We’ve had a rough few months.
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.
An encouraging reminder in song: Your labor is not in vain from Work Songs by The Porter’s Gate Worship Project
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:
I have known Jafet since before he was born. He was one of the first little people I got to buy a baby gift for here in Costa Rica as I met his mom (Andrea) for the first time just a few months before he was born. He, his three siblings, and his mom have become our family here. We’ve had our rocky moments, a few different times where he has kicked, hit, pinched, bit or spit on me and we’ve worked through it. Now he’s almost four and for the past year or so, every time he sees me, he gives me a giant hug, a huge smile and tells me he loves me. A lot. Forever. He even learned on his own how to say it in English. I always respond by telling him that I love him a lot and forever too, to the moon and stars and sun and back.
Recently while we were hanging out, I asked him how he knew that he loved me. If he could tell in his head? No, he says. In his heart? Nope, not there either. In his belly? Nope. In his arms? Nope. In his mouth? Nope. I ask him again how he knows that he loves me and he looks right at me and says, “I love you tia (the word for aunt in Spanish) because I know how much you love me.” My heart melted. I then asked him how he knows that I love him so much. He responded, “Because you tell me every day and always give me lots of hugs and kisses.” Yep. I do. And he’s 100% right, I do love him forever and I’m so glad he knows it.
Our church community is built around the previous garbage dump for San Jose. Eight years ago the dump moved to the other side of the city so the influx of people has definitely slowed. Our community has a few paved roads and some very stable structures for houses, with concrete and drywall. At the same time, there are muddy paths, rocky walkways and houses made out of tin, held up by tree trunks and whatever other scraps a person could find. So we see quite a variety in living situations as well as how people get to their houses.
Part of the old path we scrambled over for years. Looking from above.
For us to get to church we take a bus ride for about 15 minutes. Then, at the last bus stop, we get off and start the climb. We have two options, the longer way which is along the paved road with cars, or the shortcut which is a steep, straight up climb along a paved path half of the way and rocks, mud, dirt and gravel the rest of the way. We usually choose the shortcut and enjoy telling ourselves that one day it will get easier and we won’t be quite so out of breath as we climb, carrying our bags.
We have slipped, fallen and even crab-walked up and down this path for over four years. When it’s raining, it’s really slippery. Kids often take pieces of hard plastic that they find and use it as a sled to go down and have a blast doing it. But this past month a generous church donated the funds to build us stairs up the dirt, rocky part of the path. And they have made our (and so many other) lives so much more enjoyable! People are so thankful and so many neighbors have been engaged in the building process and we are so grateful! We hope by the end of this month to have completed the stairs (with even a railing!) so we’re ready when rainy season starts. While we are still out of breath each day climbing, we feel so grateful for firm foundation and the generosity of people who made this project possible!
New stairs! Looking from below.
Every few years a camp on the eastern side of the city heading up into the mountains (RobleAlto) invites our church youth to come for virtually no cost (less than $20 per person). Since most of the families in our community would not be able to spend $60 to send their kid to camp, many kids have never been. So this is an incredible blessing in so many ways. The first time we got to participate in youth camp was in 2013 when we were just starting to get involved at our church. When we were asked to go last week we thought it would be a great way to kick off the year.
We left Wednesday afternoon with a group of seven leaders (us being two of them) and 30 youth between 11-18 (three girl cabins and four boy cabins). We brought a large number of kids who don’t regularly attend our church but live in the neighborhood in hopes that God would use this time away from their normal environment to remind them that they are more than what they may experience day to day. Most of the kids that went have pretty rough home situations where abuse, neglect and drugs are common in some way. So it’s important to get them away from that environment to show them that there are other options. Also, its two miles from our community to the nearest area kids can kick a ball, play at a park or ride a bike. So it’s a real privilege to bring these kids to a place where they can run, swim, and play games where it’s safe (and flat) and watch them just get to be kids.
A few cultural differences between youth camp here and the states:
- Cleanliness is HUGE in Costa Rica. So kids shower at least once but up to three times a day, never mind that there is no hot water. So when we had to be at the soccer field for games and exercises the first morning at 6am my entire cabin of six girls got up by 5am to stand in line for the cold shower. And then showered again after we ran around and swam. It doesn’t seem to be a vanity issue as much as just a desire to be clean.
- After each meal there was time allotted for us to all return to our cabins to brush our teeth. Quite a difference from kids in the states complaining about brushing their teeth, these kids all wanted to and did so at least three times a day.
- Although we all knew there would be a pool, not one person brought a swimming suit. It is much more common to swim in shorts and a t-shirt for both boys and girls. Which is especially great because then we don’t have to have conversations about skimpy bikinis with adolescents.
- At the coldest it was probably 55 degrees since we were at a higher elevation. But this is the coldest these kids have ever experienced so they were VERY cold.
- We ate rice with every meal, and beans and rice with eggs for breakfast each morning.
- The game that most of the kids didn’t want to play involved trying to throw their shoe into a bucket. Taking off your shoes in public (or even at home) almost never happens here.
Besides those things though, it was pretty similar to what you’dexpect from a bunch of teenagers away from their families for a few days. Lots of fun, little sleep, trying to decide what pranks to play on the other cabins and encouraging the kids to put away their cell phones. We had a great time and look forward to hear about how God used it in these lives!
Faithful. Available. Teachable.
These are qualities we strive for in our lives. So when wise, more experienced people in our lives started to encourage us to take a break and get away from ministry for a bit, we thought we should listen. We’ve lived here for five years and perhaps a break would help refresh us and make us more effective in our ministry. So we did. And could not have imagined a more amazing time. God completely poured out his goodness in our time.
