Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Today is Yours


Since returning from our journey into the middle of nowhere, these past days have sped by in a blur. A blur of work and life is passing time often quicker than I wish. My time with Wil and Yolanda has come to an end and now I am in San Jose with another missionary named Will. Later, I’ll write more on the transition and new experiences here.


The last week of work went exceptionally well. A team from Mississippi flew in on Saturday and we met them for dinner. I knew we would be instant friends when I heard them use the word “y’all.” I haven’t heard that word in over a month. That’s all it takes to connect people from the South. It is as if we slip it into conversation affirming the other and stating, “I’ve got Southern roots too.” If we try to stray from that word, finding a replacement throws us into frenzy. You guys? You all? Hey you people? Nothing seems to roll off the tongue. Even though I don’t remember it on School House Rock, “Y’all” is such a wonderful conjunction.

(This girl, Ashley, has stolen my heart.)

We worked hard all week in the hot Costa Rican sun. This week was even more grueling because as if we weren’t close enough to the sun already, we spent the majority of the hours on the roof. After hoisting about twenty-five, one hundred and seventy pound concrete boards to the second story by hand, we were able to drill down the floor. Support beams were welded into place and the entire upstairs was framed with aluminum structure beams. I learned how to weld and Wil and I worked on piecing together the roof structure. Exact measurements had to be taken followed by precise placement of beams. After we finished, the entire team carried the triangular roof structures to the house and lifted them up with only muscle and ropes. That was put into place and then multiple, thirty-meter steel beams were welded across them to add support. The tin that all the teams have been sanding and painting, and sanding and painting, was then drilled into the roof beams. I could see it actually coming together. A great deal of work has been done; not on the church, but by the church.

Here are pictures of progress:











My limited writing skills cause me not to know how to segway this, so forgive me for the abruptness in the next paragraphs. These past weeks have been eye opening in many ways, even past new experiences adjusting to in Costa Rica; news from home has shaken me. A fraternity brother and friend from Auburn went to be with the Lord over a week ago. At such a young age, the news is followed with devastation. Please pray for his closest friends that are struggling with the loss the hardest. 

Lord, write through me right now. Use my fingers on to type of your greatness and this situation to reveal your glory. My prayers are with his family and those closest to him to be comforted and drawn towards the heart of God.

Often, I find myself wading through this life, checking days off my calendar, and just surviving. I live, but occasionally I feel like I have never lived. I just pass through. I worry and stress of things that don’t matter. I overlook what truly matters. My eyes are consumed with the temporary. My thoughts reflect on the past and hope for the future, but rarely focus on the present. I remain in this zombie state until I am shaken. Something must stir me into action and birth passion out of this complacency. The end of this life is a reality we will all one day face. It always has the ability to break my heart, activate my prayers, and force me to examine my life in full.

I don’t think we realize that our days are numbered. This breath we just exhaled while reading was one less. Time we consider infinite passes like a flash of lightning. Minutes, days, years, decades go by and we just get by. We conform to the status quo and judge our lives based on the comparative success of others. I am so tired of just getting by and relating myself to this world. I don’t want to just survive. Do we realize the urgency of what we say we believe? If we don’t, then I beg we question what we say we believe. For if there is no rock to stand on than there is no purpose to our existence. If we are consuming just to please ourselves, who we don’t understand, inside this world, that we don’t understand, then I am afraid we have missed the meaning of life itself. If we truly believe what we say we believe, why do our lives often not reflect our beliefs? If we truly believe in the message of Christ, then what are we waiting on? Isn’t this message urgent to a world that is perishing pursuing itself?

