Monday, December 22, 2008

From the tropics to the frozen tundra...

Hi Everyone!

I'm sorry for going so long without posting but my last few weeks in Costa Rica before visiting home were very busy.

I'm currently writing this from the "Brat House Grill" in Wisconsin Dells. I'm up here with my mom and brother for Christmas and it's wonderful but freezing. I'm even filming a "documentary" about snow and Wisconsin starring my family... Let's just say it's a low budget feature made on my little Canon digital camera and windows movie maker. We did get absolutely dumped with snow the last few days though so there have been ample snow piles and icicles to film :)

Just to fill you in, I'm home until Jan 13 and then I go back down to the Abraham Project - with my mom and her friend Heidi! Yep, they will be visiting me for a week to see the beautiful country and meet all of the people I work with. I'm getting pretty excited to do some touristy things while they are there. I keep reading and hearing about the beautiful beach at Manuel Antonio, and the erupting volcano at Arenal but I've never seen them. Also, January is supposed to be the month with the nicest weather in Costa Rica and it will certainly be a contrast to the current sub-zero freeze.

I'm also excited to see my mom's reaction to the interesting cultural things that I've been experiencing - she's like a fresh slate for social experimentation! What will she think of their driving? The cuisine? Their food storage habits? Their laid-back lifestyle? The church service? Hopefully I will have lots of interesting observations to report - I'll even take notes for you Janet.

Oh, I know they are long overdue but I have pictures from the Mennonite group and from my trip to Nicaragua. I took my time putting captions on all of them so it's like you're really there. You can access the albums by:

Also, if you didn't see my first album, the link again is:

I also have some neat pictures from my last month there which I will put up soon.

I especially realized how much I love what I do when I think that 3 months of my amazing experience have already gone by. I immensely enjoy what I'm doing and I think I've never been happier with my life. I really think I am called to education. Whether I am teaching or learning I am very content in a classroom with a good whiteboard marker. (no, I'm not sniffing the marker...) I hope God has more teaching and learning in my future!

Finally, as I was preparing to leave for a Christmas break at home I realized how attached I have become to the people of Costa Rica. I got huge hugs the whole last week and many people went out of their way to see me and Brian one last time before we left. One of our students even emailed me today to say "There are only 22 more days until you come back!".

Here is a picture of me, Brian, and some of our students. We took them out to see a movie as a treat for passing their final exams:

Monday, December 1, 2008

Just call me The Wedding Singer

Dear readers,

I already told you about my involvement in the Nicaraguan wedding a few weeks ago. Yesterday, I sang a duet in a wedding at the church here! That's right, the same pastor, William, asked me on Saturday night if I wouldn't mind singing in the wedding the following day. Since I am here to push my boundaries, learn, and grow, I said yes. Waaaaaa! How scary. It's one thing to sing in front of 100 Nicaraguans I don't know, but it's another thing to sing in the wedding of one of the youth leaders in the church, with the whole worship team in the audience... nevermind that it's in another language. But God is good as always, and the peace that I prayed for came when I had to sing. I didn't even turn red! (I had even worn a dark color and lots of foundation to try to disguise it as best I could.) I'm sure it helps that I'm a foreigner so even if I had a funny accent, it was at least a special and unique thing for them to have an American singing in their wedding.

In other news I had a relatively American Thanksgiving day. I got up early and went to the store to get the ingredients for a broccoli and cheese casserole. I had been invited to Steve and Georgiana's house for thanksgiving dinner and this was my assignment. Broccoli was like 80 cents, cream of mushroom soup cost dollar, a whole package of crackers was only 60 cents, and the cheddar cheese was.... 12 dollars! Holy moley, cheese is super expensive here. I even got the cheap no-name block of cheddar and shredded it myself. I think it's actually cruel to put a Wisconsinite in a country where cheese is so expensive! I think I'm going to line my suitcase with Sargento and string cheese packages when I come back from Christmas.

The actual celebration of Thanksgiving was relatively short. To Costa Rican's it's just a regular day and a regular meal. I didn't get to do the lay around and watch football, play games with family, and laugh as much as I usually would. I missed you family! I heard the Nikolaus family was having a great time, and I'm glad :) I'm going to come home with such a need to play speed scrabble because the Costa Ricans just aren't really interested.

Ok I can't think of a ton else to report and I don't have too much time. I have a list of interesting anecdotes about rollerskating, the election, and "allergies" that I will post next so stay tuned!

Thanks for reading and God bless you.

Monday, November 24, 2008

I heart guacamole, Nicaragua, and my mama tica

Hey everyone! I am really sorry for the long absence on the blog. There has been a lot of excitement in my life. First there was a team from Kentucky, then I went on a 4-day trip to Nicaragua for a wedding, then I jumped right back into teaching and celebrated my birthday. I also have a load of great pictures to upload.

Ok, where to start? The team from Kentucky was great. They were a team of about 10 adults whose trip was centered around learning about the childrens' homes. They went grocery shopping with the house parents on their first day to Hipermas and to PriceMart. They got to experience just how much food (and money) it takes to feed 20 hungry kids every day. The team was also in charge of making dinner - one night in one home and another night in the other home. It was kind of coincidental but we had spaghetti for lunch on Tuesday, then the team made spaghetti for dinner on Tuesday, AND for dinner on Wednesday. It was amazing though. A taste of home (I mean the USA of course, not Italy, haha).

The team also took all of the children and missionaries to the mall for lunch on Sunday and to see the movie Beverley Hills Chihuahua! It was such a cute movie for us and for the kids. The movie was dubbed over in Spanish so I got the gist but I didn't get most of the jokes. It's always so exciting seeing people out of their element, but going for it anyways. The adults knew very little Spanish, but they each had a little Costa Rican child on their arm going through the mall. It was especially beautiful to see one of the men on the team interact with the children. His name is Brackie and he previously worked in a children's home in the states. All of the kids just loved him and always jumped all over him. Another one of the men, a big construction worker type, knew a "banana dance" and taught all of the kids this wacky dance. It was so cute.

