Wednesday, December 15, 2010
Thursday, September 16, 2010
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
Saturday, August 14, 2010
Wednesday, August 4, 2010
Tuesday, August 3, 2010
Monday, August 2, 2010
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
Monday, July 26, 2010
Sunday, July 25, 2010
Saturday, July 24, 2010
Sunday, April 18, 2010
For my whole life I have been ashamed of my inability to play team sports. I have tried to compensate for this important gap in my life as a man by being good at other things such as spear throwing, shooting, running, hiking, and other manly outdoor sports, but try as I might, I cannot move past the shame that I feel every time someone is watching a football game and I don’t know what is going on. I have been so ashamed by my lack of knowledge, that I have been unwilling to risk the humiliation involved in trying to actually learn a sport at my advanced age. At least, that was the case until I came to Costa Rica.
For the past month I have been playing soccer regularly with my neighbors. I have gotten better to the point that I am no longer ashamed, and I have even scored a few goals. It is extremely difficult to play in the slippery mud, so I invested in a cheap pair of soccer cleats, which improved my playing tremendously. There is only one catch. The cleats have moved me out of the world of slipping and falling every 5 minutes, into the world of too much traction and sprained ankles.
Yesterday, I was trying to steal the ball from a particularly agile opponent named Daniel, when my foot planted the wrong way, and with a loud “Pop!” I was on the ground, holding my ankle and trying not to cuss. It was a very respectable sprain, one that merited me limping off the field for all of ten minutes, before returning to play stationary defense in front of the goal.
I managed to walk the half mile home that evening, but I woke about 10 times during the night because of the pain, and then this morning I found myself almost unable to walk. Pain killers and working with the joint have helped to improve the situation so that I can now walk around the house and yard (which is good considering that I am here by myself while Juan is with his family), but luckily I am not well enough to haul the lumber that we are cutting for the corral. I guess today really is my lucky day!
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
Juan is going through one of those painful times in life at this moment. We just received word from the police that his grandfather has passed away in San Jose. The death was not unexpected (should death ever be unexpected?), but nevertheless, it is painful to have someone die. The typle evangelical attitude toward death is that, in theory at least, we should be happy and rejoice at funerals, and those times should be used to preach the Gospel. I definitely agree with some of the theory behind this attitude. A funeral is a great way to preach the Gospel, and we should both rejoice in the life of our loved ones, and in the new life that a believer now has for eternity. I don’t, however, believe in trying to make family members of the deceased feel happy at funerals.
I tend to agree more with the Jewish approach toward death, which involves a short time of symbolic death (mourning, uncomforted and unbothered by the need to be a part of the living world), followed by an extended and gradual period of being comforted and gradually reentering the world of the living. When our loved ones die, we die with them, and I believe that it is important to recognize that.
Please pray for Juan and his family. Even though you will not read this till long after the death of his Grandfather, I do not believe that G-d is any more bound by the time of our prayers than he is by the walls of our church.
Saturday, April 10, 2010
My teenage neighbors are no exception to this law. It is hard for me to recall a single afternoon spent with 14 year old Alfredo that did not involve some form of bloody knuckles, pushups, arm wrestling, boxing, racing, or some other type of competition. Thus, I was not terribly surprised the other day when Alfredo invited me for a friendly swim. I believe his exact words were, “Vamos a cruzar el rio para ver quien llegara primero.” Which can be roughly translated as, “Lets go swim across the river to see who can get to the other side first.”
After many comments about alligators smelling blood in the water, we had stripped off the majority of our clothes and were swimming with all our strength to see who would be the first to cross the hundred yards of swift currents and deadly wildlife. A small convoy of canoes trailed close behind us in the case of an emergency.
I swam with all the strength I could muster, trying hard to regulate my breathing and push my body through the water with the best possible technique. I managed to maintain a short lead over Alfredo for most of the crossing, but as we got within 20 yards of the finish, I saw a miracle take place. Suddenly Alfredo was swimming faster, and his head was high out of the water! At first I was shocked, until the finger tips of my left hand brushed the sand bar beneath me. Our swim had turned into a foot race. Amidst cries of cheater, and splashes of water, I raced with Alfredo to the muddy banks of the shallow river.
