Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Day 6 - Prodigal Son & Some Good News

We had a busy day yesterday and I didn't get a chance to post. There is quite a bit of routine to what is going on during the weekdays this week. VBS in the morning, prep work in the afternoon, and evangelistic worship gatherings in the evening.

VBS is running really well. One of the things I enjoy doing on mission trips is pushing people out of their comfort zones, and it is often the Christians from Costa Rica who have to stretch themselves. They have all the same timidness that we do about speaking, being in front of people, acting, leading singing, etc. I have continued saying to two or three of them at VBS, "Hey! I'll lead two English songs and then you lead two Spanish songs." Day 1 and 2 they looked at me like a deer in the headlights, but yesterday afternoon a bunch of them got together with a big group from our team and they were all practicing and teaching each other songs. This morning, I had told them that I wasn't going to help with the song leading because I knew they could handle it. And they did great. Hunter had gone on the trip before, and she took a lead role in getting the kids warmed up. The skits have all been great, and the children are loving all the booths. Carolina brought a bluetooth photo printer with her, a tripod, and some props for a photo booth. The little pictures we've been making of the children have been a huge hit.

Stacy and his merry men + Chelsea continue to do amazing work on the stage. Now they are ready to put down carpet, to stain it, and to do the trim work. The ramp on the right side turned out well.

During our break time today we took the group to an art marketplace downtown. Part of me loves going, but part of me gets irritated when some of the vendors try to rip me off. Even so, we all bought some nifty souvenirs and a few things I'm sure we will auction off later to raise money for future trips.

We've started coming a little earlier in the evenings before dinner back to the church building so we can sing together. It's been enjoyable. Tonight before dinner, we got all the ladies who have been cooking for us and sang to them "The Lord Bless You And Keep You." They were visibly touched.

Tonight was just fantastic. I had the privilege of speaking, and it was one of those occasions where I really liked the text I was preaching from (the Prodigal Son), and could just feel it was a significant event. I talked about the father and the two sons, and how both sons had been deceived by Satan in different ways, urging people to return home if they needed, and to welcome home those who have been far away. At the end of the sermon, a man came forward named Josue David. We took him to a back room to visit with him, and he was absolutely broken. He started gushing all kinds of things about his life and his deep desire to have hope and to be a better person and a better father. We were able to baptize him, and it was a very significant moment for everyone present. Very few dry eyes in the building.

Here's something I think is really cool: Some of our people met him while they were out door-knocking and passing out flyers about the VBS and evening Campaign. He talked to them, and they studied the Bible with him a little bit. Today he brought his boy to VBS and Carolina had the chance to talk to him and to give him the picture we printed of his son on a cute VBS-themed foam backing. He showed up tonight, was convicted in his heart by the message, and made a decision that he wanted to be a Christian. He said to us before we left tonight, "Next time when you return, you'll find me here." We told him that was our hope and our prayer.

Josue David was not someone they had been studying with before, and they had not even known him until the last day or so. They were only out distributing flyers because of the campaign, and they were having the campaign because our team made this trip. He came to the building for the first time because of the VBS, and in part because he was impressed with it, he showed up tonight. It feels really good to be able to say that because we made this trip, a person was saved tonight. We've had a great evening.

Tomorrow is our last day of VBS and the last night of the evangelistic campaign.

Monday, July 03, 2017

Day 4 - First day of VBS, the Evangelistic Campaign, and the disappearing-reappearing suitcase

Today was part of what I love most about organizing mission trips. There are months--in this case, years--of preparation all leading up to the time and place where you go. You make charts, plans, and assign tasks to a variety of people. Everyone does their part, and when the whole thing comes together, it is so much more than just the sum of the individual parts.

Our people had worked so hard creating backdrops and costumes for skits. Debbie had worked on scripts and had led rehearsals of the material. We tried learning some Spanish songs and decided who would do what in the various sections of the VBS rotation. But today, once we got it kicked off, it was so much fun to watch it all work.

I knew it was great when I saw the kids start engaging the skit actors, laughing at our "sheep" and Kailani, our wolf (defeated by the shepherd). When our shepherd left his ninety-nine sheep to look for the one and started calling for it, all the Costa Rican children had seen it wander off and started shouting, "It's over there!" 

They loved the snacks, crafts, games, and reviews. I brought an enormous inflatable beach ball with us, which was a hit. In my wisdom and presence of mind, I invited our one asthmatic team member to be the one who blew it up. He did in fact, and it turned out great, but upon realizing what I had asked of him, I had a face palm kind of moment. 

I was talking to Ronald today and telling him I thought things were going well and I was very surprised to learn from him that this was the first time the church had ever tried a program resembling the one we put together. VBS programs are so common in the States, they can seem almost overdone. I had thought it strange when we were coordinating the trip with Ronald, I could tell he was having a hard time grasping what we had in mind with the VBS, but after today's conversation, it all made a lot more sense. I think this is one of the neat things about these kinds of trips, when our churches provide each other with fresh ideas and perspectives. Sometimes an idea that seems like old hat to one group might be something new and life-giving for another. The kids responded wonderfully, and I think the adults who are volunteering with us were really pleased with the program.

