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