Monday, January 30, 2012

God bless you, go in peace. And all heaven just weeps.

Manuel Antonio National Park is the jewel of Costa Rica.  Wedged on a nugget of real estate jutting into the Pacific, the park teems with exotic animals at every turn.  Americans, Canadians, and Europeans also congregate in large numbers at the park entrance waiting for their professional guides to point out and telescope in on the iguanas, monkeys, sloths, and toucans.

Outside the park, Quepos, the nearby town boasts a staggering number of restaurants and bars... for Costa Rica.  Most are English-speaking and cater to tourists.  Some fall into the category of fine dining, many try.

We love a little open air joint called Sancho's, that's five steps down from the nearest bus stop.  You'll breathe in exhaust occasionally, hot air will blow across your feet, but still, you need to move away from some of the more exquisite offerings and come here.   (

At Sancho's, Sam, a transplant from Florida, the son of a Jamaican father and Costa Rican mother, magically creates the best fish tacos we've ever eaten.  We find ourselves returning to Sancho's again and again and enjoying the company and the cuisine.

So do many Americans and Canadians.  Last night, we met a couple from Chicago, and a gentlemen from British Columbia who was entertaining an ex-pat woman, who had apparently discovered and ingested most of a bottle of rum.

Like you, with our children, we're just a little bit protective of their ears,  but only once or twice did her language ever border on the salty.  We said hello to her friend from BC, and he came to our table promptly.  We had a lengthy conversation with him and found out about his two month adventure and the places he had been.  

During the course of the conversation, he said this.

"I  participated in a turtle release today.  It was very emotional, I had tears in my eyes.  It was like a religious experience."

He added.

"Most North Americans here, they're kind of just floating.  Not concerned with the future, just living in the present.  Kind of lost.  You know what I mean?"

We enthusiastically agreed that his trip had been wonderful, and wished him the best, and he went back to his table to entertain the Lady of Ronrico.  We finished up and left.

After the kids had gone to bed, Vickie and I sat on the deck, stared out at the stars, the crescent moon, and the Pacific Ocean, and here's what she said, "When he talked about the turtles, I thought about telling him about how wonderful God's creation was and starting a conversation."

Yeah.  I thought about the same thing.

You see, in all honesty, as a Christian man, I'm more at ease with placing my life in the hands of a few Costa Ricans, ziplining two hundred feet above the rainforest, than I am with talking about my Savior to a stranger.

Would you say that last night was the perfect opportunity?  Would you say that this Canadian's conversation was a divinely inspired moment that I let slip away?   I would.

Would you have similar excuses?  It's a public place, I need to keep an eye on the kids, it's too crowded?  

You see, the Lord counts on us to bring others to Him.  It's an unusual choice by any accounting, as people like me are in the category of those who are directed  to share what's most important to us.  

It was presented to me like a 50 mph fastball in a batting cage.  And I whiffed.

I'm going to do everything I can to never let another moment like that slip by.   The stakes are too high.
Because I never want to feel the tears of heaven on my cheek .

Lord, give me the passion and the power to be an effective witness to your love.  To step out when you present opportunities to me.  To be a small part in enlarging your kingdom.  Amen.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

I'm tired and my shoulder hurts. A little whining from yours truly

I can tell you with a straight face, that I've never worked so hard in my life.  Four hours with junior high students in the morning.  They're all sweethearts, but they wear me out like a tire on an Illinois highway.  After lunch, we've shoveled, wheelbarrowed, and dug for hours on end.  We've pounded nails and painted.   While making twenty podiums for the classrooms here, I've spent more time on my knees than Mother Teresa.  This work's harder that catching a Tebow down and out.

One day, Julio, affectionately known as "Chuck Norris" among his peers, asked me to shovel up a chasm of dirt and concrete chunks.  It was the hardest six feet I've ever walked, one hour per foot.  He just kept walking by me with a big smile saying "pura vida."  I half-heartedly replied the same.  

The next day, Tom from Wheaton, a regular at this place for the last eleven years, let me spell him for a few minutes every hour feeding a concrete mixer with another shovel.  After that, my friends, my shoulder's as painful as a Rick Perry sound bite.  