At the end of the trip the team spent an evening with Steve and Georgiana, the coordinators of the childrens' homes. They are the ones responsible for interacting with the government and child services, as well as raising the $4500 necessary to feed and clothe, and pay utilities for the children in the homes every month. They were very open with the team about how difficult it is. One member of the team came forward and offered to take charge of raising the money for a single child every month. Not that he has to pay it - more that he will find within his network of friends and family the money to sponsor a single child. Then, Brackie said that he would take on the responsibility of traveling around to churches in the states to speak about the project and raise funds for the homes. What a blessing! It's exactly what Steve and Georgiana have been struggling with and praying for.

The last day the team was here Brian and I left for our trip to Nicaragua. We went for the wedding of Tony Y, a member of the church here. We were 10 people, sort of a delegation to represent his church in Costa Rica even though his family and the bride's family both lived on an island in the middle of Lake Nicaragua. The island is called Ometepe and it's GORGEOUS. Google it if you want, it's spectacular. It consists of two volcanos which rise out of the center of the second largest lake in Latin America. The lake apparently has bull sharks in it as well, one of the only places on earth with freshwater sharks.

I stayed with the pastor's family for three nights, in a brick house with dirt floors and a latrine out back. They were such wonderful people! I had three adorable sisters who couldn't stop hugging me or following me around. I am going to miss them so much. I even got to participate in a bible study with my 15 year old sister, where we learned how a huge God can use a small me. I found it very interesting when one of the girls spoke up to describe how she's "small" in the world and said that she's young, short, poor, and brown. I was thinking "your skin is gorgeous!" but even in Latin America, racism is still very real. I didn't get a chance to ask too much, but even in Costa Rica it seems that the people with ancestors from Spain are in politics and hold prominent positions in business.

The water wasn't drinkable for me (they're used to it), so I had to buy bottled water at the little store before we went to the island. They probably cooked with the well / rain water, so I hope it got hot enough to kill bacteria or viruses! It was a completely different culture and world. The primary mode of transportation is horse or bike, and there were people herding their cows around. The bride's family slaughtered a cow for the wedding feast and the groom's family a pig. I even got to meet the pig and see it butchered the day before the wedding. We helped decorate the little brick church before the wedding, me and the youth pastor sang a song during the ceremony (yeah, I sang a love song in Spanish that I learned on the morning of the wedding! ), and I had to take pictures throughout becasue they didn't have a photographer! I don't think I'll ever have that big a part in anyone else's wedding. The bride and all of the brides maids walked to the church like half a mile from her house down dirt roads all dressed, and there were two separate power outages during the ceremony. Apparently that's normal there, for the power plant to run out of fuel.

Nicaragua was definitely a third world country. It's supposedly the second-poorest country int he Western Hemisphere. We visited four different cities on the mainland portion: Granada, Managua, Rivas, and Masaya. I'll post pictures soon. In summary there were gorgeous Spanish-style colonial buildings next to shacks. I saw a LOT more poverty than I've seen in Costa Rica. There are a lot of things I'll just have to describe because I couldn't take pictures, either because of the danger for my camera or out of respect for the people. Dirty children playing in the doorways of "houses", people with such sad eyes and lined faces, people in sweatshop settings hand-sewing leather sandals, purses, or other clothing. Sad, sad stuff but a beautiful, beautiful country. Another thing I meant to add: unique building materials. I saw a house made of an old train car, and I saw a latrine topped with a truck bed cover. Fascinating.

And any trip to a third world country wouldn't be complete without its fair share of danger. The house I stayed in had no windows.. just holes with a sheet covering them. So.. once I actually climbed right through my own window to get in when nobody was home. Thank you Lord that my passport and money weren't stolen. I also had several different rides in the back of pickup trucks, some of which (stop reading mom) I was standing! Yeah, I was standing in the back of a pickup (hanging on of course) going like 50mph past little shacks made of branches, tarp, and corrugated metal. Finally, if I thought I stood out in Costa Rica, I was wrong. In Nicaragua the people are generally darker, and especially on an island, I stood out like WOAH. I don't think I ever went more than 1 minute outside without being beeped at, whistled at, or hollered at. Even the other Costa Rican with us, Mariafernanda, got noticed a lot for her medium skin.

Overall, the trip was a complete culture shock but also very beautiful. I would definitely like to return to spend more time there before my tenure in Central America is through.

We returned to the VERY DEVELOPED country of Costa Rica on Sunday night the 16th at about 11pm. After returning from Nicaragua it took me a few days to recover. I ate decently there but the quantity and nutritional value were a bit lacking. (I was one of the lucky ones in the group who actually got two meals a day from their host family though.) I also only slept a few hours each night there, between the roosters crowing, dogs barking, and trying to spend as much time as possible getting to know the people and culture.

Wednesday night I went to see Quantum of Solace with the missionary family, which I thought was decent. Wednesdays are two for one, so it's only $3 per person. Woo!

Thursday the 20th was my birthday. My mama tica threw a "surprise" party for me, which she told me about the day before because she didn't want to scare me. I really know she was just too excited to contain herself and wanted help cleaning the house. After tutoring that day I got home at about 7 to a house full of people! Yanira had made chicken chalupas for dinner, along with a beautiful yellow birthday cake. I told nobody to tell her though, that she wrote my name on it as "July". There were something like 20 people there, and I was amazed at how loved I felt. The youth worship leader brought his guitar so we could have a correctly tuned version of happy birthday in Spanish and English. Then they all prayed for me and I almost cried. I even got presents from some of mama tica's friends. I got a beautiful coconut shell watch from her sister, a body lotion from her friend down the street, and a bag of chocolates from her neice-in-law. Mama tica also bought me a touch lamp painted with palm trees and volcanoes. It reminds me so much of the landscape here.

