Friday, December 30, 2011

Ferocious dogs, kids in trees, and a little old Wal Mart, kinda sorta.

Costa Rica in January is like a royal wedding.  It begins beautifully with much fanfare and seem to get better each day.  Most of us wonder if it's too good to be true.  But in this case it is.  Today, our first day in San Antonio de Belen was typical.  We awoke at 6:30 am with a slight chill in the air.  The exotic birds were chirping and singing and some even seemed to laugh.  The day warmed quickly and we got in our car and made a mad dash for the nearby Apartotel Obelisco, our home in January 2011.  We were greeted warmly and ushered upstairs where Britt Dark Roast Coffee, pina, sandia, huevos con tomate y cebolla, gallo pinto, jugo de melocoton y naranja awaited us like an old friend,  a very kind and lovely old friend.  After indulging, we navigated the light, holiday traffic to La Palabra de Vida and spent a relaxing day with the Befus family.

A friend from of Matt's, Brad, arrived yesterday, armed with a dizzying array of building trade expertise.
Brad and Matt worked out plans and purchased materials to build 21 lecterns to update the classrooms at the school.  They will be working out an assembly line style of production to involve the other teams of short term missionaries arriving soon from Colorado and Wheaton.

Our children schemed for hours on how to spend their time through the New Year's holiday most effectively.  Today was tree climbing day, which is no easy feat on this former fruit farm turned school.  I've included a snapshot of most of the kids in a large tree right by the house. The Befus kids are at
 the top of the list when we consider the reasons we enjoy Costa Rica. Yes, I know tree climbing can be dangerous but hey, I did it all the time, and survived with only a few noticeable defects.

While the kids worked their way around the property climbing trees, Vickie and I took the opportunity to do a little grocery shopping.  We were informed that WalMart Corporation had opened a smallish, but ever so nice grocery store just up the road, named Mas Por Menos.  Yes, you guessed it, more for less.  Since I'm a huge WalMart fan, in fact I still shed a tear every time I attend a new store opening (just kidding, Target lovers and WalMart haters, hold those posts), we straightway headed for Mas Por Menos.  Nice joint, all the necessities, and oh by the way, you've never tasted an avocado until you've been south of Mexico.  Here's a photo of a Costa Rican original.  See if you'd like to 
try it.  Not one of my favorites, but popular with Tico kids, or so I'm told.

After shopping, we headed back to the condo, to drop most of the groceries off, and then back to the school where we enjoyed an afternoon lunch, along with some swimming and relaxation.

I've got to warn you, that if you ever decide to join us on one of our litttle mission trips to Costa Rica, you must prepare yourself.  The dogs in this country are alert, ferocious, and unyielding.  You must never let your guard down.  And if you do, they will tear you up like a losing Powerball ticket.  Fair warning. Just to let you know I'm serious, I've included a couple of pictures taken as close as I could get to these beasts.
 All in all, a great way to start out our adventure.  A couple of final notes.  We are loving the YouVersion devotionals.  Today we looked at John 16:33 and talked about the difficulties we would face in this world.  They could overwhelm us at any time, if we're not reminded in the same verse, that Jesus, the hero, has already conquered the world on our behalf.  Amen!

Finally, in case you were wondering, we will eventually get to work.   It starts soon, but we might just celebrate New Year's first. 

We are so proud of our children.  Many things have changed since our last trip, and they have super,  mature attitudes.  I can see the Lord working in their lives, and I know that one day, they will do great things for Him.  Hey, maybe that day is already here!
Thanks everyone, and have a great day tomorrow!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Are we vacationaries? Well maybe, today, we were just a little bit.

We are kind of lame and predictable.  When I was booking our travel for Markham Family Missions Costa Rica Take 2, I noticed that the connection city choices, were Miami, Charlotte, and Houston.  Charlotte is a nice airport, but for international travel, you have to pick up your bags and recheck them in a short time, which is more stressful than starting Caleb Hanie.  Miami is an incredible city, but the airport food is as bland as  a Mason City, Iowa Lawrence Welk convention.  Having been proud Houstonians for well over 10 years, I checked the IAH menu, and discovered our terminal was "E" and, lo and behold, Pappasitos Cantina was also in Terminal E.  Paydirt!  We arrived at 09:20 and wolfed down fajitas and enchilidas like we hadn't eaten in weeks.  So yes, we are Americans, we do love the Lord, but there is a vacationary somewhere near the center of every short term missionary, is there not?  Admit it, we will.

Our first day, thankfully, is coming to a well deserved ending.  Well deserved because it started at 3 am in Oak Forest, IL, and ended up 10 pm in San Antonio de Belen, Costa Rica.  It was longer than a Tiger Wood two iron at Castle Pines.  But it was great.  We got to see some great friends in Houston who were arriving just as we were leaving.  The Pendletons are faithful friends and awesome Christ followers.

We arrived in Costa Rica at 3:30 pm and immediately began amusing the locals with our bad Spanish.  But Ticos are the self proclaimed "friendliest country in the world," and at least for today, it rang true.

Our residence is suitable, as is our vehicle.  Our host family, Matt and Lisa Befus and their four lovely daughters are busier than Joe Biden's dentist.  They fed us and chatted with us till this family was almost asleep in their chairs.  Not from boredom, just exhaustion from our day's journey.

Tomorrow, we've got a few questions for our landlord, we'll eat our first gallo pinto of our trip, and head to La Palabra de Vida to learn more about the English tutoring we'll do next month.

