Monday, July 26, 2010

Last Costa Rica Blog

1) The Volcano at Arenal.

2) The church we visited Sunday morning.

3) The church we visited. The sign means, “The Church of Christ Without Borders.”

4) Peter and the Volcano.

The debate often arises as to whether it is proper for a mission team to spend time and resources site-seeing and being tourists. I remember being on a youth mission trip to Russia when we had finished our difficult and powerful ministry to orphans. We were due to travel from the Moscow area to visit St. Petersburg. This would be purely sight-seeing. The youth on that trip didn’t want to go and had a hard time reconciling the poverty we had just experienced, and the time and resources we were preparing to spend. A wise adult with the group said, “we have experienced some of the worst of this country. We have seen poverty, depression, neglect, lack of hope and basic care. It is also important to see the best this country offers. To see this county’s art, architecture, and beautiful places is extremely important.” I agree with that statement. If we do not see some of the beauty of a country or place, we may go away with a skewed perception and a false understanding of a country and its people.

So on Saturday, we traveled North to the town of La Fortuna, to Arenal. Arenal is known for it’s ACTIVE volcano, yes—ACTIVE volcano. From the pictures, you can see how immense it is, and how close we are! If you look closely, you can see a plume of smoke coming out of the top of the volcano. The conventional wisdom is that if the smoke stops coming out—run! There are small rumbles and blasts that occur regularly. Last night we could even see hot molten rock shining it’s astonishing heat into the night. It’s quite a site!

This area is built around the volcano and offers horse back riding, zip lines, white water rafting, waterfall and other various hikes, and more. We participated fully in these events! Sunday morning, several of us attended worship at a local protestant congregation. We all enjoyed the two hour service, (which was air-conditioned-Gloria a Dios!), and stayed in town to have lunch. You will see pictures of the sign for the church and the inside of the church before worship started. The name of the church is “The Church of Christ Without Borders.” It was exciting when we knew a song that they were leading. When they played, “How Great Thou Art,” it was power and moving as we could sing along in English, while our church friends sang in Spanish.

Today we head to San Jose to spend the night. We will leave first thing in the morning from that airport and arrive in Atlanta later in the afternoon. We are expecting to arrive in Tallahassee around dinner time.

Overall it has been an amazing experience. The partnership and with the church in Fray Casiano, in Puntarenas, is valuable, meaningful, and powerful. ITCF has been working for four years with this church and the benefits from the relationship building and the construction building are clear. We all want to thank you for your prayers and support of this trip that is transforming and powerful. God bless you all.

See ya’ll soon!
El Pastor

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Costa Rica Blog #4 pics

1) The wall is finished, and the concrete floor has been poured!

2) Not a great picture, but one showing some of products from the sewing table. Some are holding clothes and some are wearing clothes.

3) A dancer in the congregation as they shared their native dances and clothes

4) Children in “white face” singing a song about the first white missionaries to come to Costa Rica and bring Christianity with them.

Friday, we finished the work with our friends at the church. We worked our normal morning shift and finished as much as we could. The church wanted to do a presentation of some sort in the afternoon.

The wall that didn’t exist before we arrived, was completed! They can now add roofing and be close to brand new usable space in the church. Word was then done to level the ground, mix enough cement, then pour the concrete to make a new floor that would join the new wall. Right as it was time to go back to the hotel, all but a sliver of the floor had been poured. This was a successful construction week!

The Soccer Field
The field was finished and working on Thursday, and on Friday it was used non-stop all day! There are several great things about this field. The first thing is that since the field is smaller than a regulation field, the smaller children will have a place to play when the bigger kids are using the regulation size field near the school. The second thing is that this will help to keep them occupied and off of the street as much. The third thing is that the church will keep the goals and balls locked up and will administrate the use of the field. This will mean that neighborhood kids who are not members of the church will come to the church and have some interaction with people from the church. The fourth thing, is that it will just be fun! It’s hard to keep childhoods intact in this oppressive environment. This will let the children run and play.

The Sewing table
After sewing clothes with many women in the church, it was wonderful to see them hold up their finished projects at the “Friday fashion show.” There were many more who took cut fabric and patterns for clothes to be finished later. This too was an amazing ministry as several women learned how to use the sewing machines, so they can continue to make their own clothes after we’re gone.

Bible Study
The bible study was completed on Friday morning. The children seemed hungry to learn scripture and there were several children who memorized twenty or more scripture verses. The curriculum worked well and the children of the church are now familiar with several major biblical characters and the way that God used them to spread the word.

The Afternoon
With all the emotion of the week, we came back to the church knowing this would be the last time we would see and spend time with our friends this year. They had prepared several presentations for us.
They led us in singing praise songs. They did several dances in their beautiful native clothing. One song had several children in “white face” singing with gratitude for the missionaries who came to Costa Rica to bring and spread Christianity.