It's been a fantastic thirty five days so far.  We've seen walls built, classes taught, prayers answered, lives changed, and attitudes improved.  We've hopefully lifted missionaries spirits, and made a few new friends along the way.  It's been fun and it's been hard.  I guess that's the way it's supposed to be.

So, these short term missionaries are needing a break.  And the school was more than happy to give me one.  The students have had all the Okie English they can take.  So this weekend we're driving west from San Jose to Quepos on the Pacific Coast.  There you'll find Manuel Antonio National Park, one of the neatest places I've ever seen.  We're staying in a villa where we'll relax, swim, cook, zipline, and ride horses.  We'll probably tour the park again, where there's more wildlife than a Lady Gaga look-alike contest.  You can see monkeys, toucans, sloths, ants that will take a toe off, and maybe even a loud American or two.  Sancho's, a little Mexican roadside joint run by two amigos from South Carolina, cooks up the best fish tacos south of San Diego.  We'll eat there at least twice.  Besides all that, I'm not sure I care what I do.  I'm as flexible as Mitt Romney's platform.  Because there won't be a shovel or a white board in sight.

I need a break.  And this is the country to take one in.  God Bless Costa Rica.  See you in February, mis amigos.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

I won't give the homeless guy five bucks cause he might buy a beer (What I've learned in CR)

Lounging in the comfort of our family rooms with a small group of Christ followers, instructing children on the nuances of Christian giving, or having a conversation with a friend or acquaintance, I've heard the following advice, or a version of it, so many times I can't count them.  I've even said it myself a few times...

"I don't give money to the homeless, because they will just go and buy beer (or whiskey, or cheap wine).  Now if you take them to a grocery store or a fast food restaurant and buy them lunch, that would be a wise use of money."

It's one of those ideas that most of us carry around in our wallet or purse, ready to  be extracted when we pull our car up to the stoplight, and there's that filthy human being with the sign that says, "Homeless, hungry, God bless you."

We look straight ahead and try to pretend he's not there, but our children know better.  Their eyes show it, and their innocent mouths speak it.  How can you ignore someone like that?  He doesn't look a thing like our neighbors, our fellow church attenders, or our colleagues at work?  What does he want, Daddy?  Why didn't you give him a dollar?

I've learned something over the last few years.  And its focus became even more keen while in Costa Rica this year.

It began with a conversation I had with a missionary.  It went something like this....

Bill:  "A lot of people I know say this (translation:  Here's what I think). 
Bill:  "You don't give money to a homeless guy because he'll just take it and go buy some Thunderbird, or a 40 oz. malt liquor.  You should take him to the store and buy him some food."
Missionary:  "Maybe he needs a beer."

Flippant?  Yes.  But those five words contain more truth than the response I've heard so often.  Don't agree?  Let me try to convince you of why the oft-repeated response to the homeless pleading for money is a smoke screen for much of what is wrong with the way you and I see the world.

First, let's be serious.  The chances that you will stop what you're doing, pick up a homeless guy, take him to Kroger, and buy him a loaf of bread and a package of bologna, is about the same as Barack Obama screaming at the media.  Not going to happen.

Second, Jesus said if you see someone who is hungry, feed them.  Jesus did not say, drive by, judge their condition in about 1.3 seconds, and determine that they need a pint of whiskey instead of a sandwich, and dismiss them like a Baptist church on a hot Wednesday night.  To judge their true need, you would have to actually meet and talk to them.

Third, if you give a homeless guy five bucks, there should be really nothing that matters less than the money itself.  You are buying time, or at least you should be.  Where else, may I ask, can you have a completely captive audience, to listen to you talk about Jesus Christ and his plan of salvation, at length, in its entirety?  Where else is there someone who needs to hear it more than the one who has little self worth, little hope, and nowhere to call home?

Fourth, admit it.  There's a part of you that hates to give money unless you get a tax receipt in return.  And that smelly guy dressed in a 1999 NCAA championship T-shirt with God knows what smeared on it, who hasn't had a bath or a shave in weeks, months, or years, does not have a pocketful of receipts.

Fifth, you may be greedy.  You may have so much of your money wrapped up in your home, your cars, and your investments, that it's hard to see giving away anything to anybody.  After all, most polls, Christian and otherwise, say folks that identify themselves as evangelicals give 2-3% of their after-tax money for charity.

