Whew... I finally found a moment to sit down and write what has been on my heart and mind for the past few days. Costa Rica! We returned Sunday night from one of the best trips I have been on in my life! It was absolutely beautiful to see God working in another culture. It was like I was in a different era of life. One that was absent of the mundane things that we tend to focus on in America, and full of childlike joy and faith in Christ! But before I jump ahead of myself, I should start at the beginning.
A team of 25 of us left on Saturday, June 25th and headed to Orlando, FL in a charter bus. About an hour down the road, the AC stopped working (in hindsight this was just preparation for Costa Rica!) so we pulled over at a mall in Tallahassee to wait for another bus to come get us. The ladies loved the extra shopping time. :) We were back on the road after a couple hours and arrived in Orlando safely that night.
Sunday morning we were up and ready to go! There were six people on our team that had never flown before. So it was a lot of fun to watch them as they prepared themselves for this new experience. Two of our friends specifically, Brittany and Chris, were facing a lot of firsts on this trip - first time flying, in another country, and away from their one year old son, Asher. They were completely reliant upon the Lord for strength... like we all should be. :) Another friend of ours, Nick, enjoyed his first flight sitting next to total strangers. He was assigned a window seat, but a not-so-very-polite woman begged him for his window seat and too-nice-to-hurt-a-fly Nick, gave it to her. He was left with the happy middle.
It was only my 2nd trip in a plane, and I hadn't been on one in three years... so I was still like a tourist in the air taking way too many pictures of aerial shots and clouds. As we were flying over Costa Rica, I snapped a few pictures. I could not believe the view! So green and mountainous! Just beautiful.
Once we got off the plane and went through customs, etc. we were finally in the beautiful San Jose, Costa Rica. A bus from Pura Vida Missions was waiting for us when we arrived. We piled in like sardines and began our one hour trek to San Roman. I captured a few pictures of God's amazing creation along the way.
When we arrived to the missions house, it was time to get settled in! The girls piled in one room with 16 bunks. I snagged a bottom next to Brittany, and Kaide had the privilege of being above me, where I could lightly push up on her bed to wake her in the mornings. :) The girls room stayed pretty crammed, but sure did smell good most of the time! :)
After we got settled in, we met and enjoyed a late lunch with another team from Tallahassee, FL called CrossWild. What was for lunch, you ask? Rice and beans. And other yummy stuff. But this would not be the first and last time rice and beans would be making it's appearance. Oh no. We would enjoy this delicious side item for breakfast, lunch and dinner for the rest of the week. And I must admit, with a little hot sauce... I learned to love it. :)
After lunch we broke up into three groups and went out into the community to begin inviting kids to our VBS program that week. Little did I know that NO ONE would be able to speak English. I knew that this was a Spanish-speaking culture, but in America most everyone who speaks Spanish as their first language knows a little English to get by. It was not the case here. I was able to remember some of my Spanish from high school and learned some new phrases from our interpreters as well, "Hola! Venga al jugar en el iglesia." which translates, "Hello! Come play in the church." was one of them.
We were encouraged not to take photos the first couple days at our sites. So that we wouldn't get so distracted with our cameras and not focus on meeting and playing with the children. It was great advice. I was able to wear myself out running around with the kids! And I loved every minute of it. Our team went to two community sites every day - Pastoral and Linda Vista. Pastoral had more kids (most of the time) and tended to be a bit older in age (8+) with a larger playing area. Linda Vista had more poverty, younger children (babies+) and most of the time we played in the small wooden church (with no walls) due to the afternoon rainstorms. The great thing about Linda Vista was that the parents would come with their kids, which was a great way to share Christ with them as well. God really moved there and several came to know the Lord! It was amazing.
It was at Pastoral that I met one of the sweetest, most beautiful little girls... Kathya.
Kathya and I played every day. The only English word she said to me was, "sit down." Haha. Yet we got along great. There was one particular moment during the week that touched me deeply. Some kids would come up to us at the sites and want to take everything we had on us... sunglasses, hats, bracelets, etc. Kathya wasn't that type. Everyday I wore my red, soda tab bracelet that we've been selling at our church for a missions fundraiser. She pointed to it the first day I met her and said, "calindo!" which means "beautiful." When she introduced me to the other girls, she would point to my bracelet to show them it. It made me smile that she liked it. One day, I showed up to the site and Kathya was wearing her own version of my bracelet. It looked like a red shoelace with soda tabs threaded into it and tied on her wrist. It warmed my heart to see that this precious girl went home and made something that I wore everyday... and never once asked to have mine. She wasn't looking to take from me. On our last day together, I ended up giving her mine anyway. With it, I shared with her in the best way I could that as much as I love her, Jesus loves her even more.
It was at Linda Vista that I met another little friend... Belinda.
I never got to say goodbye to Belinda. Well, officially that is. The last time we hugged goodbye, she gave me a kiss and told me that she'd see me manana/tomorrow. But she never did come the final day. I was sad. But I'm guessing she probably had an examen en escuela. :) This little girl had the best laugh. She laughed at everything. Which in turn, made me laugh! And in the afternoons when it was often dreery and rainy... she was a bright spot. I am almost certain Belinda knew Jesus, her spirit was too sweet not to. I am praying that she grows to be a woman who loves the Lord, we need more Belinda smiles in the world. :)
On Friday afternoon, we left the missions site and drove two hours to a Volcano lodge. There we finished out our wonderful week with a two-day "vacation." At least, that's what it seemed. We visited the Hot Springs, stayed at a beautiful lodging facility (where we could FLUSH IT!), shopped downtown and went zip-lining. It was a blast! Part of me felt guilty that we could experience two drastically different worlds in Costa Rica. I feel like the missions part helped us see Costa Rica as it really is... the tourist spots are deceiving. But, the country is beautiful. The people are beautiful. And it was a privilege to spend time with the staff of Pura Vida Missions and come alongside them as they reach the San Ramon community with the gospel! We are already planning our next trip back. :)