CostaRica

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Compañeros de Clase (from left to right back to front): David Isabelli, Steve McCarthy, David Godzwa, Jeremiah Campbell, Margot Soto, Mecbelle Matarrita, Karen Suarez

In just two short days, we say goodbye once again to CINCEL, the A/G language institute in Latin America. As we draw closer to that time of closure I felt it appropriate to pass along what I had shared with our fellow classmates in chapel this past Tuesday. I hope you enjoy it.

As many of you know, this marks our last week here at CINCEL. I thought it appropriate therefore to take these first few moments to say thanks to several who have made these six weeks possible:

First of all, thank you Don and Jacquie for allowing us to come and setting everything in order to make this refresher course possible. Thank you as well to Steve and Jill McCarthy. Although they are a few years our junior, they have been a great big brother and sister to us during our time here in Costa Rica. Thanks as well to my “compañeros de clase.” (see picture above) Gracias por crearme espacio entre ustedes y permetirme compartir en su interacciones. And to all who have enriched our short six weeks, thank you for being a part of our experience.

Of course this leaves me with the problem deciding what thought to leave with such wonderful people. As I was thinking about what to share, I kept coming back to the back to the book of Philippians, a book written by the apostle Paul to a truly wonderful group of people. Aside from being the place of Paul’s first Macedonian convert and the site of the great earthquake that released him from prison and brought his jailer to his knees, Philippi was home to a church which Paul describes as having a “partnership with him in the gospel,” a church that had labored alongside him and had also contributed to meet his personal needs.

As he choose which words to leave with the Philippians, he writes, in Philippians 2:12, “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling…” Of course, this direction leaves us asking, “What does it mean to work our our salvation?”

As a missionary, I know what I want it to mean. I want it to mean what Jesus said to the rich young ruler in Luke 18: “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” How many of us here today can say, “Been there, done that?” It seems to me sometimes that our goal as a family is to whittle our possessions down to what airlines will allow on board without charging extra fees.

Nevertheless, we come to find that “work our your salvation” signifies much more than simply giving away possessions or even leaving behind friends and family. It means getting to the point where, as Oswald Chambers says, our right to ourselves is completely annihilated, and at the Philippians level, at our level, that may have to do more with what is on the inside than what is on the outside. For instance, we can give away our library and keep our know-it-all attitude. We can sell off our collections and keep our pride. We can leave our homes and still wall ourselves off from others.

That is why I believe that Paul’s statement “work out your salvation” appears in the context of interpersonal relationships. He shows us the way in which we “work out our salvation” in Philippians 2:2-4:

…by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others

When I read this, there are times that I ask, “Lord, can we go back to the sell everything lesson?” It’s so hard to be like-minded especially when we’re different. Other times, I try to make a deal. I’ll say, “OK, I’ll be like-minded, as long as the others agree with my point of view,” but verse 4 stops my bartering before it can start, “Each of you should look not only to your own interests…”

But just when we feel like we are left gasping for breath, ready to complain to God about the difficult rule that he has left us to follow we find that Paul’s words were not a law to be obeyed, but rather an outflow of the power of the Gospel working within us.

As we read the entire passage, we see, first of all, the conditions in which we work out our salvation:

  • encouragement from being united with Christ
  • comfort from his love
  • fellowship with the Spirit
  • tenderness and compassion

All of these we have received in our relationship in Christ and are at work in us as we interact with those who are around us. They are the conditions which provide the environment in which we are to work out our salvation.

Second, we see that God has shown us a model of “worked-out” salvation in his Son, Jesus Christ:

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

… and we find that it His sacrifice was not in vain as we continue reading:

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

So often we lift this passage out of context, using it to explain the mystery of Christ’s existence here on earth, but Paul intended it not as a theology to be analyzed but as a pattern to follow. As we take this passage as Paul had intended it, though, we find that we who share in Christ’s humility will also someday share in his glory.

