Over the whole month of June and half of July I was in another country (or two). My experiences were life-changing and some were more eye-opening then others. The format of this letter is to all those who supported me in prayer and financially.
Dear Prayer Partners,
This past month has been such a wonderful experience for me. Over the past 5 1/2 weeks I had the priveledge of serving and loving the people of Costa Rica and Nicaragua with my 2 other team members, Keith (an 18 year old, Tom Cruise look-alike from Arizona) and Kelsey (a cute, intelligent girl from Minnesota), and our 2 leaders, Julie (a very cool person) and Tiffany (very cool as well).
As we landed into San Jose, it was night and I could see all the city light lighting up the entire countryside. I stepped off the airplane into Juan Santamaria airport and waited for what seemed like an hour for my bags to come around the carousel. When I finally got my bags I followed the signs outside to wait for Julie and Tiffany. Their were lots of taxi drivers and hotel people advertising their places. I looked around for a few minutes (I'm kind of a space-case...okay?) until I heard Tiffany and Julie shouting my name.
Julie took me out of the way of the "mob", while Tiff waited for Keith and Kelsey's planes to come in. I got acqauinted with Julie during this time. She is 28 years old and she has been living in Costa Rica for 4 years. Tiffany is 23 and been their for almost 6 months. She will be getting married in December.
Now, a little bit about Keith and Kelsey. Keith is 18 and is going to be a student at Southwestern Bible College. He's a great guy and really funny. He was my roomate throught the entire trip no matter how hard we tried to seperate. Kelsey is 18 as well and will be attending University of Minnesota. She is awesome as well and has a great heart for the Lord.
We finally got all our stuff into the taxi-van and we all got a little acquainted on our trip to the base-house. At the base-house we all got settled and became even more acquainted with each other. The next four days we spent time preparing mimes and clown skits as well as learning much about the culture, such as kissing a woman on her right cheek as a greeting. The culture of Costa rica is very loving and has many American influences, but they still maintain a warm welcoming feel to all who they meet. We experienced more of this warmth as we went to our first site.
San Ramon is a city 1 hour outside of San Jose and it was the first place we to serve for a week. While there, we helped out and encouraged a pastor of a small church, his family and his congregation. Keith and I stayed with the pastor and his family. The pastor's name is Miguel, his wife's name is Maritza and they have three children, Pablo (21), Jairo (19) and Laura (13). We got to know and love everyone in the family and the congregation very well. We helped paint the church as well as visit an orphanage outside of San Ramon. Most of our work though, was just hanging out and encouraging the people, because some events took place before we came that really divided Miguel's congregation and greatly reduced the numbers. During our time there we also learned that Miguel decided to step down from the ministry and not be a pastor any more. None of us never fully learned why this all happened.
Keith and I became pretty attached to our family. Maritza served good food, Miguel was always funny, and Jairo kept me laughing. Keith knew more Spanish then I did, so he always kept everyone laughing, except me because I could never understand what he said. One night, we taught everybody the game "Spoons" and for the whole week that's all we played.
One day we went into San Jose with Pablo because he invited us to go onto his international christian youth tv show to be shown in 73 countries. We were interviewed about missions and encouraging other youth to go into missions. Julie translated all of the questions and all of our answers.
Our last night there was emotional and filled with songs, laughter and tears. Some kids from the congregation gave us a surprise serenade at Miguel's house to see us off pay us one last goodbye. They even wrote a song about us. We left the next morning and said our last goodbyes with many more tears.
We then went to our debrief site to relax and reflect over the past week in La Fortuna, a town by Arenal Volcano. We went to a hot springs warmed byt the heat of the volcano. As I reflected on my time back in San Ramon, one personal highlight for me was when we led worship one service night and taught them a new song, "All Who Are Thirsty", which in spanish is stranslated as, "A Los Abatidos".
After our debrief time we went back to the base home and prepared for Nicaragua. We packed smaller bags because the families we were staying with have less then those in Costa Rica.
We then took a bus on an 8 hour cross-country trip, across the Nicaraguan border and into the city of Managua. As soon as we entered Nicaragua, we could see many, many differences between Nicaragua and Costa Rica. Our attention was constantly diverted by people begging us for money or selling us something. In Managua, Amanda (our host missionary and leader in Nicaragua) picked us up and took us to a missionary complex to stay overnight, but first we went out to eat. As we ate at an outside cafe-type place (called a comedor), little children came up to us and tried to sell us things and beg for money. One child came up to Julie and asked for her leftovers, so she started placing her leftovers in his plastic bag. Eventually, we all gave him some. It was one of the most heartbreaking sights I've ever seen.
The next day, we went out to see what Nicaragua was all about. Nicaragua is a country torn and heart broken from wars, tyrants, and earthquakes, all within the last 100 years. We went to many of the war memorials, like the Peace Park where many of the guns from the civil war are buried in cement. Amanda also took us to the place where the tyrant used to have his palace. Underneath was a dungeon with cells where people were fed to jaguars. It was chilling.
