Romans 11:36

"For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.
To Him be the glory forever! Amen."

Sep 26, 2008

El niñero

God moment, Week 11

For those of you who don’t habla español, “el niñero” stands for “the niñero”

Okay, that was just for all of you Chris Farley fans out there.

But seriously, I had one of the most amazing experiences ever last week. I was working construction at the orphanage, and the caretaker of the property, Jose, needed some help.

Jose typically walks his youngest daughter, Hillary (8), to school around noon and then picks up his two older daughters, Sylvia (12) and Lady (10) at the same time (school here is split into two different school days, since they don’t have enough teachers or resources to host everyone at once). However, this particular day, he had to enlist my nanny (niñero) services.

So there I was, filthy and dirty in my construction clothes, walking down the street to school with the most gorgeous and beautiful little Costa Rican girl I’ve ever seen. Her hair was tied into pigtails that stretched below her shoulders, her neatly pressed white shirt and navy skirt were blowing in the wind, her tiny pink backpack was bouncing up and down with every step . . . and her little hand was grasping mine with every ounce of strength that it had.

I wish I could tell you about the conversation that we had (I’ve forgotten most of it by now), or that I could describe in words how sweet her little Spanish voice is, but I just can’t do it justice. Just imagine the sweetest girl ever and you’ll get close to picturing her. Then, after dropping Hillary off, I got to pick up two more marvelous girls—Sylvia and Lady—and walk home with my arms around them.

All I know is that I was the luckiest gringo in the world for those twenty minutes that I was basking in the joy of walking Hillary, Sylvia and Lady to and from school. And what a blessing from God that I was able to do so.

The three girls last week after they lost in a water balloon / mud fight with the mission team's bus driver, Javier.

Sep 24, 2008

What's in a name?

Funny moment, Week 10


So that’s my new name at the worksite. What a pain. It’s cute when an 8-year-old girl calls you that to say hello, as was the case the other day. But then when one of the construction workers decides to make fun of you for it, and get all the American missionaries to join in on the fun . . . straight torture. Then when they tell Ray’s 7- and 9-year-old daughters . . . crooked torture. And then when the weekly mission team bus driver shows up after the weekend off to yell “Weeeeeeell!!!!!” out the window of his bus . . . arrrggghhh.

Then when everyone on the mission team poses for pictures at the end of the day and replaces “Cheeeeeese!” with “Weeeeeeell!” . . . well, shucks.

So I don’t know how funny this moment actually was, you’d have to ask everyone else who loved every minute of it (and all those who continue to join in on the fun :-)

School's in session

God moment, Week 9

When I led small group Bible studies at UVa, I always encouraged the fellas to pray before they signed up for classes. I encouraged them to pray that God would open up their schedule just as He desired, and that He would guide their decision making as they chose their different classes.

I felt that God often answered those prayers of mine, but I learned of God’s provision in a whole new way during Week 9 of my stay here. Because three classes that I took during my fourth year at UVa—before I ever even thought of coming to Costa Rica—were clearly ordained by the Lord to aide my ministry down here. Which classes?

(1 and 2) Catholicism and Pentecostalism
(3) Accounting Information Systems

Catholicism and Pentecostalism

In the first week I’d been without a team since Week 1 in Costa Rica, I had the pleasure of attending classes at the Methodist Seminary where Ray (the missionary I’m interning for) is a professor. I was able to sit in on classes where Costa Rican pastors are trained to become scripturally based pastors who know the truth about both the Bible and Wesleyan/Methodist doctrine.

Some of you may already know this, but Costa Rica is a Catholic country on paper. The official state religion is still Catholicism, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find someone who has zero ties to the Catholic church here. And, outside of Catholicism, the Pentecostal church has had quite the influence on the spiritual situation here. Ever since the Azusa Street Mission in 1906 and the leaders’ desire to spread the Gospel to the whole earth, the Pentecostal church has made its presence known in many countries, including Costa Rica. So you’ll also be hard-pressed to find a Protestant Costa Rican who has zero ties to the Pentecostal church.