Sixth, like so many of us, we're much better at judging from a throne rather than being on the street getting our hands dirty.  Sitting in churches and small groups and talking philosophically about giving and situational kindness is as close as we ever get to reality.

In certain parts of Costa Rica, there are mothers displaying crippled children asking for money, blind beggars with cups, severely handicapped men and women that makes it difficult to figure out what they are asking for, elderly beggars, adolescent beggars, toddler beggars, all approaching the rich American family.  

I've prayed to God and asked him to forgive me for my judgmental spirit and sporadic kindness.  I've tried to give most of the ones I see some money, and bless them with a handshake, a hug, and a word about Jesus.  Some I have still  walked by.

For those of you who think about things in this way, it's a cheap trade.  A dollar or so for a conversation that could be life changing.

Maybe a few of you will pull your car aside the next time you see a homeless man or woman, take the time and learn their story and bless them with the transformational message of Jesus Christ.  Yes, I know safety is a factor.  But if you never take a chance in life, you'll never do anything valuable.

Who knows, they may discard what you say, and buy a six-pack, but what if they do?  You have become part of their future faith story.  You have done something valuable, you have got out of your car and cared for..."the least of these."

Think about it.  Go.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

In the corporate world, hope is not a strategy, but then God's not a CEO

My Spanish skills are sort of like Rick Perry's debating skills.  I'm trying to remember the right words for the situation without making a fool of myself.  But I frequently find myself struggling to express myself.  Combining hand gestures with broken Spanish is effective, kind of like Jingle Bells.  We'll get to where we're supposed to be going, but the other fellow is laughing all the way.

Several Spanish words have multiple uses, but the one that intrigued me was esperar.  This Spanish verb means to hope but can also mean to wait.  

Last Saturday we attended Vida Abundante, a rapidly growing evangelical church that meets in a tent in Cariari.  The pastor was a smooth, handsome amigo, who I enjoyed watching very much.  Trouble is, I didn't understand two percent of what he said.  His message went in one of my ears and out the other quicker than an Italian skipper abandons ship.  I listened carefully for use of the verb esperar but was unable to distinguish whether the pastor was talking about hoping or waiting.

So I went home and did a little study.  From what I've been taught during my years in church, here's what I believe to be true:

Hope, in Bible terms, is an anticipation of something that is certain.  It is not just wishing, but a confident assurance of something that hasn't happened yet, but certainly will happen.

Waiting, in Bible terms, is time spent before something happens.  How we wait is dependent on our maturity in Christ.  

Put another way, we hope that the Lord will reveal His plans to us.  We wait to hear from Him on the matter.  How certain our hope is and how patiently we wait are both functions of our maturity and our reliance on Him.

Let me show you this in scripture:

Romans 8:24-25 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

Romans 5:3-5 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

In other words, our hope is for eternity in heaven.  It is certain that it will happen,  and if we know it is certain, our wait is a patient one.  Being certain comes from being tested.  No suffering then no character building.  No character building, little certainty.  All leading to a long, troubled wait.  Are you with me?

My family is excited to have been in Costa Rica for a second year in a row.  We can't believe that we only have 10 days left.  When we return to the United States, many things will have changed.  We know my employment will be different, and there is a potential that many other things in our lives will not be the same.

Vickie and I are praying each day that our hope will remain firm and our wait will be a patient one.  We know that the Lord will take us where he wants us to go, and we are waiting on Him to let us know where that will be.

As someone said, "I'm praying that a whole bunch of doors will be closed, but He'll leave a window open."  That is our prayer too.

Thank you for standing with us.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The coldness of competence - disdain for the lacking

There's only a handful of books I've read twice in my lifetime, and none in recent memory...until now.  Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer, is a superbly written, fascinating account of the disastrous collection of 1996 Mount Everest climbing expeditions that resulted in fifteen deaths and several climbers with permanent, debilitating injuries.  Karkauer brilliantly captures the gut-wrenching exhaustion that comes from attempting to reach a goal that literally defies death, and the personal heroics of several teams that were at Everest that year when plans and people began to unravel.

