Sunday, April 24, 2011

My (second) Holy Week

The week before Easter is known as Semana Santa ("holy week") in Latin America. It truly is a holy week; the whole country of Costa Rica slows down in preparation for the celebration of Christ’s resurrection. The normally omnipresent honking of the dense traffic of San Jose was literally silenced as most people either went on vacation or stayed at home with their families. Many stores were closed this week, or at least closed earlier in the day. You can’t buy alcohol this week, and the prostitutes even “close up shop” due to the temporary lack of activity in San Jose.

We here at YWAM had quite a bit of activity, though. We had a guest speaker from Missouri named Jude. He heads up a skate ministry in the States called Untitled Skateboards. He spoke on John 3:16 and took us to his first of two events of his up the hill from us at a church. Ramps were set up for the local youth to skate for free, which was cool because there are no free or public skate parks in Costa Rica. It’s a shame, because there were around one hundred teenagers present. I must say, I was really disappointed in Jude’s sharing of the gospel. While everything he said was true, and theologically sound, I felt he portrayed an image of God that was inaccurate and perhaps detrimental to the skaters.

He made them all very aware that they were sinners. For whatever reason, he thought it would be effective to compare God to a cop trying to pull over everyone speeding on the freeway. We, as humans, had the choice to either pull over or just try to outrun our pursuer. Either way, we’d have to face Him eventually. In the whole half hour that he spoke, Jude only mentioned the love of God – the motive and rationale behind His sacrifice and resurrection – once, and it was dwarfed by the fear and condemnation he was preaching before. When he extended an invitation to the skaters to accept Jesus into their hearts, no one raised their hands. I didn’t blame them; why would they want anything to do with a God who was out to get them? Jesus was just another person who thought they were a nuisance. This has been weighing on me all week, and still makes me really upset.

Something really interesting happened the next day, though, unrelated to the skate ministry. Our leaders wanted us to pray for an Outreach team that was distributing Bibles in a town called Guanacaste on the pacific coast. We split up into small groups to prayer for six of the thirty staff and students distributing bibles. While we were praying for the usual essentials – safety, boldness, unity and the like – I had this feeling that someone or some people on our list had lost something important, and needed to find it, so I prayed that God would deliver whatever it was back to them. When we were done, we were supposed to write down anything we felt we received from the Lord and turn it in to the staff, in case they needed to hear anything we heard.

That following weekend, one of my leaders came and found me and told me that one of the guys I prayed for had lost his wallet during the outreach, but ended up finding it. Also, a girl on that list had misplaced her contact lenses, but ended up finding them as well. Kinda cool, huh?

Wednesday was definitely a highlight for me. After breakfast we went to Zona Roja (the red-light district) and served the homeless alongside the Salvation Army. The homeless men and women would come in waves to the dining hall, where we would always begin with some scripture and a prayer of blessing of their food. Some of us worked in the kitchen, some of us were serving the food, some of us greeted the hungry at the door, and some of us just hung out with them while they ate breakfast. I had the privilege of sharing a word from Isaiah and saying grace for the second wave of people. After that, I got to pray for two substance abusers, who expressed desperation for God to fill their souls. The first was English-speaking and California-raised Ignacio, who was an alcoholic and lost his job as a security guard for showing up to work drunk. His employer said he might give him a second chance, if he cleaned up his act and had another interview. We prayed together for that upcoming opportunity and he vigorously shook my hand in gratitude when we were finished. Later, I prayed for Manuel, an older man from Nicaragua. He had no friends or family in San Jose, and he would constantly use heavy drugs to alleviate his feelings of loneliness. He didn’t want to do this anymore, so my translator and I prayed for him. As my words were repeated again in Spanish, Manuel started to tear up, and I couldn’t help but do the same.

In honor of Semana Santa, we spent a lot of time reflecting on who Jesus was. We read through the gospel of John and meditated on the different names and titles God gives Himself. It was really humbling to read all of the different names that Jesus was given – bread of life, the true vine, friend, good shepherd, teacher, light in the darkness – because it showed how big our God is. He is so big that He can fill every need in our lives. He is our teacher and counselor when we are in need of guidance. He is our father when we need provision. He is our friend when we are lonely. It makes me wonder how I’ve been viewing Him lately and what role He wants to fill in my life right now.

We watched The Passion of the Christ on Thursday night, took communion afterwards and had a time of confession on Good Friday. I got drafted into the worship team. Scott, my new friend from Australia who was heading up the band, could hear me singing during one of the sessions when he was next to me so he demanded my participation. We led the entire base this Friday morning in some songs. It was so much fun, and people seemed to really enjoy it.