Urgency has never been a word in my vocabulary. If I had a responsibility in the past, it could wait. When I was a child, my father would tell me to take out the trash or sweep out the garage. I thought, why do something today, when I can do it tomorrow? I have never realized how detrimental that can be. Truthfully the cleanliness of the garage does not matter, but the attitude of allowing tomorrow to come before a step is taken is deadly. (and I am not talking about chores). We are not promised tomorrow. Our life on this earth is like a vapor. It is here today, and gone tomorrow. It can change in an instant, a truth that is becoming progressively more clear since July 11th. We have no idea when that time will come. Many of us have even seen life flash before our eyes thinking it could be our last moment. Since that is the case why do I not apologize when I know I should? Not forgive when the sun is setting? Not speak when I feel God lead me to say something? Not live my life like it may be my last day? And something I have just seen, why don’t I live my life like it could be someone else’s last day?

Honestly, there are those close to me that I know are struggling. I know there are those around me that I can influence that I chose not to because it could conflict with my comfort, or theirs. I know there are people that don’t know Christ, or have had a bad taste of church, but really just want to know that someone out there cares. They don’t want a religion, they want a Savior. Jesus  offers a relationship and a community of others. As I say a silent prayer, I bank on that someone else will tell them that truth. This may be a strong statement... By praying, God often gives us opportunities to take a step. Sometimes the step looks like it is into rushing water with storms all around with nowhere to place our next stride, and he says step here, step out, trust me. Praying without stepping when a step is offered is worthless. We have to trust that God will keep us above the waters and hold us up when the world around us tells me the opposite. I know my life could impact the world if I truly let God use it. Every life can. Your life can impact the world. God, take my life and let it be a burning flame for all to see.

Do we realize that every interaction we have with another person either leads them closer or further away to God?

I trust in the Lord when He tells us of His unfailing love and forgiveness. I trust He knows my name. I trust he has paid for my debt and plentiful mistakes in the past. 

We all send a message with our life. It can be positive or negative, idle or driven, and many different combinations of messages, but everyone around us know what we truly stand for. What message do we send? Do we realize the magnitude in the message we send with our life? Do we realize present decisions affect eternal outcomes?

What if… my life, your life, our lives looked like this… everyday…

God,
Today is yours.
I lay it at your feet.
Forgive me of my failures.
I accept your grace that covers my past
And I will trust you with my future
But, today I will live in your freedom
Today, use me to change a life.
Give me courage to act
Boldness to speak
And strength to stand
For today, you are my God and I am your son.
Draw all of us close to you.
Influence the eternal with the impact of the present
For your glory
Your honor
Your praise
Today, I surrender my life at the foot of your cross.
I will go. Send me.

In Jesus name I pray, trust, and belief.
I surrender to you.
Amen.




Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Trek to the Tribe


Pre Journey - Monday, January 31st – 7:04 p.m.

Our journey before the journey has began. Already, I want to be able to write every detail on this page, but I am afraid it will be significantly lacking. We reached our destination to the outpost, at the base of the reservation, just before dark. We are staying here for the night and beginning the hike up the mountain tomorrow morning at 5 a.m.


Today before leaving, Wil and I loaded one hiking pack with food and one with clothes, and each of us are carrying our camera backpacks full of other supplies. I included everything I could possibly need on this mountain. I’m not sure if it was the former Boy Scout or deep desire to be MacGyver that came out in me. Probably the latter. I made sure my pack included everything from my knife, band-aids, and headlight to a deck of cards, zipties, and paperclips. I’m kidding… about the paperclips. I didn’t pack any paperclips. I’m not sure what it is, but every guy that was born in the late 70’s or 80’s holds MacGyver as a true hero. I think all of us secretly want to rescue a beauty only using paperclips, rubber bands, and a battery.

Anyways, after getting packed we loaded the truck, picked our friend Curtis and headed to the mountains. About 4 hours later we finally hit a dirt road that signified the destination was approaching. We could tell we were getting further from civilization as we drove. Houses got smaller, vegetation got taller, the road got rockier, and we began passing more people on horseback than in vehicles. I don’t think anything less than the Ford F-250 we were in would have made it. At one point we reached a suspension bridge hanging over the rushing river that swayed and creaked as we drove over it. All I could do was laugh. Finally, as herd of dogs welcomed us, we pulled up to the outpost.