Therefore, because of the dominance of Catholicism and Pentecostalism here in Costa Rica, the pastors in the Evangelical Methodist Church take many of their thoughts and practices from these two churches. Many of the questions the students/pastors asked in the seminary focused on either Catholic or Pentecostal practices. And, rather than being totally out of the loop when those questions surfaced—and having to ask Ray thousands and thousands of questions in order to slowly piece together the story of these two churches—I’ve already been introduced to all the topics the students struggle with. My classes on Catholicism and Pentecostalism provided me with a basis to be a knowledgeable student and member of the Methodist church here in Costa Rica.

What a blessing. I literally knew nothing about these churches before January of this year. And now, thanks to two classes that I signed up for before I knew I’d be in Costa Rica, my ability to minister here has been completely changed. I can listen to pastors, I can understand their struggles, and I can help them find direction in their pursuit of God’s will. Thanks God.

Accounting Information Systems

The other class, AIS, caught me completely off guard. In this class, we learned how to work Great Plains, an accounting software for small businesses. My professor even questioned me in class one day about the usefulness that this software would have for a future pastor. I told him he might be surprised.

Anyways, in that same week that I was attending seminary classes, Ray decided that he wanted me to finally put my accounting and finance “skills” to use, by helping him organize his finances for his ministry down here. So, at the advice of one of the American mission team members who came down here, we bought QuickBooks, an accounting software. Ray told me that I should learn it and then teach it to him when I had figured it out. I figured it wouldn’t be too hard (I was quite mistaken).

So we ordered this program and I opened it up to start playing with it. And, what do you know? It’s about 75% the same program that I learned in Accounting Information Systems. The same class where the professor publicly questioned its usefulness in my life, taught me how to organize Ray’s finances down here in a way that will completely revolutionize his money management for his ministry. However, if any of you are QuickBooks professionals, I could still use your help . . .

Regardless, thank you, Lord. Thank you for answering my prayers, months and months after I prayed them.

We can never know when He’ll answer . . .

Sep 13, 2008

There is no I in Team

God moment, Week 8

Continuing my stories from Team Huntsville:

Every team that comes here touches me in one way or another. And they all grow close together and witness God’s love in new, unimaginable ways.

However, this group of 22 adults from Huntsville Alabama grew together in a way that I never thought possible. Only a handful of them knew more than four other people on the trip, and many knew only one or two. Yet, by the end of the week, they were one. They became a family over the course of six days, bonded together by their love of Christ and their trust in one another as fellow believers.

Each night this team would meet in the common room of the Methodist Seminary dorm house, and they would day debrief. They would ask each other questions about what they saw that day, about what they felt that day, and about what they learned that day. They would analyze the church services we attended, they would analyze the type of people they saw, they would analyze the type of work we were doing, and they would analyze the love of God they felt from all the Costa Ricans with whom they interacted.

And, in the midst of 20+ other successful adults from their community and their church, the team members would open up and be real. They would share what was on their hearts, they would shed tears, and they would pray together. By the end of the trip, we were circling up around those in need and praying for them on the spot, dropping behind all of our insecurities and being real in the presence of God’s Holy Spirit. It was amazing.

I used to spend months trying to get groups of 15-20 college age guys—guys who could relate to each other much more easily—to open up to one another, and it was often a daunting task. Yet this team, in a matter of days, became one. They opened up their lives to one another, and they trusted in the bond of Christ, the bond that brings us together under one God, under one Holy Spirit.

Now I’ve seen, firsthand, how God can move through anyone and in any situation, as quickly and as powerfully as he desires. And my life was changed forever because of it.

"For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them."
Matt 18:20

Sep 12, 2008

Spoon Warfare

Funny moment, Week 8

Rambo 5: Spoon Blood

Night one with the team from Huntsville, Alabama. I always like to get to know the teams when they show up, so I usually accept the offer to spend time with them, whatever it may be. That night, it was Spoons.

Now Spoons is one of those games that I was introduced to in college, and I think I may have played it once, during my last two weeks in Charlottesville ever. It took over 150 weeks in Charlottesville for me to even consider playing the game. That’s how fond I was of Spoons.