I've tried to explain to them that this Okie teaching English is a little like Newt Gingrich teaching humility.  Might be a touch of genius from time to time but it's mostly just bad grammar.

So we're here, we're happy, and we're so blessed.  Adios y Dios lo bendega.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Letter to our friends and family

This is a modified version of a letter we sent to our supporters from last year.  You should get a better idea of the who, what, where, and why of Costa Rica 2012.  Thanks for reading!

Dear Friends and Family:

When we think of you, the thought brightens our day and blesses our heart! We could never thank you enough for believing in and graciously contributing to our mission earlier this year to La Palabra De Vida in San Antonio de Belen, Costa Rica.  The school was blessed greatly through your $12,000 in gifts!
Because of your gifts, children at La Palabra de Vida are enjoying a brightened and better equipped library with many books catalogued and available for the first time.  350 Spanish language children’s books purchased with your generosity were added to the collection.  Additionally, Matt and Lisa Befus, who have faithfully served at La Palabra de Vida for 15 years, have been blessed with a large gift that allows them to focus their time more effectively on their ministry and their family.  Your kindness did these things!
We are traveling back to Costa Rica on December 29, 2011 and will serve there until February 1, 2012.  We will be teaching English during the month of January to some children whose English skills are not adequate for entrance into the school.  Additionally, we will be funding the purchase and installation of PowerPoint projectors in 10 classrooms at the school.  We will also be serving teams from Loveland, Colorado and Wheaton, Illinois, as they perform new and remedial construction at the school. 
This year, through our time in prayer with the Lord, we have learned several things that the Lord is asking us to do:
  • To be more generous with the resources He has so graciously provided.
  • To love all people, but especially the ones who struggle so much with life, who Jesus called “the least of these.”
  • To pray actively to expand our opportunities to serve the Lord more at home and overseas.

We believe the Lord has directed us to personally fund our mission trip and work with La Palabra de Vida this year.  After much prayer and through some excellent resources, we arrived at this decision.  This decision has caused us some stress and second thoughts, but we know, above all, that the Lord is good and always faithful to us, even when we doubt.

Several organizations and resources have been special to us this year as we came to this point in our life and the life of our ministry.  First, our churches, Heartland in Rockford, and Five Oaks in Woodbury have loved us, blessed us, and encouraged us to actively seek out what the Lord would have for us in our lives. Second, Francis Chan’s book Crazy Love, provided a sobering reality for us…we’re not really as generous and kind as we think we are.  Finally, Vince Miller’s book, The Generous Life, provided clarity and focus to us as we attempted to understand the proper use of the many financial blessings that we have received in our lives.

We would like to ask you to do three things.  First, pray for us on our mission trip this year.  Second, buy and read, The Generous Life by Vince Miller.  Vince’s super writing style, personal stories, and biblical teaching will challenge you and bless your heart.  Third, pray that God will lead you to a person, an organization, or a ministry, that is involved in reaching out to the “least of these” with the lifesaving message of Jesus Christ.  Fourth, after prayer and decision, bless this person, organization, or ministry, with a generous financial gift as a result of how God speaks to you. 

We’d love to hear what God is doing in your lives.   God's richest blessings to you as you continue to bless those around you!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Dream your dream in 2012 and ignore the eye roll

I watch a little video clip often on YouTube.  I might be getting taken, they might be gaming me, but I really don't care. Because it's what some of us, maybe most of us have dreamed at one time or another.  That we do something so astonishing, people are taken aback, and then break out in applause.  It will probably never happen, but for almost everyone, we've dreamed about being on a stage, or a field, a court or a ring, and raising our hands in triumph.

So go to YouTube and type in Susan Boyle Audition and you're there.  You'll see the frumpy Susan Boyle unable to explain where she lives, exactly, and you'll see the judge's incredulous look when she announces she'll perform I Dreamed a Dream from Les Miserables.  You'll see the banner that states "Susan Boyle, Unemployed, 47" without equivocation.  You'll see the audience stand and applaud, you'll see the judges, well at least two of them, stand and applaud, and you'll see people in tears, as they realize that this unattractive, middle aged woman has achieved her dream.

But I'd also like you to freeze the video at the 00:47 point.  Because we've all seen this look too.  Go ahead do it right now. 

You see, the young lady is probably a nice person, I'm not really sure.  But the roll of the eyes and the sarcastic laughter, we've all seen it before.  We've all expressed an idea, a hope, or a wish or a dream, only to have someone tell us, "You will never do that, because you're not good enough."

So let me share one thing with you from someone who knows what it feels like to be laughed at, dismissed, or criticized.

If anyone's ever sneered at your dream, laughed at your idea, or dismissed the notion that enthralls you, don't listen, they're probably old, cynical, and helpless.  They probably wish they'd thought about that, or dreamed that dream, or had the light bulb go on in the way you just did.

So here's what I do.  Listen politely.  Glean any small bit of advice that might be useful, and, don't discard the cynic...but most definitely discard the message they're sending to you.

In 2012, chase your dreams, live out your passion, be pleasing to the Lord in what He has placed squarely in your heart.  You won't regret it.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Jackson Browne, the gray haired dude, and life

The next time you're on YouTube, enter "Jackson Browne For Everyman Claremont." You'll get a homemade video of Jackson Browne singing the classic For Everyman at the Claremont Folk Music Festival in 2008. This song is sort of a response to the Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young hit song Wooden Ships, which depicts an escapist dream of someone getting on a ship and escaping from a world of trouble.

