Friday, March 6, 2009

Always new experiences

Alright y'all (I think every other American volunteer is from the south and it's rubbed off), someone finally wrote “update your blog, woman!” on my facebook so… I oblige.
I will first fill in on my life lately and then backtrack to tell you about Panama and the Camp I went to.

Last week there was a team here from Franklin Crossroads Baptist Church. It's the church of Steve Thomas's mom so it's especially exciting to have them here. They are focusing more on evangelism than the construction that most teams do.
We did a lot of children’s activities, including one for about 200 children in a squatter's village. It's basically a refugee camp of illegal Nicaraguans, El Salvadorians, and other impoverished people who build their houses out of scrap pieces. It's an area of extreme poverty with very high rates of drug use and prostitution, even among children. Here is a picture I discreetly took while trying not to get mugged for my camera:

The activity included face painting, crafts, games, songs, a drama, and a Biblical message. I was translating and painting faces the whole time and helping out in the crafts area. I have to tell you all, I had a first-time experience: I painted a little red heart on a baby's face WHILE it was breastfeeding. Yep, you read that right. But what was I going to do when the mom saw I was painting children's faces and wanted her baby's face painted, nevermind that I had to paint like an inch away from … well, a nipple? It's a weird image but a good example of how in a different country and culture you end up doing things you'd never normally do - but in those situations you just do it with a smile on your face and the love of Jesus in your heart, tell the woman how beautiful her baby is, and then write all about it on your blog.

Last Saturday we did an activity in a rehabilitation center for prostitutes. One member of the team from Franklin Crossroads shared her testimony about being sexually abused as a child, how her husband was put in jail for murder, and how shortly thereafter she had a miscarriage at 6 months. These are obviously really bad things to have happen in life, but I was so glad that she had a testimony that the recovering prostitutes could relate to. Most of us don’t. How condescending would it seem for the average North American woman to tell a room full of “used and abused” women that she could understand their suffering? It struck me how God uses these horrific parts of her past to actually arm or equip her to relate to other people in broken and horrible situations. After talking about how God can heal all wounds in our lives, we had a time for prayer and sharing. I met some absolutely incredible women, most of whom were products of their own mother’s prostitution and were abused or sold for sex as children, only to continue that life through adulthood. Now, because of the rehabilitation center they have learned about Jesus and begun to heal emotionally and spiritually while they leave behind their past and (with much help from the center) pursue new training or vocations. As a side note we also did a craft with them to make purses out of two handkerchiefs. They were so cool! Picture below:

Props to the team for being sooo prepared and bringing EVERYTHING with them in their suitcases for all children’s and adult activities. Saturday afternoon we went to put on another children’s activity in a church on the edge of the “zona roja” or red-light district of San Jose. This is the really bad area within the city. It’s much more dangerous than the squatter’s village we went to. (Ask Johanna, her bus from Honduras arrived at a bus stop on the edge of the zona roja). Just for an example, during the activity we saw out the window a woman sitting on the curb and injecting herself with drugs while the man next to her pulled out a big plastic bag and started smoking something inside of it. It was a disturbing image but reminded me that, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick,” as Jesus said. It really couldn’t hurt for these children to go back to their homes with little hearts and crosses painted on their faces and tell their parents about Jesus.

On Sunday night we went to a church up in the mountains. It was the most active church service I’ve ever been to, and I honestly thought I’d seen it all. Has anyone seen the movie Blues Brothers? Ok, so it wasn’t quite like that, but I’m not joking, during about the 4th song, everyone was in front waving their hands and jumping around when suddenly… they all broke out in a choreographed dance. I’m talking about over a hundred people suddenly doing a crazy jumpy dance to the worship song! I thought I’d been transported to High School Musical or something. I’m not even lying when I say that every day living here something shocks and amazes me.

Two weeks ago a Joshua Expeditions team came to the project. These are teams that come to the project for one day to volunteer as part of a longer mission and adventure trip around the country. There were 40 of them and they worked so hard! They dug all of the post holes for the…. Dun dun dun… new WALL we’re putting up! Remember the pictures of the old wall? Well here’s a picture of the new one:

Our interns, John Mark and Hunter are here for two months (February and March) and they are in charge of the wall project. They are awesome guys who graduated from Auburn with degrees in construction science and love trying to speak Spanish. Hunter calls everyone “casa de [person’s name]”. He comes up to me and says “What’s up casa de Julie?” which means “what’s up Julie’s house?”. I try to remind him that I’m not a building but he just loves spicing up his everyday sentences with whatever Spanish words he feels are appropriate. It definitely brightens my day.

A quick note about the wall: Just because the wall is being put up does not mean it is financed. Actually, it isn’t and we are still trying to solicit funds for it. I know we’re in a crisis, but if you’d like to make a donation to the safety of the children in the foster homes at the project there is information on the right sidebar of this blog.

Similarly, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about opportunities that people have in life. I used to believe like most Americans that poor people with no opportunities in life were those born in the inner city and who grew up in project housing. I don’t want to say that such people don’t have unfortunate circumstances, but compared to so much of the world that life is not actually so bad. Lately I’ve realized how lucky those people are that they live in the United States and at least have a statistical chance to apply to college or have a shot at earning a scholarship. Maybe not a high percentage, but a chance nonetheless. I used to think of the “world” as being pretty much like the United States, except maybe with different food and languages on different continents. Through my experiences and the little bit of traveling I’ve done I realized that most of the world is what we would consider “dirt poor.” We who have food, clothing, shelter, and safety are in the minority. I always knew there were poor people in the world, but I never realized how many and how much of the world is SO different from the U.S. What struck me most about staying with a family in Nicaragua is that to them it’s simply life as usual to be poor. Everyone around them is poor, and their families have lived in the same little farm for years. While to me it was shocking to bathe and cook with rain water and use a latrine as a bathroom, they’ve never known anything else. Most of the world doesn’t have video games, iphones, or a nice cars and to them these things aren’t attainable. It really strikes me how in some places in the world so little has changed in probably hundreds of years yet in other places so much has changed. Remember my example from Nicaragua, how the bride’s family slaughtered the fattened calf for the wedding feast? Well, just as there are no wedding halls to rent out or caterers, there are also no college scholarships or student exchange programs to give opportunities to young people. I think there’s actually a 0% chance for most of them to win anything like that. If anyone has seen “Slumdog Millionaire”, you have some idea of what I’m talking about, although even that movie portrayed extreme poverty within a modern city. There are so many people who are completely “off the map” to the developed world. Nobody even knows or thinks about them.

Alrighty well this is already a pretty long post and it’s awfully tempting to go to sleep. I promise to write about the first team of the year, the campamento and Panama soon though!



Jonathan said...


These are incredible images that your are painting and I am glad to see how God is changing your perspectives of the world and providing so many opportunities for you and Johanna and all other missionaries to be lights in the darkest places. Can't wait for my trip and to be transformed as well.

With love,

mark said...

Heh, I didn't necessarily mean you had to stay up and write one right *then* It's just neat to read what you're up to, since it's always interesting because you're doing meaningful work in a somewhat faraway land. Glad things are going well.

Barb and Bob said...

It would be easier to read your blogs if they were shorter and posted more frequently. It makes it harder to read them discreetly while I'm at work! Thanks for sharing your God moments with the rest of us. Love you and miss you.

Anonymous said...

THANK YOU for staying up late and updating. It is seriously inspiring to hear what God is doing in Costa Rica and in your life. Keep the stories and reflections coming! Its good for us to keep things in perspective!
Miss you!
PS - when you get back to the US, we seriously need a renunion. :)