Recently 19 members of my church, 3 member of another church, and I went on a mission trip to Costa Rica. This trip was not only my first mission experience but also the first time I had ever traveled internationally and my first time on an airplane. During the trip we had quite a few close calls and scarey moments, in fact, one of the members of our group almost died.
But we perserved and a lot of amazing things happened to us too. We began our journey on Saturday, July 21, 2007 at approxiamately 4 am. For most of us it was the first time we’d ever seen 4 am.
That in itself was an experience to be remembered. As a first time flyer I was a little bit uneasy, especially because for this trip my family would be staying behind. Saying goodbye was easy though, honestly what 17 year old wouldn’t love a week away from her parents and older brother? The plane ride though long and tiring was amazing.
The view from the window was probably the most awesome thing I had ever seen up to that point. The only time I was afraid of the plane was when the landing gear dropped with a thud and one of the adults made a joke about losing an engine. Needless to say, I didn’t find the joke to be very funny at the time.
One thing that really suprised me was how many other mission groups we met on the way down. We met so many interesting people who shared the same passion, reaching the lost. As we met people we all promised we would pray for their trip and they promised to pray for ours.
It was so great to know that we weren’t alone in what we were doing. It’s one thing to be told that people like you are out there, but to meet them and talk with them is quite another. When we touched down at the San Jose International Airport, one lost member, 2 airplanes, and 7 hours later everyone was bursting at the seams with excitement.
We were reading to hit the mission field! Unfortunately we still had Baggage Claim, Immigration, and Customs to get through. That experience is one I could have lived without. Airplanes I like, airports, not so much.
When we got outside we met a few new members of the team. Our new leader, Ron, our driver for the week, William, and our translator, Carlos. With no time to waste we dropped off our things at our hotel in San Jose and jumped right back onto the bus to go to church.
Everyone we met, that night and every other that we were there, met us with open arms and often a kiss. The local people in Costa Rica are extremely friendly and caring.
Worship was like nothing I have ever experienced before in my life. The words, of course, were all in Spanish, but it didn’t matter. The language had nothing to do with worshiping God, plus it was alot of fun practicing my Spanish. Worship was about two hours long which is another thing that we weren’t used to. While our pastor ministered to the adults that night, we took over the children’s ministry.
We put on a puppet show, made balloon animals, painted faces, and tried to get to know the kids as best we could in broken Spanish and English. The children were very appreciative and a ton of fun. The next day we did the same thing at a different church. At the time the church ministry seemed hard, but soon we got into the good stuff.
On Monday we traveled to Limon, about 3 hours from San Jose. I thought that San Jose was the hottest place on Earth, until we got into Limon! As we got closer to Limon we could actually feel the air getting hotter and more humid. It just drains the life right out of you. Limon was beautiful, I must have taken 100 pictures while we were on the bus. The ocean, the mountains, the jungle, it was the best place on Earth, with a little bit of everything. Seeing God’s creation in full force was great! While in Limon we visited schools doing our ministry.
We continued to do puppet shows, animal balloons, and face painting. Many of us, myself included, shared our testimonies with the children. Also we did skits that we had been practicing for months. Every school brought new challenges, the number of children, sound system problems, our set, which was a sheet on some plastic pipes, fell over multiple times. But even with all the troubles and the nervousness, we made it through. When we finished at each school we passed out small toys for the children and they all wanted hugs and to tell us thanks for coming. Over the course of the week we ministered to probably about 600-650 kids.
At one school that we went to every child wanted our autographs. It made us feel special and appreciated, children in America have never asked for my autograph. These kids had so little that anything we did seemed like a big deal to them. School ministry was some of the most rewarding time I spent in Costa Rica.
