I have heard the mantra over and over since we have been here. I have seen the t-shirts, bumper stickers, and signs; eat, surf, sleep. I never knew how serious it was until this last week. I was fortunate to be invited along for a men’s surfing trip to a surf spot called Pavones, on the very southern Pacific edge of Costa Rica. It is said to have the second longest left ride in the world, and even though I lean to the right, I was willing to give a ride. So me, Ben & Jeremy packed up for a post church 9 hour drive to surf. Two cars, 15 men, about 20 surfboards, probably 15 board shorts and half as many pairs of clean underwear headed south praying for great waves and good times. We were not disappointed.
The drive was long and tedious at times as the rains and darkness slowed down the last half of the drive. As we drove the tiny roads and crossed the many, very high, un-railed wooden homemade bridges it dawned on me that these guys really like to surf. And as I looked around, there was only one other guy in the group, over 40, who had just started surfing this last year. Everyone else in the group had been surfing since childhood, so either we were idiots or we were brave, time would tell.
Pavones, or turkey town, is a very small village, a couple of tiny stores, some local surf shops, and a couple of places for non-surfing, non-sleeping surfers to grab a bite. No pavement, no ATMs, no Walmart, just a spot near a beach for world class waves, and that was all we needed. We all stayed in a house that was converted to rent to loco surfer’s such as ourselves, some on beds, some in tents, couches, floors, anywhere away from the mosquitos and the rain, cuz we knew we just needed a place to keep our boards and to nap.
The first morning we were all tired, pulling in well after 10 pm excited for an early rise. There were many among us as giddy as schoolgirls before their first dance, unable to sleep. At 5 am the floor started creaking, bodies started moving and the coffee was being poured. As the sun began to rise, boards were being prepped, waxed, new fins attached, leashes made ready and the anticipation of the sun too much for us to bear. Qucikly, men starting walking the 200 yards to the beach to get a taste of a world class wave. Overcast skies, and offshore breeze, huge slow breaking waves greeted us all as we tip toed over the rocks seeking the quickest way to the shoulder.
Personally my arms turned to jelly on the swim out to the waves. It seemed like never ending strokes attempting to reach a mirage way off in the distance. Even the seasoned vets had to take a break before attempting to catch one of these endless waves. It was gratifying to watch man after man as they found they peak of the wave, stroked quickly, slid down the wave and rode on for what seemed like hours. Four hours later, stomachs grumbling, the waves subsiding just a little, we decided it was time for the eat portion of our trip.
During breakfast, exhaustion seemed to overwhelm us, or our adrenaline had abandoned us, because men were dropping where they sat, some with plates on their laps, forks in their mouths, or coffee in their hands. But as quickly as they fell they again rose looking for the next wave. Me, Lyle and Mike F. decided to try and find our boys who were surfing a secret spot. We had loose directions from Marcell, and set off on an adventure. Unable to find them, we went down a trail by some cabanas. As the trail became overgrown and jungly, we decided it was best to turn around, so we stopped and Mike ran ahead to see if there was an opening to turn around. We should’ve know by the way he bulleted back to the car that something was up. There were waves, big long waves he exclaimed, in short panting breaths. But the best part, no one, not one person was in the water. You can make it, he exclaimed, it opens right up. Open up was a very loose word usage, as we had to dodge Lyle’s car between trees, under branches and to the beach to get to the waves. But it was worth it. He was right. There were big long waves and we were the only three people on the face of the earth that day that got to surf those waves. It turned out to be the best 3 hours of surfing we would have on that trip, and possibly in our entire life. Wave, after wave, after wave of rides 100 – 200 yards long, with only each other to take turns with. No wind, no chop, just rideable wave after rideable wave. In all honesty, it has probably ruined surfing for me from that day forward, and I truly wish my skill level was better so that I could’ve rode the waves for quite a time longer. Unfortunately I have no photos for we were all in the water.
So that’s how the trip went, eat, surf, eat, sleep, surf, eat, surf, on and on and on. Our muscles were tired, our body’s were aching. Some of the waves were too big to ride, some were too crowded to ride, but every wave caught was better than any wave we could catch back home. Ben got barreled and Jeremy rode the longest waves of his life, by far. And because of this trip I now know how to eat, surf and sleep, and although it is certainly not as easy as it sounds, I can’t wait until I get to do it again.
Blisters on my hands, sand in my teeth, sweat on my brow, tears in my eyes, a lump in my throat, pain in my heart and a deep sense of appreciation to the creator of heaven and earth.
My troubles have shrunk, my fear has subsided, my love increased and my faith stretched. I am amazed that so many come to serve and amazed at how many in this tiny portion of this big world have need. I am also amazed that despite their situation, they praise, they worship and they believe. Their possessions are small and their faith is large. Each and every one we served shared a story of prayer and faith and belief that their needs would be met, and that we were their answer of prayer.
