Costa Rica, Day 4 — the Halfway Point!

Today was a totally different day beginning with breakfast (15 min. earlier than usual), no buffet but a fruit plate and a plate of eggs and toast brought to us, devotions on the bus, and a 2 1/2 hr. drive to our first appointment — a community church in Upala, almost as far north as you can go in Costa Rica without crossing into Nicaragua.  The terrain changed the closer we got to that of a rainforest and we saw a couple of volcanoes — fortunately not in active at the moment and from a distance.

On the way, we stopped to get ice and let people use the washroom at an interesting cafeteria that had a kind of parrot jungle out back.  We weren’t there very long but I got a couple of good pictures of very large colourful parrots like the ones my dad brought back from Colombia when he worked there in the early 60s.

When we arrived at the little open air church, there were 3 groups of children involved in their workbooks called The Greatest Journey.  This is the follow-up to the Christmas shoebox.  Every child who receives a shoebox is invited to take part in this discipleship program.  The children participating in the program here were not from regular church-going families but were from the surrounding community.  The pastor and his wife were very young and told us they have about 40 adults and 20 children who attend and that the land their building is on was donated and they’re trying to raise funds to complete the building.

When the children finished their lessons, we engaged them in parachute play and they had great fun playing games with it.  After that, we did the face painting, etc, that we’ve been doing everywhere we go and the children enjoyed themselves very much.

We went into town afterwards for lunch and the on to another church in the same district to take part in a graduation ceremony for 22 students who have completed The Greatest Journey.  The group consisted of children from about 5 to 14 years old.  It was a very special time for them.

The ceremony began with the Canadian volunteers each leading a child into the building (same style as the building from the morning but beautifully completed with a tiled floor and platform and tiling on the porch as well where there was also a wheelchair ramp) and to their decorated chairs.  Then the pastor welcomed everyone, led us in a few songs, and made some opening remarks.  Some of the students came up to the platform to recite some verses and did a very good job.  Our team leader, Gilberto Dumas, talked to the children and we Canadians (it’s Canada that contributes the Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes to Costa Rica) were privileged to congratulate each child and present them with their certificate, their completed TGJ booklet and a Bible in their own language.  It was a very moving ceremony and we all had many highlights to shares on the bus as we headed home.  I’ll have to borrow pictures to add later as I didn’t take any myself.

We stopped to eat at a great restaurant on the way since it was getting very late and had the great news that we can sleep in an extra 15 minutes tomorrow morning.  Hasta mañana.

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Costa Rica, Day 3

Day 3 in Costa Rica began with another delicious buffet, then after devotions, we were off to a local school in extremely high heat and a too short ride in the air conditioned bus.

As in the other schools we visited yesterday, the students mostly wore uniforms although a few did not.  The classrooms had high slatted windows and were very stuffy.  While we were setting up our Tom shoes distribution, a retired teacher named Irma (86 years old) on our team went into one of the primary classrooms and sang songs with the children who knew the songs in English and sang them beautifully.  They had a great time.

Once again, we had long lines of students sitting opposite us.  Some told us their shoe size and were right, some knew their shoe size but their shoes were several sizes too big or too small.  Some came with shoes falling apart and others had shoes that had become soaked from playing soccer.  While we were fitting shoes on one group, another was doing face painting, sidewalk chalk games, and some of the same activities as yesterday.  Lee, next to me, was giving Canada flag pins to all her “clients” in addition to nice new shoes.

A spontaneous change of plan brought us back to the same school after lunch to distribute more shoes to the older grades.  It made for another very long day as we had a Christmas shoebox distribution scheduled for 3 in the afternoon.  More about that later.  At the shoe distribution, some of the team got involved in a soccer game, some students played with the parachute in the gym, and my friend Sharon got to give a pair of shoes to a sweet little girl in a wheelchair.  It turned out that this particular school was having a sports day today so in addition to everything else going on they had a performer as well.

A short ride took us to a church in one of the poorer districts of Nicoya.  Here, Carlos introduced us to the minister and his wife and told us his testimony of how they had prayed for him back when he had wanted nothing to do with God.  Eventually he became a Christian, a minister, and now is the national team leader for Samaritan’s Purse.  The platform was nicely decorated and the boxes that held the Christmas boxes were off to the side out of view because they were to be a surprise.

