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.