Romans 11:36

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

Nov 25, 2009

Blessings for all


At the End-of-the-School-Year/Christmas/20th Anniversary Celebration Dinner for the Methodist Seminary, we witnessed a tremendous moment.

Honorio, the man with the microphone, will graduate this year. He's the first indigenous pastor to graduate from our seminary, and one of the few people in his village/region that speaks Spanish. In order to get to his village, you must park your car at the base of a mountain and hike 7 hours into the rain forest. He hiked those 7 hours every time he came to study at the seminary.

When Honorio was done speaking, the entire audience at that dinner was left in awe. He blessed all of us with his sincerity and loving heart.

God is doing miraculous work in many different parts of Costa Rica, we're just along for the ride.

The Movement


The Movement Bible Study was a success.

It was new, it was fresh, and many students at the Colegio Metodista didn't catch on. But 6 did. Two times a week I came to the school to host a Bible Study, and I had a steady group of 6 students who were devoted to learn more about Jesus through the Word of God.

As I have mentioned to many people before, whenever I undertake a ministry for the Lord, I aim to influence just one person. If just one person learns something about God, then we've succeeded. Even if I've spoken to thousands (and no, that has never happened), all we need is one to go out and influence the Kingdom for God.

At this study, I believe that there were 6. 6 students who are truly devoted and dedicated to being God's servants on earth. It was awesome to teach them.

Now on to next year . . .

The nearest town is that way -->


Costa Ricans are a very resourceful people.

That's why one of our local churches decided that they should put their road sign, which recently fell down, to good use--and put it on the front of the church.

So there's Andrea, Javier and Ray pointing 200 meters north and 100 meters west, in the direction of the church that they're standing in front of.

Good times.

Nov 21, 2009

Family Ministry


In late October, we took a trip up to Jabuy, an indigenous village in the Star Valley, just west of Cahuita on the east coast of Costa Rica.

I was there with Ray (far right in the picture above), Pastor Jose from Siquirres (standing next to Ray) and a mission team from my home church in Plano, Texas. The team was visiting Costa Rica because they were scoping out the Medical Clinic project and getting that ball rolling. One of their dreams, once the project is up and running: to help the few indigenous tribes that are left in Costa Rica, because they are largely ignored by the government.

While in this village, home to the Cabecar people, we met Valentin (in the blue t-shirt above) and his brother Alba (far left). Valentin was converted to Christianity and accepted Jesus Christ as his Savior 17 years ago. He was the first person in the region to do so. Now, he and 3 of his brothers are pastors for the Cabecar villages in that region of the Star Valley, and their cousins and family members are musicians and leaders in the churches they serve. Last January they hosted an all-night prayer vigil for the Cabecar people in that region. Guess how many showed up?

1000.

Incredible.

The Christian leadership in that region falls solely on the shoulders of that great family. And there they are in the picture above, standing proudly in their largest church. I pray that we're able to continue in ministry with them by providing a Medical Clinic for all of their needs.

I fought a 2 year-old


So I got into a boxing match with a 2 year-old named Api.

Api spends a lot of time at Pastor Edgar's house in Los Guido, a neighborhood that I mentioned in my earlier post about Kids Club. Api is not Pastor Edgar's kid nor grandkid, but he practically lives there during the day.

I spent the weekend with Pastor Edgar and his family, attending church, playing pickup basketball in a popular San Jose park, and fighting this little warrior.

You can see how I fared . . .

A Costa Rican Birthday


This is a rather dated post, but one month ago, on October 22nd, I turned 24. Each birthday I reach makes me feel like I'm a lot older, but the truth is that I'm still just a kid.

Anyways, this particular birthday left me showered with indelible love. The actual celebration day was a Thursday, but the party started Wednesday night when I got to go to a late-night movie with a friend.

Thursday I woke up to text messages and phone calls and emails all wishing me a happy birthday. Then I went to the Colegio and was blessed with 4 different singing renditions of happy birthday, along with a cake and drinks during Bible Study. That night, I attended a birthday celebration at a local pastor's house, with his entire family as the guests. His wife made a delicious lasagna dish, and then busted out the ginormous cake that you see above. The funniest part about it, the 2 typos in fine white icing: "Filez Cumpleanos Wuilli" I couldn't have been happier.

Before partaking in that particular cake, however, the family followed the customary tradition of lighting candles, turning off the lights, and singing happy birthday. Yet, when they saw that no one took pictures as I blew out the candles, they said, "Looks like we have to do it again!" And they resumed to lighting the candles, turning off the lights, and singing happy birthday all over again. So I felt extra special.

On Friday, I couldn't walk through the halls of the Colegio without having students hug me or sing to me, sorry that they missed my birthday the day before. That night I went to the house of some good friends of mine and had another wonderful birthday dinner and celebration, complete with the pumpkin cheesecake birthday cake that you see below . . .

It was a rather fun birthday.

Oct 21, 2009

Preachin' again


Forgot to mention it, but last week I preached my second "official" sermon in Spanish. I've done many impromptu messages or reflections, but this was only the second time that I've actually been the "featured" preacher, if you will.

It was in Puerto Viejo, same spot as my last preaching experience, at the church you see in the background of the picture above (I looked all over for a picture of just the church, and I just couldn't find one). It's one of my favorite churches in Costa Rica.

It was a Thursday night service and I spoke on the second half of John chapter 1, Jesus' invitation to the disciples to "Come and see" where he's staying. I spoke about the adventure that Jesus has in store for us, and how he's usually not one to provide details of that which will occur once you start following him, he just wants you to "come and see."

As the disciples found out, Jesus offered way more in that invitation than they could have ever imagined--and he offers us that same invitation today.

Oct 18, 2009

Kids Club, Los Guido


Yesterday, as is every Saturday, was Kids Club day in Los Guido, one of the poorest and most gang-ridden neighborhoods of San Jose. Every week two Methodist missionaries down here, Will and Ella Faircloth, run the Kids Club for approximately 50 kids, teaching them Bible lessons and giving them a place to hang out.

This week was special because we had 4 students from the Methodist School join us, students who don't normally see such poverty. One of them, Benjamin (pictured above), a 10th grader, feels called to be a pastor, and looked right at home among the little kiddos. It was such a joy to watch him interact with the kids, and for them to run up to me asking, "Is that boy in the red shirt a Tico?" "Yes, yes he is." And they'd run right back to him and keep on playing.

The lesson this time was about Jesus' promise that he will make us fishers of men. As you can see in the picture, the kids have little fishing poles with fish-people attached to them, and the Bible verse from Matthew 4:19.

Benjamin and the other students who joined us, the triplets from the Tatum family (who will be the first house parents at the Methodist Children's Home) came from a Bible Study that I've been hosting two times a week at the Methodist School. My dream is to see those kids grow into leaders for Christ, and to see His influence spread throughout the school. If only all of them could see the Kids Club and be touched as Benjamin was.

As we were leaving, Benjamin said, "So are we coming back next week?"

