I’ve getting pretty tired the past couple weeks. Especially after this last weekend’s backpacking trip. I haven’t been getting up on time in the mornings, purposefully skipping breakfast and even my quiet time with God before classes. Bad idea! I’m actually beginning to feel the consequences and I’m starting to realize that He really is my daily bread. When I don’t spend time with Him, I forget who I am and what I’m here for. I find less meaning in my daily activities, and my classes seem really boring. No one could have ever guessed, but I was totally ditching out on my devotions!
On Tuesday, we prayed for one another by drawing names out of a hat, but we weren’t allowed to read them until after we prayed for that person. We were to listen to God for scriptures, or words or pictures about our anonymous person and write them down for them. One of my leaders, Dan, got my name. God told Him that I needed to spend more time with Him, and that He would give me the rest I needed in His presence. Busted! I guess the Lord has missed our quiet mornings together. Time to buckle down, I suppose, huh?
I loved our speaker this week. We were blessed with the charmingly stereotypical Californian Scott Freeman, who heads up a surfing and skate ministry for at-risk youth in Jaco. He talked all about the character and nature of God. The nature of God encompasses the intrinsic qualities that He exhibits. For example, God is omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent; all knowing, all powerful and having the ability to occupy all space. God’s character refers to the ways that He expresses His nature. Because God is omniscient and omnipotent, He is also creative. He is able to make things out of nothing. We need to have an accurate view of who God is and the way He works. Scott argued that our lives gravitate towards our view of God because we will respond accordingly, whether we realize it or not, to however we think He is. If we think our God is loving and good, we will live in light of that. It is also true with the opposite.
We spent some time in class going over various characteristics of God, but the best was when Scott took us to this really beautiful park near the base to investigate God in nature. It was a surprise, so once again I did not have my camera on me. I know, I know. I suck. Anyway, Scott wanted us to discover who God was through Creation, because in Romans it says that He has revealed Himself in what He made. Just as artist leaves a piece of himself in his work, so does God leave a piece of Himself in His. We walked along trails, across a field, climbed trees, sat on logs and rocks, enjoyed the coolness of the afternoon…it was lovely.
I walked along this one trail by myself for a little while, looking around at the forest. It was crazy to really observe how complex the forest is. Supposedly, Costa Rica is one of the most biodiverse places on earth, meaning it has the most different kinds of plants and animals. I believe it; within one meter, you can see so many different colors, textures, and shapes growing out from the earth and coexisting in this forest. You couldn’t count it all, you couldn’t measure it. You couldn’t really even see past it, beyond the wall of trees and bushes and flowers and plants. The forest is complex; it made me think of God and how complex He is.
Sometimes, I feel like I’ve figured Him out, though. I feel like I’ve learned all I could about Him. But how could I? How could I fully understand the fullness of this being who is transcendent of time and space, and who knows everything and can do everything? Looking into the forest reminded me that there’s so much more to God than I realize. A lot of people have been praying that God would reveal to me new things about Himself. I want to walk into God’s forest and see the mysteries He’s got hidden there.
The week ended pretty rough, I must say. Thursday night was particularly challenging. It was our second time doing homeless ministry, but this time it was more spontaneous. We didn’t go through an organization, we just went to this one square downtown after dinner where we handed out coffee and bread to anyone we saw on the street who looked hungry. We set up a “fueling station” at this gazebo in the center of this square downtown where we take our goods out to the people. Most everyone had a pretty positive experience, whether it was praying for one of the homeless people or just listening to their stories. Thank God it had stopped raining, too, because it had been pouring all day. Based on our last experience, I had pretty high hopes for this evening, but I went home extremely discouraged.
First and foremost, there was an undeniable presence of the Enemy. It was eerie. Every sight and sound seemed harsher. From the moment we got there, I was feeling very uncomfortable. It was an odd feeling, because I am no stranger to feeding the homeless at night. I wasn’t concerned about my safety, but I felt like we were unwelcome. I felt like we were being watched. It was so, so strange. I had to keep stepping in and out of the activity to collect myself, because the feeling was so strong.
We split up into groups and went off to feed the homeless. Lennart, Jakota (from Montana) and I found a trio sitting on a bench holding cardboard, two men and a woman. I was the only one who spoke any Spanish, so we were hoping for the best. The three of them were obviously very drunk, but they greeted us nonetheless. The older man immediately blurted out “Ustedes son angeles del cielo!” (you guys are angels from heaven!) and they gratefully accepted the bread and coffee. The woman, called Ivania, spoke some English and thanked us in a way my Danish and American friends could understand. She told us that the older man was a painter, and used to teach art at Universidad Fidelitas, the college next to the base. The younger man, who stood there glaring at us and mumbling obscenities in Spanish, was apparently an actor. They were alcoholics, she informed us.
I began talking with the older man, whose name I never discovered, while Lennart and Jakota talked and prayed with Ivania. The younger man, for whatever reason, started crying and rested in Ivania’s arms while my friends prayed for her. My conversation with this man was quite bizarre. First, he told me was a fallen angel running away from Satan. I told him that we were here to serve God. When I asked his name, he told me he didn’t have one, but then later he told me his name was Edgar Allan Poe, and then Ernest Hemingway. He was surprised I knew who those people were, so he kept telling me that I was intelligent. Out of nowhere he started singing me some jazz song, and then asked me if I liked Michael Jackson. He reminded me that he was an alcoholic, and he didn’t know why he drank so much. He kept asking me who God was, too. “Quien es Dios?”