I picked up an original hardcover edition at the La Palabra de Vida library and read the entire volume quickly.  This time, near the end of the book, in a section, I'm sure that I glossed over during my previous read, I came upon a phrase used by the author, that so aptly describes so much of human life, that I had to study and re-read it over and over. 

Krakauer describes the elite fraternity of world-class climbers in this way, "They can be deeply moved, in fact maudlin, but only for worthy martyred ex-comrades.  A certain coldness, strikingly similar in tone, emerges from the writings of other elite climbers:  a coldness of competence."

I like the term.  It summarizes the feelings that, on occasion, have been expressed to me in many walks of life, and the feelings that, on occasion, I've displayed to others.  I like the term, but I do not like the implications.

In professions inhabited by the elite, in work that is absolutely vital to the health and welfare of others, the coldness of competence is crucial.  There is no occasion in a nuclear power plant control room that those responsible for safety would tolerate an outsider, with no knowledge of plant operations to come and operate the critical controls of the plant.  There is no airline pilot alive that would let a child take the controls.  And there is no elite mountain climber that would let a novice rig his gear.

The coldness displayed is appropriate for the risk involved.

Churches do not, and should not display the coldness of competence, but all too often, those who walk through the doors for the first time, receive this message loud and clear.

Ignorance of liturgy leads to pointing and stares and exclusion.  Differences of opinion on confusing scriptures can result in censure and dismissal.  Expressing a political opinion different from the majority stimulates the most hatred and disdain.  If you don't believe me, go to a church who is the polar opposite of yours and see how you are received when you spout your opinions.

Many I've asked about this say or at least imply, "I'm right and you're wrong, I'm competent and you're  not."

All of these are the culture of competence, and the coldness of interpersonal relations.  When we grow up in a church system, we grow used to the things we're supposed to do, feel, and think.  We, the members, promise to welcome all...with our words.  But the coldness of  "we know how things work here, and you don't," is transmitted as a crisp signal, once you get past those who volunteer to welcome.

Rarely do members break up their chats with their friends, to learn about those coming through the door for the first time, especially if they are poorer, more awkward, or different in color.

There's something wrong with a large number of American churches.  I've experienced it, and I'm sure some of you have too.  What can we change?  That may not be the question.  The right question may be - How can we bypass the established church to reach those who do not know Him?

The established church can continue to fulfill the role of educating believers, providing a place to worship, and blessing the least of a safe distance.

There has to be more.  I'm searching.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Ain't no P90X in a pile of dirt

 I'm no athlete.  I was not involved in any organized sports in high school. For the first two-thirds of my adult life, I was skinnier than a soda straw in a Diet Coke.  When I noticed my weight had creeped up closer to two hundred pounds a few years back, Vickie and I both decided to start exercising more regularly.  We chose P90X, which when beginning, is akin to torture.  Some folks mute Tony Horton, but I kind of like the same sort of way I like going to the dentist.  I know it's necessary but it doesn't make it any easier.

We've been through portions or the entirety of P90X five times.  It certainly has assisted reducing my waist line and gaining strength.  Pullups were hardly possible when I began.  Now they are easy...up to a certain point.   I will never have the size or strength to compete at a high athletic level, but I certainly have gained a lot of strength.

Enough about me.  Julio, my friend who works at La Palabra de Vida has, I'm certain, never seen the inside of a Lifetime Fitness.  He's never stood in front of a television lifting barbells.  But when he swings a pickax, his blows penetrate twice as far, and he does twice as many as me before he tires.  Julio is not a large man.  Maybe five feet six inches and one hundred fifty pounds.  But a lifetime of labor has given him endurance.

Here's the deal.  Exercising in front of a television or in the gym may tone your figure and build muscle size.  It also will increase strength.  But muscles built in the gym is like beauty achieved by plastic surgery.  It may look good, but it may mask inner weakness and a telling lack of endurance.

You see, I don't swing a pickax, push a wheelbarrow, or shovel rocks, on a daily basis.  Julio doesn't either, but he does it enough that he has great strength, great technique, and great endurance.  He told me I was strong, and a great help, and I broke up a lot of dirt.  He was just being nice, as all Costa Ricans seem to be.