As I collapsed into the canoe, I was satisfied, knowing that I had once again proven that I was manlier than a 14 year old boy. Oh, sweet victory.
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
I finished Stranger in a Strange Land, by Robert Heinland, a couple of days ago. I was most impressed by the character of Jubal Harshaw, a cranky old man who is said to be the only human who can grok (understand) without speaking Martian. This character is even more interesting to me than ****Mr. Universe**** in The Watchmen.
In a discussion toward the end of the book, Jubal defines love as “a state of being in which ones own wellbeing is directly tied to the wellbeing of another.” While I do not accept this definition as final, nor would I completely accept any definition of love that came from a human, I do consider it to be one of the better attempts to define an indefinable word that I have come across. After reading this, I spent a while considering all of my relationships and trying to determine who I really loved according to this definition. I was surprised at how neatly the results coincided with the people that I already believed that I love. The most valuable insight that I gained from this was the realization that my mother loves me, my dad, and my siblings (and strangers) more than anyone else that I have ever seen. Her well being is so intimately tied up in our own that it is impossible for any of us to suffer without her suffering, or be happy without her being happy (she has somehow learned to be happy and suffer at the same time, which is an impressive feat).
I was amazed to think about how deeply I am known by my mom, and how little that is in comparison to how I am known by G-d. I want to know, and I want to be known. I believe that this is fundamental to how and why G-d made me.
Sunday, April 4, 2010
“Dreams are a way for your mind to process potential reactions to various scenarios (or fears), so that when the scenario actually takes place, you will know how, or how not, to react.”
About a week ago, I had a dream that my father had decided to become an orthodox Jew. I found the idea extremely upsetting for some reason. I particularly remember being upset when I realized that my mom would have to buy two new complete sets of dishes and cookware, one for dairy products, and one for meat.
A few days later, I had a dream that I was on a family vacation at a tropical beach. My brother in Law was there. He had everything so orchestrated and planned out, that it left no time for me to actually hang out with him and enjoy his company. Every attempt I made to get him to deviate from his plan and actually hang out with me was met with cheerfully obstinate refusal.
The third dream that I had was different from the first two. The first two dreams seemed to be my mind processing extreme versions of fears that I have with respect to some of my closest relationships.
In my third dream, I was dating a girl that I care about greatly. This dream was not about dealing with fear. This dream was about finally gaining a new understanding of my friend. For so long, I have held this friend on a very high pedestal. When I think of this girl, I think of beauty and romance. I have always thought of her as having a pure life, at least a form of a pure life. In my mind, she is on a never-ending quest for beauty, a quest that in my opinion can only have one end (or one beginning).
Through this dream, I felt peace in our relationship. Rather than thinking of her as this inhuman work of art, I was finally able to look at her and honestly say, “I know that you are just a person, but you are an extraordinary person.” This realization has brought me some peace that I did not know that I lacked. She is just a person, like you and like me. She is an extraordinary person. I appreciate her.
Thursday, April 1, 2010
It was cold this morning. It has been cold and windy here since the floods came. In a lot of ways, the floods in Delta are like snow in Alabama. One morning you just wake up and your yard is unexpectedly full of thousands of gallons of water. Everything is much prettier during the flood, and we all get a vacation from work. Instead of trying to work in all of this water, we do fun things like hunt, visit with neighbors, and hike through a foot and a half of water. The main difference is that the floods aren’t crystalline, and last a lot longer than snow in Alabama.
Joshua, our resident Canadian, really wanted to finish his canoe quickly so that he can travel to San Juan on the 15th, and hopefully make it all the way to the Rama, a Nicaraguan indigenous group, where he hopes to spend the rest of the time working. To finish his canoe, he needs a sander so that he can smooth the wood and fiberglass before adding paint. Our neighbor has agreed to loan us his sander if we can just come and get it.