The best part of the night was that Candace invited her friend Wainer, a professional salsa dancer and instructor! He taught our group how to dance when we came in January and he's a really cool guy. So as soon as the "old" people left, the salsa music came on and there was much dancing and laughing. My friend and math student Victor was competing against Yanira for the center of attention on the dance floor. I know everyone had a great time, and I just felt so blessed to have shared my birthday with people who care about my despite not knowing me long. It was the birthday where I expected the least but felt the largest outpouring of love and support from unexpected places. It really was an indication of how God has been caring for me. I've sometimes felt lonely, isolated, and very homesick, but that day was like God showing me again how He always provides and how He's always taking care of me.

Thanks for reading everyone, and I hope to post a lot of pictures soon. Keep praying for my Spanish skills, for my students, and for the children in the homes. I am coming back to the states Dec 17 for a few weeks, so if anyone wants to visit with me or wants me to speak to their church, family, Bible study, or whatever, let me know. I know it's my job to carry the news of this project far and wide both to bless people with news of God's work and to raise support for the children here.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Que lastima! The Mennonites are gone!

The team of high school students from Shalom was amazing! First of all, something like 80% of their class is in the school chorale, so they were always singing. They could break into 4 part harmony at a moment’s notice and it gave me chills to hear them. They sang a thank you song after meals and also performed in church on Sunday.
On Sunday afternoon we went to an old folks home with the evangelism group from the church. It was a beautiful place run by Catholic nuns that began as a place for abandoned people, whether children, handicapped, or elderly. Some of the original abandoned children sheltered in the home are now 80 years old and still living there! It was amazing watching the high school students bond with the elderly despite the language barrier. The students sang a few hymns and many of the people cried. Then, one 90-something year old woman recited a poem for us and sang a song about the national flower of Costa Rica. Later, when some music came on the radio, another woman jumped up and grabbed one of the high school guys and started dancing! She wasn’t more than 4 feet tall but so adorable and having a ball! I met a woman who told me her brother lives in Madison, Wisconsin. I said “Mine does too!” Talk about a small world! I could tell that by the end of the day, everyone felt so blessed by the time together – the elderly and students alike.

On the worksite, the Mennonites were really hard workers. I called them “reverse locusts” because they swarmed over the site, accomplishing everything in record time and never tiring.

On Tuesday we took them to the beach. The only downer was that it’s hard to drive past projects and poverty before getting on our catamaran and cruising to an island. It was a wonderful day though. It was overcast and windy, so I didn’t get too sunburned. I had tons of fun throwing the football with the guys on the team, getting swept around by the waves, walking along the beach with Candace and seeing sand crabs and hermit crabs! I even got pulled into the boys’ game of “S the Q” and got dunked a few times. I even did some dunking in return.

It was very sad to see them go. They were all so much fun, so easy to get along with, and every one of them had a real servant’s heart. I’m interested to see where God places them from here, as they spread out to be salt in the earth. I made sure to talk to them about being confident in their decisions as they head off to college no matter what people say about them. I experienced firsthand that it really bothers people if someone is a Christian, if someone turns down drinking or partying, or even if someone votes republican! Haha). You’ve just gotta be confident in what you believe.

My mom told me that she really enjoys my little cultural anecdotes so I’ll write about a few more here:

I woke up the other day, completely exhausted and a little cranky. I opened the refrigerator only to find my jar of peanut butter looking back at me from the top shelf. Peanut butter doesn’t go in the refrigerator. My mama tica must have put it there. I then had a little laugh as I glanced at the eggs on the counter and last night’s meat still in the pot sitting out. They sure do things differently here, and I don’t think they know about Salmonella. I just remember that I am living among their culture, and I will do as the ticos do. Some things that I do as the ticos do are: wear jeans everywhere (even to church), never wear t-shirts or sweat pants, make my bed every day (my mom will probably faint when she reads that!), never walk barefoot in the house (“it causes illness”), even if you have plans, never go anywhere in the rain (“it causes illness”), agree with them when they say it’s cold and I don’t think so, take a siesta right after lunch even though I worry about acid reflux, and greet everyone with a kiss on the cheek.

My partially deaf math student, Josue, has turned out to be very sweet and appreciative of my help. I have the hardest time communicating with him, but we’ve managed through writing, or through me repeating myself very slowly and loudly. I think it is especially hard for him because of my accent and because I probably don’t move my lips the way most Spanish-speakers do when they speak. Thank goodness he’s very smart and has never once gotten discouraged! Here’s a picture of us that Brian took on Friday:

I have come to accept and appreciate getting whistled at by construction workers, though the attention still makes me uncomfortable. At first I was really offended and annoyed, but then I realized that to them, it would be rude to let even a decent-looking girl walk by and not whistle at her. When women from here go to the states they probably feel there’s something wrong, like they’re ugly or something because no boys are taking notice. One day I got whistled/beeped at 4 times before I’d made it 2 blocks from home. I had been feeling unsure about the outfit I was wearing when I left home, but I soon felt much better thanks to this particular aspect of the culture.

One last thought:

In my last post, I talked about how I’m a child when it comes to my communication. At church that the pastor talked about how Jesus told us we all have to become like children to enter the kingdom of God. It really struck me once again how God has a purpose for everything under the sun. Sure, I’m frustrated that I can’t communicate the way I want to but God is using it to humble me and make me like a child for His purposes.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Busy Times at Project Abraham

Hey Everyone! I'm sorry I haven't updated in a while. Things have been busy and they're about to get even crazier.

