Costa Rica 2019: La Fortuna
To begin this report, let me say thank you to all those congregations and individuals who supported the work in La Fortuna this year financially, through prayer, or through personal encouragement. We go to Costa Rica in the authority of Christ to share His gospel (Matthew 28:18-20). The Word of God was spread because of loving people who want to see others eternally with their Father. It was a great honor for me and my wife to be part of that vision. The team members with whom we were blessed to work side by side were: Phil and Darleen Grear, Jonathan and Sandra McAnulty, Clinton Rowand, Katie Gilchrist, and Tim Gainer. These are special people who gladly stepped through the open doors which God provided and proclaimed God’s will with humility and boldness. Our translators and brothers in Christ tirelessly held us up throughout the week sharing the gospel as well and doing so with vigor in both English and Spanish. Please remember in your prayers these good men: Gilbert Astorga, David Astorga, Heiner Montealto, Walter Brooks, and Christian VaVi. I know I have missed a number of names and people who helped us and that were part of the congregation of La Fortuna or had traveled from other areas of Costa Rica to participate. Everyone involved engaged in the work selflessly, giving Glory to God. Once more… Thank you!
As I write up my report each year, I try to do so in a manner which will go beyond a “report”. It is important to me to be able to draw lessons from the work. In 2016, I wrote about Costa Rica and its people. In 2017, I wrote about evangelism and how to approach it. In 2018, I touched on the need for follow up, having a plan, and women’s role in evangelizing. This year, 2019, my theme for the trip is “uncomfortable”. It ties in many things I have mentioned in past reports, but as you will see it looks a bit deeper. Before I jump into all of that good stuff, let me provide a basic summary of the details of our trip.
January 2, 2019 – Leave 4 am. Arrive 1 pm. (Not true for others… more on that later)
Lodging Hotel 1915
January 3, 2019 – Travel to La Fortuna
Lodging Hotel Campos Arenal
January 4-9 – Campaign La Fortuna
January 10,2019 – Travel to Alejuela
Lodging Hotel 1915
January 11, 2019 – Leave 12:30 pm. Arrive 11:30 pm.
The cost of the trip was originally estimated to be a combined $4290 for April and myself. We were able to raise support of $3625. Our final trip cost (no personal expenses included) was $3750. April and I sharing snacks/meals on occasion and an unforeseen discounted hotel rate helped to lower our cost.
Each morning we were down at the congregation’s building for devotions at 8:30/8:45. We then embarked upon our Door Knocking / Bible Studies until noon. Afterward we would continue Bible studies from approx. 2-5:30 (the first 2 days 2-4). At about 5:30, we would drive to pick up visitors. We had six nighttime meetings. These went from 6-7:15 approximately. Afterward we would return the visitors and then eat dinner. By the time the day was over we would return to the hotel around 9-9:30.
Most days April and I were able to do 3-5 Bible studies approx. an hour to 2 hours long. The work of the team as a whole resulted in 2 baptisms and a number of rededication/prayer requests from the congregation. Not to be overlooked to the Glory of God, the Word was spread to many homes. There are many successes which could be spoken of in regard to this trip. I look with happiness and satisfaction over the number of people that were brought in each night to learn from the teachings of the campaign. One family who we studied with came every night. Another visited the final night, never having entered a non-Catholic congregation before. Additionally, they returned to worship after our campaign was complete. Certainly, I anticipate hearing of more success from this meeting as the weeks go by.
Philippians 4:4 Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice.
Uncomfortable might seem an odd theme to use for describing a mission trip, but I believe it fits well for 2019. If you are not an early riser, getting to the airport at 4 something in the morning may not be your cup of tea. It’s uncomfortable. Yet, there we were up and ready to go at the airport in Columbus, Ohio, two hours before take-off just as the TSA requests. Phil and Darlene were already there! A state over, our other team members were gathering in Charleston, WV, dreaming they would have a smooth flight. HAHAHA! While our flight arrived in Costa Rica around 1pm, the brothers and sisters starting out in Charleston would enjoy a flight delay maybe going to DC… then Chicago… then missing a connection… then ending up in Houston… then arriving in Alejuela, Costa Rica. I think they ultimately made it to the hotel around midnight or so. They could have been cranky. They could have been mad. Certainly, they were tired. Yes, they were uncomfortable! Overall, they were thankful to be safe, in country, and ready for the work (and a warm shower… which some did not get).