Monos Locos


Two weekends ago the Ticos (Costa Ricans) celebrated Columbus Day, giving everyone a 3-day weekend.

With 3 teachers from the Methodist School and two of Ray's other interns, I headed to the beach of Manuel Antonio, one of the favorite tourist spots in Costa Rica.

While beautiful, I was unsure as to why Manuel Antonio has become such a hot spot, because every beach in CR is just as beautiful--but maybe it's for the monkeys. The national park there, which is a small peninsula that juts out into the Pacific Ocean, is home to all 4 types of Costa Rican monkey, the only place like that in the country. And they're everywhere.

Check out the monkey above, just chilling on a rope that was stretched between two trees. As I was taking this picture, I was having to dodge the branches, leaves, and fruit that were falling from the tree above me, due to the plethora of monkeys playing around up there. One monkey fell off a branch and nearly smacked another intern, Kim, and me on the head, before catching his balance on another branch.

The funnier moment of the weekend was when I was falling asleep on the beach, only to wake up to Kim screaming in surprise. As I opened my eyes, I saw a monkey running off and up a tree with a shining bag of pretzels in his hand. He was shortly accompanied by 3 friends of his, and they began making a ruckus as they vied for sole ownership of the stolen goods. Then the burly beach security guard came and broke up their fun. Boo.

Oct 5, 2009

The Party Has Arrived

Yesterday I went to church in Llano Grande, a small town halfway up a volcano. It's one of my favorite churches to visit, as the congregation there feels like a family away from home. They're marvelous.

So the pastor begins to preach and talks about how this Sunday is a celebration Sunday. Well, every Sunday is reason to celebrate he says, but today we're having a party. Today we're celebrating the party that is Holy Communion--partaking in the blood and body of Christ Jesus. He wanted us to know that we were to celebrate that which Christ has done for us, dying on the cross to forgive us of all of our sins. Of our imperfections. And now it's time to party.

After the sermon, everyone begins to line up in the only aisle of this 50-member church, getting ready to receive the cup and the bread. Quietly, background music begins to play from the speakers hanging precariously over the plastic chairs and wooden benches, the only affordable seats for a congregation in this community. The moment is serene, and I'm contemplating that which Christ has done for me. Then I look up.

And there, walking down the aisle, is one of the church members, probably in his late 40s, early 50s. He's carrying the cup in one hand, the bread in the other, and he's wearing navy slacks with a navy t-shirt, nicely tucked in. He's returning to his seat to pray and receive the blood and body of Jesus. And I can't help but crack a smile. Because written across his t-shirt is a rather simple message, in English:

"The Party Has Arrived"

How appropriate :-)

Sep 26, 2009

Seminary, I'm coming

To all of you who keep up with my life plans and such, I've got a small update for you: I'm currently applying to seminary schools, so that I can enroll in the fall of 2010.

That means my days here in Costa Rica are numbered :-( I'm planning on stickin' around this country until April/May of next year, when I'll move back to the States, move to some new city, and then prepare myself for another 3 years of school.

With that being said, Ray is in need of some new interns. Whether full-time or part-time, the help is needed. I'll be doing some recruiting around Texas in November, and I'll be receiving emails from now until May, hoping that new people are called to ministry in Costa Rica.

However, all is not lost. We have Kim Baldwin and, potentially, Alli Adams who will be serving here full-time, so I'm not leaving an empty nest. There is plenty of help available, yet plenty more work than just the 2 of them can handle.

So please, pray for us. Pray for your friends. Pray for your family. And if you know of college students, college grads, or anyone else who feels called by God to come down to CR, don't hesitate to let us know.

Texas-sized Choir Tour


I was recently blessed with the opportunity to take a 10-day tour of Texas with the Colegio Metodista (Methodist School) Youth Choir. It was a blast.

17 high school students and 6 alumni / college students joined their director, Rolando, on this spectacular trip through Texas. They started in Dallas, then headed to Ft. Worth, then made their way down to Llano (outside of Austin), and then back up north to finish their trip in Plano. For the majority of them, it was their first time in Texas.

They sang approximately 30 times, in 4 different churches, in 4 different schools, in 2 different nursing homes, and in umpteen other locations--and they were exhausted by the end. But if you can picture an old, European cathedral near Christmas time, with a beautiful choir singing in the nave, then you can picture the voices of these students. They're incredible. And every church they performed for in Texas was simply amazed.

For the students, they got to see downtown Dallas, to tour the stockyards in Ft. Worth, to shop at some huge Texas malls, to climb a huge granite rock (Enchanted Rock, as pictured above), to swim in a Texas river, to attend a Texas high school football game, to drive through downtown Austin, to take pictures at the Dallas Zoo, to sing at the new Cowboys Stadium, and much more. I think they enjoyed it a bit :-)

For me, it was an opportunity to see my family for the first time since January, soak in some Texas sun for the first time in a year, see new parts of Texas, and show some excited kids all around my stomping grounds. I felt at peace.

As I flew back into San Jose with the choir, I couldn't help but thinking about how, for the first time, I was flying into Costa Rica with a bunch of friends. What a blessing.

Spiritual Emphasis Week


From August 31 to September 4, the Colegio Metodista got rocked by Spiritual Emphasis Week.

Our guests were the Mark Swayze Band and Pastor Ryan Barnett from University United Methodist Church in San Antonio, Texas, and they were awesome. Every day they played to a packed out house, for 550 high school students (some days the students were split in two, but still . . .), bringing praise music, excitement, energy, and the Word of God to the school.

By the end of the week, hundreds of students were responding to the band's message by coming up front and praying with the band, praying for a renewed relationship with Christ, praying for their families, praying for their friends, and many praying to receive Christ for the first time.

One teacher, who doesn't speak English, came up to me and said, "Next time you're translating the sermon for me!" I asked him why. "Because my kids are coming back to class crying all over the place, and I need to know what that pastor is saying!"

It was great. The entire school was touched by the Holy Spirit in a way that had never happened before at the Colegio. God moved through this ministry team from San Antonio, and we hope that the school and its students will never be the same. May God continue to show his presence at the Colegio Metodista.

Thank you Mark, Allison, Steven, Kyle, Andrew, Callen, R.T., Vicki and Ryan. Y'all are awesome.

Aug 23, 2009

Progress at the Children's Home

House #1 at the Children's Home is comin' along nicely!

We've started laying block on the side walls, and we've finished pouring the concrete for probably 80% of the foundation. In the next few weeks, we're planning on having nothing but block-laying on our hands. It's tedious, but it's great that we're getting there . . .

Below you can see Bryan and Beth Tatum, our new house parents for House #1! The view behind them is what they'll see out of their back window. Not too shabby, huh?

Hanging out in Puerto Viejo

A couple of weeks ago, I was able to spend some relaxation days hanging out with the locals in Puerto Viejo. It was wonderful.

I went to school and helped teach English to 3, 4 and 5 year-olds, I bathed in a river surrounded by lush green trees and plants and hillsides, I played pick-up neighborhood soccer in a muddy cow pasture (yeah, you never wanted to know what you were slipping in) with a bunch of 20 and 30-something-year-old Ticos who put me in my place, and I played a version of Scattergories with some of my best friends up there, cheating through my use of both English and Spanish vocabulary words.