The younger man, I noticed, kept looking at me while I was talking to Edgar Allen Poe. He would come up to us like he wanted to fight one of us, but he would just stare at me and then walk away and come back a little later. He would go up to Lennart and Jakota and throw himself onto them, collapsing into a desperate embrace, before coming back to glare at me. Edgar and Ivania kept telling me to quit whatever he was doing. “Dejalo! Dejalo!” they kept commanding, quite passively and unconcerned. I went to the gazebo to get some more bread and coffee for our drunken trio. Ivania and Edgar accepted gratefully, but the younger man just grimaced at the drink and snapped at me in Spanish that he wasn’t interested.
I tried to start a conversation with him, while Lennart and Jakota continued talking with Ivania. I asked him his name and he told me it was Mauricio. When I told him it was nice to meet him, he responded by asking “Me quieres que mate?” I simply looked at him, taken aback. He just asked if I wanted him to kill me. He looked me in the face with the darkest, most hateful eyes I have ever seen. It was paralyzing. All I could think of to do was shake my head and tell him no. His eyes softened for a moment, and then he fell into me and hugged me very tightly. He buried his face in my neck, let out a sigh and then stumbled backwards. He asked me if Lennart and Jakota were my brothers. I told Mauricio that they were my brothers in Christ and that we were missionaries. All of the sudden, he stood up straight and began glaring at me again. I told him we were here to help, and asked if I could pray for him. “Nunca!” he said through gritted teeth, “Dios ha matado a mucho gente!” Never! God has killed too many people. He backed away, but continued to stare me down.
Ivania told us that Mauricio was depressed. His brothers were dead and his mother hated him. She didn’t explain this in depth, but that was her rationale for Mauricio’s behavior. He was mumbling something in Spanish and began hugging us all again, very aggressively. I couldn’t understand what he was saying, so I called one of our Costa Rican staff workers, Rosella, over to translate for us. She listened to him for a minute and I saw a look of concern fall over her face. Turning to me, she said very calmly, but firmly. “We should go. Get the other two. Just walk away.” I asked her what he was saying and she said not to worry about it; it was just better that we go. So we did. He did not follow us. “Just pray for him.” Rosella said, gently leading us away.
We thought that there might have been some demonic activity going on. The Enemy no doubt had a stronghold in that square that night, with all the drugs and alcohol and hunger and thirst, so it wouldn’t be unreasonable to believe that someone could fall prey to spiritual attack. We were safe. Policemen were patrolling the square, and were aware of what we were doing. They were looking out for us if anything happened. The bipolar behavior of Mauricio was just so striking. One second, he’d be completely passive, to the point of tears, and the next he’d be hostile and profane...whenever we would mention God. It just seemed so unnatural. What bummed me out about this experience was that I completely forgot about God throughout all of it. Everything we talked about this week was out the window. I came face to face with poverty, with addiction, with rage and despair... and I never prayed once. I had nothing positive to say to the people we were serving. I was intimidated. I was afraid.
And to think, I’m on the winning side. I have the living God dwelling in my heart. I have the light of the world shinning against the darkness in my life. I couldn’t believe how blinded I was by the dark. Lennart, on other hand, was bold. He didn’t understand what Mauricio was saying, so he wasn’t fazed by him. He kept on pressing in to our new friends, trying to understand them and trying to be a light in this dark and stormy night. Lennart was actually very encouraged by the experience, he told me later. He really enjoyed being with the homeless and loving on them.
I was hoping to spend the weekend resting, since the last weekend we were backpacking, but I was sad to find out that I had weekend work duties. Everyone, both staff and student, has to work one weekend during of our time here. We just have to prepare breakfast and dinner, and clean the common areas. It’s not horrible, but it just takes up a lot of time and it can be hard if you’re not familiar with those areas of service. I’ve never prepared food for lots of people. What made it really difficult was that I was given very little instruction for the tasks at hand. But then for simple tasks, that require no explanation, there was a very specific way of doing it that was commanded by my supervisor. At the time, it was very frustrating, but in hindsight I think it was a pretty comical experience. I really bonded with my Australian friend Scott during this time. We're still laughing about it.
During one of my breaks, I went downtown to buy sheets. It was quite the adventure. I didn’t know how to say sheets in Spanish, so it took me jumping around to about ten different shops to finally figure out where I could purchase some. I got some for $6. Score.
-Self-discipline as I work on getting up on time and committing to my quiet time with Jesus in the morning.
-Confidence in the Lord. Pray that I would receive revelation and understanding of who God is, and what He is like.
-Spiritual protection. Pray that I would know that the victory of Jesus is mine, and that no weapon formed against me shall prosper.
-Pray that God would reveal His mysteries to me, and that He would walk with me every day. I’m ready for some adventures with Jesus.
-Financial providence, as always.
Love you all. Send me an email, I'd love to hear from my brothers and sisters back home!