The problem is that between our house and the neighbor’s house there is a 1000 meter path that crosses one really deep and fast moving creek, and about 5 smaller but still fast and powerful creeks. Almost the entire trail between here and there is completely covered in water. There is really no good way to describe the adventure that ensued, so I will try and let pictures do my talking.
Monday, March 29, 2010
Only a few minutes before, I put down the book I was using to prepare for the GRE (a test needed to apply to many graduate study programs). I was pleased with the amount of vocabulary that I knew or partially understood. Using the rain as an excuse to not weed the flower beds anymore, a got out my copy of Stranger in a Strange Land and began to read. After only a few pages, I heard voices in the comedor. That is when the Chaos started.
The students, and teacher, had arrived for the missionary training school, along with Joel, the man in charge of the farm, and his family. For the next 48 hours, I was running constantly, finding building supplies for the neighbors, carrying bags for Joel, serving food, running errands for Ana, shoveling manure, trying to take a bath (we ran out of water before I could rinse), and generally trying to help everyone with everything all at once. The icing on the cake was when I was asked at 9:30 at night (past bedtime) to preach the next morning.
I did not prepare at all that night, knowing how important sleep is. The next morning, I cleaned up, borrowed a shirt, and began praying and listening for the word of G-d. He led me to Matthew, where I taught out of the Sermon on the Mount. The main thrust of the message is a part of the scriptures where Jesus says that a bad tree cannot produce good fruit, and a good tree cannot produce bad fruit. Jesus also says that in the end many will cry out to G-d, and he will say “I do not know you”, and that if we truly believe in him, we will do G-d’s will.
After teaching in Media Vuelta, I was able to spend a bit of time visiting with Brandi, a friend who used to work with Palmas de Mamre, and who is now living in Media Vuelta, and married to Andre, another friend of ours and native Costa Rican. After visiting with them, we finally turned our boat toward Delta and began our journey “home”.
How to Farm Underwater
The teacher for this week at the missionary training school is a Professor of mechanical engineering who moved to the U.S. from India 43 years ago. Dr. Job Ebenezer focuses his work on developing appropriate technologies for the poor around the world. These technologies include vertical gardens which we will be trying at Delta because the will not be affected by the floods, as well as bicycle powered mechanical devices. He chose to work with bicycles because unlike other forms of renewable energy, they are cheap, readily available in poor areas, can be moved to power many different devices, and can also serve as transportation.
To find out more about Dr. Job and his work, you can visit his website at www.technologyforthepoor.com . If that link does not work, I will find one that does when I get home.
Saturday, March 27, 2010
We sit in our 1970s Land Rover, eating day old stir-fry out of metal bowls. To our right is a small, green, concrete house. To our left is a steep dirt embankment, draped in vines and roots, and lightly feathered with small green ferns. I am amused that, despite present circumstances, our first reaction is to eat lunch, knowing that somehow God will work it out.
A few seconds before, we were happily bumping down a gravel road in Costa Rica, making our way to our farm, when suddenly our engine just sputtered to a halt. To a sane person, this would be a problem, but we are not sane people. At Palmas de Mamre, we are so used to things not working, especially that annoying yellow Land Rover, that it is no longer natural for us to panic when things go wrong. Instead, we start praying, and then start thinking, and G-d always seems to present a solution.
In this case, the solution came in the form of a friend that Ana had not seen in a long time, so long in fact that she could not remember who he was at first. This friend of Ana’s came driving down the road right about the time that we finished our food. On top of the random appearance of a long forgotten friend, the gentleman’s son just happened to be a mechanic who worked on Land Rovers. In just a few minutes, they had us driving down the road again. A few minutes later we broke down again, and this time the son showed up with a full set of tools, and while the father gave us a 3 hour ride, the son dismantled and cleaned the gas tank of our Land Rover, pouring a thick red paste of mud and rust from the bottom of the tank.