After unloading, Honorio and his son Josephat joined us. Honorio is our connection with the Cabecar Indian Tribe. He is a native Cabecar, which is easily distinguished by his dark skin and differing facial features. Honorio took classes at the Seminary in San Jose and spoke to Wil a few times asking him to visit. The time has come. We talked about the next few days as we walked down the street from the outpost to a friendly Costa Rican family that cooked us dinner. We stepped into their small house to be consumed by the smell of rice and beans. Wooden boards constructed the walls fit together like a puzzle and a wood-burning stove sat in the corner. We sat and ate. Three Americans, two Costa Ricans, and two Cabecar Indians were all in the room enjoying each other’s company. I just realized how difficult it is going to be for me to communicate. I speak English, they speak Cabecar, and the common ground is Spanish. I don’t speak Spanish, so in order for me to talk to one of the indigenous, I will have to talk to Wil, who will talk to Honoria, who will finally deliver my message.


The sun has set and the bed is calling my name. The alarm will be yelling it at 4:30 a.m. telling me to get up and begin our ten-hour hike through the jungle. God be with us.

Day 1 – Tuesday, Febrauary 1st - 2:10 p.m.

Morning came early. Very early. In fear of oversleeping, my mind woke me up every few hours. Eventually, at 4:15 a.m., I awoke and took my last shower for the next few days. Finally, after a long day of hiking we made it. I don’t think the word hike is appropriate… Let’s use trek. Let me tell you about the trek:

The rooster has yet to crow. The sun has yet to rise. I am lacing up my Soloman’s thinking about what is ahead of us today. Supposedly a long battle with rocks, water, and altitude. Honoria is preparing the horses to carry a few of our bags. I opened the Bible to get my mind focused for the day and I conveniently came to Psalm 46. Perfect for the morning and situation we are about to walk into. Psalm 46:10 “Be still, and know that I am God.” I pray this journey, that is going to take us deep into the jungle, will also take us deep into the heart of God. I pray we are able to simply learn.

The Trek Breakdown:
Hour ONE - We drove as far as we could in an offroad Jeep. A hill approached us, and as hard at the Jeep tried, it was unclimable. “This is it.” Wil said, “We start here.” It is 5:30 in the morning and the sunlight over the hill is beginning to illuminate the clouds resting in the valley. Our two horses carried most of the load. I thank God for horses. The journey we had been talking about for months had just begun. We are trying to get as many pictures as possible of the sunrise while watching the ground in front of us. A swinging wooden suspension bridge overhands a river in our path. I picture the scene in an Idian Jones Movie with the swinging, falling rope bridge. Hopefully ours doesn’t end the same way. Boards are missing from the bridge, so we hopscotch with keen eyes over the holes leading towards rock faces and rushing water. Our ambition however, is set and ready to conquer the world. This bridge is first.

Hour TWO – Honoria says, “just a few more minutes and around this corner we will reach the first church checkpoint to rest.” A few more minutes passes, corner after corner we turn, no church, no checkpoint, no rest, no water. I’m beginning to question his time estimates. The hike has become more of a climb. Breathing is now heavy and sweat is pouring down our faces soaking our shirts. Our hopes are still high.

Hour THREE – In the distance I see a building that looks like where we are resting. We made it. We sucked down water like we had walked miles across the dessert. We stopped and prayed over the land where Honoria is planting his third church.

Hour FOUR – The horses are beginning to slow and want to turn back. For a second, I thought I might be able to lead them back to base camp. No. Focus. Keep going. Only a few more hours.

Hour FIVE – Seriously, my legs are on fire. The incline is like double stepping up a never-ending staircase. Mud is covering my feet from crossing rivers and streams. My socks are wet. My feet are heavy. My hat looks like I dropped it in the ocean, but it is just sweat. There is no ocean nearby. My determination is running on a quarter tank, and there is no sign of a fill station.


