Romans 11:36

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

Nov 26, 2008

Back for the Holidays

So I'm back in the States until January, but then I hit the ground running in Costa Rica, and I'll be there for all of 2009.

Blog entries will still be made, but randomly and without cause. Hope you're okay with that.

Much love,

Friends to the End

God moment, back in the States

I came back to the States on a Wednesday night (after my first five months in CR), and my delayed plane got in at 9:00pm. There, waiting for me at the airport, was my wonderful girlfriend Amanda. We then hop in the car and start driving to my friend Kai’s apartment, where I expect him and two of my other friends to be, waiting to say hi to me before they go to bed for the evening (working folk have to actually wake up early on the weekdays).

So Amanda and I pull up to the apartment around 10:00pm, get out of the car, and head to Kai’s door. I knock quickly, open the door, and there’s Kai . . . looking sheepish as if I just caught him in the act of doing something, but also looking incredibly happy to see me. I give him and a huge hug and look behind him.

And there, standing in Kai’s apartment, are 14 of my best friends from U.Va. They had all come to Kai’s apartment on a Wednesday night and waited around for my delayed plane, losing sleep on a weekday for the sole purpose of greeting me on my return to the States. They even stayed around and chatted it up with me, eating the pizza that they had ordered so I could eat dinner, until 11:00pm. On a work night.

Those friends, thanks to Kai and Amanda, were there to love me and support me in a way that was so meaningful I could never be thankful enough. The Lord truly did bless my time at U.Va., and my friends are the proof. It’s such a joy and a blessing to back.

Nov 8, 2008

Sweet smelling football

Funny moments, Weeks 12-18

(1) Los Ticos Deportistas
-I recently had the chance to play both soccer and basketball with the local Costa Ricans, or Ticos. For those of you who know me well, you know that my level of proficiency at these two sports varies greatly. It was quite a blessing to be invited to play both, though.

For my soccer match, we played at a small field encapsulated by netting. It had just rained quite heavily (and it was still drizzling while we were playing), so the field was a sloppy mess . . . all the more fun. The guys I was playing with were mostly in their upper 20s or older, although I think one guy was a few years younger than me.

Basically, to put it nicely, I’m terrible at soccer. My only chance to succeed on a soccer pitch would be if I got to run with everyone. However, on a miniature field, that’s not going to happen. Instead, it’s all about ball control and ball movement, quick passes and skilled shots—four things that have never been a part of my athletic repertoire.

My stats for the 20 to 12 whooping that my team put on the other (we just kept playing and playing): 4 assists and 1 goal. You may think, “That’s great, Will!” Well, if you look at my assist to turnover ratio, it was probably 1:4. And, if you consider that I took about 13 shots on goal, my one goal doesn’t sound so impressive. Regardless, it was an awesome time.

I also got to play basketball with the locals. That was much more up my alley, and I had a wonderful time playing with them. I even got invited to go play with some guys at the pickup courts in San Jose, where all the apparent “ballers” in Costa Rica get their game on. However, my team lost 2 games to 1, and I was obliged to buy a Coke for the guy I was guarding. Shucks.

(2) Zoo Ave, o Zoo Araña (Bird Zoo, or Spider Zoo?)
-So my mom and I decided to go to the Zoo Ave, or Bird Zoo, just outside of San José. I was told that we would be able see some interesting birds and some wonderful Costa Rican wildlife. Well, both of those things are true. However, I never thought the whole “wildlife” bit would also include one of my least favorite animals in all of God’s marvelous creation: spiders.

But it wasn’t just innocuous spiders behind glass cages, no sir. These bad boys were strung all over the birdcages, in every part of the zoo. And they were big honkers. I need to find a picture of them online. They even had really long legs (which is extra creepy in my book) and would just sit in the middle of their webs, waiting for a chance to strike. Well, I guess there was one that wasn’t really waiting, he was actively munching down on a freshly trapped butterfly. Two other spider “friends” were trying to get in on the butterfly action, and it was as if the three of them were wrestling each other. Why were there 3 spiders fighting each other for a butterfly? Because all their webs (and the other 25 webs in that area) were so closely strung together that I’m sure they get confused as to whose web has caught which insect. Ugh.

