Costa Rica

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It was a bit surreal for us to walk the streets of Los Yoses, San José, Costa Rica, equipped with backpacks and umbrellas, on our way to CINCEL, where, almost 18 years prior, we began our study of the language and culture of Latin America. As we crossed the familiar streets, I caught myself looking for the hand of one of our children, a habit of mine in those days, as our MKs, then 6 and under, would accompany us as we walked most everywhere we went. But this time was different. This time we weren’t the students. This time we were the facilitators.

Sharing during chapel was only one of the several meaningful interactions that we had during our time at CINCEL.

Even so, we couldn’t help but be a bit nostalgic amidst the sights, sounds, and smells of the place that had been our family home for nearly a year in 2005 and 2006. The halls had been freshly painted and the furniture was rearranged, but the place felt the same: we could feel the same anticipation of a missionary career taking shape, the same excitement of new experiences and discoveries, and the same uncertainty in the face of the challenge of cultural adaptation.

Language school is a challenging time. For these ministry professionals, it can feel like a big step backward. They’ve been called, commissioned, and then affirmed by dozens of churches and individuals who have agreed to their support, only to find, after a flight of a few hours, they’re unable to express themselves in the language of the people to whom they hope to minister. The pressure to perform is high, frustrations abound, and tears are not uncommon as these new missionaries struggle to acquire the ability to function as foreigners in this foreign context.

We had been officially invited to CINCEL, the LAC Language and Cultural Training Center, to fulfill our responsibilities as board members and teach a session in missiology to the 18 missionary units studying there, but we were also there to offer our encouragement. During our week of interaction, we prayed with them and for them during their devotionals. We met with them over meals and coffee and heard their stories. We answered their questions and mitigated some of their concerns. But, more than anything, I think we served as a testimony of what God can do when we diligently submit ourselves to the process of transformation.

As we spoke to the students during Spanish chapel, we shared about Moses’ encounter with God at the burning bush and encouraged them to believe that the same God who gave human beings their mouths (Exodus 4:11) was able to shape them into his witnesses in the countries where they hope to serve. How could we be so confident? He had already done that work in us, despite myriad difficulties along the way. We’re glad for your support which allowed us this opportunity to retrace our steps so that others could benefit from our experience.

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As we have been here in Costa Rica, we have been blessed to pick up where we left off with some of our old friends. We´ve had the chance to catch up with former teachers, language helpers, and missionaries alike. But none of our encounters have been as sweet as the blessing that we received two days ago.

Rosa Maria Villalobos or ¨Rosita¨ as we called her, was the teacher who helped me through my cultural integration project. As we were here in 2005-06 she was caring for her ailing husband. His condition was a frequent topic of prayer and concern during our classes and chapels. He had been stricken with a brain tumor and had been given a terrible prognosis. Even after an operation in Mexico, he was told that the cancer had metastasized and invaded his body. In fact, as late as last month, we had been told that the medicine that he had been taking and the surgery that he had undergone had left him unable to even eat.

Imagine our surprise, however, when we had been told the he had completely recovered! Rosita visited the school this last Wednesday when Kelly overheard her speaking to one of the other employees about her husband´s condition. Knowing that we had been praying for him, Kelly had her come and tell me the news. According to the most recent scans, the cancer, which the doctors had said had spread through his body, was gone! He was recovering rapidly and was regaining the use of his jaw which had been disabled because of the operation. In fact, they had planned to treat the weakened muscles with Botox which will not only strengthen his face, but leaving him looking younger as well! The only further treatment recommended at the time was that he was to chew gum in order to continue to excercise the muscles needed to chew his food.

So rejoice with us as we celebrate this answer to prayer. I hope that it serves as an encouragement to you that the God that we serve is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

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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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Well even though I have missed video blogging week, as mentioned on I thought it was appropriate to put up a video of another visit a volcano, since we seem to be keeping a pretty good catalog of trips to these wonders of nature which you can visit here (Irazú) and here (Arenal).

The day below Poas, which sits above the central valley of Costa Rica, was sunny and bright. But when we reached the park entrance, we were told that the crater was completely clouded over, and at the time of the day that we were visiting, probably wouldn’t be visible. However, with Kelly’s family visiting, and the remembrance of 2 other failed attempts to view the second largest volcanic crater in the world, we were determined to try.

When we arrived, it was as we were told. All we could see was a wall of clouds. But almost as an answer to prayer, the clouds parted, and we were able to see Poas in all of its magnificence. Allow us to show you. Click on the player above to view a Google video file of the appearance of this, one of the most frequented tourist sites in Costa Rica. Note: What looks to be the lake in the center of the video is the principal crater.

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Coffee is more than a morning beverage here in Costa Rica. It is the product that transformed this country into what it is today. In the 1800s when coffee was first brought to Costa Rica, this country was a small, remote, unimportant part of the Spanish Empire. But when coffee was introduced, the people found that the product flourished in the rich volcanic soil and high altitudes that were readily available.

The superior product soon created a demand, and the Costa Rican government, wanting to speed production, provided incentives for farmers to begin to cultivate coffee. Not only did this bring about the Costa Rican coffee industry that is know world-wide today, but it also created a strong, independent middle-class that has hosted the 2nd oldest democracy on the continent. (US has the oldest.) For Costa Rica, coffee truly is the “bean of gold.”

The students and faculty of CINCEL recently took a trip to Britt, one of the most recognized producers of coffee here in Costa Rica, in order to gain a bit more appreciation for this wonderful drink that has played a large role in the shaping the Costa Rican culture.

Click on the picture to the left, or here to view the photos of the tour.

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The 10th Annual Festival of the Lights was held in downtown San Jose this past Saturday. Knowing that this was an event that families travel from miles around in order to see, we felt it worth 15 minute trip to experience, and wow, what an experience!

By the time that we made it to our spot, about 15 minutes before the 6:00 start time, both sides of the street were packed. We had to pick our way through the crowd in order to find a spot to stand. Few were available but we were able to fall into line with some very gracious families. In, fact. One group gave Rebekah a front row seat while others helped us by giving us water and catching candy for Jonathan and Joseph. We had planned to sit with another missionary family, but we were unable to find them. The funny thing is that we found out later that we were probably only a matter of yards from them, but unable to reach them through the sea of people

The parade started promptly on time, around 6:45, and after one group filed by, it ground to a halt. It stayed that way for another half hour as a generator had to be replaced in one of the floats. After the repairs, the parade started rolling, and it was a sight to behold. I’ve added some pictures in order to convey the idea. Unfortunately, our camera doesn’t do the best in the dark. Still, click here or on the picture in this post to view the shots we were able to capture.

We made it back to our apartment around 9:30 exhausted, sore, and ready for bed, but certainly enriched by the experience that we had standing shoulder to shoulder sharing a moment with the culture to which God has called us!

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Many of us would be able to finish that verse from the book of Zechariah from memory, and it is a comforting thought that this task of saving mankind has not been left to human devices. Of course, many of us draw strength from a much more earthly source of power as we begin our mornings. That morning motivator, coffee, is in abundance here in Costa Rica, and they don’t just sell it here they grow it here.

We recently had a chance to take a side trip to the Tres Generaciones coffee plantation, and I had a chance to snap some pictures. Click on the picture to take your own tour and sample the latest feature to our website, photo albums! Hopefully, you’ll never take that morning cup for granted again!

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