Costa Rica Update

While the 2017 OCC mission team was in Costa Rica, we attended a church on Sunday where we had distributed  Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes on the previous Friday afternoon.  The church, Centro Familiar Cristiano Olivo Verde, is a main building with concrete walls and a corrugated roof (much like the other suburban and country churches we saw there) with a vacant lot next door.  The people were warm and friendly and very welcoming.  We had a wonderful time worshiping with them and there were lots of wonderful group pictures taken while we were there.

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They own the vacant lot and it is where they hold their Sunday school class and where some of the church women come twice a week to bake bread — 400 small loaves in a rather primitive looking oven — which they then sell within the community to raise money for the church.  We learned they were trying to put a roof over the Sunday school/bakery area before the approaching rainy season comes which occurs in May.  Touched by their devotion, persistence, and lack of wherewithal, our group took up a love offering raising enough money to purchase the 20 pieces of corrugated roofing.

Last week, our team leader, Gil, received the following pictures of the new roof that has been raised over part of the vacant lot.  I’m including a before picture with our team.

Amazing to have been part of this and to know that Sunday school and bread baking will continue in a dry setting and that the Lord saw fit to use us to help make it happen.  I wonder how many loaves of bread it would have taken to fund the roof and what they will put that money toward now that the roof is done.  Do we really appreciate all we have?  Things like this must make us stop and think!


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Costa Rica, Day 8 — Heading Home!

Saying goodbye is never easy and today was no exception.  The Costa Rica Team 2017 was absolutely awesome!  When you get a group of 28 strangers coming together, you never know what can happen and this team was very fortunate.  The youngest member was 13 and had seemingly boundless energy and a great rapport with the kids we met and the other adults and young people in our group; the oldest member was 86 years young and was a real draw for the kids, handing out pins of Canadian flags, stickers, and was also able to watch over our bags and water bottles while we were interacting with the children doing face painting, nail painting, colouring, soccer, balloon animal making, and so forth.  In between, we had people from cities, farms, retired folks, young people from university, dog breeders, hairdressers, moms, grandmas, couples, singles — all hoping to make a difference in the lives of children.

One final breakfast buffet at the Hotel el Regalo, hand in the room keys, and load up the bus.  Once we got to the airport, we filled in customs forms for leaving the country, Gil (one of the team leaders) took our passports and Samaritan’s Purse covered our exit fee from the country.  Sharon & I tried to get our luggage tagged for straight through to Ottawa but couldn’t; however, we did get our boarding passes for Toronto which meant we didn’t have to pay the baggage fee we would have paid if I had tried to check in online with WestJet.

Photo Credit: Gil Dimas

While we waited for our flight, we debriefed.  Gil and Kerstin had a small beachball with questions all over it and we tossed it around.  Everyone read out a question and responded to it, things like: “What made you smile?” and “What inspired you to think differently?”  I answered the latter question as there were lots of things I realized I would do differently another time.  I would pack differently both for myself and for things I would take for the kids.  I would take shorts as the capris were too hot in that weather and some short sleeved blouses wouldn’t have been as hot as some of the T-shirts, although the Samaritan’s Purse T-shirt was very lightweight and comfy.  I’d take a shoe box to give to a specific child and would bring tattoos and nail polish and stickers (especially with Canadian flags on them) and I think I should learn to do face painting.  These things were a real hit with the kids.  The debriefing game was fun and interesting and passed some of the wait time.  Should have bought a sandwich to eat on the plane but planned to order the same lovely turkey and cheese croissant that we had shared on the flight down.  Turned out they only had a chicken wrap on the flight back which really didn’t appeal.  Next time I’ll know better.

When we got into Toronto, it was a tight connection for the people travelling west to Calgary, Edmonton, and Vancouver but I think they all made their flights.  Our flight to Ottawa was delayed but only by about a half hour so we grabbed a bite to eat with Gil and Kerstin at the only place that was still open at 10 pm at the airport.  We were pretty much dead on our feet when we got home and totally crashed.  It will take some time to adjust back into what for us is “normal” society — time change and culture shock are sure to set in.  The latter will take longer to deal with but what an amazing, totally blessed trip we have had!  Thanks to everyone on the team — Canadians, Costa Rican partners, translators, and our bus driver, Renan, who always managed to avoid being in our group pictures.

The Costa Rica Team 2017 — Photo Credit: Gil Dimas

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Costa Rico, Day 7 — Last Full Day

Today was a chance to celebrate all the new friendships, amazing experiences, and so many blessed families, and to see a bit more of the country and culture.  And what a day it was!  To begin with, we went to Olivos Verdes church to give Pastor Luis the money for the new roof that we donated as a team.

Photo credit: Desiree Stewart

Pastor Luis and his wife and other members of the congregation were so excited that they will be able to continue using the adjacent land for baking bread and holding Sunday School.

