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!

Home school in San Antonio de Belen

We've always home-schooled our children. I've never been fond of calling what we do "home school." Pro-homeschooling websites advocated naming your home school, to give the teachers and the children a sense of identity and belonging. We haven't done that either. For now, I guess it will just be, "Kids! Time to get started!"

What we have done is structure a curriculum largely based upon an informal network of trusted friends and informational resources. It contains all the normal features of public school, math, science, reading, writing, spelling, social studies, history, and on and on. It also contains, at our choosing, bible devotional materials, history of the world from a biblical perspective, science from a biblical perspective, and other specific materials that clearly celebrate our Christian heritage and traditions.

We're not "home school separatists," those who are critical and hostile to any other form of education. We are both educators by occupation and enjoy the challenge and fun of teaching our children. In Minnesota and in Illinois, the public schools in our area are well run and do an excellent job of education and activities.

During our time in Costa Rica, our kids will do an abbreviated day, probably three hours, which will be supplemented by one hour with a language tutor, and other activities at the school. We will all learn how missionaries do their work, how Costa Rican culture and government works, and we will immerse ourselves in travel, shopping, and hopefully conversation with Costa Ricans at every opportunity.

We're very comfortable with our decision to home school our children and our decision to continue their education in Costa Rica. We believe this will be an unforgettable time in their young lives, and will hopefully stimulate a desire to be involved in their own similar opportunities as they mature and grow in Christ.

All our children have told us they've crossed the line of faith, and are growing believers in Jesus. We are so excited to have this opportunity together. I can't wait to see how the Lord works on their hearts in January.