I've been a Jackson Browne fan since 1976 when I heard The Pretender. And before you remind me, yes, I know... he's an anti-war, anti-nuclear, anti-alotastuff 60's hippie deluxe. Doesn't mean I can't like his music, does it?

To me, his songs are works of art, or as Bruce Springsteen put it when he inducted Jackson Browne into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004, "As I listened that night, I knew this guy was simply one of the best. Each song was like a diamond. And my first thought was, damn, he’s good. My second thought, I need less words."

Anyway, back to YouTube. At 00:54, the camera pans away from the singer, and captures the top of a full head of graying hair, a fan, listening to the legendary singer, who is now sporting a very gray beard in this video shot in 2008, his sixtieth year. And the singer sings these words, "Seems like I've always been looking for some other place to get it together. Where with a few of my friends I could give up the race, maybe find something better."

And I got to thinking, there's nothing wrong about going to a small concert with your favorite singer. There's nothing wrong with going gray. There's nothing wrong with being sixty. There's nothing wrong with listening to lyrics about striving for something better. There is a lot of wrong in not doing anything about it.

I'm fifty-one, I don't have any gray hair, truth be told, I don't have much hair at all. My family and I decided two and a half years ago, that we would be different. Vickie did not grow up with the sounds of Jackson Browne, but she knows what I'm saying. I don't want to be the gray headed guy sitting at a concert, listening to a singer sing about giving up the race and finding something better, and going home to the boring life of the one who pretends to be living out his faith, but really only tweets, blogs, facebooks, e-mails, and talks about it, and wonders a lot what could have been, then gets up the next morning, only to find himself in the same melancholy rhythm of a life that is long on comfort and short on purpose.

So here we are, our life is uncertain to some extent, we may not be homeowners for long, we may be driving old cars with warning lights lit on the dash, but that's OK. You know why?

Because our children can't wait to go to Costa Rica to serve the Lord. They love to serve food to the homeless. They love doing our bible studies together, during the school day and at night, because we have real stories to share and tell and laugh about together. They haven't just read and memorized "Go, ye therefore, unto all nations, and make disciples of men." They've done it. We've served together in our neighborhood, in a nearby city, and in a country many miles away. We've lived just a little piece of what Jesus wants us to be. Together. And there's nothing I would trade for that experience.

So, listening to Jackson Browne may put you to sleep or turn your stomach. That's OK. But don't miss the message. Go.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Generous Life by Vince Miller

I read a little book by Vince Miller called the Generous Life a few weeks ago. Vince has always been one of my favorite speakers and was a frequent guest speaker at Five Oaks when we attended there. I could describe the contents of this book for you, but it would be better if you read it yourself. Here's what I learned...

- As a believer in Jesus, I must stop thinking of giving as an obligation, but rather as a passion.

- I must not box God in by placing imagined or mandatory limits on giving.

- I must pray for opportunities to bless others who don't have much, and then follow through when those opportunities arise.

- I must take risks with money that I've never been taught in church. These include giving beyond what biblical money management professionals recommend. If I remain stuck in the rut of mandatory percentages of giving and saving, I will never experience the generous life.

In Costa Rica and in Illinois this past year, we have begun to exercise these principles. I have resisted, felt stressed, made excuses, but I have begun to see God soften my heart in many ways.

I hope that one day I will feel comfortable truly denying myself a basic need to serve someone who has nothing. Maybe in just a tiny way I will become more like Jesus instead of just reading about His love for others.

If you would like to know more about what this book and others, and a lot of prayer have done for our family, drop me a note at I'd love to talk with you.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Contract work, fear and doubt, and God

I'll never forget the day I told my boss I was leaving my job at Prairie Island . It made me physically ill to leave something known for something unknown. You see, my folks were both born in 1918 and grew up during the Great Depression. My father's father lost his farm in Texas in the 1920's. He moved to Oklahoma looking for work and landed in Tulsa. He worked till he was 85 years old at Stringer Nursery, tending the plants and shrubs. My mother grew up in Gadsden, Alabama, as the daughter of a foreman at Republic Steel. It is an understatement that they both knew the value of hard work. They instilled that in me. I've always gone to work thinking that if I don't perform my very best, I may not have a job the next day. Maybe not so good for the stress level, but it's helped me perform at a high level when otherwise it would not have been so.

So leaving a well-paying secure job for the contract world was enough to make me sick to my stomach. Although I talk a lot about trusting God, I'm not so sure I trust anymore than I doubt. My employer in Illinois, Exelon, has been so good to me. My contract here has lasted two and a half years, and a few more weeks when we get back from Costa Rica. I love the power plant, the people, the company, and our friends and neighbors here in Byron. When I was recently told that my contract would not be renewed for 2012 due to budget concerns, we began a mad scramble looking for work anywhere in the United States.

I don't like the unknown, but we knew when we started our missions adventure, part of the deal was learning how to overcome fear and doubt with belief in God and His perfect plan. I can't say I'm there yet, but through prayer and study and my wife's faithfulness to God, our family, and our mission, I can see now that His timing and His plan are always good and right.

So what's in store for us next year? Things are clearing up now somewhat. I'll be at Byron Station until May 2012, and then Exelon would like me to become a permanent employee. With our children at the ages they are, we plan to do this, and also continue our mission work in Costa Rica. We are working out the details now. Whatever happens, we know that God is so good to us. For no earthly reason, He loves us with a heavenly love that is inexplicable and awesome. Enough for now, enjoy Christmas with your families, and may a tear come to your eye on Christmas morning as you contemplate a baby born to die.