Still, as if the conditions in which we work out our salvation and the model that God has given us through Jesus were not enough, verse 13 shows us that he is also our help in working out our salvation: “for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” In fact, I like how this relayed to us in the New International Version in Spanish which translated loosely says, “for God is He who produces in you both the “want to” as well as the “do” so that His will is accomplished.” God has not left us alone in our work. His power is working through us that we might not fail in what He has called us to do.

Therefore, as we go, we want to encourage you to continue to work out your salvation both now and as we go our separate ways by being like minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and in purpose. This way we might truly fulfill God’s desire for us and we might validate the message that we share being “blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe.”

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Life in San José is expensive, and nothing seems as acutely expensive as the food. Going grocery shopping for the first time gave us an extreme case of sticker shock, and the problem naturally compounds itself because, eventually, we would have to eat again. Thankfully, we found out about the Feria in Guadalupe.

The feria is a Saturday morning ritual in San José. “Ticos” are keenly aware of the high supermarket prices. Because of it, they routinely skip the produce aisle and bring their shopping lists and the carts to the feria. The lot, vacant during the week, is teeming with life from early in the morning to late in the afternoon. There are vendors by the dozens selling fruits and vegetables, cheeses and baked goods, all at prices below grocery store “ofertas.”

Our trip began at 7:30 with the 10 minute taxi trip from our house in San Pedro north to the feria site. We sat down to a traditional Costa Rican breakfast, complete with “gallo pinto” and coffee before heading to the stalls.  Green peppers at 40 cents a piece, strawberries at a $1.00 a pound and granadas at 20 cents a piece were some of the bargains we found. Even better, we were through with our shopping by 9:30, early enough to enjoy the Saturday at home.

Life continues to be expensive in Costa Rica, but fortunately, when it comes to produce, we’ve found a repreive and a possible Saturday morning tradition for the few weeks that remain in our stay in Costa Rica.

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During our itineration we drove nearly 50,000 miles. We’d driven from Kansas City, MO to Savannah, GA and from Erie, PA to Orlando, FL. With all of that driving, I guess you could say that we had gotten used to living out of our car. It had driven us through the winter snow the spring floods and the summer heat. Needless to say, moving to Costa Rica and leaving our car behind has been quite a change of pace.

Instead of racking up miles behind the wheel, we’re logging kilometers with our feet. Instead of loading up the kids in the van to head to the store, we’re busy learning which buses will get us there. Instead of hopping into the car to get to service, we’re hailing a cab. Some days, things go smoothly: the bus is on time and there are seats available, the cabs are plentiful. Other days, like this past Friday, it’s a bit more difficult: the bus arrives off schedule and the seating is standing room only, the cabs are occupied.

On the positive side, however, the lack of a car is helping us work our way out of the sedentary lifestyle that itineration can impose. Also, the change to public transportation has pushed us into interactions we’d otherwise not have. Take our encounter with Jimmy, for example. Not only was I able to share the gospel in our 20 minute taxi ride with him, I was also able to introduce him to the pastor friend that we were visiting that evening, linking him with a Bible-believing congregation in his own section of the city.

So things have changed. Drive-thrus are no longer an option, and there’s not even one travel mug in my cabinet, but life does go on for us in Costa Rica, in some ways for the better.

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At least we can say we have quiet neighbors...

By now, you´ve probably read our most recent newletter recording the next steps that we will be taking having departed from the States. Knowing our current location, in here in San José, you may have asked, “Why Costa Rica? Why travel thousands of miles past your destination when your calling would seem to take you elsewhere, especially after already having served for three years in Mexico?” As we were deciding whether or not to take this six-week refresher course, I found myself asking the same questions, and here are some of the answers that I arrived at:

  1. Because Costa Rica is the where CINCEL is located.

    Quite simply, if as A/G missionaries, we desire to study the Spanish language, CINCEL, the Spanish language institute of Assemblies of God World Missions in Costa Rica is the place to do it. It is the only A/G facility of its kind in all of Latin America. But more than that, the staff faculty and facilities are designed so that we can successfully immerse ourselves into the study and practice of the Spanish language. We are corrected and challenged in ways that we would be unable to attain in another setting, especially in Mexico, where, out of politeness or respect, we might get stuck in bad habits.