Yesterday a team of 40 came from Pennsylvania. They are Shalom Christian Academy, a Mennonite high school in Pennsylvania, and this is their senior year mission trip. I went along with Candace and Jonathan to get them at the airport. (Not sure if I've mentioned Jonathan yet, but he and his wife Amy are missionaries here. They used to be missionaries in India, and he has a shaved head and a HUGE and intimidating beard. When I met him, He said Hi, I'm Jonathan and I said wow, your beard is intimidating... oh, and I'm Julie!). We took the group downtown to a market in San Jose and I got a little Christmas shopping done. Last night I rested up to prepare for the crazy days ahead.

Today the team started work at the project at 8, so Brian and I had to be here at 7:30 to get everything ready. I had to bring everything with me for construction work on the project, for my math classes afterward, and for the worship service at church tonight. The team proved to be great from the start. They paid attention on the tour, asked great questions, and volunteered for different jobs around the site. I worked with six girls on what will eventually be a hardwood floor. We had to carry the wood from the area where it was cut to the building where it will be installed. We then had to apply the termite poison (incidentally, it is illegal in the U.S.) and a coat of varnish. We finished with sanding the varnished pieces. There were abundant floor boards to do, so we developed our system and got to it! It was great getting to know them and kind of neat to be someone they looked up to. The Costa Rican workers have also told me that my Spanish has improved a lot since the last time I was translating for a team. At the end of the day the Ticos could only exclaim at how hardworking and enthusiastic everyone was. All I can say is that those floor boards are going to be the best ever.

Tomorrow will be a really busy day as well. After working at the project I have math classes and then the team and about 40 youth from the church here are going roller skating! It's going to be great. This weekend we're going to the Irazu Volcano on Saturday morning, eating lunch at the mall, and then we have youth group at night. Sunday morning is church and in the afternoon we're going to do evangelism with members of the church throughout the neighborhood here and in one of the city parks.

I've been thinking for a while about writing an entry called "It's not all sunshine and sandy beaches." Living in Costa Rica, despite the amazing people, culture, and food, does have its downsides. There has been a definite lack of sunshine. Up until this week, it rained on all but 4 days since I arrived and it's pretty cold at night. We're just starting to come out of the rainy season, and the weather won't be really nice until December. I haven't actually worn shorts at all, except for working out, and I usually bring both a zip-up hoodie and a windbreaker jacket wherever I go. Surprising? Before all of you norteamericanos start calling me a wuss, remember that there is no insulation here against whatever is happening outside. Think of it like camping. When I'm teaching math until 9pm in a building with open rafters and it's 50 degrees and raining, it's COLD!

The other major downside has been struggling with the language. It's hard to go from being the articulate and intelligent person I am in the U.S. to having the social skills of a child. Wait, most of the children here are even better than me... All of the grammar knowledge and vocabulary that I know on paper are useless without the quick thinking that it takes to have a live conversation with someone. "What the heck did they just say so fast?.. What do I want to say... how do I say that? What's the word for 'varnish' in Spanish anyways? Maybe I'll just call it 'paint', I know that word..." And before you know it they're repeating themselves because of the vague look on your face. We'll just say it's very humbling but as they say here "poco a poco", "little by little."

On another note, I had a nightmare about Socialism last night... I'm sure you can guess why. Never watch CNN right before bed! No matter where you are in the world, you can never escape American politics.

All right, it's time for church, but I'll try to update again soon! I miss everyone!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

More about the wall and ... Taco Bell?

There were three things I had written down to include in my previous post, and it turns out I forgot two of the three. As Beth (I miss you very much!) would say "Genius!"

First an anecdote about the fence: Candace and I were talking about the wall for the childrens homes the other day. She told me that there have already been incidents of people trying to come through/over the fence to get children from the home! She said that sometimes the abusive parents who have lost custody of the children are able to find out by word of mouth that the children are there. There have been mothers and other family members trying to lure children towards the fence or trying to come in and take them from the home. I know that some of the children in the home currently were placed there because their parents were wanted for multiple murders. It scares me to think of how easily those people could get in to the project -and what they might be willing to do to get their children back! Yikes.

The other thing I wanted to do was post pictures of the current fence. Before you accuse the project of being negligent when there's a horrible fence next to a nice children's home, keep in mind that it's the rainy season and it pours every single day - it was just repaired in January. Also keep in mind a 2x4 costs $8 here and minimum wage is $2 per hour.

In the above photo, the children's home is on the right and the tin shack to the left is part of the adjoining impoverished community.

The above photo speaks for itself. Many of the boards are just falling off of the fence, and those that haven't fallen yet are rotting. People could come right through!

Again, for those who didn't see, information on giving to the project can be found in my previous post, "How to".

On an unrelated note, last night we ate dinner in the mall food court. You might all be disappointed to find out that and the fast food I've been craving most is Taco Bell! I know, I'm in a latin country, with real Costa Rican cuisine. How could I possibly crave T-Bell? Well, taco bell here has a few differences from the States. It's expensive- Like $13 for two people to eat. The tacos also come with french fries on the side. Weirdness.

On Fridays we have an English discussion group. I have so much fun teaching the Costa Ricans idioms and other phrases in English. Last week we had little debates on different topics such as the death penalty (which is illegal here), abortion (also illegal here), and more lighthearted ones such as dogs vs. cats as pets and coke vs. pepsi.

On a side note, in vitro fertilization is also illegal here because of the way fertilized embryos (baby people!) are treated. I never thought about that before but it's so true - they always implant two embryos and expect one to die so the mother ends up with one baby. It's like there is a life sacrificed every time the procedure happens, and the doctors expect it to happen that way based on the chances of the embryo "sticking." (disclaimer: this is not a super-scientific description and I don't want people to start arguing about it.)