Sunday, December 4, 2011

Can you believe it! 25 days until Costa Rica Mission 2012!

It's been many months since I've written here. My humble apologies and no excuses. The good news is, we're heading south December 29th for Markham Family Missions Take 2. We are returning to San Antonio de Belen, Costa Rica to serve at La Palabra De Vida Christian Academy until February 1, 2012. We can't wait.

Our official letter to all our supporters goes out next week and we will post an online version here by the end of the week.

I can't thank you enough for your financial support, phone calls, and prayers during our last mission trip, this year, and for our trip in December. Our kids are so excited! We have arranged housing, transportation, and our work at the school.

I'm not sure why I ever doubt God, He's so good and faithful to me! He has taught us so many things this year about our Christian lives. I hope to share a few of them before we leave.

In the meantime, please pray for our trip and let us know how we can pray for you.

Romans 10:14-15 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them. And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written, how beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!

Thank you for supporting the work of missionaries Matt and Lisa Befus, who have faithfully served at La Palabra De Vida for 15 years!

God's richest blessings, Bill

Monday, February 7, 2011

Doing the work of a small army, blessing those around them

We're heading home tomorrow, and this will be our last post from Costa Rica.

Here's a photo of our hosts, Matt and Lisa Befus from Saturday night at a beautiful restaurant in the mountains above the San Jose valley where La Palabra De Vida is located.

Matt and Lisa have provided funding, vision, and direction for La Palabra De Vida over the years, and the school, its employees and students have all been blessed by their many outstanding qualities.

While hosting us, they have fed us, taught us English, explained in nearly American terms how to get to different stores and locations in the city, prayed for us, and blessed us in every way imaginable. Because of their willingness to let us work at the school for this time, our family will never be the same.

We have witnessed first hand the extraordinary efforts that missionaries make to win souls, transform lives, and bring joy.

Thanks so much, we are indebted to you, and are already talking about our next mission adventure!

Bill, Vickie, and the kids.

p.s. For those of you wondering about the Green Bay cap that Matt is wearing...yes, he's a huge Packer fan, he grew up in Sheboygan, and he was pretty excited on Sunday night!

Biblioteca para los ninos, antes y despues (Children's library, before and after)

La Palabra De Vida provides an excellent Christian education for a large number of K-6 children. The teachers are energetic, vision-driven, and passionate about ensuring that the children receive the very best Costa Rica has to offer.

The children's section of the library was often visited and loved by the children, but unfortunately, the amount and quality of the existing books and area needed some improvement.

Thanks to your generosity, here are the before (from October 2009) and after photos of the children's library at La Palabra De Vida.

With the funds your provided and the generosity and assistance of friends from Wheaton, IL, the children's library now is a fun and book-filled area that children will truly love to come to.

Lending libraries are not common in Costa Rica, and this project will allow La Palabra De Vida to begin to see many children taking books home and reading them.

Our children love books and the hundreds of books in our home school area, our living room, and our children's bedrooms, made us yearn to give these kids something similar.

Here are the 2nd grade children in the new children's library section for the first time! So, from us to you, thanks and God's richest blessings!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Long drive, great finish (no, it's not about golf!)

The deck of our hotel room at La Mariposas made taking chamber of commerce quality pictures a simple task for this old Okie. The Pacific Ocean provided a stunning backdrop to the rainforest and the busy seaside town of Quepos.

Problem is, in this near equator location, sunset each night is around 5:40 pm, making for an early evening. Not a bad thing if you're getting as old as me!

To get to the Manuel Antonio National Park at Quep0s, one first has to navigate a treacherous three hour drive through the mountains, around eighteen wheelers built during the Eisenhower adminstration, and the usual collection of motorcycles, bicycles, pedestrians, and vendors selling their wares on crowded highways.

It was worth the drive. Known as one of the top ten beaches in the world, Manuel Antonio has the added attraction of monkeys that would as soon steal your last 5 colon coin as look at you. We spent a lot of time on the beaches, avoided the rip currents that have claimed many a victim in these parts, toured the national park, and came eye to eye with perezosos, monos, mapeches, pajaros, and other critters whose name I don't know.

We ate twice at Sancho's, a joint run by an ex-pat, boasting the freshest and best fish tacos we've ever encountered.
We sat at the pool and enjoyed smoothies with delicious ingredients and friendly waiters.

But the best thing we did?

We focused on God's sensational creation and the sense of wonder that it gives each of us. We thought about our place in this world and the purpose that God has given to our family. We read scripture and prayed for the rest of our adventure, and also for the needs of many close to us who are sick and hurting. We continued to be amazed at God's faithfulness to us in each step of our journey.

Thank you Lord, that you have made this not perfectly planned, not perfectly executed, not completely thought out, flawed little adventure, something that is blessing many. Like the last picture in this post, we are not perfect, but you Lord, are perfect, and you are worthy of our love, our adoration, and our praise. May each year that passes by allow us to do greater things for you.


Friday, January 28, 2011

Stuff I've learned on a 37 day mission trip

It will take a while to reflect on our experience in Costa Rica, and I suppose that the adventure began when we first decided to leave our long time home in Minnesota in June 2009.

