Considering that my parents worry about me being out past 11 PM in our Midwestern town, it seems crazy now that I was allowed to travel alone to a foreign country just this past summer! My trip to Costa Rica had a profound effect on me.
We found the mission trip to Camp Penuel, Costa Rica online while searching for a Spanish language immersion experience back in December of 2008. The annual trip was posted on the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod website. With a little fundraising and support from our congregation, the $1,000 trip cost was reduced to just a couple hundred dollars. My particular trip was a teen mission, but family and adult mission trips are available as well. I brought donations of hygiene supplies for the shantytown children we would be serving in Esparza, Costa Rica, but other groups brought wildly popular items like soccer balls and an air pump! We would spend a week and a half working at a bible camp for disadvantaged children rescued from the streets of San Jose. When we arrived, we were ready for the beach, meeting other camp workers, having some fun with the Bible camp children, taking a zip-line tour of a rain forest, and practicing Spanish.
Forty-eight hours later I was exhausted and sweaty from our service projects preparing camp for the children’s arrival. It was hard work, but it was fun to toil beside American and Costa Rican teen workers, and it was rewarding to know I’d made a difference.
We did have time for some breathtaking sightseeing, but it’s the small moments I remember with crystal clear clarity. One night, I struggled to understand what the Spanish speaking children at my table were saying to me. And then they laughed. They lifted their sparkling eyes up to me to share their joy, and I couldn’t help laughing too. I had no idea what was so funny, but we laughed until we cried, and these little ones taught me how universal laughter is.
Leaving Costa Rica and the new friends I’d come to love was heart wrenching. (Now I know how my mom felt at the airport in Chicago.) I had made lifelong friends that have already had a profound impact on me. But, it was time for me to go.
The flight home, and its connections didn’t work out as planned, but Naomi and I kept our poise and eventually handled the disappointing news that we’d be sleeping in an airport and would have to wait an extra day to see our families. We peacefully accepted our options, and settled in for the night. In retrospect, I’m glad this happened, because I gained skill in calmly assessing a travel situation, and recognizing that chances are pretty good that it will turn out OK in the end.
My trip to Costa Rica taught me that, in the grand scheme of things, missing a flight is not a major catastrophe. I also discovered that traveling with an organized mission group is the way I want to travel. It’s extremely affordable and I learned more about the real Costa Rica than I ever would have experienced if I’d stayed in a hotel and explored tourist destinations. I didn’t watch the people of Costa Rica. I lived with them, hauled rocks with them, danced in the rain with them and served them. I loved getting to know them. They taught me that laughter knows no language barriers. And I learned that, for me, the most important reason to travel the world is to know and love its people.
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