We, you and me, must live our lives as Christ followers in this way.  Knowledge gained seated on high end cushioned chairs is good and necessary.  But you and I will be blustery, short lived, fire hydrants of self-righteousness unless we get out of our church, out of our small group, and practice what we've learned.  We must use what we have built within ourselves.  Otherwise, we'll be of little value to the world, and offensive to God.

Churches are not supposed to be universities, where students may learn for years or decades, and discuss their theories, and write their theses.  We must take and apply what we have learned.  We must do it immediately.  The stakes are too high to be seagoing ships porting with no cargo.

So like Julio, build your strength by swinging away.  Get in the game.  Go.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

El Camino Romano - The Roman Road

My grandmother had it written inside the front cover of her King James, my mom copied it into her New King James, and I have the verses marked in my New American Standard.  It was one of the first things I was taught when I crossed the line of faith in 1990.  It's the Roman Road.  It's the wonderful words of life, the word of the Lord, the promise of eternal life, and the reality of sin.  It's what I think about almost daily, and it's what I live for.  

So I thought five Costa Rican students should know it too.  My kids are great. They're chatty, flirty, and smart.  Just like they should be.  They love to please their teachers, and are hurt when they get something wrong.  They love encouragement and praise, and they respond well to correction.  They are everything good students should be.  

This is their first year at La Palabra de Vida (the Word of Life) Academy.  They will get an education that approaches the highest level that Costa Rica offers, and they will also receive bible instruction each day also.  

For this short English class, I'm teaching, I am given freedom to discuss the bible every day.  Today I chose the Roman Road.    You probably know it, but here it is just in case.  It's beautiful in Spanish as well as English.  Here's the Spanish version:

Romans 3:23 Pues todos han pecado y están privados de la gloria de Dios.

Romans 5:8 Pero Dios demuestra su amor por nosotros en esto: en que cuando todavía éramos pecadores, Cristo murió por nosotros. 

Romans 6:23 Porque la paga del pecado es muerte, mientras que la dádiva de Dios es vida eterna en Cristo Jesús, nuestro Señor.

Romans 10:10  Porque con el corazón se cree para ser *justificado, pero con la boca se confiesa para ser salvo.

Anyone, even me, can share something so valuable, everything, and I mean everything, pales in comparison.  Amen.

How deep the Father's love for us,
How vast beyond all measure
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure

How great the pain of searing loss,
The Father turns His face away
As wounds which mar the chosen One,
Bring many sons to glory

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Doggone dogs done tuckered out.

The school dogs, Pepper and Pounce, are worked much harder than their American counterparts.  Their vigilance, intelligence, and actions, are what really makes the school tick.

Following a trying and difficult day of many different activities, the dogs were plumb tuckered out.  Here they are at the end of the day.

Here's what they did:

1.  Woke up
2.  Ate
3.  Slept
4.  Barked at Americans
5. Slobbered.
6. Slept
7. Trotted with Mr. Befus to the school
8. Slept
9. Watch cat kill gecko
10.  Slept
11. Mooched food at lunch

12. Followed the carpenter
13. Slept
14. Turned over
15. Slept
16. Followed kids to pool
17. Slept
18. Greeted Grandma.
19. Scratched
20. Slept

These canines rock.  I wish I was more like 'em but it's all this nervous energy.  Later.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Leaders are lovers (mi esposa Vickie)

At a small group conference several years ago, the speaker reminded us of Jesus' admonition to Peter at the end of the gospel of John.  When asked if he loved Jesus, Peter said he did, and Jesus responded with..."Feed my sheep."

In other words, if you love Jesus with all your heart, you will love the the ones who are the "least of these" with all your heart, and since you are great at love, you will be great at leading.  Leaders are lovers.  You can't lead if you despise those who you lead (at least not for long).

My wife, Vickie, loves her students.  But not just in a huggy way.  She prepared for a week for the nine little children, then spent this morning teaching them phonics, colors, and of course, a lot of games.  My daughters and their best Costa Rican friend, Yulibeth, were great helpers.  When she was done, she spent the next four hours working on improving the class for tomorrow.  Since the kids know zero English, some adjustments were made, and tomorrow promises to be a great day.