When arriving in Costa Rica, it is hard not to appreciate the sunshine, the smiling people, and the bright colors! What a lot of people do not appreciate is the flow of traffic. Costa Ricans are kind of like laid back California drivers. In California driving has a crazy cut throat edge to it. In Costa Rica, the drivers are crazy too, but in a just go with the flow kind of way. Traffic signs are largely ignored to better gel with the foot traffic and weaving in and out of locals and tourists. If you have a chance to get to the left or right, zoom across an intersection, or get to your exit – Go for it! Horns honk in courtesy rather than furor (Hebrews 12:14). City to city it is the same, but when you travel from Alejuela to La Fortuna you also get the joy of curvy roads and police everywhere looking for cars illegally transporting tourists! Uncomfortable? It can be for some. Fortunately, we had a GPS! (tim Gainer Pointing System).
After arriving in La Fortuna, we went directly to our Hotel. It looked very clean and nice. We all hopped out glad to be free from the road. Inside the office we were met with a surprise. The reservations we had for 10 people had been lost. The hotel was booked. Our rooms were full. In many circumstances with different people, I suspect there would have been some pretty harsh words shared. Not with our team! (Philippians 4:5) By the time we left the office we had another hotel, a nicer hotel, for a less expensive price. Funny thing, we ended up baptizing the clerk from the first hotel later on. Isn’t God amazing? The situation was uncomfortable, but proper behavior learned from the knowledge given by our Lord provided a better way.
The first official day of our campaign saw us all down at the Iglesia de Christo (Church of Christ) of La Fortuna. Our brothers and sisters greeted us well. Yet, all of a sudden, a new reality, which had been there all along, now made itself more apparent. After being able to say “Hola, Como Esta?”, “Bien”, “Gracias” – the conversation became uncomfortable. It is amazing how you can study and prepare yourself to interact in Spanish, just to have the brain go completely blank when it is time to put your knowledge to use. This is one of those fears that people have about mission trips. “I cannot speak a foreign language! What will I do! I cannot do it! I couldn’t find the strength to do something like that.” (Philippians 4:13) We cannot let our feelings paralyze us and keep us from fulfilling the purposes for which God has made us (Ephesians 2:10).
The work of canvassing an area, knocking doors and setting up Bible studies, is akin to a treasure hunt. You never know what you are going to find. People of different sizes, shapes, colors, and demeanors await you. It has been an extreme pleasure to interact with the people of Costa Rica. As with our experience in the countryside of Bagaces, the people behind the doors in the countryside of La Fortuna eagerly invited us to share the gospel with them. This year, my good brother and translator, Noel Masis, could not be with us. Additionally, due to work schedules, April and I did not have our assigned translator the first 2 days. Uncomfortable! Yet, we were blessed to get to work with another translator (Walter Brooks) and our brother from the states – Tim Gainer (Uncomfortable – HA!). Despite the curveball and having to team up with another team member for 2 days, the experience is something I will never forget. Being able to work closely with my brother, a preacher and an elder, was very insightful. I suppose I could have been pompous and frustrated not to be out working with April and another translator on our own, but why on earth would I do that? We are a team. We all work together. We are the Lord’s Body (I Corinthians 12). Seeing the open heart and earnest, knowledgeable work of Tim was inspiring to me and really set a good tone for me the entire week.
As Walter, Tim, and I worked, it should not be overlooked that April was there working with us. A woman’s role may often come with a bit less talking when it comes to the work, but it is not any the less important. April could have felt uncomfortable – foreign land, foreign language, strangers – but she provided a warm presence to each visit (in a country where most of the homes had only women home alone or with kids). She helped keep what could have been uncomfortable, comfortable. Yet, just a presence, wasn’t all she provided. Tim took to calling April the name Abigail. Why? Because as Tim and I were pressing hard with the gospel, pounding one fact filled Bible verse after another, April (as Tim says) smacked us both upside the head. She began to share with the woman whom we were speaking the softer side of the gospel. The joy, the comfort of Christ, the love He has for us, the desire God has for us to come to Him. She and the woman both got a bit teary as they were able to connect thru Christ by remembering we as the people of God operate in Spirit and Truth (I Samuel 12:24). Again, the Body of Christ works together and each part aids the other.