The next day we were taken to Amanda and her fiancee, Tomas's church, to meet our host families in Nicaragua. Keith and I's family consisted of a single mother, her four dear kids and her mom and stepdad. The single mom's name is Ana Gladys, her kids are: Jonathan -14, Maldrado -11, Oyanca, -7, and Deanna -4. All the kids were awesome and the little girls were so cute! I really got attached to this family, maybe even more so then the family in San Ramon. Our house was not a bad place to live. We had running water, a shower (cold), and good food. But Tiff and Kelsey didn't have all the luxuries we had. They had to go to bathroom in a ramshackle outhouse and bucket bath AND have beans and rice at every single meal.
During the week we spent with our families we went to two different orphanages. One was a smaller one with about 50 kids in two different homes for boys and girls and the other was bigger with over 70 kids. We hung out with the kids at both and shared our clown skits and stuff. At the bigger orphanage, the kids seemed to be more loving. Maybe it was because they all didn't get as much attention. One little girl even came right up to me and sat on my lap.
We also played baseball with the church which was really fun! It was the single men versus the married men. The single men won. I suck at baseball, so I was the catcher the whole time.
After one week with our families we went over to Amanda's place. Amanda lives with a family called the Augusts, who are American and moved down to Nicaragua. The Augusts own a bunch of land which they hope to build dorms for short-term teams to stay at and Amanda hopes to make a sports center, with a soccer field, baseball field and park. We picked up trash and we worked for 3 days on getting a fence done to keep out cows, so more work could be done on the sports center and dorms.
As well as doing work on the sports center, we went with Kathy August one day to help with a feeding program she helps run. We did our little clown skit and had fun with the kids. It was probably our best performance!
Our debrief time was spent at the sports center, but we just spent a day out on Lake Nicaragua. (Tourism isn't very big in Nicaragua).
San Jose/ Renacer and Le Carpio
Our last site was back in San Jose working with two of the ministries of "Christ for the City", Renacer and Le Carpio. Renacer (which means rebirth)is the street and prostitute rehabilitation ministry of CFCI. Le Carpio is an area in San Jose where most of the Nicaraguan refugees live and one of the poorest areas in town. The plight of the refugees is much like that of the Mexicans who cross the border over into America. Many Costa Ricans despise Nicaraguans and treat them with irrational predjudice, because many Costa Ricans have never even been to Nicaragua, let alone get to know a Nicaraguan.
Before we went off to serve we met the families we were staying with. Our family this was absolutely wonderful. The mom's name is Marjorie and her four kids were Danny -13, Brayan -11, Goudy -8 and Jean Carlos -5. The father's name was Martin and he worked all during the week on the coast and was home on the weekends.
We spent eight days working a little bit with Renacer and a little bit with Le Carpio. With Renacer, we helped set up a lesson for a Kid's Club that Renacer has every Tuesday in a part of town called Guarari. It was fun and I got to know a lot of the kids. Later, we learned that a lot of the kids were either from a home where the mom was a prostitute or on drugs and most of them didn't even have dads and some were prostitutes or drug runners themselves.
One day we helped with a feeding program which goes to different poor areas in the city. We took a van to these areas and set up chairs to put food on and served food for about 15 minutes and then go to the next place. It was really eye opening to see all the druggies, drunks, prostitutes and derelictes wander in and say "God bless you", for the little bit of food we give them.
At Le Carpio, we spent a few days on construction work and preparing for a soccer tournament on the land the CFCI bas owns. We also helped out with a kids program they held every week.
Our last rest time was at Jaco Beach on the west coast. It was fun and we had a couple days to reflect on the whole trip and prepare ourselves for the journey home.
The End of the Trip
After our time at Jaco, we went back to the CFCI base and starting packing to go home. It was a sad time, but it was also filled with joy over the time we had spent together as a group. Both flights of Keith and I took off at around 7:30 in the morning. We drove to the airport before the break of day and at the airport we all said our goodbyes. 6 hours later, I was home in Omaha.
It's hard for me to believe that the time I spent there was a month long, because it flew by so fast. I met so many people and made so many friends. I learned a lot about serving and what it means to be a child of God. I also learned a lot about my own future. I believe that this is what I want to do with the rest of my life. Helping people and showing them the love of God. The specifics are a little shady to me right now, but I do now know my oppurtunities in Costa Rica and Nicaragua. Please continue to pray for me, that God would guide me in the right direction of where to serve.
Thank you for all your prayers. Our whole team saw the effects of it. None of us were ever sick, our attitudes constantly improved, and our unity was strong, all because of your prayers. God bless you and thank you.
When you look at this letter, don't just look at it as some sort of religious advertisement. I believe anyone can make a difference in the world. The key is to find your purpose and make the world beautiful through your gifts and talents.