Anyways, I write not to tell of my fear, but of my realization that the spider problem at Zoo Ave was a rather large one. You see, I was taking a picture of something (I don’t really remember what), and my mom had chosen to walk ahead of me to get a glimpse of a tapir, a really goofy lookin’ animal. And all of a sudden I hear my mom let out a blood-curdling scream.

I look to my left, and there she is, stumbling backwards over herself after having looked over the wooden fence of the tapir “zone.” I come a runnin’ to see what the problem is, and she’s lost all semblance of composure. For all of you who know my momma, please picture her with her hand over her chest, deep sighs coming from her mouth and an occasional, “Oh, William, oh my goodness!”

“What, momma, what?!?!?”

“Well, I was looking over that fence to see if there were any tapirs around, and, well, there was a spider instead!”

And there it was, in all of its glory, two inches from where my mom’s face had been nosily peering over the wooden fence: a huge honkin’ spider, long gangly legs and all, just chillin’ on his web, waiting for his next victim to come along. I bet he never thought that victim would be a 40+ (being nice here) year-old woman with a fanny pack and an ear-riveting scream . . .

Later on in our Bird Zoo tour, which full realization of the spider issue at hand, my mom and I were walking along in the pure center of the walking path (not wanting to get too close to a spider-webbed birdcage), when we came upon some rather funny looking monkeys. They were small little guys, I wish I could remember their name, and they were dancing around and having a heck of a time in their cage. They were hopping from tree to tree, climbing up and down the cage, making noises, chasing after some of their babies . . . it was hilarious.

The only problem was, my mom and I couldn’t see them from up close. Not because their cage was set back from the walking path, but because my mom and I refused to walk on the path next to their cage . . . there were too many spiders. Floating across the walking path—from one tree to another—was a plethora of spider webs, fully equipped, with their long-legged friends dangling from the center of each. My mom and I weren’t going anywhere near those things.

So there we sat, a good 20 feet away from the funny monkeys and their cage, because we didn’t dare get any closer. There we were, laughing our heads off at these monkeys, feeling sorry that we couldn’t get closer to see what kind of monkey they were, and yet, we wouldn’t budge. Couldn’t have paid us a million dollars. I’m sure the monkeys didn’t mind.

(3) Glade, anyone?
Amanda and I needed transportation from the northwest coast of Costa Rica back into the central valley and San José. It’s about a six-hour car ride, so we found a private bus company that does direct transport—we figured it’d be better than 8 hours in a public bus.

So we hop into our “private” mini-bus that holds 7 passengers and the driver. When we leave the beach, there are only 5 of us, so Amanda and I have the spacious back row to ourselves, and it’s lookin’ like it’s going to be a comfortable ride home. Within 10 minutes, we’ve picked up another passenger who joins Amanda and me in the back row—an older Costa Rican gentleman who refuses to greet me in Spanish when I do likewise. Apparently, I don’t look like I’m Costa Rican, so anyone who sees me and knows English automatically thinks that they should talk like so. Anyways, I find out later his name is Alfredo, and he’s a lawyer. He now becomes an integral part of this humorous story.

About 20 minutes after we pick up Alfredo, we pick up another passenger, completely filling our private bus with the driver and co-pilot in the front seats, 3 passengers in the middle row and another 3 in the back row. This final man who entered our bus was an interesting character.

We roll up to our stop and there he is, an imposing figure, tall and lanky but with a huge gut. His hair is graying, his skin looks tough as leather, and his small beige vest-shirt is unbuttoned all the way down the middle. So, BAM, there’s his gut. He’s got some free-flowing black pants on and, we find out later, nothing underneath.

In one hand is a clear 20 oz. plastic bottle, lacking its original labeling and its original contents—I just haven’t seen too many plastic-bottled drinks come in that amber color. In his other hand is a cigarette that comes into the bus with him, until the driver yells at him to throw it out. All of us in the bus knew it was going to be an interesting ride.

Within minutes of this man’s entry into our bus, we realize that he’s French (he’s been yelling on his cell phone since he got in the bus) and that he is indeed a little intoxicated. However, he’s also probably lived in Costa Rica for years, per the condition of his Spanish speaking and his mannerisms.

Alfredo, my lawyer friend, is having a fit. He can’t believe that the driver let this man in the car, and he’s about to lose all composure. To the Frenchman’s credit, he’s not in that bad of shape, but he was definitely making the Swiss couple uncomfortable in the bus’s middle row. Then, the Frenchman (as we’ll refer to him now) raises his arm to scratch his armpit and . . . WOW. The smell that emanated from his pits was unbearable. While I was fine with this man’s presence in the car, I was not fine with the state of his armpits. Those bad boys needed to be cleaned, and fast!

