Week one was an incredible week that laid a strong foundation for the rest of the summer. Roberto, Susie, and I picked up our first group of 15, the youth of Morgan Hill Presbyterian Church. We (hopefully) won their hearts from the start when we greeted them with fresh bananas! Our leadership team felt confident and excited for this first week, and the Lord faithfully blessed us with a team that was open-minded and flexible. Our daily schedule starts off with personal devotions, a morning devotion which I lead, a morning construction project, an afternoon kids club, and an evening program that includes worship, a message, and a time of debrief. All week, our team worked extremely hard to construct church bathrooms for Pastor Indalecio’s church. It was a stretching experience for some of the team leaders, who have experience with construction and had to face the slow process of the Bribri. We are in an indigenous culture after all, and construction isn’t as easy as a quick stop at the Home Depot. To make cement we had to dig up sand, transport it to the worksite, sift the sand to remove the rocks, and mix it with water. It was a humbling experience that helped many of us to better admire the homes and buildings of the Bribri; those which are wooden are literally chopped down from the trees of the surrounding forest. There were a couple of students who really devoted themselves to the construction, and through their hard work formed relationships with several of the workers from the community who had partnered with us. One student created a strong bond with our construction partner, Victor. They barely said a word to one another, but working side by side every day formed a strong friendship that impacted them both.
Many of our students really enjoyed Kids Club, where they found the kids of the community were much more open and loving than what they were accustomed to in the states. It was beautiful to watch the students form relationships and give affection to the kids despite the cultural difference and language barrier. I get to lead the evening small group/debrief time and it was incredible to hear from each of the students, what they struggled with and what God revealed to them. We had five themes throughout the week: dignity, relational-focus, motivation, mutual influence, and long-term transformation. Many of the students realized the importance of community, not just by the close-knit collectivism of the Bribri but also by the support and encouragement of their own unified youth group. Others realized how relationships are so much more than words, but are found in actions. It was awesome to hear how God was revealing Himself to each person in the group, but what touched me even more was to hear the impact the group had with those in the community as well. Both Sara and Victor talked to our leadership team throughout the week about how happy they were from this first group. Sara loved the way we got the team involved in the kitchen and said for the first time she was able to step back and watch as the team members offered so much help. Victor, who never cooks, made our group a special chocolate cake on the last night to show his appreciation. This act of gratitude touched me so deeply, and after the group left we went to Sara and Victor’s and rejoiced in how quickly the Lord had bonded us together, how happy we were to genuinely trust and love one another. Kimberley, one of the little girls from kids club, wrote on all of our papers “Kimberley <3’s [insert name]” on the last day of the week. It was so beautiful to see that both the members of our short-term missions group AND people of the community were impacted by the week. Even between our leadership team and our first group, relationships were made quickly. A tearful goodbye at the airport left us joyful and aware of the power of the Holy Spirit who can form deep friendships so quickly by His love.
Of course, not everything was perfect and easy. There were several points in the week that I thought I would have a panic attack. For me personally, the Lord taught me MANY things with every passing day. Upon this week of rest I’ve had the opportunity to reflect and pray over these revelations, how I can apply them to grow in a life of righteousness. I formally apologized to my teammates yesterday, convicted in the way I was trying to carry the weight of the world on my shoulders, meanwhile taking out my impatience and stubbornness on them. I prayed deeply over the spiritual warfare I’ve experienced here, overwhelmed by culture shock and attacked by the Devil. With much responsibility comes the desire for much control- but it shouldn’t be this way. With more power should come more reliance on the Lord and I will humbly admit that I have fallen short in this, allowing myself to be overcome with worry and attacked by my perfectionism. How wonderful is His Holy Spirit, which brings new wisdom every day and which reveals our biggest weaknesses. I realized how I have come here open and flexible to learn the ways of the Bribri and to love and serve them… only to turn around and have low tolerance and patience for the American Christians that are part of the short-term mission teams. The Lord revealed this to me the first night: my tendency to select those who I extend grace to. God does not call us to love and serve only those who we choose to or those who may be comfortable to, no; He calls us to love and serve ALL others. This is so much easier said than done, which brings me to my next revelation: talking about poverty is so much different than living in poverty. We can talk all we want about the reality of world hunger, the need of orphans, the horror of sex trafficking so on and so forth; but it is a whole other ball game to be living and seeing it. I am uncomfortable here; it’s not a surprise to me… I wanted to be uncomfortable, I PRAYED to be uncomfortable; but living it out brings so many other hardships and personal battles. It’s an awesome experience and I am so happy that the Lord has allowed me to be uncomfortable for the sake of His Name. That might sound weird, but I’ve realized how unfortunate it is to be a comfortable, American Christian. We pride ourselves on our Christian books, radio stations, quotes and other paraphernalia; but we miss out on the radical transformation of the Lord. We are so distracted by “stuff,” by our constant strive for success, money, or whatever else we think the purpose of life rests on; while millions around the world have never even heard the name of Christ, or who serve and fear a god of judgment, or strive to remain in harmony with everything that has mass and therefore also has a spirit. If not the distraction of material, we may also get caught up in our compassion. Christian ministries often get wrapped up in social work- feeding the hungry, caring for the orphans, ESL classes, etc. but they fall short in spreading the Gospel. All of these things without the mention of Jesus are just social work, which on its own does nothing. None of these things are wrong of course, but what kind of message does that send? We spend years and years caring for physical bodies without ever mentioning Christ, what is the point when our bodies will return to dust one day anyway?
Last night, we had the chance to visit a local church service. Those in the congregation praised the Lord with such genuine passion and love, the presence of the Holy Spirit was undeniable. How many times have I visited American churches and experienced spiritual dryness rather than contagious worship? I don’t mean to bash American Christians, but the more I am here the more I feel the desire to share the name of Christ and lift people out of the sin that keeps them from ever experiencing true life. If the Bribri, who have nothing, can experience Christ genuinely and passionately; what does that tell us about where our truth lies? Surely, not in the stuff we have or the “success” the world believes we have attained through money. Many in the church here tell us “what is mine is yours, for everything in this world is the Lord’s.” May we be challenged to give more, sacrifice more, for while we live in spiritual apathy, millions around the world and right next door die without ever hearing the hope of salvation that only comes from Jesus Christ.
I just finished reading Revolution in World Missions by K.P. Yohannan and it has really struck a chord in me and how I view missions. “The lesson from the mission field is that meeting physical needs alone does not get people to follow God. Whether hungry or full, rich or poor, human beings remain in rebellion against God without the power of the Gospel.”
Please be praying for transformation, mutually within the lives of the community, the members of the teams coming to serve, and within myself, Susie, and Roberto. This summer is part of the Lord’s holy plan; please pray that we will learn to rely on His Holy Spirit for complete guidance. Please pray for this upcoming week as a group of 46 come to Shiroles, and may all glory go to the Lord, always and forever.
“Declare His glory among the nations, His marvelous deeds among all peoples” Psalm 96:3