Is G-d not spectacular in the ways that he chooses to work?
Saturday, February 6, 2010
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
I don’t really know how to describe all that I am feeling. I want to do this water catchment project, but I am also ready to be home for good. I hope that I am able to take full advantage of my time here to serve Christ, and I hope that he gives me a good attitude for the rest of my time in Costa Rica.
Sunday, January 17, 2010
The zone that I live in is called Delta, and it is one of the poorest places in Costa Rica (which is admittedly one of the richest countries in Central America). The area is so difficult that, during the annual floods, the Red Cross brings sacks of food to each family on the river to help sustain them. The families here have no clean drinking water, no electricity (except for a couple of families with generators), and the majority have less than a fifth grade education. The people here know how to live in this environment, and it is not a struggle for them to survive, but there is a lot that could be done to improve their standard of living as well.
As I was sitting in the boat riding back from Barra, Pastor Carlos Catilla asked me if I knew of any groups that did work with proving systems for making clean drinking water (wells do not work here because of the shallow swampy terrain and contaminated ground water). I told him that there were many groups like that, and that I even had a little bit of training in that area. I started to tell him about rainwater catchment systems, which would be the cheapest, easiest, and most reliable way for them to harvest clean drinking water in a rainy region like Delta. He asked me if there was something I could do to raise the support to have rainwater catchment systems installed on the 16 homes in this zone of the river.
I have become really excited about the potential of this project. I need to talk to Ana, and I need to look up some numbers, but I think that we can provide the families around here with clean drinking water for a relatively low cost. In a high rain area like Costa Rica, you do not have to have very many feet of gutters to harvest enough rain for a good sized family. I need to price the gutters, spigots, and a special filter that my sustainability teacher taught us how to make. If the price is low enough, we can provide each family with a set of gutters, a filter, and a spigot, and most of the families here will be able to provide their own water tank.
Please pray for this. For this to happen it has to be the will of God. If it is his will, then the problem of finding finances to do this project, and getting Ana’s permission are in his hands.
Friday, January 15, 2010
At 7:30 we got underway, and by nine we were in Barra. I felt so awkward, standing in line with my Costa Rican neighbors, trying to figure out how I was going to ask the gringos to give me free dental care. I figured they would probably think I was a tourist, or would not have time for me because I could pay a hefty sum of money and get my teeth cleaned in the states. Man was I wrong.
The group was incredibly friendly. They were a team sent out by Christian Dental Fellowship, an organization that sends teams of dental students all over Latin America and Africa, with the goal of inspiring them to find ways to use their dentistry as a ministry to build the kingdom.
They made me feel like a prince, everyone coming by to introduce themselves and hear my story. They even invited me to eat lunch with them. When it was all said and done, I had a set of clean teeth, a bunch of new missionary connections, and a bit of perspective on what these missionary groups look like to my friends and neighbors here on the river.
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
It is so much more peaceful at the farm alone.
Juan is in San Jose visiting his grandfather who has a broken hip, cancer, and some other ailments that I cannot remember. His grandfather said that he did not want to see anyone except for Juan. Juan is a strong spiritual influence within his family, and I am praying that his grandfather will come to know Christ during this visit, and also for his health.
Joshua left for San Juan twice yesterday. He forgot his passport on his first attempt and had to return to the farm and then find someone to carry him back to the Nicaraguan guard post where he can catch the public boat.
Since they have been gone, I have accomplished a lot. I have scrubbed the soot from all of our pots, cleaned the kitchen, bought a new cylinder of gas, washed my sheets, played soccer, started building a new set of stairs for the dock, ate dinner with the neighbors, went spear fishing for Sabalo in the river with no success, and had some very good spiritual conversations with one of the neighbors named Joel. Joel is very smart, and knows a lot of theology, but does not consider himself to be a Christian.
I have been rereading A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller for the last couple of days. I love to reread books. I have read The Lord of the Rings three times, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn five times, and The Hobbit 17 times. Of all of Donald Miller’s books, I think that this one ties with Blue Like Jazz as his best. It is impossible for me to read this without wanting to change my life and make it more meaningful.