However, on that night, my whole view changed. Now I love Spoons. If not solely for the memory of Team Huntsville (Cove Church edition).

This was a team of 22 adults from Alabama, and they were a boisterous bunch. I wasn’t aware of it until 7 of us sat around a blue, plastic picnic table in the common area of our Methodist Seminary dorm house on that first night. There we were, circled around the blue, plastic picnic table in our blue, plastic picnic chairs, with huge, hunking metal spoons the size of serving spoons at your grandmother’s Thanksgiving Day feast (note to all you sneaky Spoon grabbers out there: you’d have met in your match in this game . . . this was no time for a sneakfest).

The leader of the Spoon bunch was a journalist, a former sportswriter with a penchant for the exhilarating (we’ll call him Rambo for the remainder of this blog, just to somewhat protect the identity of the innocent). He had picked up the Turkey-Day-sized clunkers at the dollar store before he came to Costa Rica—I was surprised they let him through security with such weapons at his disposal.

With every overly-intense passing of the cards (per Spoon etiquette), the seismic rating on the wobbly picnic table registered in the high 5’s, and everyone in the common room could hear the incessant rattling of the metal mini-ladles. That would usually persist for anywhere from 30-120 seconds. Then came time for The Grab.

Everyone who’s ever played Spoons knows all about The Grab. As I already mentioned, all you sneaky grabbers out there would have met your match in this game. So forget about all those silly shenanigans, The Grab on night one of Team Huntsville was more like bloodsport. Adults, anywhere from 35-60, were reaching across the table like ravenous pitbulls fighting for the last piece of my momma’s chicken and dumplings (the most scrumptious meal on this side of the ozone layer). Spoons went flying, fingernails drew blood, and maddening laughter ensued. It was quite the sight.

But none of that is what made this memory make it to the Funny Moments page. No, no, those details are just accomplices to the big daddy of them all: The Fall of Rambo.

As I already mentioned, Rambo was the leader of the Spoon bunch. He brought the spoons, he explained the rules, and he encouraged the madness that was Team Huntsville’s first night in Costa Rica. He was excitedly recruiting people left and right to join our Spoons game, even though the vast majority of them had never heard of such a pastime. And then, right around game 3 or 4, his excitement was brought to an abrupt halt. In game 3 or 4, The Grab became more than just a metaphor of ravenous pitbulls fighting over their last meal, it became a real-life WWE battlefield, hardcore edition [editor’s note: while some may not consider WWE professional wrestling to fall into the “real-life” category, Jesus said we were all to have the faith of children . . . just work with me on this one].

Everything was going along just dandily in that game: people passing their cards, everyone waiting with anticipation to elbow their neighbors out of Spoon contention—you know, the usual. Then someone got four of a kind, and The Grab was initiated. My memory of the ensuing play-by-play goes something like this: BOOM, BAM, CRACK, SPLAT . . . OW! Followed by momentary worry, and then inexhaustible laughter.

On this particular grab, Rambo’s neighbor got a little too vicious with his forearm, and Rambo may have been a little too audacious with his body lunge. The neighbor sent Rambo a back-armed forearm shiver that would have sent Hulk Hogan out of the soft landing-zone within the ropes and onto the cold, hard pavement surrounding the ring. Because that’s exactly what happened to Rambo.

The floor of the seminary is unforgiving black tile, complete with an easy-to-clean glossy surface. And after the BOOM of the neighbor’s forearm shiver, and the BAM of Rambo falling back into his seat, came the CRACK of the blue, plastic picnic chair, the SPLAT of Rambo’s body nailing the unkind tile, and the OW! of Rambo’s inherent reaction to the agonizing fall. So there laid the great Rambo, clutching his arm, wallowing in pain, and rolling through the remains of the broken plastic chair that lay in his midst.

Now that’s some real-life WWE action if I’ve ever heard of it.

Thank you Spoons, and thank you Team Huntsville, for laughing uncontrollably and never letting our brave Spoon leader forget the fall of pride and body that happened in night one—The Fall of Rambo.