One last anecdote is that tonight I hung out with Brian's host family. Their papa tico brought home a bag of fresh macadamia nuts - still inside their little shells. It became a huge family activity using rocks, a hammer head (no handle!), or a pliers to break open the shells on the sidewalk. Everyone was laughing, joking, and even after taking a long time to get a shell open, they'd give the nut inside to someone else. It struck me how in the states people would never buy macadamia nuts like that. It would be so much easier to buy a container of de-shelled nuts. However, the sheer joy we all had in opening the nuts would've been absent. It's a good representation of the general attitude I've encountered here. They clearly have a lot less than Americans yet are usually far more joyful. That small bag of nuts was the highlight of thier (and my) evening. They say "it's the small things in life..." I've noticed that when you have fewer big things (i.e. SUVs, square footage, and hot pockets), you're more likely to catch all of the joyful small things that come by.

That's all I have for now. Thanks for reading and que Dios les bendiga!

Friday, October 17, 2008

How To:

1. How donate funds to the wall and other building projects at the Abraham Project?

The official protocol for donations to the project, (which includes a tax receipt mailed back to you) is to make checks payable to Cornerstone International and note in the memo section "World Hope Outreach Building Project." Mail the check to:
Cornerstone International
P.O. Box 192
Wilmore, KY 40390

2. How to sponsor me directly or donate to the costs of my math tutoring?

This is a significantly less official operation. If you email me or post a comment on this blog I'll email you my mom's address. She's handling all of my finances while I'm here via joint checking :).

A few anecdotes from the last few days:

Last friday before tutoring I got an email from Jon saying that he'd been praying especially for my communication with the math students. I also said a special prayer before heading over to the project that day. When I arrived, I met my friday 4pm student for the first time, and then his mom explained to me that he is partially deaf. Woah. Communication barrier! She told me to speak very loudly and clearly and make sure that he can see my lips when I speak. He turned out to be a very sweet kid who was very enthusiastic about help and wasn't afraid to ask me to repeat myself or write out what I wanted to say to him. Our lesson went really well and all I could think was "Wow God! You just helped me teach three theorems of similar triangles to a spanish-speaking partially-deaf person!"

I finally used the Costa Rican oven this week to make banana bread! It was pretty good and everyone I shared it with thought it was great, but it was nothing compared to my mom's or grandma's. And then I got homesick :(

There have been a lot of floods and landslides here. My mama tica told me that things flood every year around this time. It reminds me once again that I'm not in a first world country like the U.S. They don't have the infrastructure to handle the vast rains that predictably come every year.

That's all I have for now! Thanks for reading and continue to pray for my language skills - especially with my students!


Wednesday, October 8, 2008

levantar fondos

Brian and I have decided to do a little bit of fundraising using our respective support networks.

A fundraising project we have been given by the missionaries here is to build a concrete wall around the border of the children's homes. Right now there is a flimsy wooden wall that needs to be repaired every year or so because of the excessive rain they get here, rot, and erosion around the posts. This edge of the project is also the border they share with an extremely impoverished community. Literally two feet beyond the nice grassy area that the rescued children play in are the shacks made out of scrap metal that entire families live in, the only separation being a rotting wooden wall. And we know that it isn't usually only poverty all by itself that affects a community. It is usually accompanied by neglect or abuse of children, drug or alcohol use, prostitution, and violent fights over food or possessions using weapons. Many of the children come from that community to attend the project's daycare every day because their parents can't (or just don't) feed, clothe, or even really spend time raising them as they grow up. Every few months the missionaries go into "the farm" as it's called, and check for any new babies or new families with children who need help. Even though it is a community that the project ministers to, it would obviously be beneficial to have a stronger permanent barrier between the type of poverty and danger from which the abandoned children are rescued and the safe and loving environment they now call home. We've divided up the fundraising costs between four people, and I'm responsible for raising $1,200.

The other fundraising project we have is just to cover the costs associated with our math tutoring. We bought 6 review books to help us review the math for the various grade levels and ensure that we're teaching things in the same manner that the schools do. We'll also have substantial costs associated with printing and copying worksheets, review sheets, etc. for the students.

If you have the means to contribute to either our teaching supplies or to the wall I encourage you to pray about it and then act accordingly. I also encourage you to talk with friends or your church about making a contribution now that you know about the need here. The missionaries really want to install the wall at the end of October because there is a big team coming from the U.S. to volunteer in construction and installation will be very labor-intensive. I will keep you updated on the status of funds!

I am really enjoying math tutoring! Last night I was helping two students and I was actually surprised when they said they were tired of sitting – then I checked my watch and realized we’d been going for two hours! I never get bored of it. It is frustrating when they don’t understand but it’s also an interesting challenge to think of a new way to explain it so they will understand. I got annoyed when my students told me that their math teacher at school won’t even repeat herself if they ask her. She won’t even re-explain something! She doesn’t skip a beat when the class is lost and confused.

I think it’s even more exciting than watching a good movie or sporting event, watching the student hesitate over a problem. I can see the wheels turning in their heads, and when they get it right, I want to jump up and give them a high-five. Actually I did that today. I think the students enjoy themselves when I’m so excited to help them. I try to always give them really positive feedback like, “perfecto perfecto!” or “super-inteligente!”. Today I helped a girl who is seriously very bright, and all she needed was a few things clarified and she was off to the races solving trig problems faster than I could. YAY!

Tonight my friend Johanna comes to visit from Honduras! She's a fellow Wisconsinite and Hopkins grad working in a clinic and a jewelry-making business with women with HIV. Commercial: there is a link to her blog on the right! She has to leave the country for a few days and then re-enter through customs every 90 days to renew her visa, just like I have to here. I’m excited to hear more about her experiences and to share with her what we’re doing here.

Hasta pronto!

<3 Julie

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

"Dios es Bueno"

God is good.

My mama tica is very close with her nephew Luis, his wife Cristi, and their 2 year old daughter Valentina. They come over at least once a week for a meal or coffee and my tico parents love to spoil Valentina. The first time they came over was about a week and a half ago, on Thursday of my first week here. We talked about all kinds of things - the U.S., chicken in the oven, engineering, etc. Then my mama tica said in Spanish, "Julie, they don't go to church. What do you think of that?" Um... a little awkward to ask that in front of them. Then she's like "Exhort them, go on!" So we ended up explaining about the church and inviting them. They'd been intimidated in the past by a church with people yelling and falling over all the time. We told them this church isn't as "intense" and that there's no obligation to participate at all. You can just sit there and listen. They agreed to go.