Stacy Blair and his crew are doing an absolutely phenomenal job on the stage in the auditorium. In one day they did a full tear down of the old stage and had a functional stage in place for tonight. It's super solid. All they really have to do on it at this point is the finishing of the aesthetics, but the structure is done. We used it tonight! One of the things I love about Central Americans is that they waste nothing. Ronald knew about a family who could use the wood from the old stage, so their demolition was very gentle. They removed all the old nails and preserved all the boards to prepare to deliver it to the family who will use it. 

As we got closer to the Gospel Meeting tonight, we decided it was time for Jake to make a trip to the airport to see about getting his luggage. Carolina had offered to call over there before they went. From a distance, I could see her waving her hands around as she was talking on the phone and I knew what was happening, and that I wouldn't have wanted to be on the receiving end of that phone call. She is not at all afraid to stand up for people and to expect results from people who are otherwise...how shall I say..."competence-challenged." When they hurried over to the airport, the bag was there waiting for them. Sometimes a little extra encouragement goes a long way. :-)

So now Jake is proudly displaying some Nashville Predators clothing. This is because he has incredible taste, and also because he has his clothing FINALLY. 

A couple of other things today I found touching. I learned that two of the ladies who are showing up and volunteering to cook all of our meals for us are riding buses to get here 1 hour 45 minutes each way. It was just really humbling to know they are going to so much trouble on our account. I was thanking one of the ladies who cooks tonight and she said, "We do it because in our hearts, we have great love for God and also great love for you."

The other was our speaker for the Gospel meeting. Many people responded well to the speaker. He was eloquent and passionate. He spoke about the lost coin, and God's great passion for seeking us out because we have value to him. As he was speaking, he said something I didn't quite follow about how when he preaches, it's as if God gives him a "new tongue." What I learned after the fact is that the rest of the time, he always stutters, but when he preaches, he never stutters. It was an interesting thing to learn about him, and he credits God with the help. 

Tomorrow through Thursday will be the same basic routine with VBS and work projects in the morning and Gospel Meetings in the evenings. But along the way I'm sure we'll continue to meet new people and have pleasant surprises. The team has all showed up on time and been well unified in the things we've been doing. An unexpected blessing for us has been two girls named Shannon and Acacia. They are ACU students who are living at Ronald's house with his family while they are doing a language immersion school here in Costa Rica. They are very sweet and have jumped right in and helped wonderfully. I'm looking forward to getting to know them better this week, too.

You can be praying about one of the ladies who responded to the sermon tonight. She is very interested in church, and is requesting some personal Bible study. Ronald is going to work out a time with her and has asked me to accompany him when he goes. I hope it comes together, and I'm looking forward to it. 

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Day 3 - Church, Soccer, and Socializing

This was a really nice day. The weather down here continues to be very moderate and beautiful, mostly in the 70s. Our first activity this morning was going to church. Christians in Desamparados and in Central America generally are all "huggers." We got to greet a lot of the church members as they arrived.

The worship service lasted about 2 hours. Ronald did a nice job of setting up the week. It was clear they had been preparing for our visit, and he preached on the parable of the sower, anticipating the four daily emphases for our Pescadores de Hombres "Fishers of Men" theme. It was especially encouraging that they had two respond today, wanting to be baptized: a man named Gabriel and a woman named Jovana. They invite all the members to come up to the front who want to take pictures or video clips. The church surrounds the baptismal pool, which is located for them in front of the stage in an (unheated) hot tub-type setup. They had been studying with members of the church for several weeks. They allowed me to say a prayer of blessing for them after their baptism, which was an honor for me to get to do.

For lunch, we had invited the whole congregation to join us. In my own experiences, "free lunch" is always a great way to boost attendance, and I think it probably gave them a little boost this morning. We were spread out all over the place, and it gave us some opportunity to talk with the christians more.

Following lunch we changed clothes and headed to an athletic center that has a number of soccer fields to rent. They were all astro turf and covered. We started by letting the kids play first, and we introduced them to bottle link tag. Following them, the guys divided into teams of 5 and started playing a sudden-death style rotation where any time a team scored, the other team had to step off and another stepped on. We kept that up for a pretty long time. After the guys, we moved to a field outside that had come open and was a little nicer, and the ladies played while the guys cheered.

This was really nice in general because it gave us a fun and active way to engage the church members; laughing, cheering, taunting...whatever the moment called for. We want them to know they're not alone, and we want them to view us as their peers who care about them.

We returned to the hotel late in the afternoon exhausted but full of good memories. Tonight for dinner, we wanted to treat Ronald's family and some of the church members to dinner. We decided that Pizza Hut was probably the most likely option to please everyone. Nora and the girls got there ahead of us to reserve table space for 38(!).

If there's anything I learned from 7.5 years as a youth minister, it's how to estimate pizza quantities. My formula worked perfectly and I felt like a boss. Everyone was completely full and there were fewer than 3 pieces left.

It's almost 11pm and we just returned from Pizza Hut. Though we had a late start, we took our time and had a very enjoyable visit. I was pleased to see a lot of intermingling between Americans and Costa Ricans. I know the ladies were appreciative that we bought them dinner as opposed to having them cook for the group tonight.