You see great leaders, whether it's an executive in charge of thousands, or Mother Teresa holding the hand of a leper, are lovers.  Great lovers.  I love her and I'm proud of her and when I grow up, maybe I'll be as good a teacher as she is.

Jesus just left Santa Ana and he's bound for Belen (with apologies to ZZ Top)

Costa Rica is a small country wedged between the Atlantic and Pacific.  It boasts mountains, active volcanoes, and the worst traffic I've ever experienced.  It touts ecolodges (high end hotels without air conditioning), larges swaths of rainforest set aside for ecological preservation, and a university that helps the world to understand peace.  It also has dozens of buses belching whirling black clouds of exhaust, usually right into our face as we drive with windows down in the late afternoon.

My daughter Danielle snapped this photo, which sports not advertisements, but reminders of the unique religious nature of this country.  In the right hand corner of the picture of Jesus, "JESUS NOS VE."  Below, "Espero en Dios volver."

We like driving home behind these buses as reminder that Jesus will return and Jesus does hear our prayers.  We also joke that we might experience the miraculous, no traffic!

Costa Rica is mostly Catholic, and Catholicism is imbedded in the constitution as the state religion.  Public schools provide religious instruction, and freedom of religion is granted to those who practice different beliefs than Catholicism.

Costa Rica has thwarted attempts by individuals and other worldwide organizations to change its constitution.  Additionally, the Costa Rica constitution clearly defines life as beginning at the moment of conception.  There have also been challenges to this stance, with no success to the present.

Having said all this, many Costa Ricans who claim Catholicism as their faith do not actively participate, and there are many active evangelical Christian missionaries in the country.  The Mormon church has a reported 147 missionaries in the country, topping the list.

My challenge to you, pick Costa Rica or any other country and go.  No excuses, make it work, and you will never regret it.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

There are no Targets in Costa Rica - Wal Mart alert

In Tulsa, Oklahoma, you're just a two hour drive or so from Rogers, Arkansas, where Sam Walton got his start.  Oklahoma's first Wal-Mart opened in Claremore, home of Will Rogers, in 1968, which is a hop, skip, an a jump from my boyhood home.  I've always shopped at Wal-Mart, and I was unaware of the Target connection to Minneapolis-St. Paul until we moved there in 2001.

Minnesotans fight Wal-Mart openings like Lindsay Lohan fights jail sentences.  There's lots of delays and lots of lawyers.  The smaller retailers are incensed, the unions display bravado and grit, but most certainly know they've got a fight on their hands.  The stories of Wal-Mart indiscretions are certainly well known, but in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, they are repeated like scripture.  Like anything else in life, you rarely get the entire story from the offended or the guilty.

Wherever I've lived, small town or metropolis, Wal-Mart wins.  Eventually, the walls will go up, the trucks will deliver, the blue vests will go on, and prices go down, or so they say.  

I like Target too.  The spiffy, well-designed appearance, the cleanliness, the speedy checkouts, and the smaller square footage all appeal to me.

So I avoided controversy like Jon Huntsman avoids votes.  I shopped at both joints. I got in, I got out, I picked up the tomato sauce or the toilet paper, and I was the hero.

Such was life until a few years ago, when Wal-Mart moved to a town near where I lived.  During a discussion with some acquaintances about the new retailer, one quipped, "It's busy, but those aren't (insert the name of the town here) people in THAT store."  They were serious.

I took a deep breath, readied my reply, and said...nothing.  It wasn't worth it.  It was just so sad and despicable.  You know.  They were those people.  The kind you laugh at on, the kind that cut your grass and fix your sink and build your homes and pass the cheeseburger and fries to you at the drive-through.  The kind that you laughed at in your schools.  The kind would never invite to your church, because you don't know any, and besides, they would embarrass you.

So after reflection, I knew it wasn't a Wal-Mart vs. Target thing, it was an us vs. them thing.  It was the sad state of the American church in which lifesaving stations have become social clubs.  It's never stated up front, but it's a well-placed jab in the face of anyone who might fall into the category of "those people" and drives into suburban church parking lots across America.  And it says this.  You're not welcome here unless you look like us, think like us, and act like us.  Because if you don't, you'll spoil the show.