I'll just say, you haven't lived unless you've played soccer in a muddy cow pasture until the sun goes down (or until you've accepted Christ, but hey, either way . . .). By the end of the game, I think the final score was 11-10 (they only count who's up and by how much they're up), we couldn't see 15 feet in front of us. You'd pass the ball into darkness, hoping that your teammate was there to score the game-winning goal. The guys I played with looked like they had just gone swimming, due to the amount of sweat that clung to their bodies. I can't say the same about me, but that's just because I don't have to put nearly as much effort forward as they do in order to play well :-)

All-in-all, it was a marvelous set of days. 2, to be exact.

Post-VBS baseball


So I've determined something over the past couple of months: Costa Rican kids are good at baseball, even though seemingly no one in this country plays baseball.

Granted, when I say "Costa Rican kids," I'm talking about the numerous kids at VBS in the Sarapiqui / Puerto Viejo region who have knocked the ball out of the "park" in recent weeks. And, when speaking of Sarapiqui, especially the economically challenged areas of Sarapiqui, one must assume that many of the children are from Nicaragua, or at least have Nicaraguan parents.

And all the Nicaraguans around here talk about how good their homeland is at baseball. In order to test this fact, I went to the source of all knowledge in today's world: Wikipedia. It lists 9 Nicaraguans who have played in the MLB since 1976. That's not too great of a track record.

The two best players are pitchers Dennis Martinez (who definitely has some clout) and Vicente Padilla (who just got released by my hometown Texas Rangers). Good pitching does not answer why these kids know how to knock the crud out of a whiffle ball.

Anyways, all that to say that I've been really impressed with the skills of these little kids during our Post-VBS Home Run Derbies.

Progress at the Clinic


We've broken ground and made headway on the Methodist Medical Clinic!

Above you can see a picture of our Learning Resource Center container which will be relocated to the new slab of concrete next to it, as well as the first ditches for where the Clinic will be. The Learning Resource Center and the Clinic will reside next to one another, so our overall project encompasses both of these ministries.

While no more teams will be coming to the Puerto Viejo projects this year (the rest are all focusing on the Children's Home), we're hoping to hit the ground running at the beginning of 2010.

Below, you can find the funniest groundbreaking picture ever. Kim, our resident Clinic nurse, in full fashion.

Jul 26, 2009

The Value of VBS


Every week, mission teams come to Costa Rica to work on construction projects from 8:00 in the morning until 3:00 in the afternoon. Every week, it's the progress on the construction site that motivates teams to sweat for the Lord. Every week, the hope of completing a Children's Home, a church, a clinic, a classroom, etc., gets people excited about the mission of the Methodist Church.

But it's what the team does from 4:00 until 5:30 that has eternal implications. At 4:00 in the afternoon, three times a week, the mission team leads local churches in Vacation Bible School. Sometimes we have 100 children. Sometimes we have 4.

Teams love VBS. It's their chance to love children. It's their chance to "let the little children come to Me," and to see unspeakable joy in the faces of beautiful Costa Ricans. And there's something else: it's their chance to teach children about the truth of Jesus.

But children don't understand Jesus, you may say. Children can't grasp the intricacies of the Bible, you may think. Well I beg to differ. Jesus told the disciples to "let the little children come to Me" because it is them to whom the Kingdom of God belongs. They are the ones with pure, innocent faith.

Yet I say all of this not to preach, but to tell you of a story that has motivated me day in and day out during our VBS madness:

Back in the day, say 50 years ago, missionaries used to cross the country of Costa Rica on horseback, on raft, and on foot, in order to bring the message of Jesus to Costa Rican children. They used to host VBS in the "boonies" of Costa Rica, in the small mountain towns, in the little villages along the river.

And one of those days, some missionaries came to the town where a little 13-year-old boy lived. That 13-year-old boy attended VBS that day, and was touched by the Holy Spirit to accept Jesus as his Lord and Savior.

That boy is now Pastor Fernando Abarca, arguably the most influential pastor in the Evangelical Methodist Church of Costa Rica. Pastor Fernando is the head of Agape Church, the church which will worship in the new community center that we're building, the church that has started a GED program for the local Puerto Viejo community, and the church where our medical clinic will be housed. The man has been touched by Jesus to revamp Puerto Viejo, one soul at a time.

So, when we talk of mission teams coming down to Costa Rica to help us build, we also talk of mission teams coming down to Costa Rica to help lead Vacation Bible School and change the country forever. One child, one life, one powerful ministry for God.

Workin' at Monteverde


Here's Susan, the daughter of one of our construction workers, Roberto. Susan and her older brother Kendal have been hanging out at our work site for the past week, and will be there with us for the upcoming week as well.

At this church in Monteverde / Rio Frio, we are building 3 classrooms, which will be used for Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, church workshops, school tutoring and much more. We started this project a year ago, but haven't had the manpower to continue working there. Finally, the time has come.

Our goal is to finish the cinder block walls this week, along with all of the concrete floors, so that we can start working on the columns and roof in the upcoming months. Please pray for us and for the congregation at Monteverde.

Last Saturday night, the current mission team of youth and leaders went to the church at Monteverde and held their own worship service, with English praise songs and all. The church was very receptive to our presence, and some of the church members even stuck around to hear the interns give their testimonies (in English, as well). It was a fun way for the youth from our mission team to interact with a local congregation in a non-Sunday setting.

1 block down, 40,000 to go!


So we've now laid the first block at the Methodist Children's Home!

Our goal is to finish this first house by next summer. Who besides God knows how many more blocks it will take to finish this house (and the other 4 houses, and the multi-purpose building, and the open-air chapel, and the picnic pavilion, etc.), but I figured 40,000 gives you a rough idea of how much farther we have to go.

A team from many different churches around Clarksville, Tennessee had the blessing of being present for the laying of the first block. Kim, our new nurse and full-time missionary in Costa Rica, was the overseer of the site. It was funny because Ray and Lidia were in the States, Will and Ella Faircloth were unavailable, and I was in the States.

Clearly, this project is God's, and no one else's.

We have at least 6 more teams coming to work on the Children's Home this year, and we're hoping to continue work on the house throughout the year, using local Tico help.

It's so refreshing to finally see some structural evidence of all the work we have put into the Children's Home. Our prayer is that God will continue to bless the project and will lead us as we start the process of accepting children into our care.

Jun 27, 2009

Gold medals


Campeones.

Today the Metodista Wildcats shut down the Arizona Wildcats (straight from the US of A) in the Ecobasket Costa Rica Championship, an elementary school basketball battle.

While I couldn't tell you the final score (due to the lack of a scoreboard), I know that we were up 15-4 at one point in the first half, and we were up by 20 heading into the fourth quarter.

Our full-court press and defense wore down the opposition, making up for our poor shooting percentage. I'm confident that we can learn to become more effective offensively, but for now I'm happy with our defensive mindset.