Hour SIX – Were down to only a few granola 
bars and one bottle of water. We better make this last, but I know I could drink five. Wil and Curtis are hurting but persistent. “Are we sure this is the right way?” I ask, as we are jumping rocks moving upstream a river.

Hour SEVEN – The sun is now scorching hot. We are walking under hanging vines and crossing stream after stream. Honoria’s eleven-year-old son Josephat, looks like he does this everyday. We don’t. We are covered in mud and sweat and our eyes show their desperate need for a bottle of water and a comfortable bed. Honoria offers words of encouragement, “Almost there.” I think to myself… “I’ve heard that before. Jesus, a little endurance would be great right now.”

Hour EIGHT – We made it! It is a glorious site to climb the final hill to see the horizon reveal his house. I could smell lunch.

After Seven and a half hours, 4 rivers, 36 streams, rocks, waterfalls, jungle, marsh, mud, and muscles that are about to give out, we finished the journey. As we see the house appear in the distance, Wil lets out, “Hallelujah!” We’re looking forward to see what God has prepared.

Day 1 – Tuesday, February 1st – 8:18 p.m.



Wow. This day has been full of incredible experiences. Some challenging, some refreshing, but overall God has really opened our eyes. I have just lain down to sleep in a different way than I had imagined.


We are staying at Honorio’s house this week. It is what you would picture eight hours into the jungle. Outside the house are a variety of barn animals. Chickens and chicks, pigs and piglets, geese and geeselets(?), turkeys, dogs, horses, and hogs. With little access to any type of building supplies, the entire structure is built from wood cut down from the jungle. We stepped foot into the kitchen to eat lunch after a long day of walking. Uneven wooden planks built the walls, with uneven wooden bookshelves all set on an uneven dirt floor. His kitchen table, set right in the middle of the open room, is nailed together with the same wood. It was simple, and beautiful in a different way. Rubber boots and old toys lay around the room at the base of the walls. My eyes were trying to take it all in. We sat and ate lunch together and enjoyed the food and fellowship.

The church Honorio has built sits across from his house on the same land. It is a one room, wooden walled, tin roofed building that has a few windows allowing the rays of the sun to beam into the darkness. Every piece of tin that roofs his two buildings had to be carried here by hand.


After lunch and a siesta, the neighborhood came over for a soccer match in a small dirt field in between the house and the church. You can tell by Honorio’s laughter he enjoys hosting the community. At each end of the field, parallel Y-shaped sticks are shoved into the ground to hold up a single horizontal stick forming goals. One of the new soccer balls we brought to them is already seeing action. Most of them were wearing rubber boots. The three gingo’s (us) not being used to the trek to the house, had to sit out of the soccer match because of lack of energy. We spectated.





Just when it was becoming dark, Curtis, Wil, Anorio, and I walked over to his church to talk more about his native nation. We sat down on wooden benches about a foot off the ground. The last pieces of light were shining through the cracks in the walls. A white handmade banner hung on the front wall with a giant cross painted in the middle of it. Three Bibles of different languages were lying on the pew between us as we lit our flashlights beginning to talk. We talked of language, people, history, and their knowledge of Christ. It was intriguing just hearing the background of where were sitting. I won’t go into too much detail on this blog, but one thing I thought interested was Honorio’s story. At age eight he heard the name of Christ and at that point just “knew” that it was Truth. His family shunned him from the house from that point forward. When he grew old enough he began going to seminary in San Jose. Beyond the challenge of facing seminary in a secondary language, Honorio walked to class the same trek that nearly killed us. Eight or so hours there and the same back, sometimes in the sun, sometimes in Costa Rica’s torrential downpours, he walked every time. After five years he has graduated and now in the process of planting his third church. Now every member of his family are Christians. His story convicted me of the thoughts I had next about my comfort

After finishing our talk we went to our room to set up our beds. There were no foam pads as Wil had thought, so we laid out our fleece sleeping bags onto the wooden floor. All I could do was laugh. I never would have dreamed we would be here, and the fact that this would probably not be a comfortable night, I have to put behind me. I’m about to lay my head on a small pillow, my back on the hard wood, and my tailbone on a blown up neck pillow I packed just in case (thank you MacGyver). I can hear the rest of the family whispering through the wooden walls. Wil is tossing and turning across the room attempting to find a comfortable way to lie.