Buddy, Patty and I were called to the chancel area to say a few words about our week. They presented Buddy, Patty, Sonia, and Ellen with gifts. The church then gave all 42 of us gifts—all 42 of us. It was a nice time of celebration, prayer, and gratitude for the partnership between the church and ITCF. It was then time to say goodbye.

As music played, people milled about hugging and saying goodbye. Many of us gave away clothing, shoes, tools, whatever we could part with. The emotion was strong an intense as everyone from young to old was teary eyed at the prospect of leaving. When we finally all loaded into our two large vans, it was quite a spectacle! The street was filled with church members on both sides of the vans. It felt like a parade of which we were the guests of honor. As we drove away, we looked back and waved good bye until God brings us back together again. Our hearts were full and our souls refreshed by a week of serving Christ by serving one another.

The work portion of our trip is now completed. Tomorrow morning, Saturday, we will pack up and head North to Arenal. This is a beautiful area of Costa Rica built around an ACTIVE volcano. We will spend a few days there, then head home on Tuesday.

Thank you for your prayers and keep them coming!

El Pastor

Friday, July 23, 2010

Costa Rica Blog pics #3

1) Andrew, as the Apostle Paul, pays a visit to the bible study.

2) The wall is growing and nearing completion.

3) The soccer field is finished and in use!

4) Celebrating Zach, Andrew, and Hunter’s birthdays.

Today is Thursday, and progress is being made. The wall that is enclosing space next to the sanctuary could be finished by the end of this work day. Today’s bible study is centered on the Apostle Paul. The soccer field is nearing completion. Several benches/pews have been completed. And if there was ever any doubt, Jesus will bring power to this church annex today, (Jesus, pronounced Hay-Seus, is the electrician!).

We are starting to wind up the focal point of our trip, working with this special church. Last night the youth led the reflection time, (which we do every night), and it was especially meaningful as both veterans of this trip and first time youth shared their experience thus far. Let me just say that there was not a dry eye in the house by the end of the reflection. The Holy Spirit is working and moving and weaving its transforming power.

We finish the work tomorrow, on Friday. We will work our regular shift in the morning, then go back to the hotel for lunch. We will then go back to the church for our second shift, as we have all week. The difference is that the church has prepared some presentations that include dancing and music of some sort. We are excited about this offering from our friends. We will then come to point we have been dreading all week—saying goodbye! If last night’s reflection time is any indication of the emotion we will encounter on Friday afternoon, when we all say our farewells, it will be teary celebration of the relationships God has brought into being.

There is already a sense that when we leave we are abandoning the children that we have come to know and love, to a street existence that does not hold much promise for them. This compounds the emotion we feel as we begin the process of leaving. But we also know the saving power that can come from the church that has been build with blood, sweat, tears, and love. This church has the power to transform its membership and the community.

In the Carpenter’s footsteps has been in partnership with this church for four years. On this trip it has been a blessing to see the children grow, re-connect with old friends, and continue to build the relationships that are at the heart of this trip. To put it simply, today will be a sad and a happy day. We have been blessed.

El Pastor, Danny

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Costa Rica Pics-2

1) The soccer field and construction of new PVC soccer goals. The church annex is on the right in the foreground and the church itself is the salmon colored building in the back of the picture.

2) Mixing concrete—the old fashioned way

3) Zach wrestling with angels

Costa Rica
As a first time participant on this mission trip, I’ll try to give you some of my impressions and observations. Costa Rica is a beautiful country. We arrived last Friday night and didn’t start work until Monday morning, so we had a chance to visit NAME national park. The geography is stunning as the dark cliffs of the rainforest meet warm sandy beaches. On that first day, one of our beloved drivers, Ricardo, stopped at a bridge. He was just smiling and said, “Go look.” When we did, we saw no less than seven of the largest crocodiles I had ever seen! This was better than any zoo exhibit I had ever been to, and this was in the wild. Of course, when asked what they all eat to stay so healthy and large, Ricardo just smiled and said, “tourists!” He also said that national geographic as been to that river and deduced that there are 44 crocodiles per kilometer in this particular area!
In the NAME national park, some took a walking trail and saw the likes of Iguanas, howler monkeys, capuchin monkeys, and much more.

The Church
The area the church is located is economically depressed, to say the least. The unpaved streets are lined with dwellings that testify to how people can live, and make a life in harsh conditions. Rusted tin constitutes the majority of the roofs. Any material can and is used for any purpose, in order to make a home.

