“Chocala” he said, holding out his fist so Liam could fist bump him, which Liam very gently and happily proceeded to do. This is the way so many of the people on our street greet Liam each day, as he runs up and down, yelling with joy, petting their dogs, and splashing in puddles. One of his favorite stops is at the electric pole, where he mounts the cables and pretends he is riding a horse.
Liam is the first boy we have fostered; he is much busier, louder and not as great of a sleeper as the girls we had previously. Which is fine until you share the walls of your house with your neighbors and know they hear EVERYTHING. There have been MANY times where we have wished we had a bit more space, a yard and some insulation. There was the unforgettable night we were out walking and a neighbor walked right up to Liam and asked him why he yelled so loud ALL THE TIME. But that same neighbor runs to hug him, brings her dogs over to be pet, and gave him a Christmas gift, as did many other neighbors. We are constantly told how much they love to hear him yelling, that they miss the sounds of kids (he is the youngest on our street), and that he brings life to our neighborhood.
Because of this past year with Liam, we have grown closer to our neighbors and developed a greater appreciation for this community. Seeing them love Liam (in all his energetic, loud self) is beautiful. The retired guys who sit on their front step most days have made a space for Liam so now he runs down to join them. The guard has long “chats” with him in the garage. Carlos, across the street, always yells out to greet him and Liam yells and waves back. A truck cannot go by without him running to the door to see it and wave. The guy who sells eggs from his car stops every time to chat with Liam. They say raising kids takes a village. We’re so grateful for this village and their care for us and these kids in this process. What a gift.
It was a Sunday in December 2012 when we were visiting a church here in Costa Rica that we first learned of Casa Viva. The pastor’s family was fostering a sweet little baby girl along with multiple other families in the church who were caring for kids while they either awaited adoption or return to their biological family. I turned to Dave and said, “wouldn’t it be great to foster someday? I wonder if we’d be allowed since we aren’t ticos…” Dave did not look excited but simply nodded in response.
So I began to pray. Not daily, not even weekly, but regularly that God would open up the doors necessary for us to foster someday. Fast forward to 2019 and I started volunteering with Casa Viva, actually working for the pastor mentioned above. In 2020 I was scheduled to attend the training that all foster families go through to better understand the requirements. I asked Dave is he wanted to attend the training with me but due to multiple trips planned he wasn’t going to be able to.
Then a pandemic happened. And suddenly our world looked very different and all of Dave’s travel to other countries was put on hold. The Casa Viva training went virtual and we attended, agreeing to the possibility of being a support family to a foster family in the future. Then suddenly, Dave said he was willing to foster fulltime! So later in the year we started caring for Abby (16 months at the time) half of the time, helping to prepare her for adoption. And in December we got the call asking if we’d take a nine-month-old fulltime for six months while PANI (child social services here) worked out what needed to change with her biological family. We said yes.
Abby and Esme changed our lives in wonderful, challenging and exhausting ways. Suddenly we had to bring SO MUCH STUFF every time we left the house and our schedule was dictated by meals and nap times. There were many nights of little sleep, there was vomit and disgusting diapers, and there was joy, gratitude and laughter.
And now Abby is being adopted by a sweet Costa Rican family who has been in process for four years waiting for this. And Esme is returning home to her biological parents and sisters. And we couldn’t be more grateful and thankful and, of course, sad recognizing the hole they leave in our home. We praise God for the time we had together and the opportunities we had to pour love into their lives. And we miss them. God confirmed three specific things for us in this process:
God answers prayer. Not immediately and not always the answer we want, but He does answer.
Fostering is hard.
It is completely worth it. Like many hard things. We may never get to see the fruit of this labor of love, but we trust that there is fruit. Getting to see both girls learn so many new things and spending Esme’s first Christmas and birthday with her are treasured memories. Yes we are sad. There are many tears. And we are confident that it saved them from many tear-filled days and nights in an orphanage, so we choose our tears. So we will cry our tears and rejoice in the time we had together and soon, we will probably do it all over again.
“How are you doing?”, she asked and I paused and thought about my response.
“I’m actually doing really well…as weird as that sounds.”