As the children began to arrive, we got out the bubbles, balloons, face paint, frisbees, colouring books, and nail polish.  We set up tables for the activities and chairs for the moms arriving with little babies.  We interacted with the families for about an hour and then two clowns came out to perform and engage the children.  Then, Carlos gave a gospel presentation (in Spanish, of course) to the children and most of them were ver attentive and responded well.  We gave out a booklet to each of them, and then we were ready for the main event: the distribution of the boxes!

This was really special for two families in particular who brought boxes with them and chose a particular child to give it to.  One of these families consisted of our youngest team member, Tyson (13), and his mom Tara.  I got a picture of them with their child. I’m only sorry I wasn’t able to snap the others.

Back to the hotel and a bit of a rush to dinner, a wind-up to the day and a chance to practise the songs again before most of the team headed for the pool.  Another day full of blessings and the opportunity to see people truly in need receive blessings as well.

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Costa Rica, Day 2

Another amazing day full of lots of happy children, smiling parents, and a bit of misadventure.  We’ll get to the latter a bit later.  First, breakfast was an awesome buffet and then we had a group meeting about the day’s schedule.  Keon and Cristal gave their testimony about how God led them through different phases of their lives together and showed them His plan and His timing was His best for them.  We were reminded to drink lots of water and that the bus would leave at 9:10.

Our first stop was a school in a nearby village of Santa Cruz.  We set up the boxes of Toms shoes behind 2 rows of chairs and while some children were being fitted for new shoes, others were having their faces painted, making balloon animals, playing ball toss or blowing bubbles.  It was really neat when girls returned with their mothers to help them get new shoes, too.  And then, the little kids from nursery school came in as well.  It was impressive to see how God was reaching out through us to help these people in this tiny community.  We gave out at least a hundred pairs of shoes at our first stop.

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Then we got to see a new kind of stove being produced as a pilot project totally supported by Samaritan’s Purse, Canada, so that there will be less incidence of respiratory illness in families due to the smoke not escaping the house when moms are cooking.  Along with the new stoves, the families have trees planted in their communities and the children are invited to take part in the discipleship program, The Greatest Journey.

At lunch, we took a group picture of the whole team at the little restaurant where we had delicious fish & chips.  The photo turned out really well.

In the afternoon, we did another shoe distribution that was in a school right on a highway. It had a little fenced garden out front that was very pretty and at the side of the building, there was a playground with a pair of small soccer nets.  A slightly high kick would send their soccer ball over the fence and onto the highway.  We gave away a lot of shoes to a lot of smiling kids and parents.  At each school we give the principal and teachers a large container of school supplies and thank them for hosting us, then a member of the team says a prayer for the school, teachers, and the community they serve.  It is a very special time.

After the host staff treated us to watermelon, we started to board the bus only to discover that it wouldn’t start.  We sat on the cement steps from the highway to the school for about an hour and a half  singing songs, telling jokes, and snacking while Carlos (national director for Samaritan’s Purse, Costa Rica) made arrangements for another bus.  We arrived back at the hotel at 5:55 and supper was at six, so we were given the evening off and many of us got into the swimming pool to revive after our first full day of activities.  Hopefully tomorrow will be as much fun with less of unexpected adventure.



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Costa Rica, Day 1

This has been a long and tiring day but very satisfying.  We were able to get up on time and had a prayer together before my neighbour drove us to the airport.  We had plenty of time, people were very helpful, our luggage got checked through to Costa Rica at no extra baggage fee.  We were able to go through the trusted traveller line on my Nexus card so that was much faster than the other line and gave us time to relax before our flight, get a juice and muffins, and sit and think about what lay ahead.

Our flight to Toronto arrived 16 minutes early which gave us extra breathing space to meet our group at the right gate, have a group picture, and be ready to board.  We were able to switch with another passenger so we could sit together and so it was a long but pleasant flight.  Customs and entering Costa Rica was a long, slow line but without problems.

Before heading to our hotel, the bus stopped at a nearby restaurant to let us have a bite to eat.  We had the most refreshing mango drinks and fajitas that were incredible with a huge plate of salad and vegetables.  There was a wonderful breeze which was much appreciated after the long time spent in the airport.

Arriving at the hotel around 5 pm Costa Rican time, we got settled in and had a bit of a rest sbefore our orientation meeting in prep for the next day.  This is a lovely hotel (we would call it a motel) and we have a very large room.