Saturday was Jude’s last event. This one was in the central park of San Jose, where they rented out a huge space to put ramps. We didn’t have a clear role in this event, like the last one, so we just watched from the sidelines and hung out around the park. My friend Chris and I played Frisbee with some skater kids, who later expressed that they wanted to add us on Facebook. Hundreds of people came to skate again for free and ultimately to hear Jude’s legalistic gospel of fear. I know, I know. I’m being kind of harsh. I need to remember that seeds are in fact being planted, and that it’s amazing that there’s someone who wants to share the gospel with skateboarders. In the end, I think God’s love is preached through the mere provision of space to skate. Most people are too poor to afford the expensive private skate parks and there was even free Powerade for people to drink when they got thirsty.

So, today is Easter. The whole base got up at 5am to sing some songs, watch the sunrise and remember the resurrection. I must say, I really wish I could spend today with my family.

Praise report:
-Merlin, our 27 year old classmate from El Salvador, has never even heard English until he came to YWAM but is now speaking in full sentences after two weeks of exposure.
-During a time of confession on Friday, my cold finally went away after I confessed to two of my classmates that I had been judging them unfairly. I asked for their forgiveness and I noticed an hour later I had stopped coughing and sneezing!

Prayer Requests:
-Favor for Ignacio and healing for Manuel, the two men I prayed for at the Salvation Army.
-Growth in the area of grace. Pray God would fill my heart with his favor and patience for people.
-For an open heart for myself as I continue to learn. Pray that my heart and mind would open to the voice of the Lord.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Monasticism and High Ropes Course

I can’t believe it’s only been a week since I’ve been gone. It feels like much longer! It’s been an interesting week, I must say. My leaders keep telling us that these next twelve weeks should be very powerful, because they will be completely focused on contemplating the scriptures and knowing God. While it may not have been advertised as this, YWAM’s lecture phase is basically twelve weeks in a monastery. I’ve never thought of it that way, but that’s what it really is. We’re all living together in simplicity on a secluded property on the edge of the city. Our days are regimented, starting with breakfast at 6:30 am every day until 9pm in the evening.

The average week on the base is characterized by daily morning solitude, followed by corporate worship or intercession, then two to three hours of intensive group bible study and learning about the character of God. After lunch, we may continue with our studies, or break up into small prayer groups, or do something else that connects to whatever we’re learning about. In between these disciplines, we also have homework and chores we have to complete for the day. I’ve been assigned to do the dishes after dinner. I’m excited to see what God will teach me through this nightly responsibility.

For class this last week we were learning about hearing from God. Not necessarily about how to hear God, but what conditions in our life make us more or less likely to have that experience. Before we got into that, however, our speaker Marjolein Coghi of the Netherlands reminded us that, first and foremost, God wants to speak; He is in fact a person, and wants to be in a relationship with us. God is always pursuing us, and always has something to say to us.

People hear God when they’re humble; when people are without pride and are not focused on their own ways, thoughts and desires, they hear from Him because they choose to listen to His voice and not their own. People can hear God when they trust Him because those who have faith embrace who He is and claim the truth that He does speak. People who don’t hold anything back from God hear Him because nothing will stand between them. Likewise, people who are willing to wait for God will surely hear Him, because His timing is perfect and He will move or speak at exactly the right moment.

To practice hearing from the Lord, we went on a silent retreat this last Thursday. We drove up to a national park by the volcano just outside of San Jose, where we spent the entire day in silence as we waited to hear from God. Everyone spread out around the park, some walking and some sitting along the lake’s edge or in the woods. I had little faith that it would be a very rich experience. The whole week I’ve felt very distant from God, and like He didn’t even want to speak to me. Seeing my peers experience Him when I did not was very discouraging. During the retreat, I was able to sit on a dock that protruded out over the lake and I got to confess my doubts to God. I didn’t think He was going to speak to me, but He did. I was reading through the gospels and the Holy Spirit highlighted certain things that spoke to my situation very directly.

At the end of John, He reminded me that He works in different ways, at different times, for different people. Therefore, I shouldn’t compare myself to my peers. If I don’t receive a vision, or get a word of knowledge, or have some kind of earth shattering revelation today…that’s okay. If it doesn’t happen tomorrow, that’s okay, too. God has things to say to me, and He will say them when I need to hear them. He also reminded me that He has been faithful thus far. I may not have heard from Him for a few days, but that doesn’t negate the miracles that He’s done to get me here to San Jose.