Our kids cried when we told them we were moving, and were quite saddened and a little angry when they considered how much they would miss the close friends that they had grown up with in church, school, sports, and the neighborhood. We answered tons of questions, or I should say we tried to, because the one question we really couldn't answer is...where are we going on a mission trip and what are we going to do?

We got an answer to that question in September 2009 when we met Matt and Lisa Befus. Their work in Costa Rica and La Palabra de Vida school was a great fit for us and we are so glad that the Lord put the Befuses in our life.

We all have adjusted well to small town life, but we do miss a lot of things about Minnesota. We still go home quite often and have a great chance to catch up with friends each time, but we miss our old small group, our church, and our community.

God has helped us make this journey each step of the way. He has answered our prayers for finances, work, and the cohesiveness of our family. He has made our time here valuable in so many ways with our work at the school, our travels around the country, our Bible study together, and our closeness to Him.

I was thinking today about what I will take away from this experience, and here are a few things I noted:

1. In order to gain the most from a trip like my family has taken, we have had to have a "help me understand" attitude instead of a "this isn't like we do it back home." air. The Costa Rican culture, the school, and the individuals we have worked with do things very differently than we might, but we have prayed each day that we will be a blessing to everyone we meet. This begins if those we meet are glad to see us, and do not think we are Americans attempting to show everyone why we are better from them. As a result, we have come to understand how things are done in Costa Rica, and have embraced this very unique culture.

2. We know nothing about the depth of commitment it takes to be productive and long-term as missionaries. We only were here 37 days, and it stretched our family as far as we have ever been stretched.

3. Even if you are doing "God's work," there will still be all the normal struggles, disagreements, bad attitudes, laughter, tears, and turmoil, that every family has in any 37 days. Being short-term missionaries doesn't prevent those from happening. You just feel a little bit foolish to be wasting time over petty disagreements when we could be doing more important work.

4. I am humbled at the amount of discipline, patience, faith, and leadership that Matt and Lisa Befus show everyday at this school. They do the work of a small army, and constantly sacrifice their own needs for the needs of everyone around them. They are a huge blessing to us, and we have learned so much about serving the Lord in a gracious way from observing and working directly with them.

5. We will never be the same. We're already plotting and planning our next mission adventure.

Have a great weekend. Bill

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A most unfortunate name for bread and other stuff about Costa Rican food.

The cuisine of Costa Rica is generally described as bland and nothing to write home about. It's true that the spiciness of Mexican food, for example, is nowhere to be found here, but there are many other common, everyday foods that are delicious and cheap.

Ana, the breakfast hostess at our Apartotel, prepares homemade gallo pinto each morning, which is a delicious rice and bean mixture that is a staple of the Costa Rican breakfast. Latin American herbs and spices make Costa Rican food delicious and fresh. We are generally pleased to eat our meals where we live.

Here are some pictures of some of our recent purchases at the local grocery. First, pictured to the left, is "bread with a most unfortunate name." It is quite tasty, however, though it's hard to find it bakery fresh. To the right is the world famous Lizano product, black beans with Lizano Salsa. This is a stroke of genius. Squeezable refried beans are great on a chip, a tortilla, or gulp... right from the bag to the mouth. Wait, I'd never admit to doing that! :)

Lizano makes wonderful salsas, and squeezable refried black and red beans. Great stuff.

Finally, comes our kid's favorite, Chiky cookies, which come in little six-packs. We buy these things by the truckload, and kids and adults both enjoy snacking on these delicious little galletas.

Vickie and I love to cook, but due to our incredibly busy schedule, have found little time to spend in the kitchen. We have cooked arroz con pollo, taco salad, spaghetti with meat sauce, and little else.

In one way, I will be glad to come back home to the United States, shop for familiar foods, and cook our favorites together in the kitchen.

Since we have three suitcases that carried the books on the way down, but our now empty for the trip home, maybe we will fill them with Chikys and Frijoles Negro con Salsa Lizano! :)


Monday, January 24, 2011

Volcano Poas and La Paz Waterfall Gardens

It is so predictable that one almost forgets the privilege of living in Costa Rica in January. The sun rises at 5:30 am and the temperature is about 70F. The sun sets at 6:00 pm and the temperature is about 85F. The evenings are cool, the swimming pools are chilly, the people are friendly, and the views are incredible.

When we leave here in February, I will truly miss driving. The combination of motorcycles, pedestrians, bicycles, trucks, and cars blend into a marvelous concoction of chaos and competition. Even though we rarely know where we're going, we love it, and we usually get there.

This weekend we visited Volcano Poas and the La Paz Waterfall Gardens. This is the most popular tour in Costa Rica, and takes about ten hours or so. We began on Sunday morning at about 6:30 am, stopped for breakfast at the Doka Estate Coffee Plantation, and then headed out for the volcano. It was a beautiful, clear day, and we could actually see Volcano Arenal from Poas. REMEMBER, as the sign says, DO NOT WALK DOWN TO THE CRATER. :)

Costa Rica has 112 volcanoes, several which are active. Poas belches steam, but that's about it. Here's a picture of our kids with Lindsay Befus, one of the missionary kids that live at La Palabra de Vida. I say kid, but she is actually a lovely young lady who is so helpful with Costa Rican culture and the Spanish language.

We toured the crater area, learned more about the Pacific ring of fire, and all the active volcanoes in Costa Rica.

Following our time at Poas, we trucked off to the La Paz Waterfall Gardens.

This was undoubtedly one of the most beautiful parks I have ever seen. Mountains, rain forest, and five stunning waterfalls were the highlight of the day.