There is so much more to tell and I’m doing this on my iPad which is not my usual way of doing my posts so I think I will tell you more about that tomorrow when I will try to put some pictures in and be a bit faster at completing the journaling of events.  Tomorrow we distribute Thom’s shoes.  Mañana!



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Costa Rica Update April 18/17

Well, we are hours away from flight time and both Sharon & I are more excited than we can possibly say.  We are packed, repacked, and packed again.  We think we have everything.  My neighbour is taking us to the airport in the morning (4:45).  Our alarms are set.  The only thing is whether we’ll get any sleep at all tonight.

I managed to get my 25 frisbees into my suitcase which means coming home I’ll have some room for souvenirs — probably clothes.  I know I’ll be coming home, too, with lots of photos of the children, the villages, and sights we get to see in between getting out into the countryside to see the children.  Got a couple of extra SD cards for my camera today and have my hard case on my ipad.

Probably should hit the sack soon but I have the distinct feeling that sleep will be a long time coming and I, at least, will continually be waking up thinking it’s time to get up!  Can’t wait to get on that plane in the morning; can’t believe it’s finally time to go!  The next post will be from Nicoya, Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica.

Vaja con Dios!

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Costa Rica Update April 13/17

Hi all.  A little late this week with the update but I wanted to tell you about the conference call the team members and leaders had last night.  Pretty amazing.  There must have been more than 20 people on the call and we all got to introduce ourselves and tell what we were most looking forward to on our mission trip.  For many, like myself, it was the opportunity to see the faces of the children as they open their Christmas shoeboxes and to sense their excitement.  None of us can quite grasp how close we are to flight time.

The co-ordinator for the mission moderated the session.  We got a lot of great tips about packing, more info about our itinerary, currency exchange, and many questions were answered.  Some of us will be rejigging our packing lists.  We had a brief devotional based on Philippians 2:12-18 about how we are doing this to honour the Lord and leaning on Him as many of us will be stepping outside our comfort zones as He has called us to serve in this unique mission field.  I think what surprised me the most was learning that some of our visits may only consist of maybe 30 or 40 children while others may have 2 or 3 hundred children involved!

I’m a bit dismayed at the weather forecast for Nicoya for the first few days of our trip.  It’s calling for thunderstorms.  Even if it only rains for a small part of the day, it may be a bit wet for playing soccer or frisbee with the children.  I guess those may be days for indoor crafts and music.  I do have a lightweight rain jacket so maybe it won’t rain after all.

The main thing is how excited everyone is.  I usually appear fairly calm on the outside but inside my heart is thumping and my mind is going in 18 different directions.  I am notorious for forgetting things I wanted to pack so that is a real prayer concern for me.  (One March Break I went down to visit my parents and when I got there and opened my trunk there was no suitcase; I only had the clothes I was standing up in.)  The other major concern for me is transitioning to the connecting flight in Toronto as there is only a little more than an hour between arriving from Ottawa and taking off to Costa Rica.  Same airline so our luggage should go through all right but please be in prayer about this in particular.  Only one more Countdown blog post until we leave.  Can hardly believe it — 6 days to go!  Thank you all for your prayer support and —

hasta la vista!

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Costa Rica Update April 4/17

Two weeks from tomorrow we take off.  Flight itinerary and tickets are in my hand.  T-shirt and cap arrived today.  Funding deadline is tomorrow and my friend’s is complete and mine is almost there.  Praise the Lord!

Some of these days I don’t know if I’m coming or going.  Took time out last night to go and see the Samaritan’s Purse documentary Facing Darkness about the fight against ebola in Liberia, West Africa.  It was an amazing production that really brought home the immense battle they had against this deadly disease.  What an experience these missionaries had and how their faith saw them through!  I’m overwhelmed to have a small part in this organization and its dedication to helping people around the world regardless of their colour or creed.

I have one more pill to take tomorrow against typhoid and the second drink of Dukoral to take the following Wednesday.  Then I just have a course of pills to take while I’m there starting the day before and finishing the day I arrive home.  All is good.

I was able to get a light-weight rain jacket and some very light-weight pants which will need to be adjusted.  Just trying to find a small flashlight.  Got extra batteries.  Probably forgetting something.  We have a group conference call a week from tomorrow which should answer any remaining questions.  The time is just flying and I’m having trouble keeping track of the days.  Very soon the pictures on this blog will be ones I’ve taken and I may even be in some of them.  So excited!

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