At this point, Alfredo loses it. He’s been clenching his hands for nearly half an hour now, and finally he’s reached his breaking point. The smell is just too unbearable.

“That’s it!” he says, “This is why I always come prepared . . .”

Now, at this point, I believe that Alfredo is capable of anything. He’s an older man, definitely doesn’t have the brute strength to reach in front of him and put the tall Frenchman into a chokehold or anything, but I’m still uncertain as to what drastic measure he’s about to take in order to control the nastiness that is/are the Frenchman’s armpits.

So Alfredo reaches down into his bag and starts rummaging around. My curiosity is sparked, but so is my fear. Then this gleam comes into his eye, and his hand comes forth from the bag with . . . a miniature-sized Glade air freshener spray-bottle.

Alfredo literally pointed his portable Glade spray-bottle (a necessary travel component for all lawyers, I presume) at the Frenchman, and doused him with Glade. No shame, no apologies. Not to the Frenchman, nor to the other passengers in the bus who were now choking on the high concentration of Glade in such a small space. But he sprayed. And sprayed.

Because, sometimes, the smell is just too much to handle.

Now, I want to see all of you try to keep a straight face when the man you’re sitting next to in the bus pulls out a portable Glade bottle to spray down the smelly culprit. It was tough. For both Amanda and me.

(4) Tina Fey on Saturday Night Live.
-Enough said.

Holy Ghost Party

God moments, Weeks 12-18:

(1) The New Season
-As I said goodbye to the last mission team that I was to host this year, it was a time of joy and of reflection. It was joy, knowing that the Lord had brought me through my first season of serving him here in Costa Rica, and it was also reflection, on all that God was trying to teach me through my experience. I was so thankful that the Lord had given me the opportunity to come to Costa Rica, and it was encouraging to know that it had only just begun.

I then got to change my focus to my new season of service here, notably in the Methodist School, the Methodist Seminary, and with Ray’s finances. It was a lot of unknown, but I was ready, because I knew that God had my back.

There were ups, there were downs, but, as it turns out, looking back on the past month, it’s been an incredible ride. The following gives a very brief summary of how that month went.

(2) The Young Gringo Speaks to the Younger Ticos
-With more time on my hands, I was able to start a ministry at the Methodist School here in San Jose. I was quickly thrown into the role of part-time chapel speaker, getting the chance to share my testimony with 7th-10th graders, one chapel “service” at a time. Over the past month I’ve shared at seven different chapel services, and attended many more.

One of my favorite ways to spread the Word is through talking to high school students. They are so responsive, and so willing to hear about someone who has, somewhat recently, walked in their shoes.

And their responsiveness to my talks was a huge blessing. Numerous students came up to me after the services and wanted to talk with me or share their heart with me. They opened up about the needs in their lives—spiritual, emotional, etc.—and, in doing so, I’ve taken on a very small counselor role at the school. I’m hoping to spend more time at the Methodist School next school year (2009), and hopefully I’ll be able to expand on my ministry there.

I’m praying that, one day, I could start an after school youth group, because 85% of the kids at that school don’t attend church regularly. What a blessing it would be to share with them weekly, and to open them up to the reality of Jesus in their lives. We’ll leave that one up to God . . .

(3) Since I’m American, I Might As Well Teach English
-Ray has asked me to help two of the Methodist Seminary students learn English, so that they might take their intelligence and theological studies to the States. I’ve since had two other students and an entire family jump on board to my English classes, and it’s been quite an adventure.

I love teaching people who are so willing to learn (I’ve never taught before, and I now have an even greater respect for all you teachers out there), and they’re all so intrigued by the prospect of learning English. We’ve been walking through a pretty basic Intro to English book, and I’m actually learning things about the language myself. My students are also very willing to teach me Spanish as I mess up along the way.

I’ve enjoyed seeing the reactions and the excitement of the students as they grasp more and more of the language. It’s truly a special thing to be able to help them achieve their goal of learning English. I’ll still need to spend quite a bit more time with them when I come back next year, but we’ll trust that God will continue to get the glory in all the time we spend together.