So today?  I still shop at the nearest store, whether it is the big box, or the red circle place.  I like them both just fine.  It just so happens in Escazu, Costa Rica, there is no Target.  But in Central America and your city alike, there are countless people who need Jesus.  They might not look, act, think, vote, or eat like you do, but all it takes to begin is "Hello, how are you?"  And one more thing, you have to put your smartphone in your pocket and actually listen to their answer.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Library - a special place in our heart.

The library at La Palabra de Vida is a special place for us and for the school. The library becomes the staging area to begin a new semester.  Teachers parade through to receive materials, hugs, and encouragement.  Students find reference materials, use computers, and books to check out.

Our family spent the majority of our 2011 mission in the library sorting

through the books you helped to purchase to enhance the experience for the K-6 children at the school.

This year we have split our time between prepping for our ESL classes that we will teach, construction work, and the library.  My daughters have worked so hard to ready materials for the new semester.  Your funding helped purchase a new laminator which was sorely needed.  The laminator has been running like a shoplifter from a 7-11.  Kristin and Danielle have been processing the newly laminated posters which will dress up drab classrooms and brighten the student's day.  They have cleaned, fetched, cut, copied, and sorted.  They are faithful workers who know the importance of what they are doing.  I am so proud of them. They are delightful young ladies in the Lord.

The rich and the poor and Jesus

American Christian, if you go south of the Mexican border or most other places in the world, you will be rich.  You will be catered to and admired.  You may be seen as the camel lumbering up the needle, or you may be seen as Donald Trump without the red tie and hair.  You'll spend more in a day, on occasion, than most of these folks spend in a month.  You wouldn't let your octodoodle, pikabu, or whatever your designer dog is called, eat from a dish in the same room where the people who wait on you eat, sleep, and play with their kids every day. Because you are perceived in this way, you may feel as if you need to be the decision maker, the wise one, and the final word.  Don't do it, because you're none of those things.

Truth be told, we share many of the same things with the poor, with some notable differences.

Rich and poor alike feed hungry animals from our plates.  Rich are proud of what they have, poor are too.  Rich are scared, poor are melancholy. (Max Lucado).  Rich drink coffee in the morning, so do poor.  Rich worry about how they look, poor likewise.  Rich go to church looking like they're going to the beach, poor wear their best.  Rich want their kids to go to the best schools, so do poor.  Rich read the ten commandments,  then read what Jesus said, then ask forgiveness privately.  So do the poor.  Rich gossip about those in their social circles, who are different, scandalous, or secretly broke.  Poor do too.

I'm rich in Costa Rica.  I'm middle class in Illinois.  No matter how hard I work with my Costa Rican friends, there will always be a chasm between us.  It can only be narrowed by being consistent, honest, hard working, and a truth teller.  I'll never stop trying.

As American Christians, we have to realize we have attitudes.  We survey another kind of people, another kind of culture, and we quickly judge that they need to be like us.  It's the sort of stupid, uninformed, conceited thinking that characterizes those of us who only leave for short trips out of America.

As I've learned, and as you should learn too, if you want to win others to Christ, if God has placed a call on your life, if you're traveling far with bibles and tracts and a child's knowledge of a language, do these things.  Be humble, ask those you meet to "help you understand," and leave your American judgment at home.

These are some things I've been thinking about.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Yo soy una bolsa de tierra (I know, there is no Spanish equivalent)

Since I did not commit any serious crimes during my time in the U.S. Navy, I never was sent to chip rocks and shovel dirt for the rest of my waking hours.  So today, I got a bit of a feeling what that must be like.  The difference... I took breaks when I wanted and quit around four p.m.

Stan, one of the Colorado team members at La Palabra de Vida this week, has been a pleasure to get to know.  He's a Navy Nuke from the 1970's, and was a Shift Supervisor at the Ft. St. Vrain Nuclear Plant, which was prematurely shut down in the late 1980's.  Stan's no spring chicken, but he still has two speeds, overdrive and off.  Just like me.  He's also got the sarcastic wit common to most nukes and nuke plant operators.  And setting an example for all of us, Stan works harder than Callista Gingrich's hairdresser. 

