Friday, February 21, 2014

How a Hen Came to Symbolize the Faithfulness of God

After another 2 1/2 hours of painting, I finished the hen I had been working on at the local pottery place. I mentioned in my last blog that I chose the piece because it had special meaning to me. I wanted to take this opportunity to share why through a short but powerful story.

A story of God's Faithfulness

My mom comes from humble beginnings, having grown up in Mississippi with her dad, mom and three siblings. Saying they did not have a lot of money is an understatement. In fact, money was so tight that for a period of 4 or 5 years (until she was in 2nd grade), her family lived in a school bus.

One day, my mom and her sister walked outside the school bus to a special surprise, a chicken in the yard. They told their mom who thought they must have been wrong. But they weren't. It was in fact a chicken.

That chicken, Speckles, became a bit of a family friend. She would dance to music with my mom and aunt and would even sit on my nana's shoulders. As much as she was a friend, she played a more significant role as an incredible blessing.

For the entire time that Speckles stayed around, she laid enough eggs to feed my mom's family every day. For a family without much money or means to get food, the arrival of a hen who provided eggs every day was a welcome sight and a huge miracle.

One day, after months and months of providing friendship and food for my mom and her family, Speckles was nowhere to be found. She left as quietly as she had come.

A symbol of God's faithfulness

My mom has had a porcelain hen sitting in her house for more than half my life. In our family it has come to symbolize God's faithfulness. We grew up believing in and experiences God's faithfulness.

Polly and I have adopted it as a symbol of the same for our little (growing) family too. The same God Who provided eggs for a poor Mississippi family in the 1960s through Speckles the hen will continue to provide the needs of our family, whether in Costa Rica or wherever we may be.

"Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?" (Matthew 6:25-26 ESV)

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Patiently Making Beautiful Things

Polly and I went to a local pottery place last Friday. It's one of those places where you can buy a piece of pre-made pottery and paint it yourself. I found a piece that I instantly fell in love with because of its deep meaning. While I will share about the significance of that piece in my next blog, I wanted to share a valuable lesson I was reminded of.

More work than expected

Polly and I spent 1 1/2 hours painting. During that time, I completed a base coat of black. It was a bit tedious as I had to ensure that I didn't miss any crevices. There was still much work to be done.

I went back by myself on Monday. The owner told me that I was going to dry brush the rest of the piece. After teaching me the technique, I got to work. I just kept going over the same areas again and again until it was just right. I spent 2 hours and got about half of the piece done with the dry brushing. This means that I have about 2 hours of painting left until I'm finished.

There's a part of me that wishes I could have just slathered some paint on the piece and be done. But if I had done that:
  1. It would not look as nice as it could
  2. I would not appreciate it as much as I do
It takes patience to get things right. Patience can be difficult but it also helps us develop an appreciation and intimacy for that which we are waiting. This is true of all things in life. While I can be impatient, I recognize the need to be patient and give proper time and attention to certain things.

Poco a poco

In Spanish, this means "little by little." This is the motto of our language school. While we wish we could just suddenly acquire the language with no effort or energy, we recognize that if we did:
  1. It would not be as good as it could be
  2. We would not appreciate the language as much as we do
It is so satisfying when we grasp something new that we learn. I came to Costa Rica with essentially no Spanish knowledge. I didn't know grammar rules or very much vocabulary at all. Yesterday, I set up a Duolingo account to help me practice. To start, it had me take a placement test. It advanced me past 28 skills (which each include numerous lessons). That was a huge encouragement to me.

We are a work in progress

God created me. God created you. And what's amazing is that God isn't finished with us. He is constantly working on us, reshaping us and perfecting us for His glory. It was/is our own sin that caused/causes us to need to be worked on in the first place, but in His love, grace and mercy, He patiently works on us.

Paul writes in Philippians 1:6, "And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ." What a great promise for those who are in Christ Jesus!

This is great news to me! I'm so happy that God was/is will to be patient with me because I need all the patience I can get. And I'm so happy that God is patient with the Ticos, to whom He has called us to work.

This idea brings to mind a song by one of my favorite bands Gungor called "Beautiful Things"

Monday, February 10, 2014

Finally Getting My Hands Dirty (Literally)

Our main focus during our first 7+ months in Costa Rica is language (Spanish) and culture training. We are currently residing at a language and culture school called Cincel, which is where all Assemblies of God missionaries going to Spanish-speaking countries come to in order to accomplish that task. We are currently joined by missionaries who will be going to the following countries following their graduation from Cincel:
  • México
  • El Salvador
  • Nicaragua
  • Venezuela
  • Ecuador
Everyone here understands the importance of the training we're receiving but everyone also has the itch to be more hands-on with other ministry opportunities. This is why we all jumped at the chance to help a local missionary with a task.

