I've decided to post my update here so that everyone can read it without having to send out more emails. Make sure you scroll down far enough to see all the pictures too.
Please enjoy responsibly.
The past four weeks of my life have been some of the most exciting. On the 11th of July, I loaded myself and the bag-limit on a plane and eight hours later I was in Costa Rica. I've spent two weeks wetting my feet, and the two other weeks, leading two different teams in two different ministries.
The first couple of days were rather surreal. I was living on an air mattress in the middle of a living room with people that I had only known through email. And even though I have lived here before, I had to readjust and relearn the area. Wednesday I went out on the "Feeding Program." About 10 in the morning, a few "gringos" and a few native Spanish-speakers (mostly Costa Ricans, "ticos," and an Argentinean) gather in the front of the Christ for the City office to pray before heading out to some of the most dangerous places in San José. This program has a couple of purposes. Primarily, it is there to grant entrance into these areas to rescue "at risk" people (girls, boys, and adults), so that they can leave behind this "life" and come into the knowledge of Jesus Christ. But concealing this is the food. Most of the areas we go into are controlled by drug dealers. They will let anyone into their area, but won't necessarily let them out. The food allows us safe passage and gives reputation to Ronald (a tico with a heart bigger than any other I've ever known) to be able to come back throughout the week and find those that would like to leave this so-called life. We serve food in about 5 or 6 areas, serving close to 500 people. It is truly a powerful time, something that I've enjoyed every week I've been able to go out.
On Friday Lisa, another missionary who has now left, and I went to the airport to pick up nine people ranging in age from 18 to 76—my first team. Over the weekend we oriented ourselves and by Saturday night we had moved in with our families for the week. This team worked with a church in San Pedro, a suburb just outside of San José. Sunday morning I had my first real test—translation. Lisa had decided since I was a Spanish major, I would be better at translating than her, even though I had only been here for a week. It was rather rough and I got a lot of help, but God got me through it! Throughout the week, the mornings were filled with painting and work around the church, while the afternoons were a Bible study with the members or a prayer meeting. Wednesday night, the women had a meeting with the other women from the church, which I hear went wonderfully! Two of the nights that week I was able to spend with the pastor and his family. I'm always amazed at the generosity and desire the ticos have to share. Thursday we went to La Carpio, a squatter community, where CFCI has a lot of involvement. There are a lot of opportunities for me to serve there when I'm in between teams, especially this fall, with Children's programs and ESL classes. After the good-bye service Thursday night, we loaded ourselves for our debriefing time at a local beach. It was great to hear all that the team had learned about themselves, but more so about God and His hand all over the world. It was tough to see them leave Sunday morning, but at 5 in the morning you're too tired to cry!
The next week was one spent in recovery and continually finding out what ministries I would be able to get involved in this fall. I was planning on going everywhere the following week, but halfway through the week I was approached by Kellie, both my mom at home and my supervisor at work, to fill in for her this next week. The team would be going to Renacer. Renacer is the Spanish verb meaning "to be reborn" or "Rebirth." And Renacer the place is a center where girls who have had less than ideal lives go to be reborn. At this time their ages range from 12 to 17. Their backgrounds include abuse, living on the street, selling drugs, taking drugs, alcoholism and prostitution. The primary goal at Renacer is to bring them into a relationship with Jesus Christ, while providing them shelter, sobriety, therapy, education and lots of holy love—something they may not have experienced before.
The team arrived Friday night and I spent Saturday's orientation with them, before meeting up with them at Renacer on Monday morning. The girls have classes and therapy throughout the day, so we painted, cut grass, and tried to be as useful as we could be. In the evenings we did crafts and spent time loving on the girls. Tuesday we went to Guararí, where Renacer has a children's program. Many of these kids live amidst drugs, prostitution and alcoholism; either someone in their family participates in these activities or they themselves do. But once a week for 2 hours they can just be kids and learn about Jesus Christ. This time includes games, a Bible lesson and a craft. This Tuesday they heard the story of Mary and Martha and because they celebrate Mother's Day on August 15, they made Mother's Day cards. I'll admit, I made one too—you'll be getting it soon, Mom!