Following a devastating earthquake two years before, this park closed, rebuilt, and then recently reopened. They now boast marvelous exhibits of native butterflies, frogs, birds, and snakes. The large cat exhibit met an untimely fate at the hands of the earthquake and has never been reopened.

Here's a picture of Vickie and I underneath the largest waterfall in the park.

The birds in Costa Rica alone are worth the air fare, and here is a picture of a scarlet macaw, probably the most beautiful bird, and the most famous also. These birds are prized by natives and visitors alike, and poaching has been a huge problem for years. There are now gargantuan fines for private possession of one of these magnificent examples of God's creation. Good.

We took this tour with a group visiting from Loveland, CO. They are here assisting La Palabra de Vida with construction in the school They are pleasure to work with and to know.

God's blessings,


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Britt Coffee Plantation Tour. For Pastor Henry.

With the warm weather, high altitudes, and abundance of mountains, Costa Rica is perfect for great coffee. The locals always recommend Britt. At breakfast each morning, Ana, our hostess, serves Britt Dark Roast which is very, very good.

My family toured the Britt Coffee Plantation this week and loved it. The guides presented an informative and often hilarious show, with a 10 minute drama detailing the history of coffee and Costa Rica.

Following the tour we enjoyed the best food we've eaten in Costa Rica. Here is a picture of our tour guides and below is a closeup of coffee beans growing near our residence. If you love coffee as
much as Vickie and I, this alone is a good reason to come to this beautiful country.

Until we see you again, buy a nice whole bean coffee, grind it fresh every morning, and have several cups a day. It's a great pleasure to me, and maybe for you also!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Decision point

This is our friend Sarah, who recently arrived in San Jose to work at La Palabra de Vida. Sarah is a University of Iowa graduate and previously has served as a long term missionary at LPDV and in Kenya for the last several years.

Sarah recently followed the leading of the Lord and decided to become a career missionary in San Jose, working at LPDV. Currently, she tutors students in English, is preparing for her classes in the upcoming semester, and working in the library with us. She is a joy to know, and we are very impressed with her dedication to spread the good news of Jesus Christ throughout Latin America. She is a fluent Spanish speaker and has helped us also in our fits and starts with the Spanish language.

I am always awed at those that give up much to serve in this way. For as Romans 10 asks...How can anyone hear the good news of Jesus Christ unless someone goes?


Monday, January 17, 2011

Can't let a little rain get you down!

The habits of Costa Rican drivers include many of the same ones Americans possess....texting, talking, applying makeup, and cursing. The difference comes in the execution of the drive from point A to point B. Costa Ricans, from birth, believe they are participating in a video game, you know the kind, where if you crash you get another life. Truth be told, they are skilled drivers, they don't fly off into a road rage at the slightest provocation, and they are extremely willing to let you into the traffic flow. But the maddening pace, weaving, maneuvering, and swerving drives me nuts, and I have practiced patience and defensive driving like I've never done it before.

Having said all that, we negotiated the 130 km or so to Volcano Arenal in about 3 hours of white knuckle driving through rain forests and mountains that were hard not to take a peek at.

The weekend at Arenal was a wet one. Intermittent rain ranging from a mist to a downpour welcomed our every move. Los Lagos is a beautiful resort. There are scads of pools and hot springs, a great complimentary Costa Rican breakfast, and wonderful service. There was a great restaurant, Luigi's, that offered sea bass dishes that were second to none. We swam in the rain, walked in the rain, prayed in the rain, and cooled off in the rain.

The humidity was so high in our hotel room that I swear the swim suits were more wet in the morning when we woke up.

We all decided to take a canopy tour on the hotel property. This involved zip lines through stunning rain forest vistas to 13 platforms. The guides were extremely safety conscious and careful with the guests and we had a great time doing this as a family.

All we saw of Volcano Arenal was clouds and a few trees, but I guess it's really there and quite spectacular if you happen to visit at the right time. Here's a shot of where the volcano is

purported to be, directly over the steeple of the local cathedral in La Fortuna, the small tourist mecca at the base of the volcano.

After two weeks in the country working, learning Spanish, and figuring out how to live outside Los Estados Unidos, this was a much needed and a well deserved break for our children and for us.

The kids have worked so hard and have had great attitudes towards work, school, and have grown in their faith in Christ. We are very proud of them. The school staff have spoken highly of the work they have done so far.


Thursday, January 13, 2011

On the shelves!

Preparing books to be shelved in a library is a tedious process and one with which I was completely unfamiliar. We arrived with 300 Spanish language books that we carried in 5 additional suitcases. When the books were delivered to the library, the work began. Various stickers, checkout cards, bar codes, ISBN numbers, and other cataloging had to be completed. The books were grouped largely into EASY and JUVENILE FICTION. The EASY books are for very young children and contained books of the type you've seen in previous posts. The JUVENILE FICTION books contained the multiple copies of the Narnia series and other great books for teenagers. Today, we began placing the completely finished books on the shelves.
We probably would have finished, except for one minor problem. Each Spanish language book receives a green dot on the binding. You guessed it, we ran out of green dots with still many books left to go.

So tonight, back to the Multiplaza, fighting the worst traffic I've ever seen. We found the Office Depot and actually located (with the help of a friendly employee), etiquetas pequenas en el color de verde neon. Excelente!!

