Friday, October 28, 2011

The Journey Continues...

     After over a month of outreach, I have been stretched in so many ways. Just to give you an idea of some of our experiences, over the past 2 weeks I have lived in the jungle, hearing monkeys screech at night; been chased by a herd of cows on the road; crossed the channel in a ferry; got thorns in my hands; and washed dishes with rainwater as it fell from the sky. Such a variety of people, places, and opportunities. Since my last update we have been to 3 different places - Cobano, Nicoya, and Monteverde. After doing night ministry in Jaco for three nights we traveled to Cobano, which is on the southern coast of the Nicoyan penninsula (on the western side of Costa Rica). We took an hour ferry ride across the channel to reach the penninsula. 
     Cobano is a small beach town, but we stayed outside the town at a really cool Christian retreat center in the jungle. The 3 days we spent there were to refresh before going into a week of intense ministry. The time we spent in Cobano was so good - we had time to relax, as well as prayer time on the beach in Montezuma, a nearby town. We had the chance to help out with a church service that takes place at the retreat center. One of my favorite parts of the night was washing the feet of the congregation - it was the first time I had served someone in this way, and it was very humbling and special. More than anything, this week helped refresh my spirit by spending time with the Lord. Sometimes I get so caught up in doing ministry or hanging out with my teammates that I don't spend much time with God. This is always when I start to feel lonely or empty - I need to be filled up again.
     After Cobano we traveled to Nicoya, where there is a YWAM base. It's much smaller and in a more rural area than our base in San Jose. It's a much newer base, so there aren't as many schools or ministries going on, but it was great to be there and get to help out. For four days we helped out with their Bible distribution ministry in a nearby community. Basically we split into teams of people from our team and some locals from a church that was helping us. The locals showed up where to go in their town and we passed out Bibles to every house in that community. It was so much more than just giving out Bibles though - we talked with people at each house, encouraging them in faith, and praying for them. One of the most important things I learned throughout this ministry is just to be honest with people. If they're having problems or feel broken, it's good to let them know that we are struggling too. No one is perfect. Sharing our weaknesses can sometimes allow people to open up and be more ready to receive Christ's love. 
     The week in Nicoya was challenging for me because I didn't feel like I was making a huge impact every day. But then I realized that even just encouraging someone in their walk with the Lord is so critical. And often we don't know the impact we have on someone until after we leave their house. I also got to share a message one night at the base - it was about discipline in our Christian walk and being obedient to God's call for us. Most of you know that I hate public speaking. I overcame some of my fear this week! Already on outreach I have shared short messages a couple times now and tonight I'm going to talk about YWAM at a youth event. God is definitely giving me more confidence. 
     We just arrived in Monteverde yesterday. It's cold here because we're in a more mountainous region and it's further north. Today we did a short presentation in a high school and helped out with some projects there. Tomorrow is the youth event. One exciting thing happened yesterday. Our group went to eat dinner at this restaurant because we got in late, and a few of us walked over to the souvenir shop next door while we were waiting. We started talking to the store owner, and he was really interested in what we are doing here. So we shared about missions and prayed for him. I think God really used us to bless this man! 
      Every day here I am in awe of what God is doing in my life and how he's using our team. I am so grateful to have this experience, and even as I think about coming home, I'm thinking about what the next season of my life will hold. I don't know yet, but I know God has a plan. I just have to trust him. I miss you all back in the states and I'm thinking about you!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Sweat, Ice Cream, and Jesus

     We are now on our third week of outreach traveling around Costa Rica. The first week we went to Cartago, San Jose, and Heredia doing various ministries like serving meals to the homeless, talking to a men's group in drug rehabilitation, and praying at the top of a volcano (one of my personal favorites). Throughout this week I learned how to listen. Many times I am so anxious to talk to people and tell them all about myself, but this week I was really humbled in learning how to just be a good listener. I met so many different people on the streets and in different ministries we did, and most of them just needed someone to hear their story. For example, a man I met at the homeless shelter just opened up completely to me and told me all about his life when I approached him. It was as if he hadn't had anyone to talk to in months. Even though I wanted to share with him as well, letting him release all his emotions was a way of showing love to him. In the end I had the opportunity to pray with him, which was such a blessing (and hopefully an encouragement to him). Although approaching strangers on the street can sometimes be scary, valuing them as children of God and just spending time with them is such a powerful witness.
     Last week our group traveled to Puerto Viejo, a tiny beach town on the Caribbean coast. There is a lot of Jaimacan influence there - rastas, reggae music, and surfers. The weather was super muggy and hot - within half an hour of arriving all of us were sweating. This week was more challenging for me because our schedule was so vague and flexible. Each day we worked with a different ministry, but most days we had lots of free time as well. Sometimes I felt like we weren't doing much, but I realized that even when we weren't doing a group ministry, prayer is always needed. So I spent a lot of time just praying on the beach for this community. Though it's a small town, there are lots of drug and alcohol problems here...many people have lived here their whole lives and just feel empty - without a purpose. A couple of our days here we did service projects - painting a church and helping out at a local coffee shop. This was a great way to get to know people in the town and simply share our faith through our actions.
     This week we are in Jaco, a beach town on the Pacific side. The atmosphere here is completely different than in Puerto Viejo. It's a bigger town and it has more of an urban feel. Also, the past few days here it has been really rainy and because of this the ocean is super muddy and choppy. YWAM has a skatepark ministry here as well as a program reaching out to prostitutes. Prostitution and drugs has become a huge problem here, especially at night, mainly due to it being a popular tourist location. Our ministries here have been much more laid-back but really good. One day we picked up trash around town and prayed for the people who live here. Another day we had to each make a new friend in the community - I met a tica girl about my age and a man from Canada who work in a bookstore. It was cool to just spend time with them and hang out in the bookstore. Later this week we'll being doing ministry at night - probably prayer and working with the homeless and prostitutes.
     Outreach has been awesome so far - God has taught me so much through various conversations and just living in community. It can be frustrating living with the same people day after day - but patience comes with time. I'm loving this country more every day - the people are so friendly and open. The rainforest and beaches are BEAUTIFUL. I even saw a monkey last week! And my Spanish is improving - I've had several good conversations with people in Spanish, and Ticos are always willing to help you learn. :) One of the most important things that has been getting me through outreach is to always depend on God to provide. James 4:13-15 says:
"Now listen, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.' Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, 'If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.' "

   ***Thank you for your continued prayers. It's been a great adventure!