Another thing He told me, through a parable in Matthew, was to have grace for the people that annoy me. This hasn’t been a huge problem, but there is one person on our team I’ve already written off and kind of avoid. Jesus gently reminded me that that person was not only God’s son, but my brother as well. God told me to give him a chance, so in response I went to lunch with him on Sunday. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that he’s not so bad after all.

All in all, the retreat was amazing. It was so peaceful and beautiful, and Jesus totally showed up to hang out with each of us. The day after the retreat, we drove to the northern pacific coast of Costa Rica where we did a high ropes course in the jungle. I was pretty scared, I must say, because I absolutely do not like heights. But I ended up loving it! It was cool to draw parallels between navigating an obstacle course while strapped to a harness and navigating through life’s obstacles while connected to God.

Should be interesting to see what else God will reveal to me. I’ll keep you updated!

Prayer Requests
-Healing from a nasty cough I’ve had all week, and from bug bites I’ve been getting in my bed.
-Good rest at night. I keep waking up at random hours and have not been getting enough sleep.
-Faith that God would continue moving and speaking to me, even when I may not be feeling it. Pray God would open my mind to the mysteries He is revealing to me.
-Continued bonding and intimacy between me and my team mates as we get to know one another.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Going, Coming and our First Weekend

Leaving was really hard. Mostly because I found out I had less time to say goodbye than I had originally thought. I thought my plane was at 10:30, but it was actually at 5:30. I checked in around 2:45, and realized my time was almost up. This story sound familiar? Not to give away the ending, but it ends the same as my Statistics Final: worked out completely in God’s hands…but much more emotional.

When I realized my time was up, I immediately called Steven to come over and help me finish packing and then my dad to tell him the unexpected news. He came racing home while Steven and I made some speedy rounds to so I could say goodbye to my friends. I couldn’t see all of them, of course, but I tried my best. With that, I just wanted to say sorry to all of you who were expecting to see me. So very sorry.

I broke down on the way to see my mom at work, because I thought I wouldn’t have time to see her. Luckily, the rush hour traffic I was dreading hadn’t come to a complete stop, so I was able to give my mom and hug and a kiss before I left. The traffic quickly cleared up and I got to the airport an hour before my departure. Checking my bag was no big deal, and security was a piece of cake.

I had a 10 hour layover in Houston, where I attempted to sleep in a chapel in the terminal next to mine, and finally made it to Costa Rica in the afternoon. I went through customs and was met my team leaders Dan and Val, along with several other YWAM students. They drove us to the YWAM base, which is on the edge of San Jose, and I met the rest of my team.

There are twelve guys and six girls on my team, and only four of those are from the United States. There’s a pair of cousins from Denmark, a guy and a girl from Germany, a guy and a girl from Canada, five Latinos from various countries, one girl from Latvia and one guy from Australia. Most of the Europeans don’t speak Spanish, and most of the Latinos don’t speak English. This language barrier has proved to be quite humorous so far; we’re all constantly laughing at one another’s inability to communicate.

Something that has been communicated, however, is a unanimous state of anxiety beginning this journey. Everyone is really uneasy about being so far away from home, and everyone is kind of wondering why God might have brought us here. I was feeling very lost on Friday night, but by the next morning I was feeling much better. Apparently, our leaders prayed for that specifically on Friday night.

The official program won’t start until Monday, so my new friends and I are mostly just hanging out until then with sporadic orientation pieces thrown in here and there by our leaders. Since Friday, we’ve mostly just been playing games around the base – soccer, volleyball, various card games etc. We went to downtown San Jose on Saturday to explore a little bit, and came back for our Welcome Dinner in the evening. Along with an awesome buffet of arroz con pollo, live Costa Rican music and dancing, there was a flag ceremony to show how many countries were represented.

There’s another group here that just finished up their lecture phase and are about to head out for their outreach on Monday for Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. It’s been really cool to hear from them about their experiences in YWAM so far. They all shared my initial feelings of being overwhelmed and terrified, but assured me that it’s only going to get better from here. That’s literally been everyone’s story.

Prayer Requests
-Peace of mind as I adjust to a very new schedule and lifestyle
-Intimate and authentic relationships between my team mates
-Recollection and continued learning of the Spanish language as I interact with non-English speakers

Thursday, April 7, 2011

My Generous Friends

I leave tomorrow night at 10:30pm, and when I woke up this morning I only had $1,781.
While this is quite a lot of money, thanks to my generous church family, it's not quite enough for the lecture phase. So I woke up fairly short. But by the end of today, I received over $700 from my friends, and bumped my total funds to $2,617.21 putting me more than half way to my goal of $4,500.