Then, it was off to the beach.  We went to  Playo Carrillo where we had the beach almost entirely to ourselves.  The surf was fun, the water was warm, the sun was shining, and the camaraderie was unbeatable.  It is going to be soooo hard to say goodbye tomorrow.

Photo credit: D. Stewart

We had lunch at a beautiful nearby restaurant right on the beach where we had, of all things, pizza.  After a rather leisurely lunch, we walked into the town of Samara and picked up souvenirs of our wonderful experience serving the Lord in Costa Rica.  All that fresh air really took it out of us and we were content to have some leisure (some began their packing for tomorrow) before getting dressed for a special dinner out.

We went to a restaurant we’d been to before with the beautiful laquered wooden tables and they had a long table reserved for us as they had the previous visit.  But being evening, they had musical entertainment.  Two men playing wonderful music on a xylophone began the entertainment.  Once we were almost finished eating, a group of children from one of the schools we’d done a distribution at gave at least a half hour of traditional dances in beautiful costumes.  It was amazing.  I’ll finish this with pictures of the little dancers.  Tomorrow we’re on our way home!

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Costa Rica, Day 6

Today was our last day of Operation Christmas Child shoebox distribution.  We went to a school in Bagaces where the school principal had invited us to give shoeboxes to the whole school community.  (Samaritan’s Purse can’t go into a school without being invited.). The deputy mayor of the community and the director of social services were there and after the morning distribution to about 150 – 200 students, we were given a tour of the local library (free use to all residents), the beautiful park across the street, the outside of city hall, and the Catholic church across the street.

At both the morning and afternoon distributions, there was a ministry group with Movideo Esperanzes that gave an amazing performance of dance and mime that had a gospel message.  There were two clowns who must of have been boiling in their costumes but did a fabulous job.  (Today was another scorcher of a day — 36 degrees and 89% humidity.)

We distributed approximately another 200 boxes, loaded the remaining boxes of materials on ME’s truck and helped them unload them and the left-over Tom’s Shoes at their district office.  Then everyone — OCC & ME — was driven to a nearby waterfall for a bit of cooling down and relaxation.

A long but satisfying final day of work for us volunteers as tomorrow is a free day and we are heading to the beach and shopping.  Oh, and we collected a love offering for the church we attended Sunday and came up with enough money for them to put a roof over the area next to the church where they hold their Sunday School classes and where ladies bake bread twice a week to raise money for the church.  Now they will be able to continue to do this, during the approaching rainy season.  I hope you’ve enjoyed following this mission to Costa Rica and having a glimpse into the way that Samaritan’s Purse touches lives.  Thanks to all of you who donated to my trip enabling me to take part in this adventure.

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Costa Rica, Day 5

It’s hard to believe it’s already Day 5.  The weather forecast for today was 34 degrees but it got to 36 although the humidex made it 46 degrees.  We went to the church where we distributed shoeboxes on Friday and I’m sure it was even hotter in there.  These small community churches put up a roof of corrugated steel because it’s the cheapest and it lasts the longest.  I’m sure it is also the hottest.

Anyway, when we arrived at the church this morning, the whole congregation was waiting in the doorway to welcome us and applauded us, hugged us, and welcomed us like nothing you can imagine.  The service began with a sing song with an amazing worship leader.  What enthusiasm!  These folks sure know how to praise the Lord!

The sermon was based on the parable of the fig tree and was delivered by our own Carlos.  It was a very powerful message and was translated by our interpreter, Jamie.  Another of our interpreters, Kevin, translated for the song leader and the church pastor.

When we were ready to leave, our bus wouldn’t start again so we had to wait about 15 minutes and then it started for our driver.  In the meantime, we took several group pictures.

We returned to the hotel to change out of our good clothes and have a bit of a rest before heading out for lunch and then on to the next shoebox distribution.  We certainly needed that break due to the heat.  At our next stop, there were about 80 children waiting for us and it was really helpful that they were wearing name tags.  We were meeting at what appeared to be a union hall with a small gravel lot beside it so it was a bit limiting as we disn’t want the children running into the road after balls and frisbees.  There may seem a bit of sameness to the activities in the photos but for the kids, it was new.

The children were very excited, as you can imagine, but were very attentive to the various parts of the program leading up to the actual distribution of the shoeboxes.  That was nothing compared to how excited they were when they opened their very own boxes.

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Because it had been such a hot, long day, we were treated to a stop at the beach to see the sunset over the Pacific.  It was a huge red ball (which doesn’t really show in my pictures but it really was) and I’ll leave you with that picture.  My friend Lee shared some of her pictures from yesterday’s graduation so they are now posted there.


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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 closer we got the terrain changed 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 discipleship program.  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 back to the hotel 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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