They came to church the following Sunday! Mama tica was a genius and practically stole Valentina and took her to the crying area so Luis and Cristi wouldn't be distracted by anything. The message was exactly what they needed to hear. The topic was silences from God, such as when we pray for something but it doesn't come. After the pastor explained silences from God and God's nature, he explained our nature (sinners), and God's response to that (saving us). He really layed out the Gospel step by step. Even though I'm not usually one for dramas in church, there was a drama illustrating how Jesus took on our sin, died for us, and then rose in victory. It was very powerful. After church we asked Luis and Cristi what they thought of it and they said they loved it! They said the music was beautiful, the message was beautiful, they learned a lot, and they want to keep coming back! yaaaaay.

There was a concert at church this past Sunday afternoon with all kinds of homemade food for sale as a fundraiser for the project. One of the performers was Victor Zuniga and my new favorite song is his song "Dios es Bueno". It's such an 80s dance song! My mama tica bought his CD, so we've been jamming to it while making dinner or cleaning.

At the concert, Mr. Zuniga gave a short message and then had an 'alter call'. Luis was the only one to go up, but he went all the way to the front carrying Valentina and weeping. I hope this is an outward symbol that the Holy Spirit has put true saving faith in his heart. Today mama tica told me she's going to give him a Bible so he can continue to learn about God and water his inner mustard seed. Praise God!

On a completely different note, there are some more Costa Rican-isms that I want to share with you. They store their frying pans in the oven - of course - because they never use it to cook! They believe that rain causes illness. They also believe that if you walk in the house with bare feet you'll get sick. These superstitions are especially irritating to Brian, the Johns Hopkins premed and future doctor. He's like "Of course, bare feet cause illness, because OF COURSE all pathogens enter the body through the skin of the foot!"

Mama tica and I have been powerwalking in the mornings (when I'm not sick). Today was my first day back to walking. We go for a whole hour all around the neighborhood. Costa Rica has a lot more hills than Wisconsin!

We had our first day of math tutoring yesterday and it went pretty well. We're facing up to a pretty awful math education system. My two students are in 8th grade but they couldn't resolve something like 8 - 9 + 5 = ?. They didn't know that 2/2 = 1 and couldn't add simple numbers without their calculator. I made them use their fingers if they had to but they weren't going to rely on that calculator. The "system" must not teach the fundamentals of numbers, the number line, or positive and negative numbers well here. Unfortunately, my students have an algebra exam this week on polynomials. It's frustrating trying to balance preparing them for their exam with filling in the fundamental basics that they lack. Oh, and we also have 13 students total so we can't spend more than a few hours a week with each of them.

I'm excited that we're developing a more fixed schedule and I hope to get back to working construction at the project during the day to complement our afternoons and evenings of tutoring. We're also going to have an English conversation group on Friday nights to help adults learn English and also work in some evangelism while we're at it.

That's all I have for now. Pray for my math students - both that they understand my awkward Spanish explanations and the math concepts that I am trying to teach them!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

A Few More Anecdotes

Hi Everyone! Thanks for reading.

First of all, I've been sick the past few days with the flu. Sinuses, headache, sore throat, aches, fever, and pure exhaustion. It's honestly very scary to be sick in another country. I learned all kinds of new words this week:
calentura = fever (mine was 101.1)
gripe = flu
glandulas = glands, like on your neck (mine are HUGE right now)
pastillas = pills

Speaking of pastillas, here you can get some serious drugs at the pharmacy without seeing a doctor. My mama tica went and described my symptoms and brought back some mystery medicine. I was instructed to take one yellow and one blue pill simultaneously every 12 hours. Well regardless, after taking the pills and having mama tica pray over me, my fever had a least subsided a few hours later. I slept all of Friday and have slept a lot since.

One very positive thing that came from being sick was that I discovered the TV in my room has cable, and I get American channels! I didn't even have a TV at college, so I have no idea what to do with my very own cable tv. I found that I get the food network, HGTV, ESPN, ESPN2, FOX, CNN in English and EspaƱol, and lots of other interesting channels. Unfortunately the discovery channel is dubbed over in Spanish.

Another interesting anecdote is that since Costa Ricans don't use the oven to cook things other than cake, they're fascinated by oven cooking. Lots of people have been asking me what kinds of things I know how to cook in the oven. My mama tica now tells everyone who visits our house that I'm going to cook "pollo en el orno": Chicken in the oven. I think every day she reminds me that I promised to make chicken in the oven.

Tomorrow is our first day of tutoring math. I'm pretty nervous about communicating geometry and other things in Spanish so the kids can understand.

My friend Johanna, who also went to Hopkins, is working in Honduras right now in an HIV clinic and is visiting here in Wednesday! I can't wait!

I also found out about an opportunity to go to Nicaragua in November. It would be a mission trip with the Costa Rican church to do evangelism and also some vacationing. They said there's an island with a lagoon, two volcanoes, and people who haven't heard about Jesus! It would also be over my birthday, so that might be really exciting. Oh, and also the 13 day trip would cost like $100.

OK I have to go for now but I promise to post about a lot of the God stuff that has been happening lately.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Big First Week

I promised that I would write a long entry about what I’ve been doing so far, and here it is!

