To say that this was both the best and worst experience of my life is entirely accurate. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of my summer in Costa Rica. During my most trying week, I got an unexpected though timely email from a good friend, reminding me of the very words I had confidently written back in May and which many of you received. Somehow she knew exactly what I needed to hear at that specific moment where I was struggling so much. As I sat alone on my boxspring bed, I re-read my own words again and couldn’t help the smile slowly taking over my face, pushing the fear aside…“When I look at the odds stacked against me, I just have to laugh. No matter what trials may come, His peace is the only constant, quietly urging me to trust. And so I will, because He’s my only hope of making it through. Now, more than ever I covet your prayers. I can’t wait to share the testimony of all He WILL do this summer!” It may sound cliche, but I had no idea how true those words would prove to be. I’ve been back in the US for a little over 4 months. It’s taken me awhile to put this together, but here is the story of what HE did.
For several years prior to 2009, John 15:5 had been a verse that God has laid on my heart. No matter what book I read, sermon I heard or conversation I had….this verse always came up. The frequency and persistancy of this message led me to spend many hours thinking about this particular passage. Now, looking back, I know that God was preparing me for this summer by throwing me the lifeline in advance.
“I am the Vine, you are the branches. If a man remains in Me, and I in Him, he will bear much fruit.
If I tell you a truth that I’m not proud of, there are still times every now and then that I break down when I remember the completely helpless feeling that prevailed during those long 3 months. I’ve always hated any sensed “weakness” in myself and this summer I discovered a truth that many of you may already know but which shook me to the core…certain situations exist that even I can do absolutely nothing to change. Situations where all of my efforts amount to nothing.
I knew we were in over our heads going into the summer and we mentally prepared for the obstacles of language, culture, relationships and living conditions that we would likely face. But there were certain things we couldn’t foresee: problems with people that we would be working shoulder to shoulder and living with, the simple unpredictability of life in another country and huge financial hits due to a struggling economy. We had close encounters with poisonous snakes, middle of the night burglars and a suspected mountain lion. One intern fell 20 ft from a waterfall when the rock he was standing on crumbled, there were scorpion stings or the instance where two interns almost drowned when sudden 15 ft waves rushed towards shore (Stacey’s lips were blue when Matt pulled her out of the water). There were more times than I can count that I didn’t have enough money for food, had nothing in the refrigerator, nothing in the bank account, no transportation, no translator, locals demanding large amounts of money that we didn’t owe yet had no way to prove, and no idea what to do with the 20+ people depending on me at any given time. I did many things I never thought I would do….like hitchhike on a deserted Central American highway late at night in a thunderstorm because one of the interns and I got stranded (over 80 miles from home) and ended up with no other option but to catch a ride on a semi truck. And honestly, that isn’t the half of it. Imagine making business deals involving thousands of dollars, navigating hospitals, dealing with nurses and doctors, ordering supplies, lining up community events and guest speakers, traveling across country by bus and hiring drivers when you barely know 200 words of the foreign language everyone else speaks naturally.
As the weeks went by and our financial situation grew worse, my interns and I spent many nights going before the Lord, seeking His will in what we should do. For obvious reasons, I couldn’t share the depth of our problem with anyone, but God sent people to me when the need was the greatest. When, in a period of 3 days, four trusted people from Costa Rica, Canada, Colorado and Florida independently and suddenly suggested that I cancel all future teams, pack up and go home, I breathed a secret sigh of relief. I called a team meeting late that night and with the crickets singing all around us, we once again hit our knees asking God if this was His answer. We were exhausted. We had nothing left to give, no where else to turn, no work left to do and no money left to do it with. But over the next few days, I began to sense that still, small voice going against logic and saying only, “trust Me. Just trust Me.” To say that was the scariest moment of my life would be an understatement. The only thought that could be found going through my head was that if I was wrong not only could I be putting the teams in danger, but my interns as well. I didn’t care if something happened to me but I couldn’t bear to watch anyone else pay for a mistake I could be making in discernment. I wrestled day and night with my decision.
Yet, God’s voice persisted.
