I sit down at the end of a wonderful, difficult, joyous and sad day to tell you about our experience in Costa Rica today – what we did as missionaries and where we saw God. I can tell you first that Costa Rica is simply beautiful and its people are beautiful as well. We served the people of two cities today by praying over churches who were fighting for God’s house and God’s people. We fed children a meal – some there only meal for the day – and we played and worshipped with them. We saw God everywhere, in every face of ever child. He was in every bowl of rice, beans and pasta, with every adult fighting for His kingdom and every brick holding up a church, a room, or a very stuffy sanctuary. I could stop here and you might have an idea of what went on today, but I would be doing you a great disservice to not go into greater detail.
We began our day the same as the two before here at Strong Missions in Carrillos, Costa Rica. Breakfast at 7:15, prayer and heading our for the day – except today we got on a bus and headed outside of Carrillos. We stopped at a beautiful souvenir shop with hand-made wooden items from the factory next door. We then headed to our next destination of the day – La Carpio.
La Carpio is what you might refer to as a slum, but Charlie Strong doesn’t use that word and instead we all call these areas “precarios.” As you enter deeper and deeper into La Carpio, you can visually see poverty and hunger increase. Houses turn into shacks and shacks into huts of tin and finally the huts of tin and concrete turn into a very large dump. On the edge of the landfill is a small church that is not more than a few small concrete rooms with no ventilation. The pastor is, by his own definition, a dreamer named James. A pastor of two years, James is trying to change the world from the inside out. The precario has 44,000 people and 30,000 are children. They are mostly immigrants from Nicaragua, fleeing an even worse situation that what they are in now. Over run by gangs, violence and poverty, the people and children are starving for food and a better life. Pastor James and others have begun a feeding program to feed the children of La Carpio. Even with the fear of losing their church because of funding and legal reasons, Pastor James keeps his faithful, God-loving, hopeful dreamer perspective and continues to believe in the power of miracles and the awesomeness of our Lord God. They are currently feeding fifty children a day, five days a week and he hopes to feed more, serve more, and bring more hope to so many people who might otherwise be losing hope.
We briefly walked a block around the church, careful not to venture too deep into the very dangerous territory. Before leaving La Carpio and moving to our next stop, we sat in their sanctuary and Pastor James shared his hopes and dreams of how to continue to grow God’s kingdom. We gathered, laid hands on him and the building and prayed. What a powerful moment, to feel the Holy Spirit move, to know that God is there and working through the people there… words cannot describe. We watched as the children lined up outside the building to wait for their meal. The smiles, waves and greetings of “Adios” filled our hearts with love and longing to do more for these children. We got on our bus to leave not knowing what tomorrow will bring for these children, but believing in the power of God to make changes in La Carpio.
Los Guido was our next stop, another half an hour away. This precario appears to the eye slightly less precarious then the previous. The government in Costa Rica recently came and paved the roads, but poverty and hunger continue to run rampant. As we pull up to the church, we are asked to stay on the church compound for our safety, but to have fun with the kids that are there. We are greeted with the with waves and smiles from the children who are very happy we are there. We are lead into a room with a small kitchen with prepared food ready to be served to hungry children now waiting in line with their bowls, cups and utensils they brought from home. Children ranging from two years to pre-teenage years who are eager to eat possibly their only meal of the day. Laughter, smiles, joking, hugs, goofing off and love just fill the small concrete room. They are now sitting on wooden benches around tables eating as children do, but with a sense of maturity beyond their young years. Older siblings are caring for the younger kids, cleaning up and helping out – acting as though they understand the power of every meal that we, as Americans, tend to take for granted. After a brief lunch – with seconds and even thirds for the very hungry ones – we make our way into the sanctuary. Children are running, laughing, playing tag, getting piggy-back rides and enjoying the interaction with us. Music begins and the children dance and sing to some of their favorite songs. Laughing at the “gringos” who were singing and dancing was warranted, because we were all laughing at ourselves. Once everyone was nice and hot, it was time to sit and listen to a story. Raymond went on stage and began to tell the story of Jesus calling the children to come up to Him. Jesus was tired and fatigued; the disciples tried to keep the children away, but He said “let them come.” What special friends Jesus had in the children and innocence and splendor He found in them. Oh, how He loved them. Soon it was time to make our craft for VBS. The children lined up to have their picture taken by Billy with a polaroid camera. They were going to be decorating popsicle stick frames for their parents. They were all so proud of their frames with the stickers and coloring and they ran around showing off their artwork as we praised their work with “Que bonita” or “Muy bueno.” The playing and laughter continued for only a few more minutes before we have to say adios. After hugs, high-fives, fist bumps, and a few tears, we said goodbye to the children of Los Guido. We left them with hopes of continued love, prosperity, and full stomachs.
After an hour and a half, we make it to the local MegaSuper grocery store and then back to Strong Missions. So again, I could tell you today was a good day and today was also a very difficult day. It was full of hardships, hunger, poverty, love, miracles, hope, blessings, and prayer. Today, we were on the front lines of God’s Army. Today, we helped fight God’s fight. We fought for God’s children, for prosperity, for hope and for love. Today, we fought against the world and for one day we won. Amen & amen.