“Pura Vida” is a phrase used by locals here in Costa Rica. They say it as they come. They say it as they go. “Pura Vida!” they shout across the street and interject into conversations. Costa Rican’s use Pura Vida as Hawaiian’s use Aloha. Pura Vida is Spanish for “Pure Life.” Honestly, that is about all I understand. Well, that and “Aguilla de guerra?” (Look it up). Often I feel like a lost foreign kid on his first day of middle school. The language barrier here is far worse than it is in Uganda. I speak more Spanish than I do Luganda, but Ugandans at least speak some English. Costa Rican’s, not so much. I try to fit in but the likelihood of that is far down the road. They look at me and rattle off a mouthful of words and I respond with wide eyes, a blank stare and sometimes a nod. I figure if I just say yes to everything they will at least think I am a pretty easygoing guy.
The week has been busy and full of work and new experiences. The beginning of the week we pushed around dirt with a backhoe to level out a soccer field Wil’s friend is building. 48 hours after stepping foot in Costa Rica Wil said, “We’re going on a ride over the mountain to the coast to prepare for the team.” Just as I was turning to respond he tosses me the keys to his Ford F-250 truck and calmly states, “follow me.” With some apprehension and falsely portrayed confidence I jumped in and drove this monster of a truck through the mountains of Costa Rica. It is the same side of the road and same side of the car that I am used to in the States, but the roads are sometimes half the size. The truck is twice the size. The math wasn’t adding up. Thankfully the huge imported Ford truck makes the typical car here look like a Prius, so I had slight comfort knowing that if I accidentally went into head to head battle with oncoming traffic, I would probably win. I didn’t want to test my luck though. That day while we were gone, someone broke into the house and so the next few days we worked on welding steel gates to shield the windows as security men installed more motion sensors. Now we are sleeping inside a structure resembling a fort.
One day around dusk, Wil, Yolanda, and I went to Playa Dominical, a beach off the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. We had put in a day moving mattresses and decided to unwind watching the last few hours of sunlight slowly fall below the horizon. It was picturesque. (I just looked that word up for those of you that know the limits of my vocabulary.) It was truly breathtaking. Take the best sunset postcard you see out of the nearest gift shop, multiply its beauty by being in person, and it won’t even come close to what we watched. This country is gorgeous. What a wonderful Maker.
A team from North Carolina came in on Friday night and we made it out to the work site. The team is great. They are friendly, fun, hard workers and the team even includes one ’59 Auburn grad who said he tutored the QB, RB, and TE from the first National Championship Team. I joked, “So, you take a little credit for the title in ’57?” He popped back with, “I take all the credit.” One thing I have realized quickly this is no come paint a house or clean a church type of mission. We are working on a small town church. It is serious work adding on a second floor to a building on the church grounds. This past year, the floods did great damage to this town and in the church they have no higher place to retreat to. The highest place to store things during floods is the sanctuary stage, while sending up prayers that the water will fall. That problem we are here to fix. The next few months will be dedicated to adding on the second level to this building so now they have living quarters above the floods highest levels. It involves giant support beams, welding, building rebar grids, pouring concrete foundations, applying rustoleum, and unloading trucks of hardy board and rock. Lots of measuring, cutting, carrying, loading, lifting, unloading and sweating.
Down the street from the church there is an old swimming hole that branches off a nearby river. Costa Ricans had swam it in forever until the floods came this past year. Riding the tide of the flood were alligators enjoying some new scenery. Many large, and I mean really large alligators. Probably over twenty gators now call this swimming hole home. Hopefully the locals realized the new resident’s presence before the neighborhood jumped in for the traditional Sunday swim. It amazes me the number of cats and dogs you still see roaming the streets. You would think mr. and mrs. teeth would minimize the population. (Just kidding mom. I can seriously hear her say “aww” as she reads this.) Thinking of that, another thing I think is so strange here is that out of all the dogs I see walking stray up and down the roads, an abnormally high percentage of them are Chihuahuas. That seemed cliché. I feel like any second one of them may strike a glance my way and rattle out a Spanish phrase. So far that hasn’t been the case, but then again I haven’t been walking the streets with bags of tacos…
I have noticed there are many similarities and differences between the U.S., Uganda, and Costa Rica. There is however many parallels between Uganda and Costa Rica that I have grown to love. If I had a bottle that could capture culture, there is one thing Costa Rica and Uganda share that I would gather, enclose with a cork, and ship boatloads of back to the United States. I would bring back suitcases full and give it out to all my friends and family, spread it through our city, and store up a large portion for myself and have years of supply. It isn’t any hand made commodity or beautiful sunset. It isn’t the sand or the year round heat, but the trait that is unique to both of these cultures is their pure-hearted love. Costa Rican’s care about each other. They live a life that is focused on relationships. A lot of them live a life that is centered on Christ. Their priorities are God, their family, and their friends. Work matters but it is not what defines their life. For example, our builder, Hugo, that overseas the projects we are doing at the church, isn’t here for the first few days of construction. His full time job is building with Wil’s teams and managing every measurement and design on the worksite. I found that surprising and slightly alarming that we are building structures without chief supervisor’s supervision, but when I found out why he couldn’t be here it all made sense. When I asked, Wil looked at me and said, “He can’t be here these few days. Hugo and his son volunteer with the youth group at our church and they have a youth conference in San Jose this week.” I was amazed. Then I questioned myself, why am I so amazed? Shouldn’t that be how it is? I am so guilty of mismanaging my priorities. Why do we so easily put ourselves in a schedule that only allows God to just fall in the cracks when we aren’t busy? Why do we put our strongest relationships second priority to a demanding job?... I do it. Sometimes I make myself so busy with ministry mission work, I forget those that God has placed right in front of me. Why do we dedicate the majority of our lives serving this world seeking bigger and better and never slow down to spend time with our Creator, and our closest relationships? Why do we so often define ourselves by our salary and not our Savior? I heard a pastor say once, “We don’t need to prioritize our schedules, we need to schedule our priorities.” It is something to think about. I’m going to check out eBay for culture capturing containers and I’ll keep you posted but until then I am going to surrender it to God trusting him to change that in me.
God is doing big things in Costa Rica. Costa Rica Mission Projects (costaricamissionprojects.com) runs an incredible ministry and truly develops community. The pastor, his two children, their spouses and their children, and others from the surrounding community are all working right next to us this entire time. Generations are sowing ownership into this church. Please be praying for Wil, Yolanda, and this ministry God has given them and that He blesses it in amazing ways. Also be praying that God will direct Sozo all across the world where He desires and reveals opportunities and partnerships to care for His children that are in desperate need. Great news, Sozo Montana just received three new Native American children to care for today. Pray for courage to take the steps of faith God calls us to and be obedient to the things He puts in front of us. To Him be the glory.