This morning, I woke up so nervous about the money. Time was ticking, as always, and I was feeling All day, I prayed and prayed for God's provision. I've heard story after story after story of God providing financially for missionaries. I've never really seen it before, until today. Before I left my house this morning, my grandma gave me a huge check so I "wouldn't be broke down there in Costa Rica." Two of my friends from NYCUP donated to me online through Paypal. My friends mom sent a check with him when we met up to hang out. I went to dinner with an old mentor and his wife, who already donated, not only payed for dinner but gave me another large donation to help me out. Afterward, I went to youth group where three of my friends gave me checks. Finally, at a going away party, my friends all pooled their money and gave me a huge envelop of cash as my going away present.


Thank you, everyone who donated. You're generosity is so appreciated. Thank you for being so willing to make this experience possible. I can't wait to see what God does! May He bless you as He's blessed me with you.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Finals Week

The obstacle of school was about to be overcame. I had just been accepted into UC Santa Cruz the week before my exams, and I now had to secure my spot by passing my two remaining general education courses.

Even though I only had two finals, this had to be the most stressful finals week of my entire life. There was a lot riding on these tests, and I was not ready at all. As a Psychology major, I have to confess my profound lack of interest in hard sciences and embarrassingly poor mathematical abilities. Needless to say, my Statistics and Chemistry classes did not go very smoothly this quarter. I found it very challenging to stay interested and focused on these subjects that were purely stepping stones on the path towards transferring. Unfortunately, I didn't take on this challenge as I should have. My grades in both classes had dropped to a high D. These finals were my last efforts to pass my classes, otherwise, I felt like it would be simply irresponsible to leave the country. If I failed, I wouldn't go. No question.

I studied all week. I went over the presentation slides from Chem, I made a note sheet for Stats; I really tried to brush up before my exams. That Friday morning, at 7:30 am, I showed up for my math final to find that no one was there. After walking around for a few minutes, trying to find where my final was being administered, I suddenly realized that I had missed it! I had written down the wrong date on my calendar and completely missed it.

Immediately, I found a computer and emailed my professor. I told her I made a horrible mistake, and I needed to take the final to pass the class because I was transferring. I also explained that I couldn't retake the class in the spring, because I was leaving the country. Even though it was against her policy, I begged her to let me take the test. I waited four hours for a response. Before that, however, I asked every single person I came across to say a prayer for my stupid mistake. Everyone I talked to serenely reminded me that God has been faithful so far, and He will deliver me through. Once again, Victor Hernandez made another seemingly prophetic prediction: she probably wouldn't let me take the test, but she'd just give me a C.

I sat in front of my computer screen for hours, waiting for a response, and trying to study for my other final. At long last, my professor got back to me. After scolding me for my carelessness, she informed me that her car had broken down, so she couldn't come to school and let me take the final. Instead, however, she said she would just give me a C in the class. A passing grade!

High on the euphoric relief I had just experienced, I gleefully studied for my Chemistry final, which was later that day. When the time came, however, it proved to be absolutely horrendous. All the studying I did, I quickly realized, was no where near enough. I left half of the exam blank, and guessed a lot. After two and a half hours, I turned in my exam and got some lunch. I was feeling really uneasy about my performance, so I went to my professor's office.

I asked if there was any extra credit I could do before the grades were in. She told me no, and wondered why I was so worried. I explained my situation, just as I did to my Stats professor, and she asked why I couldn't retake the class. After mentioning my mission trip, she told me she did a few mission trips in college herself and began telling me about her journeys. As interesting as it was to hear about them, I eventually brought the conversation back to my final and she told me not to be concerned. She said I only needed a 68% on the exam to pass the class. I replied in protest, saying I must have gotten far below that score. It is what it is, she concluded, and wished me well for my trip.

This last week, the final exam grades were posted, and I got a 68.2%. Come on. That meant I passed this class, too! Nothing else to do for school. Nothing else hanging over my head.

There's no way this was accomplished by my own effort. No way. I did not deserve either of these grades. I slacked off, I spaced out, I wasted time...but God gave me favor anyway! He is unstoppable; my shortcomings and mistakes paled in comparison to His plans and purposes for my life. He is too good. He is too gracious.