I have listened to many missionaries, I have seen countless slide presentations and videos, I have fought back the tears and I have given to the cause. But until I went, until I smelt the stink of the dump and the unwashed, until I have tasted the sandy grit between my teeth, until I walked into their “house” and saw the dirt covered, smashed thin foam single mattress for the whole family on the floor, until I had looked into the live ,glistening, often red eyes, of the dirt streaked faces on the kids, I could not fully understand the need. They became more than a story, more than a video, they are real people struggling every day to survive.
Now that I know, I pray that I can continue to go and to make a small tiny difference in the vast field of need. For I know of no humbler, awe inspiring feeling than when you are told that you are an answer to prayer.
Short slide show: The Eyes of Cristo Rey
Our goal was to build 4 houses in 5 days and have three days of vacation bible school. It took us two days to build 4 houses, and we had just enough gumption and money to attempt another house for another family from a different church, not expecting a house. So while a crew dispersed to bend nails at the four houses we already finished and to give each of them a care package, we dropped a crew of five of us off to work on a new casa for our new friend. After two days and four houses,we had the process down pretty good, and thanks to our leader, Oscar, we were able to not only finish the house, we finished before noon. This included modifications to our normal design and plan. It was a true team effort, an efficient team.
looking in on the newest project
Remodel, restructure and build. No down time, lots of busy hands and busy feet.
A little girl from the home build doing her school.
And her brother
So once the easy labor of building was done, it was time for the hard labor, vacation bible school. Sixty eight screaming kids, a hot muggy room, tired bones, activities , coloring , painting, balloons, snacks and more. To a man we were begging to go back to construction. Back to shoveling concrete, back to sweating buckets,back to manual labor. It was hard, but we loved it and we loved seeing progress. This, the VBS, this was extremely hard. All the aches and pains came flooding out of our bodies, all the adrenaline melted away and just tired shells of men were left to help the energetic women deal with the two-hour chaos fest. I will not lie, it is a hard task for me. But we persevered, as the kids are starting to know, chasing on the streets showing us their wristbands and loving us as their gringos, a title we wear proudly. I will not proclaim that it is as rewarding as building a permanent structure, but I also cannot deny that it may have just as much of an everlasting effect.
Me trying to look cool sporting a Blue's Clue's dew rag. I think I pulled it off.
Dwayne jumping in with both feet, literally, to get this concrete done!
The grateful proud family.
I saw a lot of good things today. I saw that parents cared for their kids, I saw that although food is not in abundance, there was progress. There are young growing fruit trees, plants and even the start of small gardens as such was the house we built today; smelling the mix of oregano and mint leaves throughout the build. I saw that although their treasures on earth are small, their faith in God is big, and from that I can learn. I saw them work for their keep as 30-40 people were scouring the dump looking for something to use or something to recycle. And the kids would run after the dump truck with a new load of trash as kids in America would chase down an ice cream truck.
Scenes from the long ride home
scenes from the long ride home
And as much as the kids smiling faces warmed my heart, I was probably most touched by Gabrielle, who cried and hugged on me today thanking us all repeatedly for here nuevo casa (new house), her miracle from God. We were an answer of prayer, an unexpected answer, and nothing humbles me and touches me more than knowing that I was used by God.
If day one was an eye opener, day two was good follow through, although I was a bit worried when I saw the kids trolling the dump first thing in the morning. But as we drove by, they stopped, smiled and waved. We again started the day with the plan of building two houses. We divided back up into teams, split up and got to work. Our team managed to finish our house by about 12:30 which was a perfect transition into the first day of vacation bible school.Our plan was to open up the school to 50 kids, all invites by the pastor, Marcos. An hour before the doors opened kids were already showing up. The church had one solid wall and three gated walls, with a concrete floor, a very nice building by the neighborhood standard. Unfortunately the one solid wall blocked the wind we so craved. Somehow the 50 kids grew to 68, not unexpected and not unplanned for.
- The family we built a house for today.
The shy son
Dorian and Dad making paper airplanes
The first activity of the day was to make and color a paper airplane. Our plan was to teach them how, which was quickly abandoned because of the sheer volume of tiny, tanned, dirty faces surrounding the table reaching out for just a bit of attention and love. It was if we had food to give and they were starving;tiny dirty fingers poking and prodding all over, ” no tengo” they would squeek, pointing at a blank piece of paper as if it was a small treasure. So we made paper airplanes for them as fast as we could, and they colored them to make them their own. A story of Christ’s birth was then shared before moving on to snack time. Snack time was the quietest most peaceful time of the day. My theory, they had been trained already by the daily provided lunch, sit quietly, patiently and you will be fed.