Over lunch on Tuesday, Ronald told us his testimony. When he was seven years old he began living on the streets, selling and using drugs. As he grew up he amassed a gang of about 120 people. One day he and a friend were walking by a church, when Ronald told his friend they should go in because there are always pretty girls at church. Once inside one of them caught his attention, but because he was filthy and had long hair, she didn't pay him any attention. The next time he went, he cleaned himself up and began dating her. She was the pastor's daughter. But Ronald was still using drugs. Eventually Ronald and Marielos became engaged and on their wedding day, Ronald prayed that he would never use drugs again; twenty-six years later, Ronald is still sober. After he was married he began to work for Latin American Mission. One day he was sitting in the office and read about a gang who had a face off with the police the day before. At that moment God told him to go to this building to talk to the gang members. He said okay, but let me finish my work. God, however, wasn't interested in waiting and told to go now. When he got to the abandoned building he couldn't find anyone, but he heard voices. As he walked back outside, several boys jumped down on him. They began to ask him what he was doing there and what he wanted. He told them about the story and he was there just to befriend them. A relationship developed and now many of those gang members are pastors and missionaries. Some, however, are still caught up in the gang life. This began Ronald's street ministry. One night he heard God telling him he needed to start a rehab for girls rescued from the street. God showed him the layout, where it would be, and how it would function. Ronald saw one entrance where the girls would come in dirty from the street, while on another side he saw the girls leaving clean and healthy. This vision became Renacer, eventually growing into the feeding program and the children's ministry in Guararí.
Wednesday the team was able to participate in the Feeding Program. Being that there were so many of us, we divided into two groups, alternating serving at each location, while the others interacted with the people. This was the first time I was able to sit back and watch. We served many people that were high on crack; some even held their pipe in their hand as they received food. Ronald pointed out a girl to me, who may be 14, who is pregnant. I saw many children growing up in the same area that has plagued those who have gone before them. What has stood out in my mind the most was Ronald. He would hold these "untouchables", love on them, and talk to them. At one location, I noticed that he had disappeared. Then I saw him walking up the hill clutching a poorly dressed black girl next to him. He sought out and brought her to the table, from the bridge that she lived under with her baby. This man's heart is bigger than all of Costa Rica.
Thursday was our last day with the girls, so for our craft we made a large scrapbook with them to keep pictures of the week. That night the girls put on two mimes for us; the first depicted the backgrounds from whence they have come and the other depicted the strength that they have together against temptation. Joselyn was one of the girls with whom I developed a relationship. She had been there three days when I got there on Monday. She was also the youngest—12. During the first mime, one of the girls, Jennifer, depicted prostitution. Joselyn leans over to me and tells me that she used to "play" Jennifer's part. She tells me that she ran away from home when she was 10. As she lived on the streets, she began to sell drugs to be able to eat. After a short while she began to work in a bar and then she danced in the bar. From here she decided she could make a lot of money if she stood on the street corner. So she did. But she felt ugly inside and decided she didn't want to live that way anymore and so three days before she came to Renacer and began a new life. Praise God!
Later that night Joselyn came up to me. She sat down and began to squirm in her chair on the verge of tears. What should have taken about 20 seconds to say took about 3 minutes. Throughout the week, there would be times when I couldn't understand her because she would talk so fast. She would get frustrated with me and would tell me that "me caes mal" (Literally, "You fall bad to me" or I don't like you). I always figured that she was joking around and never took her too seriously. And so as she sat there she told me that even though she had told me that throughout the week, it was a "mentira"—a lie. The truth was, she told me, was that she loved me a lot and would be very sad when we left tomorrow. I reminded her that I would not be leaving Costa Rica and hoped to return to Renacer on a regular basis and she better be there, because if she wasn't, to her I would have to say "me caes mal." She promised she would be.
Everything I've been able to be involved in has been very natural to me. It's been an easy transition—language has been challenging, but it's coming along. Thank you for all your continued prayer, here are some more specific ways you can pray:
· Pray for Renacer. That the girls would continue to stand strong together and progress through the program and come into a knowledge of Jesus Christ.
· Pray for the Feeding Program. That it would continue to be successful and God would continue to rescue His children from the street.
· Pray for my time. This week I'm trying to figure out what ministries I can be involved in this fall, pray that I might know where I can be most useful.
· Pray for my finances. Thank you so much for supporting me, but continue to pray that more support would come in; I only have about half my year raised.
· Pray for me. That I would continue to listen to what God is teaching me while I'm here in Costa Rica, for my time here and what He wants me to do with my life as a whole.
Again thank you for your support. I will be getting some pictures posted on the web and I'll update you as soon as that happens. If you have any specific questions for me, or would like to know how you can support any of the above ministries, drop me an email and I'll be glad to tell you how that can be done. If you wish to not receive these updates, just send me an email with REMOVE FROM LIST in the subject line..
Grace and Peace.