Tomorrow begins the first day of VBS and the evangelistic campaign. I know the church has been promoting it. We're excited, but have absolutely no idea how many kids will show up. Our expectation is that each night we'll have a few more than the night before.

For now, it's time for bed.

Saturday, July 01, 2017

Day 2 - Final Preparations and Electrical Outages

Today, much like yesterday, has taken some surprising turns, but has been a blessed experience. We've all been plagued a bit by the exhaustion that comes from a day full of travel, complicated by weather and missing luggage. (Still waiting on poor Jake's.)

We got a terrific breakfast this morning featuring very Costa Rican style foods, such as gallo pinto  and plantains. We went to the church building where the church members had started gathering and prepping to make some lunch for the group. The morning consisted of dividing up into several areas.

Stacy and a group went to the lumbar yard with Ronald to purchase the needed materials to rebuild the stage after they tear down the current one. We will wait until after church tomorrow before doing any demolition.

There was also a large group from our group, led by Debbie, who worked together with young adults from Desamparados to practice the four skits we have prepared for Monday-Thursday. They made a lot of progress.

The final group was working on separating out all the materials from our duffel bags so that we can be prepared for all the stations, each day of VBS. So much work has gone into the trip, and it's really gratifying to see the Costa Rican's eyes lighten up when they see some of the things we had prepared and brought with us. The materials look good, and we are feeling good about most of the things we've been getting ready for.

Our lunch was delicious. It was a sort of Italian-style dish with salad and fruit punch. We were able to surprise Maylee Johnston with a cake, card, and some singing for her 13th birthday.

The intention had been that for dinner tonight, we were going to take several of the church members with us--mostly those who had been volunteering on the VBS program--to a restaurant. But something happened in Panama that has created waves throughout Central America. I haven't really tried to catch up on the news, but there was some sort of explosion at a power plant that is a major provider for several nations. There are international connections, and therefore power outages from Mexico to Panama. In Costa Rica, the power has been mostly out, certainly at traffic lights. Porras showed his expert skill as a bus driver in taking us around town, but everything is very congested because of the lights.

When we came back to the hotel to regroup and learned a little more about the larger situation. We decided it was a more responsible choice not to go out driving around. We have missed the opportunity to connect more with the Costa Ricans but did make the most of our time here in the afternoon to connect better as a team. We've all struggled all day with tiredness, residual from yesterday's travel issues. We ended up having a very nice meal here at the hotel, and were able to work in an additional devotional time together, singing in the stairwell of our area of the hotel. We all talked about ways in which we want to stretch ourselves to grow and do more.

Tomorrow we will be worshipping with the Desamparados congregation, and then we have several things planned that will involve us with the whole church enjoying food and having fun together. Several plans have had to change here and there, but things are going very well.


Day 1 - Delays and Deliverance

I am writing this at 2:36am Costa Rican time, which would make it 3:36am CST. The journey to Costa Rica was quite an adventure. Everything went smoothly with our check-ins and our flight to Houston. At our gate in Houston, we discovered a group of around 10 ACU students who are also coming down for a mission trip this week in the mountainous area to the south.

Once we got on our way in Houston, we had been on the plane for a long time, and were within just a few minutes of landing when the pilot told us the clouds and rain in San Jose were too think, and we would have to taxi for a while. Eventually, our gas was going to get too low, so we went to another town called Libera, on the northwest coast of Costa Rica. We stayed on the plane for an hour or so as we waited for news. Jake, our traveler from Tennessee, was flying in on another airline. They ended up putting both of our planes down in Liberia, so we were really close, but not together. His airline decided to take all passengers by bus to San Jose, and we are still waiting for him at the hotel right now.

Ours was finally able to make the flight, and we landed uneventfully. We got our luggage without any trouble. The funny thing is that we arrived so late that all the employees really obviously didn't want to be there, so it was by far the easiest time through security and scanning that we've ever had!

Our dear friend Jose Porras was there with the iconic green bus to pick us up. We headed straight for a Denny's to finally get dinner around midnight. We were all tired from the traveling, but we are now at our hotel, which is very comfortable, and our rooms are all close together. We'll have a nice week here.

For now, everyone is in their rooms, and likely resting. (At least, they OUGHT to be!)

We're going to get a little bit of a later start in the morning to compensate for the lack of sleep. Tomorrow will be a day for getting our bearings and seeing what final touches need to be made to our plans for the work this trip.

The first day has reminded me of the benefit of disrupting your personal routines. It's nice to have an excuse for extended time with your Christian family. We have a great team this year with a lot of super-organized individuals. I think it's the best prepared mission trip I've ever been part of, at least whatever parts are under our control. Despite our frustrations with delayed landings, uncertainty about where we might have to spend the night, and great doubt that we'd ever get dinner, I think we'd all say that we had a great time on the plane. Lots of talking, laughing, and sharing stories about ourselves. Everyone seems healthy and happy so far.

The weather down here is cool but not cold. Feels just wonderful. We'll try to keep reporting in here every day. Also, we'll try to put pictures on the church fan page. www.facebook.com/kingscrossingcoc