(4) The Ladies Come to Visit
-Both my momma and Amanda came to visit me at different times in October. It was so nice to spend time with the two of them, and to show them my world here in Costa Rica. I’m sure I puffed out my chest a few times as I walked around my stomping grounds with them . . .

Their visits were very blessed, and we shared many real conversations and touristy activities together. To be able to relax in the presence of such meaningful people in my life was quite a gift from God.

Both my momma and Amanda were able to attend Sunday church services with me--both of them in Llano Grande, and Amanda in Puerto Viejo as well. I enjoyed watching them experience the joy and love that spring forth from these churches here. And everyone in the congregations was so excited to meet them; it was as if they were royalty. But, in reality, those congregations were just showing the true love of God that emanates from these churches.

The icing on the cake from the time with the two marvelous ladies: I got to spend my birthday with Amanda, which was sweet!

*My momma with Abraham (the work foreman for all of our construction projects here), his wife Lilliam, and their grandson Dylan.

(5) One More Step Towards My Lifelong Goal
-On October 19, I gave my first ever sermon in Spanish, and my first sermon in front of a real Sunday morning congregation (not that I’ve given sermons to fake Sunday morning congregations . . . but you know what I mean :-).

I shared at the big church we’re building in Puerto Viejo and, since the majority of the congregation still doesn’t know who I am (even though they’ve seen me and heard me translate for mission teams on numerous occasions), I decided to share a little of my testimony and why I’m in Costa Rica. I did it using three passages that guided me or led me through the tough times during my discernment of my call to mission work—one each from Joshua, Matthew, and Job.

I can’t say that I knocked this sermon out of the park, but God provided me with my basic Spanish vocabulary and I heard “amen” at all the right parts in the sermon. Where I do know that God blessed the sermon, though, is that one of the church members came up to me after my sermon and told me that my words were sent to him from God. How awesome.

Each time I speak I ask God to impact just one person, since I am just one person that’s been impacted by different sermons, and God happened to let me know that my particular prayer had been answered that day. Thank you, Lord.

(6) An American Watching Londoners Sing to Jesus in a Costa Rican Megachurch (also known as a Hillsong concert)
-A little more than a week ago, I had the pleasure of attending a Hillsong concert with the family of a local pastor here in Costa Rica. Thanks to one of the churches that had come down on a mission trip, I was able to take 4 of the pastor’s kids (and one of their girlfriends) to Hillsong’s first ever concert in the country of Costa Rica.

We went to a church of about 14,000 members, so we were in a huge auditorium. Hillsong sang some great songs, had some great times of prayer and reflection, and just did a great job overall. But that wasn’t the best part.

No, no, the best part was Marco. Marco is the pastor’s 15-year-old son, and he has muscular dystrophy. At the age of 11 the MD started, and he’s now confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. Thank the Lord, though, that he still has enough strength to hold his head up while he’s in his wheelchair, and to be the most joyful and loving kid I’ve ever met.

Marco told me after I first met him that Hillsong is his favorite band, and that he loves to listen to their music. He also happened to mention that Hillsong would be playing a concert in San Jose. As soon as I heard that, I looked up the concert online and made it my goal to get him there.

However, I probably would have never been able to do it had it not been for the support of one of our loving churches that assists us down here. One of their staff members, Krista, took it upon herself to make sure that Marco got to this concert, and what a beautiful thing it was.

Marco sat there the whole time with this gigantic grin on his face, singing along to all the songs, nodding his head to the beat of the music, and just being an incredibly joyful spirit. He sang, he prayed, he laughed, he loved. It was awesome.

Even though Hillsong may not be my favorite band, they now have an incredibly special place in my heart. Because Hillsong brought joy to Marco, a joy and an expression that I will never forget.

(7) Even My Pops Came
-I also had the joy of hosting my dad here in Costa Rica. He came, along with two other ladies, representing his church and my home church, St. Andrew UMC in Plano, Texas.

The three of them came with the intention of creating a business plan for the Methodist University here in San Jose/San Pedro, to get it out of the red and into the mainstream of higher education here in Costa Rica.

The sad part was that the trip lasted only a day and a half. The good part: I got to show my dad around San Jose, so that he could get a better feel for our ministries here. There’s still a lot to show him, though, so he’ll have to come back soon.

It’s great to know that so many people I care for have seen our ministry here, and I thank the Lord for that.