  2. Because clear communication is essential to what we do as missionaries.

    With a calling to “preach the Word”, we carry a burden to communicate clearly God´s message, calling a people, whose language is not our own, into reconciliation with Him. In order to do this we must dedicate ourselves to a profound study of the language, doing our best to ensure that we do not serve to confuse what God has called us to make clear.

  3. Because competence builds confidence.

    As we move out to do God´s work, there is a need to convey with confidence the message that we communicate. If we are more concerned with the language than we are the message, our self-doubt about how we say what we are trying to say may communicate to our listeners an uncertainty about the actual message that we share. An uneasiness about our competence in the language may even tempt us to keep our mouths shut when the need or the Spirit would have us do otherwise. Confidence, therefore, so that we might boldy declare our message can be built as we gain a competence in the language through our studies here.

  4. Because we work better together

    In a context like CINCEL, where A/G missionaries gather from all over Latin America, we find incredible opportunities to mix with other missionaries, to exchange our burdens and ideas with one another, and to sharpen one another as we study together. For example, I sat with David Isabelli, a fellow missionary to Mexico, recently during a break in the library. He shared with me insight into several ministry ideas that I had contemplated incorporating when we returned to Mérida. Without this opportunity, I might not have been able to have this interaction.

So as we move through these six weeks in Costa Rica, we’re looking forward to maximizing these benefits, understanding that because of them, we’ll be better missionaries.

We had the opportunity to travel to Tortuguero last weekend to celebrate Kelly’s 30 something birthday. While we were on the trip, we realized that, besides the green sea turtles, there are other natural wonders that grow to become quite large. Spiders were certainly in that category as was this elephant beetle. Take a look at Kelly’s hand in the video if you think this is just an extreme close up!


The sidewalks are empty. The shopping centers are deserted. There is an eerie silence in the streets. No, this is not a city-wide disaster drill, we’re watching the World Cup.

What is this you say? Well as you have noted in my previous post, soccer is not simply a sport, it is a way of life for many Costa Ricans specifically, and world sport fans in general. In fact, although baseball is America’s Game (and my favorite), soccer is truly the world’s sport. The World Cup is a tournament that takes place each 4 years, in which one country wins the right to be the world’s best in the world’s biggest pastime. 32 teams have classified in the years preceding this tournament and have won the opportunity to play for the title. The US is in it, and the Costa Ricans, having beaten the US last year in order to receive their classification have also entered into the tournament.

So what is this baseball loving north American supposed to do? Well, go out an buy a jersey and root for the home team of course! (Fortunately Costa Rica doesn’t come up against the US or Mexico in this round.) As a school, we watched the defeat of Costa Rica 3-2 against Germany last Friday, and we rooted and booed with the rest of the country glued to their TV sets. I realized, of course, that my Spanish wasn’t getting much better in the process, aside from being able to practice rolling my r’s with the announcers, but something happened in the process that was more profound than the conjugation of verbs. As I sat side-by-side with Ruddy Pizarro and his brother, sharing one of their passions, I found myself identifying just a little bit more with the culture that God has called us to serve and moving closer to the incarnational model of ministry that Christ modeled for us. And, who knows, although Spanish grammar is on the schedule, 8:00 AM tomorrow may just find us seated around another game as Costa Rica takes on Ecuador.

For more on the World Cup ’06 through the eyes of missionaries, Jim Cottrill, the man with his finger on the pulse of evangelical missionary bloggers at www.missionary-blogs.com, has posted some great highlights, including a World Cup Prayer Guide.

Photo credits: CLF (2006). Predator Absolute & Teamgeist. Retrieved from: http://www.flickr.com/photos/clf/85998174/

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Well you can’t tell from the picture, but this week found Jonathan sick for the third time in 2 weeks. This time with a fever. We are now in the start of the rainy season here, and like what happens in the States during the onset of winter, it seems like people come down with sicknesses during this time of year in Costa Rica.