It just so happened that the missionary was John Musacchio, the missionary we are working with during our entire time in Costa Rica. More specifically, the task was to help with painting, sheet rocking and landscaping at the Latin America ChildCare school in Los Cuadros (the Blocks), a poor area of San José. That's right, the same school in the same area we've been talking about for so long now. I was so excited to be able to pour a little effort into a place that has so much of my heart!

The kids returned to school today (after their "summer" break, which really happens in the winter since it's the non-rainy season). I wish I could have seen their sweet faces. Anyway, here are some pictures from our day on Saturday:

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Strange Looks and Light-hearted Laughter

I told you there would be more opportunities for laughing at my expense as I continue to acclimate to my new surroundings with a language I do not know.

The set-up.

Polly and I opted to visit the church right next door this morning instead of the church we have been attending.

Still far from understanding the language, I depend on understanding a few words here and there and following context clues to know what to do when in such settings. So this morning I followed clues to know when:
  • to sit or stand during worship
  • to eat the bread and drink the juice during communion
  • to bring forward my offering
I knew it was the time for the offering for two reasons:
  1. I understood a few words the pastor said
  2. I noticed the ushers handing out envelopes
At this church, they have ushers standing in the front with baskets and people bring their offering forward. This is not a foreign concept to me as I have been in a couple churches in the U.S. that operate similarly. So when I saw people leaving their seats and walking forward, I took my queue and began making my way.

Along the way, I noticed a couple strange looks coming my way. Being a gringo in a Latin American country, I get that look on occasion so I thought nothing of it and pressed on. After depositing my offering in a basket, I made my way back toward my seat.

The punch-line.

I couldn't help but notice the fellow missionaries I was with (including my wife) laughing. My perception meter spiked yet again. I must have done something wrong. But to be honest, I still didn't know what it was. So when I got back to my seat, I asked Polly what was so funny. 

While I did well to perceive that it was time for the offering, I apparently missed a very important part of the call to come forward. The pastor had called the women to come forward first! I hadn't even noticed. I was the only man among hundreds of women making their way to the front. That explained the funny looks and the laughter from my friends.

The moral.

What else could I do but laugh along with them. It was pretty funny. I can only imagine what was going through the Ticos' minds when they saw me walking toward the front.

A veteran missionary once told me that a sense of humor is an important characteristic for a missionary to have. I believe this is true for any high-stress profession/ministry. There are many serious, stressful moments. Being able to have some light-hearted laughter is critical.

And part of that sense of humor must include the ability to laugh at ourselves. There was a time in my life when I was more sensitive and would have been bothered by people laughing at me. Not now. Now, I just laugh along with them. Because usually it's pretty funny.

This is a good thing too. Because I have a feeling that this isn't the last time I'll give myself a reason to laugh at myself.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Turning Frustration into Motivation

Nearly one month into life in Costa Rica, I feel pretty well acclimated to my surroundings and feel pretty comfortable in my new home. To state it another way: I am getting by just fine.

Getting around

I can make my way around the city without many issues:
  • I can walk to a number of stores, malls and the downtown area.
  • If I don't feel like walking to certain locations, I feel comfortable riding the bus (though I've only taken a few and do not have the whole system down yet).
  • When I don't feel like walking or working through the bus system, I enter taxis with complete confidence that I will get to where I am going.

Whether in a taxi or at a store, I have learned some of the more important Spanish words and phrases I need to know to get by. I am not afraid to make mistakes or work my way through things so eventually things work out okay.

Put to the test

I was put to the test yesterday. I sprained my ankle a few weeks ago after falling pretty hard while running. It's been taking longer to heal than I had anticipated, so I finally went to the doctor to make sure there is no structural damage.

After some friends guided me to a doctor's office, I was on my own. Thankfully the doctor spoke enough English to get through the appointment without much hassle. She ended by telling me in Spanish that the next appointment will be completely in Spanish (with a smile).

After that, I got into a taxi and communicated well enough to get me across town to the place where I needed to get my X-ray. I managed to follow the Spanish directions well enough to have the X-rays taken and then had the consultation in English. (My ankle is okay, by the way).

Finally, I got into a taxi and made my way back home.

I did all of this without any real complication. Some may consider that a success. To a degree it is. But it also left me frustrated.

The frustration

As I said in the beginning, I can get by here without any real issues. But I don't want to "get by." Back home in the States I don't merely "get by." I'm educated and communicate without any complication whatsoever. Here, I do my best to simply "get by."

I would be lying if I said this didn't frustrate me. It frustrates me a lot. We all have things that frustrate us in life. The key is not in the frustration, however. The key is what we do with that frustration.

Poco a Poco

I have determined to allow this frustration to be a motivation for me to push myself hard to learn the language. I will not take my learning lightly. I will continue to force myself into situations that require me to progress in my Spanish. I'm taking my doctor's challenge seriously. Next time I go there I will have my consultation using mostly Spanish.

We have a saying at the language school: poco a poco (little by little). I will not wake up tomorrow fluent in Spanish. But little by little I will learn. And I will take my learning seriously. I will be fluent sooner than later. I will do more than simply "get by."