Here are just a few of the amazing things that happened in our time away:
- We stayed in four different places for free
- Amazing people with many more years of experience and wisdom poured into our ministry and marriage
- Seeing fall colors everywhere we went for the first time since 2011
- Generous people gave us rides to and from the airport in the US and let us use their cars for free
- Complete strangers graciously fed us
- We got to visit Yosemite National Park for almost a week, something we had only dreamed of for the past decade
- Normally by June the waterfalls in Yosemite are dried up, but it miraculously rained just before we arrived so all the waterfalls were fully flowing AND it barely rained at all while we were there so we did tons of great hikes and saw the beautiful sites
- While visiting a church in Fullerton, California their guest preacher just happened to be a favorite professor (Dr Jon Lunde) of Dave’s from Trinity International University in Chicago. They got together for coffee and were able to reconnect after not seeing each other for 13 years.
- Getting to make a contribution on a service project, working with old and new friends
- Time away to rest, relax, process, pray, plan and give thanks for five incredible years
As we entered Yosemite and rolled down the windows just to smell the incredible fresh air we instantly felt renewed. And so filled with gratitude. John Muir said, “Everyone needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to the body and soul alike.” And we couldn’t agree more.
Turkey dinner is my very favorite meal. I love the whole thing; the turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy and homemade bread. I especially love the people which means Thanksgiving is always the hardest holiday for me to be away from family. Thanksgiving isn’t a holiday in Costa Rica and turkey isn’t a food they eat. So here, it’s just a regular Thursday in November. Thankfully there are two stores that import in some turkeys from the states in November and charge $50 for them. Which means that six months later those stores want to clean out their freezers and sell their turkeys for half price. Which leads to us celebrating Thanksgiving in April! (We got to do this 3 years ago, too)
This past weekend we cooked a turkey with all the sides and introduced our friends here to some other favorites like deviled eggs and stuffed pickles. We had a fantastic time together and it was a wonderful evening. We have so much to be thankful for, and this past weekend we’re thankful for half price turkeys and friends here to celebrate Thanksgiving with!
Deep down, we know that God is good. We know that He loves us. There are times when we simply feel that love more deeply and tangibly than others- not because God has changed, but because we are human and are surrounded by daily circumstances. Most recently we have felt the goodness of God in a WorldRace team we were blessed to host for the month of January.
For 4 weeks this group of seven 20-somethings slept on our church floor and were the light of Christ in so many ways in our community. They showed grace, patience and joy everyday when lots of things went wrong or they were confronted with situations that were unpleasant, frustrating or simply confusing. They pushed themselves to develop relationships with people here and were truly a joy to simply be around, constantly laughing and having fun.
Their first Sunday worshiping with us they sang a song for our congregation in English called Good, Good Father (popularized by Chris Tomlin) and now Dave has taught it to our church in Spanish. We are so grateful for this team for multiple reasons, especially for reminding of us of how good God is to us. We thank God for His goodness in bringing Erika, Lucie, Ben, Anna, Brandon, Jenn and Luke into our lives!
Here’s a video of our congregation singing this week in all of it’s raw uneditedness:
Today marks the day when we have lived longer in Costa Rica than we lived married in Minnesota. This means that starting today, we have spent OVER half of our married life (8.5 years) living here. While this may not be a big deal to anybody else, it is an enormous deal to us. Why?
First, because it reminds us of God’s great love and faithfulness. When we got married on September 8, 2007 we were only dreaming of living in Latin America one day. And now we’re here. And we love it! Seriously, we truly LOVE living here.
Second, in our 8.5 years of marriage we have lived (in one form or another) on the generous and gracious financial support of amazing people who believe in what we are doing and make great sacrifices to make our lives here possible. And we are incredibly grateful.
And third, this is home. While we still miss friends and family stateside and have a deep love for Minneapolis and our memories of our time there, this day marks an enormous transition. We have developed friends and family here. We will fight to defend these people in our community. While we know inside we will never be ticos, we also know we are deeply changed as a result of over four years of living here. Changes that we are grateful for and appreciate. When we make plans to travel to the states we no longer say “we are going home” but instead find ourselves referring to Costa Rica as our home. What an incredible gift!
God began by making one man, and from him he made all the different people who live everywhere in the world. He decided exactly when and where they would live. “God wanted people to look for him, and perhaps in searching all around for him, they would find him. But he is not far from any of us. -Acts 17:26-27
Every Thursday I make food for our small group Bible study. Last year I forced myself to make something new each week so I made chocolate zucchini bread, strawberry muffins, veggie roll ups and sushi (they had never had it and wanted to try it) among many other recipes. Most recipes didn’t stick around, but it was fun. I’ve also regularly made them cookies, cakes, and other desserts.
But the one thing they request the most is the bologna bean sandwich. Seriously. The kids especially request this. It is made up of white bread, slathered with refried beans, bologna, mayonnaise and ketchup. No, I am not kidding. And if they were making the sandwich it would likely include some of that fake orange cheese that comes individually wrapped and an enormous amount of ketchup and mayo. Yes, we have eaten this sandwich when it has been served to us. No, it’s not our favorite thing nor have we ever made it for ourselves.
We still believe refried beans are mostly for chips and tortillas, not bread. But as the years go by I find myself forgetting what a sandwich was like in the states with some amazing whole wheat bread, pickles, lettuce, sprouts, great deli meat and some fantastic cheese. Oh yum! Since the bologna and bean sandwich is by far the easiest thing I have made for Bible study, I certainly won’t complain that they love it. But who picks that over a carrot cake or chocolate chip cookies?