I initially thought I'd be the head coach for the championship, but our coach, Byron Villalobos, was able to make a last-second appearance at the game. Also helping to coach (though not pictured): my dear friend Wesley Wu. It was so great to have him at the game with me.

Costa Rica not only beats the US in soccer, they also beat them in basketball.

On Cloud Nine


Me, Kim, Alli, Hannah.

Intern Paradise. On top of the world. Costa Rica.

Jun 19, 2009

Colegio Campamentos


I was recently blessed with the opportunity to join the Methodist School students on two different overnight retreats.

First, I went with the 11th graders, the seniors, the big dogs on campus. They were all very reflective throughout their time at the retreat, and it was an inspiring event. Before dinner on the lone night we were there, the students took part in a reflection exercise, where they wrote down memories and thoughts about their time in the Colegio and about their friends. The exercise ended with all of the students--both girls and guys--embracing each other, kissing each other, hugging each other, and crying on each other. I was moved.

On the following morning, I gave a 40-minute message on love and confidence--the two things they should take with them to college. I used Colossians.

The second campamento I attended was for the 9th graders, a more rambunctious bunch. They lacked the ability to reflect deeply on their lives, but we weren't surprised. Where they overtook the 11th graders, however, was in their ability to completely involve themselves in everything we did. Their energy was contagious.

I gave another 40-minute message during their second morning at camp, but this one was on inward, not outward, thinking. The theme for their trip was Unity, and I tried to explain the truth behind unity: a lack of selfishness. I also used Colossians for that talk.

Two highlights from the campamentos: (1) I was able to pray for multiple students, and one 11th grader asked for me to pray for him specifically during our rollerskating session at the retreat (yeah, it was complete with disco music and everything) (2) One of the 9th graders told me that ever since I spoke at the school last year, he's been discovering God in new ways through the Bible and other Christian literature (because he figured he needed to know more about what he was denying). We'll now be meeting up on Fridays to discuss different books of the Bible that we'll be reading together--we're starting with Philippians.

The Methodist School is an incredible place, full of ministry opportunities. I'm thankful that the Lord has given me a chance to work with such intelligent students.

May 31, 2009

Saw this today


River boat tour. Rio Sarapiqui. Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui, Costa Rica.

Crocodile. About 9 feet long. Just hangin' out.

Notice the trail he/she left.

---

Speaking of crocodiles, we saw the tail of one the other day. We were up a river near the Caribbean Coast, and there was an obvious path cut through some reeds on the bank of the river. Without thinking twice, the boat captain leads us into the reeds, inches from the tail of a rather large crocodile (or so I assume).

So what does the Costa Rican pastor in the front of the boat do?

He leans out of the boat, and grabs the tail of said crocodile! Crazy guy. The croc went splashing away in the blink of an eye, and the boat captain got us out of there as fast as he could. The four Americans in the boat were awestruck in amazement/fear. The Costa Ricans were just laughing.

Crazy Ticos.

New interns!

Howdy, howdy.

Just wanted to make you all jealous: there are 3 new interns working here this summer. Giving their all to the Methodist Church in Costa Rica. Working with the locals. Going to church. Sharing the Gospel. All summer long.

Wanna come yet? Because you should.

Introducing the three:

(1) Kim Baldwin, from Dallas, TX. Kim has joined the mission of the Methodist Church in CR and won't be leaving anytime soon. She's a Registered Nurse and hopes to work in our Methodist Medical Clinic that we'll be building in Puerto Viejo (or so we're praying). We're pumped that she's here.

(2) Hannah Jones, from Richmond, VA. Hannah is spending her summer break with us, as she's still in school at the University of Virginia. She's majoring in Spanish and her aspiration is to work full-time in Latin American medical missions. We hope this is the first step.

(3) Allison Adams, from down south in Georgia. Alli just graduated from Georgia Southern and will be in CR for the next 6 months. She'll be spending 3 with us, and 3 in a service-based internship, and her goal is to spend her life in the Latin American mission field. Again, good first steps :-)

Then, in July, we'll have another intern join us:

(4) Chris Johnson, from Fairfax, VA. Chris is currently studying Spanish in Peru, which is why he's not arriving in Costa Rica until Independence Day, July 4th. He's a student at the University of Virginia, and still has two years to figure out what his initial life plans will be. In passing, I'll mention that he'd be a great addition to the CR team :-)

I'm incredibly thankful that these 4 individuals will be joining us, and not only because they'll take a ton of weight off my shoulders. I ask that you would please join us in praying for them--that God would protect them and light the path for their future.

May 23, 2009

1-0

Today, I won my first game as a basketball coach. Colegio Metodista 18, other team 17.

Granted, I only took over in the 4th quarter, and the team didn't score much after I took over, but since our head coach got thrown out of the game . . . I get the win. Hah.

I think the Costa Rican parents were wondering why some little gringo boy was coaching their team, but I had done a great job holding the head coach's clipboard before he got kicked out. So they had to know I was for real.

It was a triumphant moment, one in which I deserved absolutely no credit. But now we're headed to the tournament championship, and that's all that matters.

May 18, 2009

Methodist Medical Clinic

"We sinned when we spoke against the LORD and against you. Pray that the LORD will take the snakes away from us." So Moses prayed for the people. The LORD said to Moses, "Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live." So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived.
--Numbers 21:7-9--

The reason that the bronze snakes are used in medical symbols today is because of our Lord's miracle in the desert. He's the key to healing, in case you were wondering.

In the past few months, an opportunity has presented itself in Costa Rica that we cannot pass by: a wonderful friend of ours in Texas wants to help us build a medical clinic (or two, or three, or four) down here. What a blessing!

Since we first bought 5 acres of church property in Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui, it's always been our dream to have a church, learning center, and medical clinic right next to each other. That dream was launched 7 years ago, and the church and learning center are still in progress. So the medical clinic was far from our minds.

However, we have recently had our time frame on the medical clinic jump-started in a big way, and we hope to have a running medical clinic in Puerto Viejo within the next 2 years. We still have to raise funds, build a clinic, hire a doctor, and start operations, but we're certain that by faith in our sovereign God, we will succeed.

Please be praying for our clinic, and if you know of a way you can help, please don't hesitate to call. We're incredibly excited.

Indigenous blessings


I finally visited an indigenous village here in Costa Rica, Gavilan, and the needs were obvious. Although we only had the chance to walk about 15 minutes into the village (it's rather spread out), and we couldn't go into the higher villages, I was thrilled to have had the opportunity.

About five years ago the government said they would place a medical clinic in this village. It would only be a "stage one" clinic, meaning it would give out pharmacy prescriptions and treat basic needs, but it would be better than nothing. It's been five years, and the village has received absolutely no help. None whatsoever. But the government has bought the land. Whew. I'm glad they're getting their feet right before they start moving too fast.

The need for a clinic is obvious. Luckily, that's why we were there. A great friend from Texas came down to visit, and his goal is to help us organize a clinic here in Costa Rica (more on that in my next post).

Anyways, this village is rare in that it has electricity. It also has a decently sized church building, which was a blessing to see. About a month ago the village hosted other villages for a night of worshiping the Lord. Over 1,000 indigenous peoples showed up to praise God. Talk about fertile ministry ground. The pastor at Gavilan invited his brother's church to come on down from the mountains, and their youngest brother led the worship music--a testimony to their blessed family.

God clearly has these villages in His hands.

Apr 26, 2009

Colegio Fun Day


Last Saturday, the Colegio Metodista hosted its annual Fun Day in order to celebrate one of the last weekends of summer. Here in Costa Rica the dry season is “summer” and the rainy season is “winter.” During the winter, it rains every day. Without fail. Therefore, to celebrate one of the last clear sky days of the year, the Methodist School threw their version of a carnival.

There was karaoke, worship music, a high-school band, blow up bouncy thingymabobbers, tons of food, mechanical surfing, a dunk-tank, puppet shows, caricatures, and even mechanical bull-riding. It was quite the action-packed afternoon.

I was blessed with the opportunity to talk to many of the Methodist School students and teachers, as well as spend time with Ray and his girls. The picture above is of Sarah at the cardboard-box-sledding station. She loved it.

Pandas in Costa Rica?

I helped to dig up some bamboo shoots in the middle of a bamboo forest the other day. It was breathtaking.

The last team that was here, from Cape Coral, Florida, had the task of digging post-holes for the property-line fence down by the river at the Children’s Home. And wouldn’t you know, but we were digging in the middle of bamboo. Lots of it. With a river running below us, about 10 feet away. Everywhere you looked—bamboo. It was surreal.

I wish I had a picture of it, but that will have to come later. Even still, the picture won’t do justice for the beautifully clear blue skies, the running river, and the lush green bamboo forest that was surrounding us as we dug.

I praise the Lord that the Children’s Home kids will be able to grow up in an environment like this. And no, there are no pandas in Costa Rica.

Apr 11, 2009

Happy Resurrection Sunday!


If you find yourself with a lack of things to do or say on Easter, just say three words, "Thank you, Jesus."

Because as it says in Romans 5:18-19, one man lit a spark and caused an insurmountable bonfire of sin to erupt throughout the world. Then One man came and put out that wildfire, giving us freedom from previously inescapable disaster.

"Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life." Romans 6:4

"Thank you, Jesus. For my new life."

Apr 7, 2009

Back in high school

Well, I'm back in high school. But, thankfully, not as a student.
I've recently been blessed with the opportunity to help out at the Colegio Metodista, or Methodist School, as a Christian counselor. I have been giving messages at the chapel, sharing the Good News, speaking with students individually, and even helping teach Christian education classes.
I'm incredibly excited by the opportunity, as my heart is being drawn more and more into youth ministry here in Costa Rica. With the opportunity to serve the Llano Grande youth (see my previous blog entry) and the opportunity to serve at the Methodist School, I feel like I'm finally carving out my own niche in our ministry down here. And it feels great.
While at school, I spend most of my time with the secondary/high school students (grades 7-11). However, two weeks ago I was able to take my native Texan skills to the primary school. Check out my awesome 4th graders as they perform in front of over 1,000 students at the Methodist School's 88th Anniversary: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E1nM0GCsX-0
I promise they asked me to do that, it wasn't my idea :-)

Late-night youth retreat

A couple of weekends ago, I had the tremendous pleasure of joining the youth group of Llano Grande on a one-night retreat to the mountains, outside the town of Birricito, Cartago. It was 27 youth (ranging from ages 7-22), 2 sweet yet incredibly strong women from the church, 1 wild and crazy youth pastor, and me.

The passion for the Lord that I witnessed amongst that youth group was absolutely incredible. They danced and sang and praised and worshiped the Lord with unrelenting and unashamed spirits.

As our one night drew to a close, the guys were getting ready for bed on the bottom floor of our retreat house, and the girls were getting ready for bed on the top floor. Yet the time for worshiping the Lord was not over. So, at 1:20am, the music was turned on and the dance party began.

After the dancing there was solitary prayer, there was group prayer, and there was more prayer. The youth rallied around one another, shared their burdens with each other, and prayed each other’s burdens away. Spiritual warfare was taking place in many of the youth, but their friends simply rallied around them with love, support, and the name of Jesus. It was awe-inspiring.

At 4:30am, the bedtime call was made. I was positioned in the middle of two mattresses on the floor, surrounded by some of my best friends from that youth group. I woke up to yelling, running, cooking, a shining sun and chants of “dormilón! dormilón!” which means big sleepy head (more or less). I felt worthless for having slept so long, until I asked what time it was . . . 7:10am.

I’m still not certain if that day had just begun or if the previous day had never ended, because more than half the members of the retreat didn’t get even a wink of sleep. And they still praised the Lord all day at the retreat house and then attended a church service until 6:00pm that night.

The Tico youth are nuts. I love ‘em.

I'm now going to be spending every Saturday night with the Llano Grande youth. Last weekend I shared a message and then led a foot-washing ceremony in remembrance of Jesus. It was incredibly moving, to say the least.

Mar 25, 2009

P.T.P.ers - Prime Time Puppeteers


Last week we had the pleasure of hosting the Christ In Action puppet and black theater team from Madison, Alabama. The team consisted of 13 high school and middle school youth and 5 adults, and they had a wonderful ministry to share with the people of Costa Rica.

They performed 19 shows in 3 different provinces of Costa Rica, for a total of close to 3,000 people. It was a sight to be seen (just check out these videos). This team’s ministry even affected a young boy to start crying at one of the churches, because the Spirit was moving through the performance of the team.

Unity was the name of the game amongst the youth from Madison, and it was a joy to watch them grow and stay close together throughout the week. Praise the Lord for that.

I even got to help puppet for one of the songs they performed . . . I would have never guessed that puppeteering for Jesus could be so fun.

*P.T.P.ers (Prime Time Players) is a copyrighted trademark of Dick Vitale during March Madness . . . since this team showed up during the first week of Madness, I found it appropriate to modify Dicky V’s slang when describing this great team.

Mar 24, 2009

Flor, Sergio, and whitewater

As I mentioned in my last blog, life-long, Christ-bonded, friendships can be created in two primary locales: (1) small groups and (2) mission trips.

Well, Mike Roseberry and I have one of those Christ-bonded friendships that was birthed in our first-year small group at UVa. And the week after I had that amazing team from UVa come to work with me down here, Mike came to Costa Rica to hang out.

The two of us got to work construction for 3 days (1 at the Children’s Home in Coronado and 2 at the Children’s Community Center in Puerto Viejo), as well as hit the road to see the sights. And boy did we see. We were blessed with the chance to take an overnight rafting trip on the Pacuare River, full of 30 km of rafting and one afternoon of zip-lining. It was sweet. And the lodging we had, on an old coffee/chocolate farm over looking the rapids, was on priceless property.