I’m staying with a “tico” (Costa Rican) family. My mama tica’s name is Janira and my papa tico’s name is Fernando. Their English is about as good as the average American’s Spanish: “hello”, “goodbye”, and “no problem”. So from the time I wake up in the morning to the time I go to bed, I’m communicating in Spanish. My tico parents had three children who all died of a degenerative disease of the throat/neck. They have been through some very hard times, but when they pray at mealtimes they have nothing but thanks for God for all He has given them. This is a common theme here: the people have suffered more hardships than anyone I’ve met before, but they’re also more grateful to God and more generous than anyone I’ve met. I think when people live in poverty their desperation for everything in life gives rise to a stronger faith in God and a more accurate understanding of what is really important in life.

The project I work at has three foster homes for abandoned children, a daycare/school for poor children in the community, a church, and an adult education center. They are in the process of building a large multipurpose building which will house professional offices (to provide medical/legal/other services to the community) and an indoor soccer field (the best way to attract anyone here). My job as an intern is to help with teams from the U.S. who come down to volunteer in construction and in the daycare. Right now there is a team here from Tennessee. They arrived Saturday and left early this morning. I worked in construction alongside them, giving them tips and translating directions from the tico workers. Yesterday I had to translate several prayers and parting messages between the ticos and the team. These kinds of translations always make me nervous because there is a lot of meaning behind what the people want to say to each other and I don’t want to mess it up! I’m much more relaxed translating “Katie needs a hammer” or “It’s time for lunch”.

Speaking of lunch, while the teams are here, my mama tica comes to the project every day to make a big lunch for the ticos and the team, about 40 people in total. She is a phenomenal cook! I’m hoping to learn from her while I’m here. Everyone who found out that I get to stay at her house was so jealous. Last night for dinner we ate pan fried fish, yucca root (?), black beans, rice, and a variation on pico de gallo. I haven’t had any frozen food since I’ve been here, and she goes shopping every morning for what she needs for that day. There is freshly chopped cilantro, onion, and garlic in almost everything. I’ve learned to eat what is put in front of me because it’s always good. I heard they eat chicken hearts where one of the other interns stays, but I haven’t encountered anything like that yet.

This seems like a good place to list interesting things about living in Costa Rica. They eat rice and beans with almost every meal. Their dish soap is a crumbly solid and they scrape the sponge across it to use it. They don’t refrigerate eggs, milk, or cheese but nothing spoils. They think it’s freezing here right now because it’s “winter” but it’s really like 75 during the day and 40 something at night. My mama tica is always telling me to put on a sweater. Sounds familiar… (mom). It has rained every day so far. Mornings are cloudless but by 3pm it’s pouring. They very seldom use the oven – everything is cooked on the stove top. Right now even though I’m almost the same longitude as the East coast, we’re on Mountain Time in the U.S. The sun comes up SUPER early and I end up waking up at 5:30 or so because it’s already so bright in my west-facing window. They love American music. I woke up today with one of our neighbors blasting “You Give Love a Bad Name” by Bon Jovi while he washed his car. It must have been a mix CD because the next song was “I’m a Barbie Girl”. I never said they only liked good American music…

The people here worry a lot less than people do in the U.S. They love to laugh and joke and embarrass each other in funny ways. You can almost never get a straight story out of anyone here. Especially the high school and college age boys are much more “squirrely” than Americans. They’re ALL class clowns, they ALL do physical comedy and tackle each other, mimic each other, and pretend that they’re in the video game “Mortal Kombat”. I just know my mom wouldn’t be able to watch them horse around because you really think someone’s going to get hurt. This general attitude is with the adults too. My mama tica actually gets offended when I put on my seatbelt in the car. She’s also so excited that I brought my driver’s license because it means I can legally drive here. I’m not sure if she’s joking when she tells me I’m going to have to drive her around. Sarcasm doesn’t always translate.

I really had a wonderful time with the team from Tennessee. They were from a church called Love and Truth. They were mostly adults: some were carpenters and one was an electrician who helped with the new building. I got to know the women the most. One of them is Kate’s mom. (Kate has been an intern here since January, the last time I was here). Another one also has a daughter who interned at the Project several years ago. They were all so nice to work with, and such hard workers with great attitudes. I learned some new songs with hand motions like “Peach of a Savior” and “The Beaver Dance”. The ticos were especially fascinated by our strange songs. There were also four young girls: two eleven-year-olds, one ten-year-old, and one eighteen-year-old on the team. They made me laugh so much. They always had huge smiles on their faces and called me “Miss Julie” with their southern accents. If they didn’t hear something that I said, they’d say “Ma’am?” They’d always have to get hugs from me in the morning and when their bus dropped me off at my house they’d sing a farewell song to me. The three youngest are on a dance team at the church and they performed for everyone Friday night during the sendoff activity. I am really going to miss the whole team!

This week I’m going to get things organized for tutoring high school students in Math and maybe English. My responsibilities aren’t fully defined for when there are no teams from the U.S. but I’m confident they’ll find something to keep me busy!
Last night Briand and I went to dinner at Jonathan and Amy’s house. They are a missionary couple from the U.S. who previously lived in India as missionaries. They’re really nice and they have the cutest baby ever! They also invited me over every Saturday from now on to watch college football! They’re huge Georgia fans, but I’ll put up with their SEC talk if I get to see and talk football with someone.

I uploaded photos to a picassa album. It is located at:
Just copy and paste it into your internet browser window thingy. Let me know if it doesn't work and I'll ask someone smart!

That’s all for now! I miss you all and I hope to update again soon, especially about things that God has been showing me and teaching me. Pray that I can be more outgoing and brave with my Spanish.