But it’s true. As wrong as it may seem in our current circumstances of unknowns, lock-downs, and cancelled plans we’re doing well. So I began to ask myself, “Why is that? Am I denying how hard this actually is? Am I secretly an introvert and long to live like a hermit?” After a few weeks of reflection, here are a few of the answers that I have come up with that have possibly led to why we’re doing pretty well overall.
We’re used to being distant from close friends and family. If this was happening nine years ago while we were still living in MN, we would be having a VERY different experience. But we’re used to not seeing people we love for months or years at a time so this doesn’t feel any different.
I (Angie) am very used to having meaningful conversations virtually and have been doing it for years. Really for as long as I can remember I’ve enjoyed talking on the phone. Obviously I prefer chatting in person but if that wasn’t possible, the phone was a great second option. So it doesn’t feel exhausting to catch up on the phone or have a video call with a friend, it feels life giving and has been a part of my rhythm my whole life, especially while living overseas.
I grew up on a farm so every summer was like its own quarantine. We went months without seeing friends and it was normal. I had to play with my sister and brother. And we survived. Sometimes we even enjoyed each other!
Due to current circumstances and travel schedules, our community here isn’t a group that we see weekly or even monthly at times. There are people we try to get together with monthly for sure but there aren’t any people that we’re used to seeing weekly, much less daily like when you have a normal day job. So that makes this not feel so different.
Many of these feelings of frustration of not knowing, confusion, unknown schedules and stress are VERY similar to culture shock and things we already deal with daily. That’s not to say it isn’t still stressful, again, it just feels different than it would if we were still living in the states. There is no bus schedule here, things that make absolutely no sense to us happen daily and our plans are constantly changing. We rarely plan more than a few days ahead of time (unless it involves long distance travel) and that feels normal now.
God has given us great joy and peace in this season. This has absolutely nothing to do with us and everything to with Him and His grace.
To be clear, I’m not trying to diminish anybody’s experience of how hard this situation is. Please know that. I am simply processing why it hasn’t felt that heavy to us (yet). And I’m thanking God for how He has helped prepare us for this in some ways that maybe felt very uncomfortable but we grew as a result. And isn’t that something we all hope for? Growth as a result of this situation?
Yesterday marked 8 years of living in Costa Rica. Seriously, we have no idea how the time has gone so quickly! I thought I’d take the time to make a list of some of the most amazing things God has done in the past 8 years.
With Jim, Melanie, and a friend during our first year in Costa Rica
God called us here and got us here. When Dave and I met (in 2004) we were both looking to live in Latin America and be involved in full-time ministry (although I was just going for a year and Dave was looking at long-term). We got married in 2007, worked five part-time jobs to pay for seminary as I pursued my masters served in our church plant, Hiawatha Church for four years. We raised our support and in 2011 we moved to Costa Rica for Dave to study Spanish (I already spoke Spanish but got a tutor) and God began to open doors for ministry here in ways we had only imagined.
God provided people. Literally hundreds of people. Who financially give sacrificially to this ministry so we can live and serve here. People who pray, who write, who love us and encourage us in so many ways. We are always blown away by how God has provided these incredible people who make this possible!
God gave us a home. And not just any home. We have a fantastic little house in a great location, the most amazing landlord who is so kind to us, fantastic neighbors and two street dogs who keep us company every day.
God gave us family. Local people who embraced us and invited us to their home for holidays, birthdays, weddings and all kinds of other activities. They laughed with us when we made Spanish mistakes, cried with us when we were frustrated, disappointed, or missing our family and friends stateside, helped us get groceries, on the correct bus and drivers licenses.
God gave us ministry. Ministry that we love serving the local church, helping people on the margins, and teaching a wide variety of topics like English, cooking, job skills, theology, and music.
God gave us friends and teammates. From the first day we arrived, we were welcomed into Jim and Melanie Wilson’s home and lives and they graciously did life with us these past 8 years. They had arrived the year before so they were especially helpful in getting us acclimated, walking through the residency process and helping us get around. Melissa was also part of our team from the beginning and invaluable as a friend and support. Our team saw a lot of transition over the years but these guys remained constant until they returned to the states. God has continued to provide us numerous friends and community who have brought much joy to our lives and have made Costa Rica feel like home.
God kept us safe and healthy. In a country where robbery is incredibly common we have been blessed to serve in some very dangerous communities and see God’s hand of protection around us. Sure, we’ve had our battles with sickness but overall we’ve been physically healthy and are so grateful!