The second day of our stay in La Fortuna was very muggy. They day had a bit of rain and heat and I felt sweaty and dirty by the end. I was so looking forward to a warm shower. Alas, that was not to happen. The water was freezing! I resorted to a cold sponge bath, hoping in the morning all would be well. Unfortunately, the water was still cold the next day. Uncomfortable! By the end of that day I was really, really looking for that warm shower. Still there was no hot water. Understand, many of our trips to Costa Rica have had that scenario, but I had gotten spoiled after the first night at the new hotel. As I lay there I thought that perhaps Sandra McAnulty was playing a joke on me (she would do that to innocent lil ol me). Then it hit me! I went down to the office. I told the manager on duty that I believe the circuit breaker to my hot water had popped. “Pooped?” “No, popped.” “Poked?” “No, Popped.” The conversation was a bit humorous. But once we got it all figured out, 10 minutes later I had hot water. I could have acted poorly and been angry for something out of the manager’s control. Yet, rather than make the situation more uncomfortable, it worked out well. (James 1:19)
When a person imagines a Bible study, they may think of sharing the joy of salvation and the love of God. They envision the recipient of the message excited and ready to be baptized as soon as possible. Unfortunately, that is not a common reality. Many of the Costa Ricans are Catholic. Their father and mother were Catholic. Their Grandparents were Catholic. They lay their claim of faith through heritage and sprinkling as an infant. Consider trying to share the gospel with someone like that who does not want to betray their mother and father. Consider that they are certain mother and father are in heaven. How do you make the issue about Christ and the person with whom you are talking and not about the salvation of those who went before them? This is uncomfortable. Consider that a number of Costa Ricans cannot read well, if at all. Many may not own a Bible. What do you do? You get out your Bible and you talk about the authority of Jesus (Matthew 28:18-20). You talk about the strength of the Bible (James 1:21, 2 Timothy 3:16-17, 2 Peter 1:1-3, John 17:17, Romans 1:16). You let the folks know that Jesus loves them and died for them (John 3:16). You tell them how they can be free from sin (John 8:32, Acts 2:38). You explain to them the importance of obeying God’s Word (Matthew 7:21, 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10, Galatians 1:8-10). You encourage them to assemble with the one group of people upon this earth who are concerned about their eternal souls (Hebrews 10:24-25). All of this may be uncomfortable at times, but it is far more comfortable for them and you than an eternity in hell (Ezekiel 33).
The third day of our campaign April and I were able to begin working on our own with a new translator. David Astorga is a fantastic young man. I truly enjoyed working with him. I wasn’t sure at first how it was going to go. David is an engineer by trade. He is a bit quiet. I on the other hand… well… I am not that quiet. The situation could have been very uncomfortable. After the first visit, we could have given up on each other. Yet, once again, the gospel is not about any one or two people and it spread best when we all work together (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10). It is a very difficult thing for the mind to express clearly what you want it. I struggle with this. April asked me, “What do you call someone who speaks only one language? – American”. It blows my mind how David was able to take my jumbled English thoughts and translate into Spanish. It’s not just that he did this during Bible studies, but anytime we traveled taking others to the congregation’s building or when we were at lunch, or whenever, David translated. I greatly appreciated his work and patience in Costa Rica.
So, the time in Costa Rica was full of many interesting experiences. I could share a great number more. We met so many wonderful people. When the time to go came, it was uncomfortable. We didn’t want to go. We wanted to stay. We wanted to keep up the work. The uncomfortable became the comfortable in Christ. Strangers were recognized as brothers and sisters. The impossible seemed possible. Yet, I will share one more story. The flight home was once again not comfortable for the Charleston group. They found themselves nearly pounding on the door of an airplane ready to take off. I imagine them running across the airport luggage and bibles clutched in hands trying to make the uncomfortable comfortable. They stuck together, worked together, caught their flights, and made it home safely (Ephesians 4:1-3).
Thank you a final time for the help to get to Costa Rica this year so we could spread the seed of the Word. I look forward to traveling in the future to Costa Rica to share the message of the Gospel. We are schedule to return January of 2020. Please pray for this work.