<3 Julie

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Safe, Sound, and Well Fed

Well folks, I made it to Costa Rica safe and sound.
Brian and I got to O’Hare only 45 minutes before our flight’s departure time. I know there is never a “good time” to be late to the airport, but when you’re going international for three months at a time, you can’t afford to miss your flight!
I have almost no time to update, but everything here is going well. My Spanish is improving quickly and I think I might get a tutor for a few hours a week so I can improve even faster. There is a team of volunteers here from Tennessee and one of my jobs is to take care of teams while they’re here. The team is mostly adults but there are three 11-year-old girls who are so much fun! We’re laughing and joking all day on the work site and acting really silly.
I went to church on Sunday and it was great. I love singing and worshiping God in Spanish. I’m always amazed when I remember how many different kinds of people God created and how many different languages sing His praise. There's so much going on in the world that I don't know about!
I miss family and friends but I am already feeling so welcome and loved by the Costa Ricans. I am eating really well too, the food is great!
That’s all for now but I will write a really long entry soon!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The time is near

I'm starting to get very nervous about getting everything done. I want to see like 100 people and spend one more fun time with each of them before I leave, but my to-do list is a mile long. But I've been here before. Going off to college and then graduating from college were both so difficult for me. Leaving is always the hardest part. And it's never the places, it's always the people that I hate to leave behind.

I had such a nice time last night playing Spades with my aunts Carol and Laura and my grandma. We laughed and joked and ate candy corn and peanuts mixed together. It's times like that where I just thank God for the wonderful family he has given me. I wish many of them lived in Wisconsin instead of Colorado and Georgia.. you know who you are... because I just love spending time with them!

Yesterday morning I gave the chapel message at my old elementary school! The kindergarteners through fifth graders were there, and I realized it's been 17 years since I was in kindergarten. woah. I told them all about how some children in the world don't have food or clothes, and don't have parents to protect them from bad people in the world. I told them how the Abraham Project in Costa Rica helps children by feeding them, clothing them, educating them, sheltering them, and teaching them about Jesus. I had a slide show of pictures to show them how scrap wood donated to the project is used to make beautiful buildings for the children. The kids seemed to really like it and there were tons of hands up for questions at the end!

After I was done speaking, the principal (my 8th grade algebra teacher) went up and told the kids how my brother Mark had gone on one of the mission trips with me, and how my mom was currently in South Dakota for her 10th time chaparoning the annual 8th grade trip there. He stated that Mark and I had learned to serve others from our mom's example. It's completely true. My mom has always been a fantastic example of service in my life. Whenever I run into people at church, they always tell me "your mom has such a good heart." It's a consensus among her peers and I see it so clearly in her. I always think of Proberbs 31:10-31, "the wife of noble character." Check it out.

Many of my elementary school teachers are still teaching and they all came up to hug me and tell me that they're so proud of what I'm doing. I never thought of what I'm doing as extraordinary or realized what a fantastic part of God's plan for my life this year will be until they made me see it. The whole experience put things into perspective for me. I'm going to be an international missionary. God is going to use me in ways I can't comprehend and He's going to show and teach me amazing things this year. Praise God!

That's all I can think of to write for now. My next post may be my first from Costa Rica!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

It's official

Well everyone, it's official. I purchased my flight to Costa Rica last night and got a fabulous deal on it. Brian and I will be flying together on September 20. This is a little later than I'd originally planned, but it will give me extra time to save up money and take care of business in WI.

In addition to some teaching in English and math, we'll be helping to coordinate with short-term mission teams from the U.S. to come down to the project and serve. I'm really looking forward to this portion of my service, not only becasue the people from the U.S. will speak English :) but also because I know that God prepared me for this role. By leading me to organize the mission trip from Hopkins in January, God taught me what goes into planning such a trip and exactly what responsibilities fall on the team leader. I will be a better contact and facilitator for having planned a trip myself.

August 1 is the closing date for the house I grew up in. We've been very busy packing, selling, and moving things to relatives' houses and storage units.

I currently work at a pump manufacturer in Hartland, WI called Hartmann Controls. I'm an engineering intern and I do whatever they ask of me! I've been learning how to put together pumps, how to run some of the different machines, and how to package, label, and ship the pumps. I'm writing "work instructions" (powerpoint files with step by step instructions and pictures) for some of these tasks - so that in busy times they can hire temps to help out.

On Tuesdays I go to a class at Mt Zion Lutheran on apologetics. It's one of my favorite things to learn about because of how trendy it is to be an atheist in academia. Apologetics teaches how to defend the gospel (the death and resurrection of Christ for our sins) against the attacks of the secular and pluralistic world we live in today. The truth is, the historical and archaeological evidence is insurmountable. To deny that Jesus did and said everything in the Bible would require one to deny so much history that by the same arguments persons such as Julius Caesar could also be "proved" not to exist. It's extremely interesting and makes me with I could pull out my copy of "Mere Christianity" right now.

That's all I have for now. I'll update at least once more before I leave for Costa Rica.
Could everyone also please pray for my dad?

Thanks for the love and support!

Monday, May 12, 2008

E-mail test for Parker

Test! Does this blog actually email people? Why does it only allow you to email a maximum of 10 people? Do I have to invent a listserve or something via google to make it email like 40 people? Help Parker!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Leaving Hopkins

It's very sad to be leaving Johns Hopkins after my four years here. It took me almost two years to settle in and find great church friends, and now I have to leave them. We'll keep in touch of course, but I will miss them all very much. It is also unfortunate that we all came together in such a weird city as Baltimore, as none of us really want to stay around here for too long after graduation.

I'm excited for what's coming next: a summer of working at home, and then 10+ months in Costa Rica. Afterwards, I'll be starting in Fall of 09 as a graduate student at Stanford. That's the plan as of now, but it may very well change throughout the next year and a half.

I set up this blog so that family and friends can keep track of me through it all, especially during the time when I am in Costa Rica. It will be difficult to make phone calls, and I will have limited ability to respond to personal emails.

For those of you who don't know, I will be volunteering as a teacher in English and Math at the Abraham Project in San Jose. I will be teaching younger children in the daycare center three days a week and will be teaching adults/youth in the evenings. I will also do some construction work, and will maybe get to put my engineering skills to use as the project is planning to put a retractable roof over a soccer field for their community center. I don't know all of the details yet, but I'll post more as soon as I know!

<3 Julie