God has confirmed that this is exactly where we are supposed to be and while we don’t know for how long, we are grateful for His continually reminders that we are called to be serving here for now and look forward to whatever the next 8 years bring!
Climbing the highest peak in Costa Rica with good friends and ministry partners
While there was no fighting or wars, Costa Rica (along with Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua) was declared free of the rule of Spain on September 15th, 1821. Ticos didn’t find out for another month as it took that long for the news to travel by donkey from Guatemala but all these countries celebrate their independence on September 15th.
It’s a fun day, the night before we do a lantern parade, something we have always attended at the school in Rio Azul as a fun tradition. We sing 5 national songs (of which the national anthem is the only one we know the words to), see some typical dancing, watch the fireworks, and walk around with our homemade lanterns. The best lantern in each class is presented with an award.
Unlike the 4th of July there is no cookout but everybody wears red, white, and blue and often typical dress from a century ago. The churches also celebrate by having parties, dressing up, and having kid’s programs about Independence Day. It’s a fun day and here it is the last major holiday before Christmas. That means you start seeing Christmas trees and lights put up anytime in the weeks ahead…which I especially love (although Dave says I can’t put the tree up until at least Oct 15th). : )
Our work with IBAC’s pastoral training events takes Dave to Nicaragua several times a year. In May, he spent two weeks there, one in the far northwest and a second in the south central part of the country. Last year we had to pause our events during May through August because of civil unrest in the country, but restarted in September and haven’t had to pause again. The unrest started when the government announced a raise in social security taxes coupled with a lowered benefit. There were some large protests and after a heavy-handed response from the government people were even more upset. However, for several months things were calm again- tense, but calm- and we’ve been able to continue with our events.
Groups of pro-government “protestors” gather in the roundabouts of Managua. It is now illegal to use the Nicaraguan flag in public without permission from the government.
In April of 2019, the people of Nicaragua marked the one year anniversary since the government started retaliating against (including with violence) their public displays of disapproval. The growing list of political prisoners (often taken during the protests) has been a concern- people frequently echo a phrase heard during the current leader’s original revolution in the 70s: “They were taken alive and we want them back alive.”
Recently, some of the political prisoners showed up again in their respective towns and people are hopeful that all prisoners will be released by mid-June. The government already promised months ago to do this within the next couple weeks. Pray with us for peace in Nicaragua and that God would work through the situation to see the Gospel impact the culture.
We’ve been traveling around the states now for about seven weeks. And it’s been really great. We’ve had five snowstorms including a record setting blizzard in MN April 14-15th. And now it’s spring and we’re loving that.
In our travels we’ve been given a lot of gifts. My dad gave us a car to use and my sister gave us a baby Groot bobble head for the dash (if you haven’t seen Guardians of the Galaxy, you should). We’ve received a baby stuffed sloth, an origami flower bouquet, an enormous snake skin (molted from a real snake), a beautiful potted orange lily, cash, candy, clothes, a humidifier and some other things. People have generously fed us, housed us and simply taken care of us for weeks now and it’s been absolutely fantastic.
However, the very best gift people have given us is their time. People have taken time away from their normal schedules and crazy busy lives to just spend time with us. To go for a walk around a lake or have us over for a meal. People have shared their lives with us, their joys and struggles, and allowed us to enter into their families and realities for a few hours. And it has been AMAZING.
We left the states 6.5 years ago. We left amazing family, friends and community. Turns out those things are all still here. We continue to have amazing family, friends and community who give of their time and energy and share their lives with us. We don’t deserve it but we are truly blessed and so grateful!
It was January 2012 and I was sitting in my first day of seminary class in Costa Rica when Steph walked in. She looked just as confused as me and I thought maybe for a minute I wasn’t the only foreigner in the class. But as we chatted after class I realized she was 100% tica but had just returned the month before from a year serving in Mexico. So she was in the throes of reverse culture shock and readjusting to her home culture. We instantly became friends and would walk towards my home and her bus stop together after class (about 45 minutes) each week. We studied together and did group projects for class. And a year later Steph asked me if I would disciple her.