But here’s the funniest part from Mike’s visit: from Puerto Viejo we took a bus to Guapiles, and then Siquirres, and then Turrialba (the base camp for our rafting trip). While at the bus station in Siquirres, we met an elderly couple from Turrialba. I started chatting it up with the lady, and Mike just sat there as we talked for a good 20 minutes or so. Then, at the end of the conversation, Mike saw me pull out my cell phone, and the lady, Flor, also pulled hers out.

“What are you doing?” asked Mike, with that half-curious half-scared tone of voice.
“We’re going to their house today, maybe for dinner, maybe just to hang out. We’ll see . . .” I answered. Mike thought I was nuts.

However, our trip to Flor and Sergio’s house in El Mora, just 3 km outside of Turrialba, was one of the highlights of our trip. We spent 3 hours at their house talking with them, their daughters and their grandkids, just chatting it up about life in Turrialba, Costa Rica, and the States.

They offered us coffee and arepas (my favorite Costa Rican food) and we sat there just talking away. One of the coolest parts of the evening: the Bible was probably quoted at least 15 times during our 3 hour stay at their house. They were a beautiful family, and they stayed strong in their belief in Jesus, even with all the unfortunate things they had seen in different churches over the years.

One of their daughters, Cynthia, who had two adorable little kids, Josua and Maria Celeste, would just not stop talking. It was hilarious. She just kept going. I’m still surprised Mike stayed awake (he has sleeping problems) for the Spanish conversation. But a funny side note about Cynthia’s husband: he works at a Rawlings baseball manufacturing plant/sweatshop in Turrialba and sews together 200 baseballs a week in only 3 days (he’s won numerous prizes as the best worker in the factory, too). So think about that next time you pick up a Rawlings baseball . . .

Mike and I probably could have stayed at their house for another 3 hours, but we had to take a bus back to Turrialba. So out the door we went, exchanging warm goodbyes that ended with Mike giving his UVa hat to Josua, the little grandkid of Flor and Sergio (so if you see a UVa hat wandering around Turrialba, you know where it came from).

We then stood on a dark street by an unlit bus stop for a good 25 minutes, being approached only once by a rather drunk man asking for money. When we got back to our hotel and mentioned to Oscar, our hotel employee and Christian buddy, where we had been, he said: “El Mora? You’re lucky. That’s an incredibly dangerous area!”

Mike and I just laughed. It’s not like we randomly met some couple at a bus stop and then went to their house for 3 hours without knowing anything about them. Or did we?

And it was awesome.

Life-long bonds

So there’s something I’ve learned from short-term mission trips: they’re great at creating life-long bonds of friendship amongst the team members.

And friendship is incredibly Biblical. There’s truth in the Ecclesiastes passage that says:
“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”
In my experience, there are two places that three-strand cords are most easily created/observable: (1) small groups and (2) mission trips. And these cords are held together through Christ-centered bonds.

I still remember my very first short-term mission trip to Carlsbad, New Mexico when I was 12 years old. The two leaders on our trip were named Natalie and Mark, but their nicknames for the week were Xena (Princess Warrior) and Wally. The majority of us young junior high kids then proceeded to take on our own new identities (mine was Big Willy) and we created the Xwenas (pronounced as if it were a “z” in front).

The vast majority of the Xwenas stayed in touch until high school graduation, and there were many many more mission trips and youth retreats that included at least 5 members of the Xwenas. It was a group that grew very close together, and I’m certain that it was mostly because of our bond in the Lord.

Over the course of the next 11 years of my life, I had numerous more experiences with life-long bonds that were created on mission trips in the States, to Mexico, and to Bolivia.

Now I see trips come to Costa Rica and I see the same thing happening all over again. And it’s beautiful. I can get into a whole discussion on the benefit of short-term mission trips, but one that is undeniably true, time and time again, is the love that is shared amongst mission trip team members.

From adults to youth to college kids, I’ve witnessed bonds grow that would have never been possible otherwise. People from completely different walks of life, different backgrounds, different lifestyles, different faith histories, and different personalities . . . bonded together forever because of their experiences in missions. That’s the beauty of Christ.
“The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

. . . God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.”
As it says in 1 Corinthians, we’re all one body, made of many different parts. I love watching the body come together on mission trips, especially here in Costa Rica.

Mar 17, 2009

Speaking of Tico work habits . . .

If you happened to catch my blog in February about Tico work habits, you’ll laugh at how perfectly timed that blog entry was.

Just two weeks later, when the UVa team was here, my Tico work habits blog entry was put into action. Last year in Puerto Viejo, at the Children’s Community Center project, we spent months building walls for a bathroom addition.

Within two hours of the UVa team’s first appearance on the jobsite this March, they were asked to wield a sledgehammer and a handpick, in order to knock 5 holes in the cinder block walls . . . for the placement of new tubes. I couldn’t help but laugh at the humor of it all.

A big thanks to Josh Moran, the lone ranger who had actually read my blog entry, and was therefore able to appreciate the irony of the situation along with me. In honor of Josh and his hole-making manliness, his picture resides above.

UVa in Costa Rica

17 sweet UVa students, 1 God-fearing NYC financier, and 3 daring Chi Alpha leaders brought joy and excitement to Costa Rica in a way that I had never quite experienced. If you don’t believe me, check out the videos I’ve been tagged in on Facebook, and witness what happened on our daily bus rides. Completely nuts.

This team was an incredible blessing to my ministry down here, as they left my cup flowing over with encouragement and renewed enthusiasm for serving the Costa Ricans.

They worked 4 days of construction at the Children’s Community Center in Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí, hosted 3 Vacation Bible School lessons in and around P.V., attended 2 church services in P.V., and worked 1 day of construction at the Children’s Home in Coronado. In the midst of that exhausting schedule, they spent every night reflecting on God's presence that day and praying for one another. Real prayers. For real needs.

I won’t even try to describe how amazing it was to have such young, vibrant, Christ-centered friends down here with me. The fact that they rocked my world, and the world of all the Costa Ricans who I’ve talked to since, will have to suffice. And that they did it all while fixing their minds on God's work in their lives, will have to be the cherry on top.

Thank you Chi Alpha, you are awesome.

Mar 16, 2009

Children's Home Blueprint

 
The Methodist Children's Home

5 houses for children (8-15 in each, along with house parents)
1 multi-purpose facility (with gym and classrooms)
1 playground
1 soccer field
1 basketball court
1 tiered garden
1 Texas-sized bbq pit
1 river in the backyard
1 open-air chapel
1 sweet place for the Lord

Ground broken

Construction on the first house at the Methodist Children’s Home in Coronado, Costa Rica has finally begun!

On February 23, 2009, Costa Ricans, Nicaraguans, Americans, and definitely some others, joined forces to celebrate the Children’s Home groundbreaking. Praise the Lord.

It was a momentous occasion for many involved, including Ray and Lidia Zirkel (the missionaries I work with), Will and Ella Faircloth (fellow missionaries here in CR) and the bishop of the Evangelical Methodist Church of Costa Rica, Bishop Luis Fernando Palomo.