I was thinking about some of the different themes that he talks about in his quest to make his life into a better story. One of the things that he talks about is a failed relationship. He talks about his one most serious attempt at a relationship, and how it fell apart even as they were considering marriage. I started thinking about the things that make a relationship good and the things that make a relationship fail. I thought about what Donald Miller learned from his failed relationship.
He had always placed romantic love on a pedestal, secretly believing that it was a magic key to fulfillment and a good life. He believed that a wife could take away your loneliness and replace it with contentment. He believed that a wife equaled a good life story.
Donald Miller no longer believes this, and neither do I. As I sat here on the porch, thinking about what makes a relationship good, and what a marriage should be, I began to think that what I want in a marriage is like Miller says in his book, “Neither needed the other to make everything okay. They were simply content to have good company through life’s conflicts.” I don’t want my wife to complete me, because she is just a person and cannot possibly complete me. What I want is someone who wants to share a life story with me. I want someone who appreciates the things that I care about, and who cares about things that I appreciate. I want someone who feels a compatible desire in their life to Love and serve G-d in the way that he is calling us. I want someone who is peaceful, not quarrelsome, and who is content with any station in life.
Monday, January 11, 2010
I Love you and I am proud of you. You work harder than almost anyone that I know, and you do it out of a true heart to serve the L-rd. Your dedication and self sacrifice is an inspiration to me and many other people. I consider you to be family and it is a joy to me whenever I get to see you. I admire the hard work that you have poured into the missions here in Costa Rica and Nicaragua. The missions work of Ramon, Gonzalos, and Leesa all stand as a legacy of the work that the Lord is doing through you. I pray that your spiritual family will continue to grow and fill with children and grandchildren. I know that you have had a huge impact on how I view ministry. Your example has helped to teach me that ministry should be done by faith, believing that the L-rd will work out the impossible things because it is more to his glory to work out the impossible. Your example has also taught me that there are true followers of Christ in the world, not motivated by selfish desire or conceit. I have met many other ministers and missionaries that I did not feel where pure in their motivation, but I have never had to wonder about that with you.
I want to speak with you because Delta is not what I was expecting, and I am having a very hard time here. I am used to expecting the unexpected, but this is a different type of thing. For most of the last month I have been depressed to be here. I have become accustomed to a rapid pace of ministry, spending time almost daily with my students in Alabama, becoming deeply involved in their lives, acting as a spiritual and life mentor for them as well as for several of my friends. It is a hard change for me to go from that to doing very little in the Delta. Yes there are work projects, and I participate in them, but that is neither my gifting nor why I came to Costa Rica. Opportunities for ministry here seem few and far between. I don’t feel like I have been doing much discipleship with Juan (he really does not seem to need very much), and the only church services and Bible studies that we have done are on Sundays in Jobo. These are good, but because of the cultural and language differences as well as the distance, I cannot reach and impact these people the way I want to. As far as the other schools, they are for the most part without teachers.
It is not that I do not see that there are opportunities to minister here, clearly there are, but the ministry is different than what I feel called to, and the opportunities are fewer than I expected based off of our previous conversations. I believe that people like Joshua who have a passion for preaching and evangelism are much better suited for this mission field, whereas my gifts are more aligned with mercy, compassion, and love, which is better suited to the reconciliation and discipleship ministries that I naturally gravitate toward. I just don’t feel like I am accomplishing much out here, which is frustrating because I know what I could be doing back home.
I feel like, when you offered me the opportunity to come work out here last January, I got excited about the idea of international missions and the glamour associated with this lifestyle among the church community and made a commitment without truly waiting to hear from G-d whether it was his will or not for me to come. Ever since I made that commitment I have not felt peace about it, and I have definitely not found peace here. I think this lack of peace may be manifesting itself in the stomach problems I have had for the last couple of weeks.