As in the case of most discipling relationships, I have learned more from Steph over the past five years than her from me. She’s been an excellent cultural resource and we’ve shared a lot of laughter, tears, joy, and sorrow. She has loved and accepted me unconditionally. She has shown me things about the Lord that I am forever grateful for and will never forget. She points me to Jesus constantly. I cannot imagine my life in Costa Rica without her. But…
Steph has a calling to serve overseas. She has served in Nicaragua, Mexico and India and speaks English fantastically. Her heart for the nations is contagious and, in my experience, very rare to see in a young Latina. She is currently support raising to head to the Philippines for a year and a half of ministry and training before returning to India (where she spent three months serving in 2015). She will be working with orphans and girls rescued out of sex trafficking as well as teaching them skills like English and sewing.
She needs to raise $1100 a month and currently has $800 of that. She is hoping to leave in March. Could God be calling you to join her on this crucial ministry to reach people for Christ? Here’s a link to give and if you’d like to contact Steph directly, I would love to put you in touch with her.
You know the kind… where you start to wonder if it’s all worth it and if maybe you’ve failed. The times when you don’t sleep well, constantly replaying situations and conversations in your mind and wondering if you are in fact crazy. You feel beat up, defeated, exhausted and confused.
And yet in this time we’ve seen God extend His love and mercy in amazing and incredible ways: Reminding us that He is for us. That He loves us. That while we will always mess up, His grace will always abound.
Exodus 3:7 says, “Then the Lord said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings…”
I have SEEN. I have HEARD. I am CONCERNED.
Here are just a few examples of the ways we’ve experienced the gracious and deep love of God in these hard times:
We have had lots of visitors- which we love: Friends from Minnesota, California, Guatemala and Florida. Friends who have offered prayer, wisdom, insight and support as well as hope, truth and encouragement. Friends who have lived for decades overseas and can remind us that this too will pass. Our story isn’t over. God isn’t finished with us. We’ve also had lots of friends throughout the world love us well through phone calls, texts and emails that lift us up.
The Raleigh team that was with us in July (read previous post) flew us and our pastor Gilbert up to their church in October. They loved us so well and cared for us so generously, it was a beautiful few days. They truly spoiled us and even made us an entire Thanksgiving dinner
We’ve been blessed by the care of our community here through their time, prayers, hugs and encouragement. This goes a long way in making us truly feel at home here.
We visited Panama and had a great time with the team there as well as got to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary.
So much more!
God has seen. He has heard. He is concerned. And we will continue to trust Him and what He is doing and praise Him for showering His love on us throughout some hard times.
While we have had the opportunity to host three WorldRace teams for a month at a time we have never actually had a church come for a short-term mission trip in our 5.5 years here. We’ve always been a bit nervous about hosting a team and have heard a wide range of experiences from friends over the years. But in July a group of 11 amazing people came from Raleigh, North Carolina and blessed our socks off for nine days. They did a VBS each morning and a youth activity each afternoon (we have a two week midyear break in the school schedule in July) and we saw lots of people come to our church for the very first time. Everybody seemed to have a great time and we cannot wait to have them come back! Here are some things that made this team so incredible:
They were well-prepared. From knowing something about the context they were working in to the crafts, games, music and story-time each day these guys were ready. Really ready.
They were flexible. Things always change. It rains. Or there is no water in the building. Or we can’t do what we had planned. And nobody ever even flinched at these constant changes but simply rolled with it.
They were joyful. When you go somewhere where you don’t sleep well, don’t enjoy the food and can’t communicate well it goes a LOOOOOONNNNNGGGGG way when you are still smiling and showing joy in your activities each day.
They asked great questions. They weren’t about just completing their vision for what their ministry would be, but showed sensitivity to both the culture we work in and our philosophy of ministry.
They served each other and our community. They did dishes, participated in worship, swept, cleaned, pushed themselves to speak Spanish and involved local people in our church in their leadership, working to develop them and serve them and us well.
They loved us, our community and one another well. It was incredible to see how well they cared for one another. Spending that much time together you can easily start to get on each other’s nerves. But they outdid one another in showing love, they thought the best of each other (and us) and continually showed grace. It was amazing. What more could we possibly ask for? Well, we do have one tiny request…THAT THEY COME BACK NEXT JULY!
Check out a video they made to share about their time in Costa Rica: