the story.  After craft time the kids wanted to play games in the main room.  Their favorites were freeze-tag, soccer, and anything having to do with being spun around in circles.  A little boy and girl performed a patty-cake type game/song for us.  It reminded me of something I would have done in my childhood.

Then the same little boy grabbed two cups and started to do the cup song.  Emily and Katherine joined in and before you knew it all cultural and language boundaries were down and the only language needed was laughter. I love thinking back on those moments.

The moments that are harder to describe and are more painful to think about are the final ones.  I went into the kitchen to say goodbye and could not contain my tears. They were ones of gratitude for being patient with us Gringos who cut and washed so much slower than they did. It was tears of joy for having had such an amazing experience with them. It was tears of sorrow knowing that I won’t see them again for a long time and perhaps never. It was tears of appreciation knowing that they will continue to feed the children daily doing God’s work with little reward.  These women taught me so much in three short days.  They taught me that working together makes things go faster. That each one has something they could teach to each other. They taught me that working towards a common goal is more meaningful than doing it alone. They taught me that chopping things up really small is a good thing. And they taught me that pail yellow isn’t a good color shirt for women with dark hair and dark skin.  I don’t know these women’s personal stories, but I know they give of themselves selflessly every day and I know these women can cook!  The children of Pavas are blessed to have them.  As the van pulled away for the last time, several of the children came running along side of it.  I don’t think there was a dry-eye in the bunch as we rode back to the hotel in silence. 

It’s been three days since I’ve been back from Costa Rica.  They say jumping back into your old life might be difficult.   I’d say it’s nearly impossible because you don’t come back as the same person. The same challenges might await, the same stressors are burdensome and the daily grind doesn’t let up, but somehow everything is different.  I’d like to say I’m more patient, tender hearted, and connected, but so far I’ve been frustrated, annoyed, and discontent.  I want some things to be like they were in Costa Rica and I wish some things would be like it is in America for the kids in Pavas.  I find myself looking around at things and thinking they aren’t important yet I can’t change the way our culture does things.  I know I want to go back. I know it was the most rewarding and enjoyable experiences of my life, but I’m not sure yet how to incorporate what I learned into daily life here. 

I think about the kids in Pavas all the time. I think about the women in the kitchen and wonder what they are serving for lunch. I look at my fast paced hectic luxurious life and I search for the meaning beyond the obvious things.  I wonder if that’s what happens when you take a trip like this… your heart ends up in two different worlds.  Maybe that’s what God wants for us. To place our heart in as many world’s as possible. Can you imagine God knowing the details of the lives of every person on every inch of this planet?  I have lots of things to contemplate and I wish I could say this will end in a neat and tidy way with a scripture verse and some profound truth.  It won’t.  The bottom line is that I’m still trying to figure it out, but I know I’m thankful that God got a hold of my heart. I’m glad that the seed of being uncomfortable in a comfortable world was planted and watered. And I’m glad I got to became ‘that person’ who goes on a mission trip.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

!mpact Trip Costa Rica

This month our family has the privilege of traveling with a team from our local church to San Jose, Costa Rica to visit the people of Pavas. A few months ago I couldn't have told you where Pavas is or who lives there. Since then I've learned that it's the largest slum in Costa Rica. Upon hearing this I assumed the people living there are Costa Rician citizens, but I was wrong. They are not. The people living in Pavas are mostly Nicaraguan women and children who fled during the 1980's when warfare broke out in their home country. These people left with no documents and little else. They were once considered refugees but now after so many years they have even less status than that. They are ineligible for Costa Rican benefits yet they are allowed to stay in the country as long as they keep to themselves. Their make-shift houses are located in one of the poorest areas of San Jose called Pavas.

The next obvious question I asked is why don't they just leave and go home? It seems like a simple solution, right? Well the answer is more complicated than that. Many of them have children that were born in Costa Rica and have no memories of their parent's home country. Additionally, even if they could make the journey back, what would be waiting for them there? Costa Rica is one of the most stable and economically growing countries in Central America. There's not much for them to return to in Nicaragua.

If you are a female with no government status, no education, and no skills, what would you do to earn money to feed your children? You guessed it, prostitution. If that's not heart breaking enough, finding out that very young girls are not exempt from this line of work is even worse. It's not uncommon for American businessmen or sportsmen to pay $20 for an evening with one these girls of which they may take home about $2 to their families. The men in the slums are often involved with drugs and gang activity or serve as pimps. It is not an easy life nor is it one that offers much hope.

The good news is that Hope Partner's International has set up the Hope Center in Pavas whose mission is to work with the local people to offer hope through life transformation, education, medical care, food, clean water, and relief from human trafficking. Our team will be visiting the center and building a relationship with the people whom God has strategically placed in service to the community.

Our visit to the Hope Center won't solve any problems or stop the cycle of despair many of these people endure everyday, but what we can offer is support to those already helping, encouragement to the women who need a break, fun and laughter to the children, and most importantly the love that only a personal relationship with Jesus Christ brings. We'll be serving the children a hot meal, acting out Bible stories, singing songs, and doing crafts with them. We hope that we can make their day just a little bit better and if they see the hope of Christ living in us maybe they'll see that their lives can also be transformed in a real and meaningful way even in their present circumstance.

Our kids have never left the country and this will be our family's first mission trip. We are excited to see how the holy spirit will move during the week and we are looking forward to being able to share our experiences with our friends and family upon our return. Your prayers are always appreciated and will be a great encouragement to us as we serve on team !mpact Costa Rica.