Dear Lord, 
... please let my exhausted body fall asleep before my running mind can realize how uncomfortable I am.


Day 2 – Wednesday, February 2nd – 7:48 a.m.

The night was what could be expected. I woke up at least once an hour either to soreness, roosters, or to someone else rustling through the house. Comfort was not reached, but at least I had a pillow. One thing I didn’t expect was the frigid cold that somehow blew in during the night. My toes and fingers are still lacking feeling because they have yet to thaw. We didn’t prepare for cold. It is Costa Rica, why would we? However the morning got much better once I smelt coffee coming from the kitchen. Honorio told us of something that is happening today that is going to be an incredible opportunity. I will write about it after because I don’t think my words before will be able to come close to the experience.

Day 2 – Wednesday, February 2nd – 11:15 a.m.

We have returned from a trip to the river to experience the opportunity Honorio told us about. We are in awe. They asked Curtis to be a part since he is a pastor in San Isidro. He was floored by the chance and agreed graciously to participate. We hiked down to the river and found a spot that was away from the rushing rapids. On the rocks around this swimming hole, the community gathered. There were at least twenty other Cabecar Indians that came to watch and a few dogs and pigs followed from the farm to see what was going on. Honorio had been pastoring ecah of them for some time now and today was an eventful day. Everyone listened intently as Honorio and Wil gave a message about what it means to follow Christ. After, each Indigenous Indian  stepped into the chilly water with Honorio and Curtis… and I’ll let the pictures tell the rest of the story…






  
                                                                      All glory to God.

Day 2 – Wednesday, February 2nd – 8:24 p.m.

Another incredible moment we just shared with the Cabecar people. God is truly present in this place. After the message and six baptisms in the river we hiked back to the house to play soccer and relax for the rest of the afternoon. At six o’clock, just before the sunset, we walked to the church for a service. Honorio spoke in Cabecar and Spanish, both of which I understand little of, but I could at least follow. Curtis, Wil, and I shared some of our experience in the past and our thoughts of these amazing people. I told them I feel like we can learn so much from them. Their love and pure joy and passion for Christ, amidst circumstances we have never experienced, surpass anything I have ever known. After, we shared communion. Something they and we have each done many times before, but this time with a different culture, language, and tribe. I will remember forever the sound of their voices and the look on their faces as they pass through remembering who Christ is and what his Grace mean for all of us. Moments like these are why I wake up every morning.



Tonight is going to be another cold night on a hard floor. I’m prepared sleeping in my hiking pants, rain jacket, and wool socks. Morning is going to come early. 4 a.m. we leave for the trek home.

Day 3 – Thursday, February 3rd – 1:30 p.m.


This is not how I imagined this story ending. Not the exact triumphant trek out of the jungle I had pictured. My pride took a shot today. Pride I should never have had in the first place, was stirred in me and even made me think; I’ll scrap the detailed blog and just tell one nice story of our journey. For the sake grasping confident humility and destroying the rest of my arrogance, I will tell the story.