Another rewarding, but scarey experience was when we did street ministry. In downtown Limon we set up our stage in an area surrounded by homeless people, alcoholics, and drugs users and dealers. It was the first time I had ever been in a situation like that. Before the program got underway we broke up into smaller groups and walked the streets passing out tracts to the people. Although I don’t speak much Spanish I was able to get my point across to the people I met. I would get their attention by saying ‘Senor!’ and ‘Senora!’ and when they looked at me I would hand them the tract and simply say what I knew, ‘Para ti.’ meaning ‘For you.’ On our trip back to the spot we saw people reading the tracts we had just passed out. It made me so happy to know that they weren’t just throwing them away and going on with their night.
We did our program that night right on the street with a generator. We drew in quite a crowd. Before we closed up shop Ron, a great man and the leader of our group, gave an ‘altar call’. Only about 3 people came up, but three is something. Had only one person made it up that night it would have been worth it. Lets take a small step backwards for a moment.
During the program when I wasn’t part of the skit taking place I was out talking to people. I met one man that I talked to for a very long time. I couldn’t understand what he was trying to tell me while we were talking. I knew enough Spanish to pick up that his name was Glen but he kept repeating something over and over again that I couldn’t figure out. I knew what he was saying had something to do with his heart, corazon.
Finally I called over Rebecca, a new friend of mine and our translator’s daughter. I asked her if she could help to explain what he was saying. What she told me almost broke my heart, he had been trying to tell me that his heart was heavy. Glen told me, with the help of Rebecca, that he was homeless and an alcoholic. He made sure I knew that he didn’t do drugs and that he didn’t consider himself to be a bad person, but only that he had a terrible problem with his alcohol habit. I continued to talk to him, and after some tears and some hugs Glen decided to go up for prayer. Glen was one of the men that accepted the Lord that night. He is one person that I will never forget.
During our week long trip we also were allowed fun time. That’s not to say that we weren’t having fun ministering but everyone needs the occasional break. Our cabinas in Limon had a pool, so we got to swim in our down time. Also on thursday we got to go to the ocean and on Friday we went to Volcan Poas. Spending time as a group getting to better know my brothers and sisters in Christ was awesome. I got a chance to talk with each person in our group individually and learned many things about some of them, and even more about myself during these times.
During the trip we had to overcome many hardships. As I mentioned a little early during are plane change in Atlanta we had to leave a member of our group behind due to a problem with her passport. It was our first challenge but after the tears and the goodbyes we were determined to make the best of what God was doing that week. Luckily that night Vicky, the missing link on our expedition, was able to sort everything out and catch up to us at the hotel. Also during the trip Amber, a member of my church and I person I can thank for my life, had a horrible asthma attack on the bus. She blacked out and stopped breathing, and I must admit that while I was praying I doubted that she would live. She ended up in the hospital that night, but even without her we had a job to do. As soon as we knew she would be okay we moved on to the next scheduled event. She came back to us that night bruised and tired, but okay.
I also had many struggles with my asthma in Limon, the heat and the humidity is terrible for any asthmatic. As I said before though everytime I had a problem Amber was there to help me through. Everyone helped anytime anyone needed it. One other thing that happened to me while I was there was that I passed out on the beach. No one really knows why I passed out, but I got back up without a problem and was fine after that. The good thing about that is now I can say that I had the opportunity to pass out on one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, and not many people can say they have done that.
By the time the end of the week rolled around I was ready to see home again. As much as I enjoyed Costa Rica I was ready for food that wasn’t rice and beans and toilets that you can flush toilet paper in. I also was ready to see my family again and tell them everything that happened.
Now that it has been a few weeks I’m ready to go back. I can’t wait for my next opportunity to go on a missions trip. No matter how many times I go and how many places I see this experience will always stay with me. It brought along with it many firsts for me, my first time in an airport, my first time on a plane, and my first time out of the United States. Also I can honestly say that I’m almost completely over my stage fright and my shyness around people.
I feel like God spoke to me the entire week. I learned many things about people, the world, and myself. I don’t regret a second of any of the trip. One thing that I learned from all of this that still stands out to me is this, ‘Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.’ (Romans 5:1-5, NIV).
As a group we perservered that week, we grew in character, and we had hope, and that hope will never disappoint us.
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