The following post is from the very first day I served with an incredible group of people (about 60 of the most loving human beings you can find) in Costa Rica this past summer through North Point Community Church’s GlobalX mission program. I still vividly remember shoving these words quickly into my iPhone notes section at around midnight in our hotel room. The 8 days we spent there were the best of my life. I hope you enjoy this little slice of it. To read other student blog posts from the trip, go to http://www.costaricaio.com/blog/
The day started with a bang as my iPhone blared “Wake” by Hillsong United and buzzed everyone in room 1102 awake. Filled with eagerness and a hefty serving of exhaustion, we threw on clothes for the excitement that was our very first service day. After all, this was the reason we came here…to change the world through the hearts of others in the name of Jesus Christ. After reading a Jesus Calling devotion to get ourselves in the zone, we headed out to breakfast. I can tell you this- the lure of more Costa Rican coffee was definitely a motivation as we ran up the endless flights up stairs to get there. The view of the mountains is always worth it though- and so were the potatoes. During breakfast, we were treated to a devotion by one of the students- Lauren Reamer. She did amazing. We walked out inspired and ready to go. For me personally, I went to The Hope Center. We left at 8:20AM with hope already in our hearts- not just for the children to get something out of it, but that by these small acts of kindness we may further spread the love of Jesus Christ. My team of 15 was so awesome. I remember when we pulled up to the Hope Center, I wasn’t expecting to see such a protective barrier. A giant wall with barbed wire at the top met my eyes immediately. We entered though a gate. In fact, as we were driving there through the heart breaking depressed areas, most houses had bars over them for safety. As an American, we tend to take simply walking our dogs or picking up the mail from the driveway for granted. It’s not like that here. Life is at risk. Peering down the streets, I tried to imagine myself as a scared and lonely child roaming them…it’s unsettling. It made me feel an even greater sensation of anxiousness as we arrived. I wanted to see these children and figure out what I could do to make their lives, if but for a minute or two, a little bit brighter- using the light The Holy Spirit gives. Once safely in the gates, we had a tour through the center. It’s small compared to the other centers. There’s a cafeteria, a temple, and a little outdoor area where lots of soccer and football were to be played later. We split off into teams- one was to work on the wall outside and the other was to paint tiles for the temple. I was to paint tiles first, which I actually really enjoyed. We have about 500 to do and we finished about 100 or more today. Squinting in the sunlight with my paintbrush, I remember watching those who were working on the outer wall. I give some serious props to them because they were working so hard to clean that wall. Eventually they painted it green- making the place look even more “hopeful” on the outside. Meanwhile, once my group got the tiles painted, the real struggle was putting them back up into the ceiling. I was the “tile go-getter” who sought the most suitable tile (actually because of the way the ceiling was, the sizes actually were really different in many spots- by the end I felt like quite the expert in terms of which tile fit where) to give to the brave boy on the shaky latter. Soon, kids started to arrive. Let the Spanish speaking begin. Throughout the day, I believe that we all as a group became much more comfortable with communicating with the kids. I love how the kids were so open in trying to understand our Spanglish, especially at the beginning. Their smiles made me smile. The ones that weren’t made my heart sink. But that’s why we are here- to give them the tender love and care they so desperately need. While we interacted with the kids (duck duck goose in Spanish was fun!) and continued to put up tiles, the other group worked hard in the kitchen with the incredible women who make amazing food for these 200 kids every single day. Their dedication and work ethic is so inspiring. Hoping to give them some relief, the group helped serve the food to the hoards of kids that began pouring in around lunch time. There were children all the way from babies to 9 and 10 year olds. Seeing their faces gave us so much joy and excitement- along with some nerves. It was pretty chaotic with that many swarming the place. After the rush subsided, it was our time to eat lunch. As if they already hadn’t done enough, the ladies served US one of the best lunches I’ve ever had in my life. We feasted on delicious home made chicken enchiladas and rice accompanied by fresh salad and plantains. Some juicy watermelon followed. After lunch, we continued in our work and started to prepare the workshops for the afternoon when the kids got out of school. My workshop was coloring pictures and another one was painting. But despite the chaos of the arts and crafts areas, the epicenter of insanity was definitely outside where the children played sports with the boys. And they did not play easy. I could hear the chorus of shouts, laughter, and pounding feet clearly from inside the cafeteria where we colored. But the best part of the whole experience for me was coloring with a little girl named Abigail. She was an excellent artist in terms of staying in the lines and she and I colored pictures together. I would always ask “¿Que color?” (What color) and point to different sections. She was very particular about them. It was with her that I really started to get the hang of speaking Spanish naturally. I talked to so many children in such a short time span that by the end, Spanish was first in my head in conversation, not English. I had to adjust in the hotel. However, in regards to Abigail again, I met her mother. Her mother worked in the kitchen. I loved talking to her. Seeing the look in her eyes as she watched us color and show her the finished product gave her great joy. Her happiness was contagious and I felt like maybe I was doing the thing she so wanted to do with her daughter but didn’t have time. Speaking in Spanish to her was heart warming. We talked about siblings and her other children and how her other daughter’s Quinceanera was all pink and so was my sweet sixteen. She showed me pictures and I don’t know why, but I treasured that moment so much. It was like the language didn’t matter. I love how God has the power to break down any barrier- especially language ones. I am looking forward to seeing how God uses us to break down even more barriers this week. The Holy Spirit is very much at work within us all. Costa Rica has a lot more in store and we are all hungry for more.
And yes- looking back now…after experiencing it all…God broke down so many barriers that week. I had never felt so free and alive before. Many heart warming and heart shattering things were witnessed throughout the week. But one thing that I won’t forget is the look in all of their eyes. The kids would meet your attempts to help with such love. In fact, everyone we met was so incredibly loving. Despite difficulties in their lives, they were all just so happy (the people of Costa Rica). I remember something from small group one night when a close friend of mine said “there’s happy, and then there’s Costa Rica happy.” The reason people in America are so unhappy when they literally have EVERYTHING and more is because we try to satisfy our hearts with things, not people. Or we have people, but then we try to get everything we can out of them until we realize that they are just as broken as us. They let us down. But God doesn’t. The empty void that is ever-present in our hearts can only be filled by The One who harbors a perfect love. Jesus. Sure, technology or picture likes can be satisfying temporarily. But if these things really were “enough” to satisfy our souls, then why are there so many suicides in this country….so many insecurities…and depression…if social media and clean water and shelter and food were ENOUGH, then why are these things still happening…just think about it. Those with nothing smile because they still have something (God). Those with everything frown because in reality they have nothing. Everything here on earth one day will cease to exist. But God will ALWAYS be here. Always there for you. In your deepest despair and in the best day of your life. So what’s the moral here? Try your best to live “Costa Rica happy” (happy despite the battles you are facing), not just happy in the times that are good. You’ll find that love is easier to expend, smiles are easier to put on, and that hope in Jesus Christ is the only hope worth holding onto.