I am willing (but not excited) to complete my commitment as a Christian should, but I wanted to communicate all of this to you so you would know how I felt. I do not think I will be here for more than my commitment, although I am glad to serve the mission whenever I can on a more short term basis. I am praying to the L-rd for guidance over whether I should be here or not because just as I did not hear a clear yes before I agreed to come, I have also not heard a clear no, I just have a lack of peace. I am having a hard time hearing from the L-rd here, which may be a sign of some spiritual warfare taking place.
On a side note, for the last couple of weeks I have felt sick to my stomach. The sickness is not nausea, and only rarely do I have diarrhea. My most common symptoms are mild stomach cramps and general stomach discomfort that comes and goes throughout the day and night, but which is especially bad after eating, while sleeping, while sitting on benches, and while laying down or standing up. I occasionally get stronger cramps and have to run to the bathroom. Like I said, I have no nausea. I have tried to cut out fried foods, and coffee with no change. I also took Albendazol thinking that it was worms, but the Albendazol had no effect.
The only thing I could think of would be an ulcer from stress, or a very mild case of amoebic dysentery. Please let me know what you think the problem is and possible treatments.
Thank you for reading this long letter. I love you and hope to see you before I fly out on the 17th, or when I return on the 5th (I think my return flight is on the 5th but I am not positive). I hope you enjoyed your time in the states! I am excited to see my family and close friends and students (it is very hard for me to be away from them). Take care of yourself and Merry Christmas!
Saturday, January 9, 2010
I started learning how to play soccer yesterday. My neighbors are good teachers. They do not laugh at me or get mad when I accidentally break the rules. I think I am going to buy a soccer ball so that I can practice.
Anita and Joshua and several others have told me that my being here is not a waste and that I should take advantage of it as a time to grow in the L-rd. I just don’t know. It is hard to think about what I could be doing back home. I just don’t know.
Thursday, January 7, 2010
Tuesday, January 5, 2010
I made a mistake. I asked God to either make this adventure into a good story, and one characteristic of a good story is that it requires sacrifice. As I sat on the porch of a neighbors pulperia, tasting the forest meat that we hunted earlier that day, I asked Juan what he thought it would cost to buy the materials for our ship. He thought about it for a while.
“Costara, mas o menos, tres millones de colones.”
“Tres millones!? Pero yo no tengo este cantidad de moneda!”
“Cuesta mucho hacer un bote asi. Un galon de pintura cuesta como venticinco mil.”
“It will cost, more or less, $6,000.”
“$6,000?! But I don’t have that kind of money!”
“It costs a lot to make a boat like this. One gallon of paint costs like $50.”
I went home that night disheartened. $6,000 is a lot of money to spend on a boat that may or may not actually work. If I could be completely assured that I would succeed, I could justify the $6,000 easily, but it is harder to risk that kind of money on a pipe dream. As I fell asleep I resolved not to think about the ship anymore unless I magically came across some source of funding.
My resolution lasted about 12 hours. After I finished mowing the lawn with a weed eater this morning, I started thinking about my promise again. Is my word valueless? Is keeping a promise to a friend not worth the risk of loss and failure? What about Juan? Is it not worth $6,000 for him to have an adventure and finally get to see the United States? What about me?
I imagined myself at the end of my life, thinking over all the memories that I love and all the relationships that I cherish. As I lay there on my death bed, will I say, “I sure am glad that I saved that $6,000 to go toward a nicer camera and a better apartment?” Or will I look back and say, “Remember when my friend Juan and I built a ship and sailed to the United States together? Remember when I did something crazy to keep a promise to my friend Amanda? Remember what it was like as Juan and I pulled up to the share in Tuscaloosa, Alabama and all of my friends were there to meet us? Remember Amanda’s face when we pulled around the bend and the town of Valdez swung into view?”
I have to spend some time thinking about this. I want to commit to this adventure, and I think that is what I am supposed to do, but before I can go for this completely I need to talk to my wise counsel. I need to seek the advice of my elders.
Good stories involve risk.