3.19.2009

my dirty little birds.

I want to give a little update about our work in the ghetto. For me, this is the most exciting thing about being down here right now. I get all fired up when I talk about it and I really just cannot wait to see what God has planned for the ministry and for the kids and families that we are hoping to impact.
We started visiting el precario, or the ghetto, back in September. Three of us, myself, my teammate Susan, and our intern Lindsey, would head out early, pick up some bananas and a few loaves of bread, and drive to the area known as "Los Cuadros" to feed the kids, play some games and do a bible story/craft, and to help our Tico friend, Davíd, to reach out to these severely marginalized children. Many of these kids live in absolute squalor. Their homes are pieced together, sheets of tin or plywood, or sometimes cardboard. The roofs are held down with rocks or loose bricks. The floors are dirt, the kitchens (in the homes that have them) are comprised of a hot plate, a propane camp stove, or a maybe small fireplace. Many live without running water or electricity most of the time. Most of their Dad's are in jail, or have abandoned them. A lot of them live with elderly grandmothers. "El precario" literally means "the precarious" and that is exactly what these childrens lives are like. They live on the edge of civilization, on the brink of starvation, they walk the precarious line between hope for a different future and the prison of living the rest of their lives in poverty.
The more time we have spent with these kids, the more we have fallen in love with them, and the more our hearts break for them. Naturally, we started to think about ways we could serve them better and how we could open up the opportunity to serve for the Latinos on our team and in the youth group that we work with. Last week, we had lunch with Davíd to talk about creating a more formal partnership in this ministry. He eagerly agreed, and we realized that we share the same ministry philosophy and have the same goals in reaching the community of Los Cuadros. Steve was able to join us, as well, and we discussed ways that we can physically improve the little shack we call "the clubhouse", and build new benches and tables for the kids. We also are planning to add a tiny bathroom in the corner (which is awesome, cause we get peed on....a lot), and a little kitchenette that will allow us to prepare and provide hot lunches for the kids. But, best of all, we are bringing in more help, which means more laps to sit in, more arms for hugging and hands for holding. And it means that these kids will have more people investing in them, loving them, showing that they have hope in Christ.

I'm pretty amped about all this. I love seeing the kids come running when we arrive, the way they hang on us, and beg us to come back next week. It's true, they are filthy and snotty and sometimes they stink. They want to touch our faces and hair with their dirty little hands, and they love to tell us hot breathy secrets with their germy lips pressed right up against our ears. They have itchy rashes and rotten teeth, and they are constantly hitting or pushing each other, vying for attention, or begging for food, or crayons, or glue, or whatever treasure they see we've brought. But, I love them, my dirty little birds. And I'm so grateful to be a part of their lives.

Please pray for us as we move forward to bring together Davíd and our church here, Vida Abundante, along with IT Latin America and Sonlife ministry to do something significant for our kids in Los Cuadros. I feel like if we can make their lives a little less precarious, then we will have honored God.

MoneyMoneyMoneyMo-nay.....MO-NAY!

So money is on everybody's mind these days. We may be a bit out of touch with pop-culture and high fashion, but, thanks to CNN and FoxNews, we are more than aware of the financial black cloud lingering over the states. We check the Dow Jones every night and have watched with a bit of despair as our investments (and our future) have dwindled right along with everyone else. But the question we keep getting is "How is your support coming along?". Which is a really good question.

So, here's the deal. We are support based missionaries, meaning that our paycheck comes from the generosity of people - who give out of love and obedience to God - in order to support our mission here. Without these monthly gifts, we could not be here at all, let alone pay the rent, or put food on the table. Needless to say, we are completely dependant upon the wonderful families and individuals that sacrifice so that we can serve here in Costa Rica. So, when the U.S. economy tanks we tend to get a little nervous. So far, we haven't seen a huge drop in what comes in each month but it seems there has been a dip. We are falling a bit short of our monthly budget and things are pretty tight, but overall, our supporters have been INCREDIBLY faithful!!!

We pray for our supporters daily and hope that God will bless each of them abundantly! We also pray for those that God would like us to partner with, as we are continuously seeking to build the team that makes all this possible.

In the meantime, we continue to remind ourselves that God can provide for us. And even if the U.S. economy is in the crapper, God will not let us starve. So that's where we're at. We are basically fine, a little nervous, super grateful and anxiously/excitedly trusting God.

3.11.2009

Things I like.

I don't want it to seem like I'm always complaining or talking about how hard it is to do such-and-such while living here.  So how about a positive word for a change of pace?  I thought it might be nice to share a few of the things I really enjoy about living in Costa Rica.  Here we go.