Tomorrow, we will miss the shelving of the rest of the books due to a weekend trip, but will look forward to seeing the results when we return on Monday. We have been working every day since we arrived and we're ready for a short break. My sister arrived at 1 am this morning, and we will all be heading to Volcano Arenal, one of the most famous destinations in the country. Rainforest canopy tours, hanging bridges, volcanic scenery, and great Costa Rican hospitality are all things we are looking forward to. You can see our hotel at

We have now been here nearly two weeks. We have felt God's presence in our work, our studies, and our family relationships. We have spent about 40% of the money you graciously gave to our mission, and we have been working with the library staff to identify the best ways to use these funds to benefit the children in the upcoming school year. As you might suspect, the staff is excited to have the opportunity to purchase much needed equipment and books, and are so thankful for your generosity.

We hope you have a great weekend!


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Nuestra maestra y nuestros hijos

One of the key components of our Costa Rica mission was to improve our Spanish language skills. Another missionary family who recently moved back to the United States after serving three years at La Palabra de Vida recommended Senora Nidia Jaen to us. We decided to have Senora Nidia meet with us each weekday during our time here. Danielle and Kristin have the first hour and Bradley, Vickie, and I have the second hour. Here is Senora Nidia with our children.

Senora Nidia is an excellent instructor and challenges us daily. We only speak in Spanish during class and have learned much in our first week here. Vickie and I both had studied Spanish many years ago (many more years ago for me), and it seems to be returning slowly. We enjoy our time with Senora Nidia so much and look forward to each day.

We also have been delighted to see the progress in the children's library. We have completely catalogued all 3oo books that we brought to the school, and the team from Wheaton has done a great job painting the area. Here is a picture of some of their handiwork. We have all pitched in to move books, clean, and ready the library for the next semester. We are re-organizing the children's section these next two days and we all cannot wait for the children to return in February.

Finally, my sister Anne, who was a French and Spanish language teacher and now is an administrator in a south Chicago school district, will be visiting us for a week beginning tomorrow. We are glad she is coming and know she will be a blessing to the school also. Hasta manana.


Monday, January 10, 2011

Mountains and volcanoes

Our first weekend in Costa Rica was everything we could have hoped for. Bradley, Kristin, and I went with a team from Men's International Mission from Wheaton, Illinois and climbed Pico Blanco, the highest point in the mountains near San Jose. Here's a picture at the summit. The mountain is a stunning combination of rocky, hilly terrain and rain forest. Our hike had long stretches of muddy, slick rainforest trails, rocks and debris, and beautiful vistas from several locations along the way. The kids did so well, but their legs were very sore today.

I have been more serious about exercise for the past five months and it paid off. Well, paid off in terms of a fifty year old guy on a hike with a bunch much younger than me. Only a slight amount of soreness today. Pleasing to me is an extreme fear of heights I developed fifteen years ago appears to be mostly gone.

Vickie and Danielle, who could not make the hike because she twisted her ankle the day before :(, went to Volcano Irazu with the rest of the MIM team, and had a great day of scenic mountain vistas and volcano views. Here is a picture of Danielle near Irazu.

We also made our first effort at driving in San Jose. Costa Ricans drive differently than Americans. They are aggressive and opportunistic. Red lights are like yield signs. They are eager to let cars into traffic, and one rarely hears honking. I don't see any road rage here, maybe because everyone considers the drive to work a big game.

We went to Multiplaza, San Jose's version of the Mall of America, and a restaurant or two. Imports are incredibly expensive here. If you like peanut butter, you should bring some with you!

Finally, here is a picture of our host family. This is Matt Befus, and his three daughters, Lindsay, Katrina, and Linnea. Lisa, his wife, and youngest daughter, Natalia, skipped the hike this day. Smart!!

Matt and Lisa are so gracious and dedicated to their mission of providing quality Christian schooling to nearly 400 Costa Rican children. We are proud to be of a little service during our time here.


Thursday, January 6, 2011

Mas libros, grande pollo joint.

You might ask why we would come all the way to Costa Rica and eat fast food. I'm not sure I can give you a good answer to that question. Regardless, when the kids work as hard as they have, they can pick the place we eat lunch. Yesterday, as you can see, it was the world's largest KFC. Great service, food is the same as in Los Estados Unidos, a super playland, and a chance to try out some of our budding Spanish skills.

Following lunch, we were back at the library to finish up the morning's work. All our books are getting ready to go on the shelves. The staff has remarked over and over how great it will be to have new, Spanish language, children's books! So thanks once again for your generosity. Below you will see, one of my favorites, Jorge el

We met Sarah yesterday, a young lady who has already served in missions organizations in Costa Rica and Africa. She recently made a decision to be a career missionary at La Palabra de Vida. We had dinner with her last night and it was such a joy to meet a person with such drive, energy, and enthusiasm for the Lord!

This weekend we plan to go to the mountains, attend church, do a little shopping, and enjoy the people and the sights of Costa Rica!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Con mucho gusto

We had our first Spanish tutoring session with Senora Nidia today.She is an excellent maestra. We were taught many words relating to food (which is extremely important in my mind :)). We also learned many common Spanish phrases. For example, in Costa Rica, when one says "thank you," the other person usually responds "con mucho gusto," which means "with great pleasure." I like that. This seems to be better to the much more common "no problem" which I hear more often than not in America. Senora Nidia is an excellent tutor and we hope to be conversational by the time we leave Costa Rica in February.