The first team with the pleasure of working in the Children’s Home dirt was Highland Park UMC, from my lovely birthplace, Dallas, Texas.

In recent weeks, heavy machinery has been the name of the game at the Children’s Home, and the ground is now cleared for all 5 houses, our large multi-purpose facility, and the soccer field. Things are finally taking shape. The only negative side effect to all the dirt moving: ridiculous amounts of dust in the air. But I guess it’s all worth it . . .

I’m incredibly excited about the progress the Children’s Home, and I can’t wait until teams start showing up like baby rabbits.





Feb 19, 2009

Tico work habits


Today I heard one of the funniest comments yet from a Tico (well, actually he's Nicaraguan, but he's lived in CR for quite a while, so work with me here).

Anyways, I was talking to Jose, the caretaker at our orphanage, and he said, "Will, do you know the difference between Americans and Ticos when they do construction work?

Before Americans build a house, they think, 'Well, we'll need to put a tube here, so we better build this wall here, and put this notch here, etc.'

The Ticos just go ahead and build a wall, then think, 'Uh oh, we need a tube here.' Then they proceed to tear down the wall, put down the tube, and rebuild the wall worse than it was before."

I just laughed, because it's so true.

El caribe y el pacífico


Kevin Maples, one of my first-year Bible study leaders at UVa and a great friend of mine, came to visit me these past two weeks.  I put Kevin to work, as he helped to construct ceilings at our Methodist Children's Home. 

However, Kevin and I also got to travel to both the Caribbean and the Pacific coasts during his time here.  The trips were amazing.  I got to see parts of Costa Rica that I've only heard about, and it truly opened my eyes to the variety of places that exist in this beautiful country.

When we were on the Pacific side, we visited the waterfalls in Montezuma, at the bottom of the Nicoya Peninsula.  You could see it as 3 separate waterfalls, or as one, 3-tiered waterfall.  Either way, the first one was 15 feet long, the second was 50 feet long and the third was 90 feet long.  Each dumped into cool, fresh, wonderful, natural pools of water.  They were a delight to swim in.

Kevin and I jumped off the 15 foot waterfall in order to see the 50 feet waterfall (which I could not get a picture of since my camera was at the top of the 15-footer).

Then, standing there looking at the 50-foot waterfall and the cool blue pool below, we were told to jump.  So what did we do?  We jumped.  And it was sweet.

I went first, and I discovered a day later that the impact with the water bruised my right leg.  Definitely worth it.  It took some convincing for Kevin to jump, but after I jumped a second time (in which my landing was much smoother), Kevin had no choice.

After a 180 in the air, Kevin came out of the water . . . with a bloody chin.  It looked very dramatic.  He only cut his lip, but it would've been a lot cooler if he was jumping to save his life and came out with the bloody mouth, a battle-scar from saving his own life.    

*Warning: stunts mentioned in this blog were performed by trained professionals.  Please don't try this at home  :-)

Feb 2, 2009

Beautiful Baptisms


Yesterday, for me, was not Super Bowl Sunday (the Steelers' victory confirmed that notion), it was Super Baptism Sunday.

Last week, Pastor Gerardo, one of my great friends in Costa Rica, called me to let me know of his church’s baptism service on Sunday. He wanted me to meet him and his family at their humble home at 8:00am. I told him that of course I would be there, and I’m so thankful to the Lord that I did.

At 9:00am, Pastor Gerardo’s church (based in Llano Grande, halfway up Volcan Irazu), loaded a bus for Valle de Orosi, or Orosi Valley. And let me tell you, the 45-minute ride was more than worth it. Here’s a picture of Orosi Valley from above, which I took in Ocotber. That’s the river we did our baptisms in . . .


So we show up at the Valley on this beautiful sunny day, and the pastor tells me I’m to help him with the baptisms. There I am in my long-sleeve collared shirt, khaki pants, and leather shoes (his church is at 7,000 ft elevation, and I thought we were having the baptisms there when I showed up at his house in the morning . . . I was more than unprepared). So the pastor’s brother gives me some capri-style swimming pants/shorts, and I make do with my undershirt.

Then the seven individuals who were being baptized gathered together. What a blessing it was to see those seven: one of them was the pastor’s nephew, Ismael, whom I had met that morning. He’s a funny guy, but he definitely came across as one of those “I’m too cool for school” kind of characters. To see him humbly stand there, waiting to be baptized, was a special moment for me.

Another was Diana, a young girl, maybe 7 years old, who made great friends with my mom when my mom visited their church and is always integrally involved in the life of the church. Then there was Fernando, the husband of one of the strongest women in the church. Typically, in Costa Rica, the women go to church and the men stay away. To see this man coming to accept Christ in baptism was just amazing.

The final one I’ll talk about is Gustavo and this was an absolute wonder from the Lord. Gustavo is 18 years old and an incredibly charismatic young man. Back in October, Amanda and I went to a youth group meeting at Pastor Gerardo’s church, and it was at that meeting when Gustavo first peaked his head in the Llano Grande doors. And it was at that youth group meeting when Gustavo accepted Christ into his life, a very touching moment for both Amanda and me.

And then there I was, about to help baptize Gustavo, finishing an incredible blessing of being able to be present for two of Gustavo’s most moving moments in his Christian walk. Both he and the pastor, at different times yesterday, excitedly ran up to me when they realized that was the case.  Just awesome.

So Pastor Gerardo speaks to those being baptized, and does something in front of the whole church that usually happens behind doors in the States, he explains the importance of baptism and the power of welcoming people into the body of Christ . . . for a good 15 minutes. He basically gives a mini-sermon, reading Scripture, following Methodist baptism doctrine, and letting everyone authoritatively know why we were gathered in the Valley that day. It was great.

Then we head for the water. The pastor, the pastor’s brother, and I get in first, and the pastor is adamant that we hold hands and pray over the water. The water was freezing, we couldn’t feel our toes, and we were about to fall over on the plethora of unsteady rocks below, but none of that mattered. Right then and there, they prayed in the name of Jesus like I’ve never seen before a baptism. It was one of those “the Spirit is in this place” moments.

Next came the baptisms, and I’m simply running out of adjectives to describe how moving they were. There we were, standing in the middle of a beautiful valley—green mountains looming in the background, trees shooting up from every direction on both sides of the river, fresh rushing water bubbling through our legs—I couldn’t have imagined a more picturesque setting, and it made me understand why the Jordan River was where Jesus was baptized

The seven came into the water, one at a time, to recite their vow to follow Jesus for the rest of their days, and to be dunked in the water. And when they came out of that water, there was an eruption of cheering, applauding, and praising like I’ve never heard at a baptismal service. The church congregation raised its hands in the air, sang loudly, clapped louder, and shouted praises to the Lord. For we had just welcomed new members into the body of Christ, and that’s cause for celebration.