Prepping for VBS
The VBS building, the nicest in the area.
One of my favorite little girls
At times it was chaotic, it was always loud, and it was hot muggy and uncomfortable. Even the kids were saying they were thirsty. But similar to yesterday you could see the joy in the kids eyes and the excitement and glow in their faces. It was not easy to look past the ill-fitting filthy clothes, or the dirt stained faces, but the smiles and their eyes really brought a level of warmth to my heart. I could not take enough pictures of their faces. But my heart still hurt for the hundreds of kids that were not able to attend. It still felt like this was a band-aid, just a temporary fix, and it left me longing to do more.
here she is again
begging for an airplane
Katherine loving on a little boy
loving her balloon animal
There were some fantastically bright shining moments such as when I told them that they had done ” my bien” or very good coloring their airplane. they would repeat it to themselves and tell their friends, smiling ear to ear. And quickly show me any more improvements for another tidbit of praise. Or they joy they took looking at the myriad of photos I took of them. Or the simple things like when one of the teen girls with us washed their hands, and afterward they smelled their hands in joy. I know these are small things, and to me they don’t mean much, but it is what we can do and I have to deal with that. Perhaps, in time, I will be able to do much more, but for now I must just enjoy the moment for what it is, a memory for them and another life changing moment for me.
Today was the first full day of our Nicaragua mission trip. Yesterday was a full day of travel, 15 people, 30 + bags, a long bus ride, a long border visit and a longer bus ride to Managua. The Lord was watching over us at the border as the border guard only glanced at two of our bags, before sending us on our way, saving us a huge amount of time and hassle. Further, we had no problems getting our luggage on the bus, another common issue.
The road to Cristo Rey
this is where many of the kids "work"
Some local housing
Our home base for the week is a nice bunk-house called La Quinta Shalom. They specialize in providing housing and food for missions trips, and they are great hosts. The coffee is always on and they now have WIFI! Our missions mission on this trip is to build four houses for four families in an area near the dump.
Now I use the word house very loosely, because what we are building is an 11×11 concrete pad surrounded by pieces of tin, smaller than my shed. However, they are very humbled and happy to have anything that protects them from the rain better than the current cardboard and plastic bags and other pieces of trash adorning their current abodes.
The drive out to the location is an hour-long,eye-opening trip. The roads are swamped with vehicles, 2,4, and 6 lane highways, motorcycles, buses, crazy cars, and even the occasional horse and cart tramping Down the middle of the road. In amongst the roads are patches of green, and in those patches are families with mattresses and hammocks and the fortunate ones have a black trash bag to cover their heads. And this is just on the way to the dump.
waiting for his new house to be built
me and some of the local Nica girls who were watching the show
It is easy to tell when you are getting close to the dump as the roads , which are already smattered with trash, become more and more covered, until you pass fields that look like crops of colored cotton candy growing alongside the road. As you draw nearer you realize it is just fields of old plastic grocery bags. The neighborhood we were working in was a newly established area covered with minimal shelters, many us Americans would not feel good enough for our pets. Yet not only do they live in them, they are happy and feel fortunate to have them. They are pieced together with wood, tin, plastic and more trash collected from the nearby dump. Any severe wind or rain would render most of them useless.
After initial meetings and being introduced to the local pastor we broke up into two building teams and began to build. Our building plan was as follows: dig post holes, make a wood frame, slap on a tin roof, pour a concrete floor, slap on some tin walls, put in a door and give them the key. There is no key, because there is no lock because there is no door handle. It is a truly sobering and humbling experience to participate in.
Laying the concrete pad, back-breaking work
At lunch time I was fortunate to enjoy the daily lunch service the local church provides to 200 hungry kids. They reported to us that for most of these kids the lunch they provide is their only meal of the day. These people are true missionaries,living amongst those kids and feeding them every single day. The meal begins with a prayer in Spanish and is followed up with multi lingual worship songs while they eat their bowl of rice and fruit. The lunch room is a covered concrete pad adorned with colorful plastic tables and chairs in an attempt to brighten the hot and dusty atmosphere. But the stars of the meals are the kids themselves, ranging from 1-10. They are full of smiles, love to have their picture taken and love to hug you, hold your hand or just touch you. They are kids and they act like kids. But I was brought to tears by these kids. I was moved by the simple pleasure of having a hot meal at an actual table. Moved by the fact that they got to wash their hands. And truly moved to tears as older brothers and sisters, 4,5 or 6 years old spent their lunch time feeding their younger siblings, neglecting themselves. In those kids you could see it in their eyes, the need, the desire to be a kid, taken care of, fed and free to grow. It was those kids for which my spirit wept. They knew, they were not oblivious to the world around them, they knew that they lived among the truly poor in the world, scraping daily for a meal, praying for a way to stop the rain from dripping on their dirt floor, and praying mostly for their family. The burden of life was already written on their tiny tanned, mud streaked face, and it was impossible to hide.
many of the kids have stomach infections which causes bloating.