The church itself is the nicest structure on the street. It is a concrete structure with moveable seats as it is a multi-purpose space. There is a raised chancel area up front, and it looks and feels like church. There is electrical power and they have an ample public address system. The pastor’s name is Carlos and he welcomed us warmly for worship last Sunday. During worship we presented his church with two sets of communion wear, (two ceramic white chalices and two matching white ceramic plates). These came from a local artist in Tallahassee. During the service I was invited to say a few words, which I did. Sonia Carbonell translated. The youth and children of the congregation had prepared some special dances for us, which “got the house rocking!” Even though there is no air conditioning in the church and we all lost five pounds in sweat alone, it was a wonderful service.

The Work
There are several projects going on at the same time. Inside the church, there is a bible study that is done once in the morning, then repeated for the second group of children in the afternoon. In addition to the bible study, there is a sewing table with machines brought this year, and in years past. The idea is that in addition to making some clothes for the children, local women are taught the skill of sewing. There are also various crafts set up for the children as well. The youth on our trip function as super heroes as each one of them is loved and in demand instantly. At any given time, each of them may have any number of local children using them like a jungle gym. It is fun to watch and the youth are great with them .

One construction project is to enclose an open space that connects with the sanctuary. For the last few days we have been building a concrete block wall. When it is finished, a concrete floor needs to be poured, and a tin roof atop steel beams added. We will probably not finish it all. Then, across the street, there is an annex to the church that will most likely be used for education space. Currently, this building is being wired for electricity. There are permanent partitions to be built in this annex. We are also building benches/pews, and large tables for the church. In addition to these plans, there is a little field next to the annex that several of our trip participants have desired to clean up and prepare as space for the children to play football (soccer to you Americans!). Overall we have an ambitious work agenda, and we are working in partnership with many from their church, (they are dedicated and hard working), to get as much done as we can in the time that we have.

The Culture
The smell on the street of dirt, garbage, and oppressed lives, reminds us that we are in the right place to find, follow, and serve Christ. And yet, the people we have met have been warm, friendly, and truly grateful that we are here. We have disrupted the normal business of the drug dealers by the spectacle that is 42 Americans coming to work in the area. The police have become a permanent presence, and we are grateful. We work hard all day, go home for lunch, then come back in the afternoon to continue our work.

It is difficult for us to imagine what life is like for the people in this area. Poverty is central. We can work all day and get a lot of work done. But when we drive in and out of the area, we are reminded of what we are up against. The houses that can afford it have razor wire enclosing their small houses. We have noticed that on many of the walls that surround some of the houses, they will take broken glass, and affix the broken glass to the top of wall, sharp edges facing up, as a defensive measure.
We see the teenage prostitutes in the street and I can only think of my two precious daughters, that if circumstances were different, they too would be selling themselves out to survive. I can barely stand it.

What can be done against such cyclical chains of poverty and oppression? When we follow Christ into these places, to do the work that is being done, and when we nurture personal relationships, over time the church where we are working has the potential to engage these oppressive forces and be a literal “game changer” for the church members and for the community. This church can become a place for worship, praise, gathering, learning, teaching, playing, learning life skills, instilling morals, cultivating disciples, and offering hope that life can and should be more. That’s why this work is so important.

Pastor Danny

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

More Costa Rica Pics

At the Construction site (Notice Steve Panton actually working!).

A quick look at one part of the bible study with the children inside the church

Eryn and Brianna making friends!

Rev. Danny

Costa Rica Pics

Swimming companions!


Monkey business

Sunshine in Costa Rica! Welcome to the first work week at Iglesia Casa Bendecion. We arrived at the work site for our first day of work – welcomed by the smiling faces of the members of Pastor Carlos’ church. As always, it takes a little while to get things organized (LOL) and up and running.

Our bible lessons with the children this year will center around the philosophy of Christ’s conversation with Cleopas on the road to Emmas in Luke 24. So we will be walking with the children through the entire bible in one week. No easy task! We will teach them about the people of the bible whom God called, who were ordinary people, but called to do extraordinary things, with God’s help.

One of the mission members from Atlanta, Dick Dubose, had graciously agreed to take on the role of Moses, costume and all. He did a great job, totally in Spanish no less. Once the children have quietly listened to the scripture lesson (right!) Sonia Carbonelle takes on the task of asking questions to see who can remember what the lesson was about. The questions are not easy, I only got 2 out of 10. Those children who correctly answer the questions receive a prize zip lock bag, lovingly packed by us with all kinds of basic essential items, a small toy, and some markers or crayons and maybe a coloring book. Those children that participated in the questions and answers received also a white Tshirt to decorate. That’s our way of giving the Tshirts out a few at a time – but we will give out all 200 by the time we leave.

Today we begin with Rahab, tomorrow is Ruth and we wrap pup with the Apostle Paul, who will take us into the New Testament and into the Grace of Christ. It will be a wonderful adventure and I am so excited – tired but excited!!!

Senora Elena