So when I was shoveling dirt and rocks, Stan immediately dubbed me, "the dirtbag from Illinois."  Not knowing the Spanish equivalent, I consulted the local experts, but the best we could come up with was "bolsa de tierra."  It works for me.  In fact, some would say it is a promotion.

The pictures you see here are a project that may not meet all OSHA standards, but will provide a much needed bolstering of one of the main classroom buildings.  Like the United States Treasury, its foundation had eroded a little over the years, but this new wall and the fill will prevent any future problems.  Men and women alike chipped rocks, broke up dirt, and shoveled large and small loads into a wheelbarrow procession that was as predictable as a Mitt Romney sound bite.  That's how things get done here, poco a poco, little by little.

You'll also see some snapshots of my son, Bradley, and his good friend, Roberto, who lives just down the street, and will be a ninth grader at LPDV this spring.  When given the choice between library duty and this job, they chose the wheelbarrows.  Roberto is helping us with our classes for the next three weeks as he is an excellent English speaker already.

Vickie and I also are preparing to teach about fifteen children an ESL course.  After a mild panic last night over not preparing yet, I dug into the material today, and I'll believe I'll be ready to overwhelm these youngsters with my Okie English.  Everything will be fine until someone asks one of these kids how they are, and they reply "Fair to Midland."  Then the parents are gonna come knocking.

We're having a great time, I hope you are too.  Blessings, Bill
The makeshift ramp for wheelbarrows

Wheelbarrowing around the corner

My son, Bradley, emerging from the fill area

A Colorado team member who I hope and pray has good balance. 

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Ain't a non-hacker in the bunch

During our time in Costa Rica, we consider it a high privilege to work with teams of folks from Loveland, Colorado and Wheaton, Illinois.  The nineteen from Loveland rolled in about the same time we did, young and old alike.

Bill is the senior statesman of the bunch, quite a few years into retirement, and shares words of wisdom and laughter with teammates as young as twenty years old.  Brad is about my age, and is one of those guys everyone needs as a friend.  You know the kind I mean, the Phi Beta Kappa of everything important, from plumbing to drywall to cabinets.  

If you come here, you'll see men and women, young and old, operating jackhammers and rolling wheelbarrows, wielding sledgehammers, and cordless drills, working in the overhead and on the ground on their knees.  They're in the library and the classrooms, cataloging books and installing new electronics.  They are diverse, but share two things in common, a love for Jesus, the hero, and La Palabra de Vida, the school.

There ain't a non-hacker in the bunch.  So here's some pictures from today along with a few others who hack away also.  My family.

As the last photo says in Spanish, "In everything set them an example by doing what is good.  In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned.
Working on supports for new Powerpoint projectors

Wood working for the 21 lecterns being built this trip.

Jackhammering out a staircase to increase the size of the cafeteria.

Celebrating the completion of concrete removal.

Brad, master of many things important.

My kids, completing schoolwork prior to beginning the work day.

Titus 2:7 in espanol

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Fearless, unprotected, Tico pedestrians

The roads here have no names.  There is no home mail delivery, everyone goes to the post office.  Directions may include phrases like, "Turn right where the large tree used to be," or "there's a large black dog on the corner...usually."

I'm not sure where we live, I know it's near the Plaza de Cariari, I know the MexiChem plant is right up the street, but no way could I could tell you how to get here.  That's part of the fun of being a Temporary Tico.  You never really know where you're going, but people are nice enough to help you get there and get back home when you're done.

Pedestrians, street vendors, newspaper hawkers,  and beggars populate almost every corner.  Children play on trikes and with soccer balls near the boulevards, and groups of teenagers walk and talk and giggle near the curbs without a care in the world.  Navigating this amazing cornucopia of activity is a little bit like cooking gumbo, a few things you have to do at exactly the right time, but most of it is just when you feel like it.

On our way to MultiPlaza yesterday, we came upon this street sign, which is now #1 on my list.  In the places I've lived, Clear Lake City, Woodbury, and Byron, geese and ducks saunter across the road from time to time, and most drivers stop quickly to avoid them.

In Cariari, let it be said, you've been warned, and in a way that is counter to the "muy tranquilo" culture here.  So, if you come here, please, please, please, be alert when you drive for all the groups mentioned above.  But, mas importante!!