With the kids in the Kinder program here at CINCEL it has been quite a ride. The ladies are doing there best to keep up, but sickness has taken hold of many as the children pass germs more readily because of the need to stay indoors. Today, the day Jonathan went back, three were sent home with fevers or symptoms of infection. So pray, please, for the kidos. When they’re down it really adds to the pressure of learning and adapting to the language/culture.

Now of course with sickness comes the great variety of home remedies, and Costa Ricans have an abundance. (One that was prescribe for the stomach flu that hit last week was a rice/cinnamon drink.) Now one home remedy that most believe in is the use of a tepid bath to bring down a high temperature. The only problem is that, here, bathtubs are almost as scarce as dish washers!

So what is one to do with a sick child, and no tub in which to give a bath. Well, if you are a missionary, you improvise! We hauled 11 action packers full of clothes and household stuff to Costa Rica. Their size and shape made them perfect for the taking on the plane with us, but the one-piece plastic construction also makes for a great substitute for a tub for a toddler with a temperature among other things. (Fellow missionary Kevin Stewart used one of his for a bassinet for his newborn.) So, the night before last, Jonathan got one of only a handful of baths in Costa Rica. Only this time his plastic tub also doubles as a suitcase.

That brings me to the last part of the post. Why are bath tubs so scarce here in Costa Rica? Well, the first answer that I received to that question was that it was because they were so expensive. However, is it because they are scarce that they are expensive, or is it because they are expensive that they are scarce? (If that confused you email me and I’ll explain that subtlety.) So in probing deeper, Kelly found that the Costa Ricans believe in taking cold showers. They feel that the cold shower helps their skin to stay younger, and helps their breathing as well. (One teacher explained that deep breath that one takes in when entering the cold stream is good for the lungs.) In fact, missionary Jon Dalahger when hosting a building team had to have electric shower heads installed in homes where the construction workers would be housed because none of the homes in that area had hot water tanks. So, according to one theory, since tubs are usually for taking baths in hot water, the fact that Ticos shower in cold water made the tub unnecessary.

So, if you are planning trip to Costa Rica, don’t assume your hotel will have a tub, or hot water for that matter, and if you are traveling with the kids, you may be surprised at how versatile your luggage can be.

Update: 6/7/2006 Jim Cottril has included this post in his compilation of missionaries blogging about culture on Missionary Blog Watch Check out his comments and the other posts that he has included.

As I had mentioned in a previous post, the country of Costa Rica has only two seasons, the wet and the dry seasons. We have enjoyed about 3 months now of dry sunny weather, but for the past week except for yesterday, it has rained every day. The picture above is a view of the storm clouds rolling in once again.

It’s funny how the changes in the weather can bring about a thoughtful attitude, but activity in the blogsphere has helped push me into a pensive mood as well. A post written by Amy Maxwell has caused me to think a bit about our lives as Christians, and how we view our relationship with God. Her question was a question about how we pray. Amy, along with her husband Joel, is now in the process of a personal storm of trying to pay off the debt of a failed business, and she asked:

Should we pray for sunny days? Praise God IN the storm? Praise God DESPITE the storm? Praise God FOR the storm?

This isn?t just a word game. These are drastically different ways of looking at and dealing with life.

It struck me as an interesting question, and many of us, out of our experiences or studies would be able to respond stating the method we feel that is correct or that more suits our personal style. However, I felt compelled to respond in a different way:

My opinion is that, for questions like these, it is best to turn to the prayer book of the Bible, Psalms. In it we see all kinds of prayers that may not fit with our personal style. There are prayers of questioning, prayers of frustration, and prayers asking for God to bring judgment. Also, there are prayers of praise and prayers that ask for God?s blessing.

