I have been blessed with the opportunity to travel all over the country. By age sixteen, I had visited New York, Hawaii, Florida, and many other states. However, I had never experienced a true culture shock. Then, during the summer of 2010, I went on a mission trip to Los Caudros, an impoverished community in Costa Rica. For two weeks, I shared a bedroom with eleven other girls in a small missionary house. Within the house, we were required to live independently. We went grocery shopping, cooked (or rather burned) all our own meals, washed dishes, and cleaned the bathrooms. After breakfast every morning, we went to our worksite. Through days of hacking, digging, leveling, and pouring concrete, we transformed an overgrown field into a soccer court for the children of Costa Rica. However, this experience taught me more than how to use a machete.
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Costa Rica is best known as a tropical paradise, but the place I saw is never in the travel brochures. Emaciated stray dogs roamed the area, teens smoked on every corner, and dirty water overflowed the streets. The houses were made of thin strips of tin nailed together, and only the most fortunate families were able to surround their homes with metal bars for protection.
I went to Costa Rica to help this community, but I did not expect to be served in return. The people of Los Cuadros greatly exceeded my expectations. Every day, children joined us at the construction site to work tirelessly in the hot sun and pouring rain. Families provided shelter during thunderstorms and often brought food and drinks to the work site. These people had so little, yet they gave abundantly. At first I felt uncomfortable by their compassion and reluctant to accept help. Then I realized that serving us brought them great joy. From this, I learned a very important lesson — sometimes the best way to serve others is to let them serve you.
During this trip, I was privileged to meet a man named Marcos, the most joyous person I have ever encountered. Marcos was confined to a wheelchair due to an accident in his teen years. However, he still found joy in every aspect of life. One day during a violent thunderstorm, Marcos endangered his life by venturing outside in his wheelchair. He brought our group to his house and insisted that we sit on his furniture even though we were wet and filthy. He also provided an excessive amount of coffee and bread — much more than his family could afford. During our time in his home, I could see a clear expression of hope and joy on Marcos’ face. Allowing him to help us was a far greater gift than any construction project.
Before this trip, I always tried to function independently. However, my experiences in Costa Rica taught me that to refuse assistance is to selfishly serve. Everyone must be given the opportunity to share in the joy and satisfaction found in serving.
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