It was still dark when we got up. We finished packing and drank a quick cup of coffee before we hit the trail. After loading the horses, we began the trek home at 4:30 in the morning with flashlights lighting our path for the first hour. My knee was beginning to bother me after the first ten minutes and I knew it wasn’t good since we had seven hours left of hiking. It felt as if the fluid in my joint was replaced with sand and glass. Every step, pain shot through my body. I continued for nearly three hours toughing it out, thinking the more I walk the better it would become. The opposite occurred. After a long uphill climb and jumping rocks during a short downhill decent, it was jarred again. Wil and Curtis offered help but my testosterone denied knowing I could do this myself. I got here myself, I can get out. It became excruciating. I prayed to God, “Now? Why is this happening now?” It got to the point I couldn’t bend my knee at all and had to walk over rocks and rivers attempting to keep my leg locked in position. Finally, my pride could no longer sustain me. Curtis offered to carry a backpack and let me ride on the horse’s back. I reluctantly accepted. As much as it killed me to ride as others walked, the situation revealed truth to me about myself and the character of God. So often, I get in this mindset that I have abilities or qualifications that prove I should be able to accomplish any task in front of me. I think to myself I got here, I can get out. I can finish. Too often I think if I try more, working harder, pushing further, I can finish and set of goals set before me by myself. As is God didn't give me the very ability to breathe, I think that I have done something myself. That’s why I didn’t want to quit the hike giving into the pain. Sometimes, that pride even seeps into my faith. I reason that I can do more and earn God’s approval. I think I can finish my walk with God on my own, with self-discipline and self-righteousness. That is the exact opposite of the Truth. That is the opposite of what God desires for us. The truth is, we will never be able to work more towards God. There is nothing we can do to earn God’s love or forgiveness. It is a gift. Disciplining ourselves enough does not merit us to receive God’s Grace. If we think that our judgment, determining our entrance into heaven, depends on our good deeds weighed against our bad deeds, we have got it all wrong. If we get to heaven with pride thinking we have lived a good enough life to enter we will never see the face of Christ. That is not the Gospel. That is not the Truth. I am still learning the sweetness of the words GRACE and SURRENDER. We have never done, and will never do, anything that is valuable enough to earn Jesus’ sacrifice or to be in the eternal presence of God. What are our works in comparison to a Holy God? God is holy, perfect in power, set apart from all that exists, and cannot be in the presence of anything unholy. Who are we to think that if we try hard enough, or do more, or live a good life, we will be able to attain salvation and see God face to face? It is unattainable through our own attempts. There is nothing we can do. That is it though… that is the Good News. That is the reason God had to send his Son. That is the reason Christ had to die. God is holy so he cannot compromise his justice. He can’t just say, “Well, you guys tried really hard and… did some good things so… I’ll let it slide.” Forgiveness is not just a conscious thought. Our debt had to be paid. Our lives were paid for at a price we will never comprehend. In order for us to attain forgiveness, Christ had to shed his blood, and we have to have faith. Jesus hung on the cross with nails driven into his hands, and took the punishment for all of our sins once and for all. With his last remaining breath, he cried out, “Tetelestai.” meaning, “It is finished. Paid in full.” ONLY through faith in Jesus and those words are we saved. Works are merely byproducts of our Faith and Salvation.

In a Max Lucado book I recently read, he ends the book with this powerful quote, “Salvation is the work of Christ, Compassion is the consequence of Salvation.”

As I was riding the horse today, I again realized I can’t rely on myself in my faith. I have to trust in God for my salvation and for Him to equip me and to perfect my faith. Trusting in myself is the opposite of trusting in God. If it is up to me then I am eternally in trouble. Just as Curtis carried my pack and the horse carried me to the house, I have to let Christ carry my burdens and trust Him to guide me Home. I have to receive His Grace and daily surrender my life to Him.

Ephesians 2: 8-9 “For it is by grace you hae been saved through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so no man can boast.”


Our time with the Cabecar Indians was indescribable, extremely hard to put into words on a page. It is really difficult to describe all we saw and experienced. The name of Christ is extending to every nation throughout the world. It is awesome to witness. I pray that seeds were planted on the reservation but also throughout the world by this tribe and our experience.