Sometimes I still have a hard time believing what happened next. During the following 3 weeks of teams, we saw God’s provision like I’ve never seen in my life. Not a day passed that we didn’t see a miracle. We saw money come through at the very last second from unexpected sources, we prayed desperately and had translators show up from out of town inexplicably hours before events that couldn’t go on otherwise, and doors flew open in communities that mere days before had been skeptical of us. Serious conflicts literally dissolved within minutes of our lifting situations up before the Lord. In contrast from having to fight tooth and nail to arrange any work projects, our “corral” suddenly became the hub for the local pastors and public school directors….to the point where I could barely finish a meal without someone stopping by to ask for our help. We were splitting teams just to meet all of the needs and there was even a day I sat helplessly by as the pastors from neighboring towns “arranged” a schedule where we would be split evenly between churches and communities. As a result, we were able to minister to needy families, install floors in 2 homes that had never had anything but dirt, help with a youth ralley that touched our lives more than any of us can ever say, work with the kids in the local schools, churches and during vacation Bible schools and most of all, share the love of Jesus with the towns of Fortuna and Guayabo. Our team instantly found ourselves special guests at community events and we felt like celebrities as shopkeepers, butchers and families who had seemed to see us as a nuisance, would come out to wave eagerly from their front porches whenever we passed by in our “gringo” van. As the events unfolded, one of my translators stated the obvious: that what was happening was not humanly possible. I tell you this to testify to a mighty Power at work all around us…a power that carried our team in a way I can never fully explain.
As awful as some of our experiences were, they were also some of the best of my life. I walked daily beside the Living God. I learned first-hand the hard though sweet truth of John 15. There were many, many early mornings I could feel the tears coming before my eyes even opened because I knew I couldn’t do what was ahead of me. I didn’t have the strength to get out of bed let alone do the job of 4 people for the next 18 hours. I was scared of the things I couldn’t control. Of my inability to do anything at all to better our situation. I won’t give the illusion that when we stepped out to follow God, things suddenly got easier. At first, I felt like I couldn’t take a single step without crying out, God help me! But I can say that He was completely faithful. Not ONCE did He fail us….and as He pried our hands open and slowly removed our “effort”, we began to see another truth. His burden is incredibly light and His mercies are truly new every morning! Not only did He work mightily in the lives of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in those days so long ago but we encountered Him on that dusty, rocky road leading from Fortuna to Guayabo.
I remember praying before the summer began that if only one participant’s life was changed, then whatever I went through would be worth it. Perhaps it was MY life that needed change more than anyone else who visited our ranch. I will never forget all that I learned and witnessed and I know my team feels the same. Each and everyone one of us knew God had us down there together for a very specific reason and that’s something none of us can ever doubt. I walked away from a summer of hardship and God’s blessing, frustration and joy, tears and laughter with lessons and relationships that I will cherish forever. Brittany, Felicia, George, Kathleen, Kelsey, Jason, Matt and Stacey were more than interns. They were co-laborers, friends and family. They were the ones that spent all summer sleeping in hammocks, got up at 5am to cook for teams, at times used their own money to pay for supplies, worked from sun-up until well past sundown doing hard physical labor for over 30 days straight, carried groceries for over a mile, did the dirty work and went above and beyond in so many ways. When I look back, it is so clear to me that God knew I needed each and every one of them. Their strength as college students (and one high schooler!) was unbelievable…they even managed to collectively bully me into spending a day relaxing which was no easy feat! Yet what meant the most to me were the unexpected hugs, the long talks, the shoulder massages, Bible studies, intense times of prayer and special moments with each one of them. I can never thank them enough for their faithfulness to the Lord and their support and friendship to me.
In addition to the change in our lives, many team leaders have told me of teens whose parents received a different child at the end of their trip, teens who decided to leave conventional goals behind and pursue God’s plan for their lives and a dozen or so others who feel as if God may be leading them to their own mission field. God not only blessed me with extremely close relationships with my interns but with many of the trip participants/leaders as well. Leave it to God to bring beauty from a mess of ashes!
I had decided not to continue with the organization I was with and God confirmed that decision upon my return to the States as they had to cut funding for a director for the CR program. I’m praying about where I’m headed next and excited about some of possibilites that seem to be peeking around the corner. I miss Costa Rica every day and wouldn’t be surprised if I ended up back there one day but for now, I’m waiting on God’s guidance and He continues to provide me with opportunities beyond my dreams. Please keep me in your prayers as you think about it: that I will have courage to follow wherever He leads and remember that without Him, I can truly do nothing.
Each and every one of you played a role in our victory this summer….there were so many times I could literally feel your prayers and I know without a doubt that they did more for the Kingdom than you can ever know!
If you would like to see pictures of our journey, I put together a slideshow you can view here.
Love and so many thanks,