Well, pineapple, mango, bananas, guanabana, mora, cilantro, tomatoes, limes, ginger and basil for starters. We enjoy the freshest most amazing and most beautiful produce you could imagine. And it's all grown and transported from within a few hours drive of the Saturday morning open air market that we buy it at.  I love driving through Heredia on Friday night before the market and seeing pickup trucks, minivans and even 4-door sedans loaded with veggies ready for sale.  A lot of this produce comes not from large farms, but right from somebody's back yard where it's picked and washed and crated for the weekend.  And it's cheap. I usually spend between 4,000, and 6,000 colones ($8-$12) on all the fruits, vegetables, and fresh herbs we'll use in a week.  And I love walking down the long corridor of vendors as they call out what they're selling.  I also don't mind that when I stop to touch something, or smell it, or ask what it is, they call me "reina"(queen), or "macha"(blondie), or any form of beautiful, pretty or young.  These guys know how to sell!  So, I leave with a full bag of produce and a full ego too. 
Then there's the scenery.  Our commute to work takes about 15 minutes from our house, but never ceases to amaze me.  You'd really have to see it to believe it, but it includes coffee fields, and banana trees, tiny one lane bridges over creeks that become raging rivers when it rains, old men sitting on gated front porches and - not even kidding - a volcano.  And of course there are flowers and vines growing in every direction.  It's still stunning to me every time I see it.  
I could also talk about the beaches, the wildlife (we've had some memorable encounters with monkeys), the movies (which are only about $3), the rain and the sun - all of which are quite remarkable and endearing to me, but, truly, the people are the most amazing part of Costa Rica.  I have learned so much from the culture here already.  I've learned to love the way they greet each other with a smoochy cheek to cheek kiss.  The way they touch your forearm when they talk with you.  The way they love the old people around them.  The pride with which they speak of their country.  They are lovely and amazing and I appreciate each day that I get to know them better.
I could go on.  There are countless things I love about living here and even more to be discovered.  I'll try to share more about both the hardships and the...uh...grreeatships?...of living here.  Okay?  So stay tuned.







3.10.2009

When was the last time you went IN the bank?

One of the things I have had to get used to here is going to the bank.  I mean, like, going in the bank.  Do you even know what I'm talking about?  Like going inside, waiting in line, talking to a teller, the whole shebang.  And I have to say I don't enjoy it.  In fact I kind of hate it.  In the states I never went to the bank, never carried cash, never even thought of doing anything face to face with a bank teller.  But here I have to go to the bank, actually, I have to go to several banks, in order to pay the bills (BCR), the rent (Banco ProMerica), and the kids school tuition (Banco Nacional).  Did I mention that I hate it?  I loathe it!  
Here's the deal: It wouldn't be so bad if it weren't for a few highly irritating things.  
Like the security guard.  The one holding a shot gun and letting people in one at a time, locking the door between entrants, scanning them with a metal detector, and then telling them to go ahead even after said detector screeches a warning that this person is carrying a bomb or a knife or, at the very least, a box cutter.  But no, the heavily armed guard never ever ever seeks out the source of the alarm, he just says "pase" and lets the killer, or the robber, or me in. 
Then, comes the line.  This part can be tricky because there might be several lines to wait in depending on your banking needs.  So after you figure out if you are in the correct line, you pull a number.  With your number in hand, you go to "the chairs".  This is an intricately choreographed operation that one must carefully follow or else the entire balance of peace and democracy could shift, hurling this tiny developing country backward in time.  So, "the chairs" work like this:  There are several rows of chairs (usually 3....or many, many more).  The person in the chair farthest forward on the right is the first person in line, followed to their left by second, third, etc.  When this person gets up to speak to the teller, the second person moves to take the first seat, causing a chain reaction of chair shifting so that the entire line moves one chair to the right (or from the last chair on the right to the first chair on the left in the next row).  Got it?  So it's up and down and up and down all the way to the tellers window, where you must still show the number that you pulled 25 minutes ago in order to prove that you waited your turn.  *note* I'm still not sure why you can't sit in any chair and just wait for your number to light up in the little box.  But I know that a riot will ensue if the anyone should try to buck the system.*  
The part I find the most disturbing, however, is the teller to client interaction which takes place through a half inch of glass with no hole for transferring...oh, lets just call it...sound.  So, you have to shout your account numbers, or the amount of money you're carrying, or your remarkably bad spanish through the glass at the teller who can't hear or understand you.  But that's okay, because the thirty people changing chairs behind you now know that you have $600 in your bag, and that you need to pay an extra fee on your electric bill because they cut off your power this morning.  I might add, that the teller knows that you cannot hear him, so he sits safely on the other side of the glass, smiling and talking trash without moving his lips, about how he always gets the retarded gringos, or how this is the third month in a row that this chic has had her power shut off, or other not nice things (you know this because his coworkers start throwing sly glances your way and muttering stiff lipped responses).  I had minimized the need to yell through the glass by writing down all of the account numbers for bills and other necessary information on sticky notes and sliding them under the glass.  But then I realized that passing hand written notes to bank tellers is universally known as "how to rob a bank".  So I'm back to embarrassingly public means of communicating with the jerks behind the glass.  Ugh. 
So basically, I find going to the bank dangerous, redundant and humiliating.  But duty calls.  If we want to educate our children, or refrigerate our food, or, you know, live in a house, then I have to go to the bank.  I have to play the game.  But online banking is slowly making its way into the culture here and it will revolutionize everything.  People will not know what to do when they realize that they don't have to spend the first 3 days of every month in line at the bank.  So I figure all I've got to do is wait it out.....and learn how to read a book while maintaining the rhythm of the chair hopping.