Although we finished two ” houses” today, heard testimony from both families that they prayed for this miracle, and one even saw a vision of a bunch of gringos coming to help her, despite all this the long bus ride home was a solemn quiet ride home. I couldn’t help but wonder how I could not help more, there is so much need, so much suffering and so much left to do. And as I impatiently waited for my turn in the shower to wash away the stink of the day, it struck me that most of, if not each and every person I saw today would not being taking a shower, and probably had never ever taken a shower. A simple refreshing way to wash away the worries of the day, a pleasure that most people reading this will have experienced with the last 12 hours. I think perhaps today my life was changed. I think perhaps my perspective has forever changed.
Tomorrow we will go and we will build two more houses, tomorrow we will conduct a kids Bible school and then we will come home and we will wash away the stink of the day.
Please take a minute to give thanks for all that you have and please take a minute to pray for those who have not, and pray for us that we may do more than we have set out to do, that we will make an eternal difference in not only our lives but theirs.
a finished house........
a grateful family
praying of the family and their new casa.
This past weekend was the 2012 Spring Festival sponsored and conducted by the Beach Community Church in Brasilito Costa Rica. Last year the event was held in Tamarindo at the skate park, this year the venue was moved to the Village in Brasilito. What is a spring festival you ask? Great question. The spring festival is an event geared towards younger kids; There are jumping castles, there are games, there is candy, there are free snacks, there is a message about the real meaning of Easter, and the grand finale is an Easter egg hunt. The best part, the whole event is free!
Livy helping to hide the eggs.
Wolfy, sneaking a peek at the eggs pre-event.
Jake taking notes for later.
Raffle for missions.
Dave bringing the pre-open pep talk and prayer.
This was the events sophomore year, and although I was unable to attends last years event, it would be hard to imagine it going much better. There were approximately 100 kids, and most of them brought at least one of their adults with them. There were great games like the Sponge Bob sponge toss, the Spiderman Castle, soccer kick, frisbee toss, Jonah and the whale fishing and on and on. There were fantastic arts and crafts, face painting, balloon animal creation, and magical egg designs. It was slightly chaotic at times, hot all the time, and fun, fun,fun.
The main event, the obstacle course bouncy castle.
Mike the balloon man getting ready for business.
Bud and Brock taking a moment from their labor to pose.
Soccer kick in action.
Dorian working the frisbee toss
Daniel and Dave making the rounds.
Jake in the obstacle course
Events like this don’t just make themselves, it takes months of planning, many volunteers, 50 to be exact, and commitment. But most of all it takes blood, sweat and tears. In Costa Rica it takes mostly sweat. It takes sweat to set up bouncing castles and obstacles that weigh 500 pounds, it takes sweat to pop a dozen raw bags of popcorn, it takes sweat to transfer a dozen wooden games to the venue, and it takes sweat to hide 1200 Easter eggs, lots of sweat. In fact enough sweat that most men came prepared with several shirts for the day, and we didn’t even sweat the small stuff!
Tracy had one of the most popular games, which led to a lot of work.
Pastor Lyle leading a group game before bringing a short Easter message.
But every single drop was worth it. Every swipe of the brow, sponged off bald head and wadded up soaking wet t-shirt was all worth it. Kids that have very few activities, kids that do not attend a church, kids that perhaps do not know the true meaning of Easter, each and every one of them heard a message of love from Pastor Lyle, and received some great story books. The best part, they brought their adults with them and they heard the message as well. It was easy to gauge the event by the flashes of smiles, the screams of joy and the sweaty painted faces running through the venue, and that was just the volunteers!
Gathering around for the Easter egg hunt, or gather as is more aptly described.
I think there's one right there.
Seems like a lot of big kids in the 2 year old group.
We found one!
Look Mommy a pink one!
This guy is in full concentration mode.
It was a taxing, tiring, tremendous day. The grand finale, the 1200 egg hunt was a bit of slightly organized chaos. Due to the amount of children, we instituted a 10 egg limit. The limit, much like the local speed limit, seemed to be more of a suggestion than the law that we had intended, as we saw great liberty taken as mounds of eggs departed in mother’s purses and bags. However, we were confident that everyone left with eggs, candy, and memories, some with a little more than others.
Lauren squatting for a better scan.
I think this makes number 10!
Hey daddy, is this an egg?
Daddy doing the final count.
At the end of the day a seed was planted and it was watered with the sweat of our brow. We can only pray that they take hold and grow a little until next year when we can water them once again, and perhaps plant a new field.