And when the baptisms were over, it wasn’t time to head back home, it wasn’t time for everyone in the church to resume their daily lives . . . no, they came on the bus, and they were staying. Remember how I said they got on the bus at 9:00am? Yeah, they didn’t leave the Valley until 4:30pm. Non-stop picnicking, swimming, soccer playing, coffee drinking, and excited chatting until it was about to get dark. Talk about something you’ll never see in the States . . .

I won’t be forgetting Super Baptism Sunday anytime soon. As a matter of fact, I’ve told Pastor Gerardo that he better not let me miss the next one.

*The baptism pictures are of Gustavo.

A rude awakening

So I went to a youth group meeting on Friday night in Concepcion de Alajuelita, a rough area on the south side of San Jose. The pastor’s 13-year-old son, Nataniel, or Nata, as we call him, rode with me from downtown San Jose so that I could find the church.

On the way to the church, we passed by his old middle/high school. “Your ‘old’ school?” I asked him. “Aren’t you only 13?”

“Yeah, I can’t go there anymore because it wasn’t safe. All the kids there drink and smoke and carry around knives, thinking that they’re older than they are, because they get involved with older guys in gangs. When I wouldn’t do all of that, because I’m a Christian, they started threatening to kill me. My parents didn’t want me to go there anymore.”

A pastor’s kid, a local Tico, can no longer attend public school for fear of his life. This is the first time I’ve been exposed to a situation like this, and I’m floored by the injustice of it all. I know that dangerous schools are a fear throughout the world, including the States, but that doesn’t soften the blow of injustice, it just makes the wound fester even more.

My initial reaction was to try and solve the situation, bring peace, bring healing, bring whatever solution I can . . . but what could I do? Our legal system in the States works on fear—fear of the police, fear of the courts, fear of losing money, fear of jail, fear of losing your life. Legal fear doesn’t exist here. There’s no such thing.

With the culture that has infested that town, the only thing Nata can do to keep safe is to keep his mouth shut and stay out of the way. Nothing else will make the problem disappear. Nothing else will bring closure to the situation. Fear of punishment, and therefore punishment itself, has been rendered worthless.

So I was left with nothing, except being angry. And I don’t like that.

However, there was one incredibly redeeming factor about my evening in Concepcion de Alajuelita: the youth group service. Because at El Sinai Iglesia Evangelica Metodista, in the middle of this dangerous pocket of San Jose, 40 youth (ages 10-25, I would presume) came together to worship the Lord freely and without abandon. They sang worship songs, they gave tithes and offerings, and they responded to the sermon with an intense time of prayer, praise and worship.

A lot of these kids looked like they didn’t belong in a church. They’d probably be ostracized at a vast majority of churches in the States. But to the Lord, everyone belongs in the Church, and no one is rejected in the eyes of our gracious and loving Father.

And I was reminded of one very important thing: while I may not be able to do anything to right the injustice at Nata’s school and in that community, Jesus can. And Jesus will. I know this, because He’s already begun.

Jan 31, 2009

It could happen to you


I arrived in San Jose on a Wednesday night at 10pm. My goal was to take a taxi back to Ray’s empty house, and start my time of relaxation. But first, I had to wait for my luggage. Out of my 4 arrivals in Costa Rica, only twice have I had to wait for luggage. This was time #2.

After a good 30 minutes of waiting by the baggage claim and zoning out while looking at bags, I come to my senses and realize that there is only one bag left on the luggage belt. “Finally, my bag came,” I sigh.

So I pull it off the belt and look at the big yellow sticker on the flight tag. “Preferred customer?” I ask myself. “I’m not a preferred customer . . .”

The bag was perfectly mine; the same weird boxy shape, the same black color, the same brand . . . but it didn’t have my small piece of blue tape on the top. “That’s okay, it probably just fell off,” I think to myself.

So I do what any sane man would do next, I reach for the nametag, which is covered by a black sleeve. “Will Hasley,” it should read . . .

But no. Instead, I see “Eduardo Silvera.” That’s not me! I toss the bag back onto the luggage belt, thanking the Lord that I actually checked the nametag before I took off with the bag.

“I’ll just wait for my bag, then.” And that’s when the hiccup came: there were no more bags on the belt. Just that one, which belonged to Mr. Silvera. That one that happened to be exactly like my rather distinctive suitcase, a rare site at baggage claims . . . or so I thought. “Lord, help me to get my bag, some way or another,” I pray.

Of course, the thought had already hit me as soon as I threw the bag back onto the belt: “what if Eduardo took my bag? What if he didn’t check the nametag? Oh no . . .”

Then I pull out my Costa Rican cell phone, which I was only able to charge in the States because I happened upon one of my mother’s 1980s Nokia chargers (okay, maybe not 80s, but definitely old school), and I call the number on Eduardo’s nametag. Not working.

I try a different prefix, and “Yes! It’s ringing . . . please Lord.” A Spanish-speaker answers. After a nice little convo, I get him to agree to call his dad who has just arrived from the States. He takes my phone number and my name, and when I’m about to hang up, he asks, “Hey Will, you don’t speak English, do you?”

Wow, that would’ve been helpful a good 5 minutes ago. But hey, no point in counting lost time, so I explain everything again in English. “Okay, that’s what I thought you said,” he confirms (a lil’ hooray for my rushed Spanish), “but I wasn’t sure. I’ll call my dad and then I’ll call you right back.”

I go over to the airport’s baggage claim services and start explaining my situation. The two employees are helpful, and I can tell that this definitely isn’t their first rodeo in the bag-switcheroo category. I’m pleased. Then I get a phone call.

“Will, my dad is standing outside the airport with your bag, he’s waiting for you,” says the friendly, English-speaking son on the phone.

“Thank you, Lord.”

And boy was Mr. Ed apologetic . . .

Around the World in Eighty Days


Okay, so I haven't really traveled around the world in eighty days -- or ever, for that matter. But I randomly decided, after talking with a friend of mine tonight, that'd it'd be interesting to give y'all some

Random Facts from 
Will's Life of Non-Stop Travels:

  • Since May 2008, not once have I slept in the same room for at least 2 consecutive weeks.
  • If you discredit April and May 2008, you would have to look back to December 2007 to find the last time I slept in the same room for at least 2 consecutive weeks.
  • In my final semester at UVa, leading up to May 2008 (16 total weekends), I traveled outside of Charlottesville for 9 weekends. Those 9 weekends were during a 10-week span
  • From June – November 2008, during my time in Costa Rica, I slept in more than 20 beds (alone, thank you very much :-).
  • In 35 nights in Virginia over my “holiday break,” I changed sleeping locations 23 times.
  • In 35 nights spent in and around Texas over the same break, I changed sleeping locations 14 times . . . chump change.
  • The ~5 weeks I spent at home in Texas was the longest I’d spent there since May/June 2006.
  • From June 2006 – November 2008 (30 months), I spent 9 months outside of the States, in 10 different countries
  • I’m now getting ready to defy all odds and spend one year in one location!  I plan on leaving Costa Rica only three times before the middle of November, for a total of no more than 2-3 weeks (because my visa requires me to do so). Finally, a hint of a break . . .