We dug into the books today and catalogued the entire collection. This included stamping, labeling, monogramming, and placing a checkout card in the book. The ISBN numbers are also being entered into the computer system. Here are some of the great kid's books we worked with today. You may recognize the covers from your collection, Moms and Dads! Lisa and Kristin,
the library staff, ensured that all the books were appropriate for the age levels at the school. Sometimes, the Spanish equivalent of American books contain elements, pictures, or other features which are not appropriate. The ladies did a great job of sorting through any questionable titles. There were very few out of the 300 or so that will supplement the library.

We sat down at the end of the day and talked through some more ideas for making the library a top rate area at LPDV. De-humidifiers are desperately needed to maintain the condition of

the books. There may be opportunities to provide additional shelving, and we may be cleaning out one or more areas to house additional teacher resources in order to free up space for more children's books in the library. As always, there are many more projects than there is money and time. As my friends in Mexico used to say, "poco a poco." Little by little, they would say, keep on fighting the good fight, and doing good works, and the Lord will bless and shower favor on these precious institutions.

POPS is the local ice cream shop in San Antonio de Belen. We just had to visit there last night and sample their delicious flavors of ice cream (helado). Pistachio, dulce de leche, and chocolate brownie were all very delicious!

Vickie and I actually cooked arroz con pollo, platanos, frijoles con salsa Lizano, and it didn't turn out too bad. Costa Rican food is delicious, not spicy, and agrees with our American digestive tracts!

God bless you all back home! Thanks for your prayers! We can feel every one of them down here, and God is going to do some neat things. Time for more tutoring.


p.s. Here is a final picture of our children with Kristin, the missionary and librarian at the school.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

First day in Costa Rica

Yesterday was a very long day, but one that blessed our hearts. Our pastor, Randy Snider, picked us up at 3:45 am for the drive to Chicago O'Hare. When we arrived, the US Airways Skycap was so helpful as we navigated our way through check-in with 10 heavy bags. The staff was gracious and only charged us a little extra for the two heaviest bags. All the books and our family make it in one piece to San Jose at 3:00 pm!

Our residence is delightful as are the Costa Rican breakfasts served by Ana each morning. I believe I could live on pineapple and gallo pinto (Costa Rican rice and beans).

We made it to La Palabra de Vida about 9:00 am and found out that Lisa and her daughters
(Lisa is one of the missionaries that operate the school) had been so excited to get the books yesterday evening, and had spent several hours browsing through all 300 books and enjoying reading a little and looking at a lot of the books for the youngers kids. To the left is a picture of some of the books on one of the tables in the library.

We found out that we will be helping to modify one part of the library to accommodate these new books and to reorder and restructure the rest of the children's area. This will take a lot of time but will be so much fun!

We will also be cleaning and readying another room for a collection of books that will be used for the upcoming semester. We can't wait to hear about all the jobs that we will help with during our
time here.

After we worked in the library, the kids were invited to swim. It was a very warm day (83F) and the all the children had a wonderful time.

We also met the librarian, who we will be working with us in the library.

I couldn't be more amazed at how God is providing for our family at every turn. I'm not sure why I am always so reluctant to trust Him, and am so eager to go my own way. During this trip, I hope to set aside my own plan and follow His unique plan for the life of my family. That will be a super faith building experience for me and for my family also.

I hope everyone back home in Texas, Minnesota, Illinois, and Wisconsin is braving the cold weather and doing great.

Some tidbits: If you order a hamburger in Costa Rica, just like in Mexico, you will get it with mayonnaise, ham, and sometimes cheese. Red lights are just a suggestion, and the traffic is worse than Houston! The mountains around San Jose are unbelievably beautiful, but often obscured by clouds. There is no spiciness (heat) in Costa Rican food, although Salsa Lizano (the Costa Rican catsup) is a delicious condiment made from tamarind. Works well on everything but ice cream! :) More tomorrow. Bill

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Libros para la biblioteca de La Palabra de Vida

When we decided to take a family mission trip together, there were three questions we needed to answer. One, would we go independently or with an organization, two, where would we go, and three, what would we do. Well, God led us to Matt and Lisa Befus and their work at La Palabra de Vida school in Costa Rica. Our primary project during our time there is improving the K-6 section of their library.

Lending libraries are not common in Latin America. Students and parents are reluctant to check out books and are astonished when told they can take books home and read them. The staff at La Palabra de Vida is attempting to change this part of the culture and are offering books for students to check out and read. Lisa Befus and the staff at the school identified 300 Spanish language K-6 books that would work well and fit the mission of the school. We were able to locate an excellent library book provider right here in Illinois (Perma-Bound Books), and they quickly and efficiently delivered 300 books to our home.

The books include Junie B. Jones, Wimpy Kid, Little House on the Prairie, Chronicles of Narnia, Heroes of the Faith, Dr. Seuss, and many, many more. These books are library bound with plastic coated covers. We hope they will serve the school for many years to come.

Thanks to your generosity, we will also be taking an additional $6000 to the school, and will be able to improve the children's area by buying furniture, throw rugs, murals, and other supplies.

We will also be able to consider a large computer purchase for the library to access the vast world of online resources that can also assist this school in improving library resources.

Thanks for helping us to provide these books and resources to La Palabra de Vida. We just got through packing all the books in five extra suitcases we are going to take with us. They are carefully protected with multiple layers of bubble wrap.

Here are our three children proudly displaying some of the books that will be going to the school.
Gloria a Dios para Jesucristo y La Palabra de Vida!