Romans 11:36

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

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.