What does this teach us? That there are some prayers that are better and some that are worse? I think no. (Perhaps there are some that come from a more mature understanding of God?s ways.) But I think that the important point that Psalms makes is that we should pray. Praise in the good and bad. Pray for God?s peace and blessing, and sometimes just pray in such a way that we spill out everything that is in us before Him.

Sometimes what comes out won?t be pretty, but in all of our laughing and crying, praising and (perhaps) cursing, words of faith and frustration, I believe that God is working something out in us through His Spirit, and we are telling Him that He is more than a heavenly vending machine. He is our perfect, heavenly Father. And, who knows, when we are done, maybe He?ll have time to say something to us.

You see, I feel that we as Christians spend so much time on how we should pray that we fail to actually take time to pray. This is evident even in some of the new, and might I say, well though out missionary blogs that have popped up on missionary-blogs.com. Both The M Blog in this post on Trinitarian Theology and RTBM in “Returning to Biblical Missions” question our methodologies and challenge us to take a new look at our dependence on the Spirit. How better to do this but to bend our knees in prayer?

Who knows, maybe this post was something I needed to write simply to air out some thoughts, but perhaps this question of this mother of 2 in Springfield and the thoughts of two veteran missionaries will do what it did to me: reignite a desire to pray!

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Have you ever eaten a flower before? (No, I’m not talking about the couple of dandelions that you may have swallowed as a child) Well we just had some for lunch!

Here in Costa Rica, a white flower that grows on the Itabo tree (shown in the large photo) is now in bloom, and, on many street corners and country roads, one can see vendors selling bunches of these. Known as “The Flower of the Dead” in Nicaragua, this flower is a regular meal here in Costa Rica.

Our friend Mayra had us get some from the property of CINCEL in order to make what is shown in the inset picture. The green, bitter part is removed, and then the flower is boiled with potatoes before frying with eggs, onions, some pepper, and salt to taste. The resulting mixture is then placed over tortillas in order to make a delicious “gallo”, or snack served over a corn tortilla.

Reactions were mixed here in the household. I enjoyed the meal, eating four of the gallos de itabo. Kelly and Rebekah as well commented that the food was delicious. Jonathan ate all of his, without asking for seconds and Joseph had to be told to finish. All in all, I would rate it a success but designed for more mature taste buds.

Interested in seeing some other interesting dishes? Head on over to missionary-blogs.com to take a look at The Kautz Family Blog’s enty: “La-la-la Lengua

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Cinco de Mayo, the holiday celebration that com- memorates the Mexican victory during of the Battle of Puebla, has passed without even the thought of a Mariachi band as pictured in the post. In fact, here in Costa Rica, we had let the day slip until Anthony Scoma, a pastor friend from Texas reminded us. (BTW, Anthony, the Yankees won last night. It wasn’t pretty, but they won!)

Still, we didn’t let the day pass without celebrating. We had the opportunity to celebrate with a Tico (Costa Rican) family who had invited us over for a cafecito. A cafecito is a light meal that takes place as early as 3:00 PM and as late as 5:00 PM, in which there are snacks, sandwiches, and some sweets, and of course, coffee! We had a wonderful time speaking in Spanish for 4 hours as the kids played through the house. Times like these help us realize how far we have come since arriving in Costa Rica back in August of last year.

It is a satisfying thing really. Language school is a transition time, and it is easy to focus on the field so much that we fail to identify with the culture and the people here in Costa Rica. We are glad to have been a part of the lives of so many Ticos, who through their generosity have welcomed us into their lives. The sad thing about it all is that just as we have advanced in our language skills to the point that we the opportunity to form relationships with others, we are looking forward to leaving Costa Rica in 3 short months. Still, we’ll choose to enjoy the time and the relationships that we have.

Update: 5-07-2006 Andy Raatz A/G Missionary to Moldova has some thoughts on transition here

Photo Credits: Java Cafe (2006). Mariachi Dreams. Retrieved 05/06/2006 from http://www.flickr.com/photo_zoom.gne?id=93107466&size=m

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