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Today I Went to Costa Rica

Be prepared, this is a longer post than normal!

If you don’t have time to read it all, here’s the quick version: I went to Costa Rica for a week supporting the education, ministry, social work, and programs of Faithful Servant Missions.

For readers looking for a more detailed recounting, keep on scrolling!

The Schedule

The main question asked when someone embarks on a mission trip is “What did you do?” But on a more discipleship/empowerment trip, that can be a hard question to answer succinctly! The most basic answer is that we were supporters. We were cheerleaders for the Faithful Servant Mission staff and students, encouraging and supporting the work that they are doing. We didn’t build anything. We didn’t “fix” anything. Instead, we assimilated into their regular weekly routine and supported them as they are.

On day 1 I spent the morning in a sewing class where the women were making pajamas for their own kids or to sell to others and create extra income for their families. In the afternoon I played with some of the staff’s kids and watched the teachers give Culture Day presentations to their students. The respect between all – adults and their teachers, kids and their teachers, teachers and their subjects – was clearly evident.

Day 2 included excursions – the men went to a coffee farm and then bowling with the church’s men’s group while the women went to a mineral springs with the MOPS (Mother’s of PreSchoolers) moms. I swam, hiked trails, ate delicious food, soaked up the minerals from the volcanic runoff, and watched the solar eclipse! It was an energizing and rejuvenating day of experiencing the beauty of God’s creation and making new friends.

On day 3 we went to church, worshiping in two languages. Instead of a “turn and greet each other” moment, we had a “turn and pray for each other” moment. This was a beautiful intercessory experience that I am grateful to have been part of. The afternoon was full of exploration and Costa Rican culture! We saw a cathedral, park, Christmas tree farm, went to an oxcart factory, ate empanadas at a local soda (roadside cafe), saw artwork, and learned about the eight indigenous tribes that are still living there.

The fourth day was similar to day 1, with a women’s baking class in the morning and kids classes in the afternoon. I had the privilege of leading the women in a devotional about creativity, loosely based off of my Today I Made Scones post, in both English and Spanish. My Spanish isn’t that good, but they were able to understand me! In the afternoon I helped in the English classes. We ended the evening with a Women’s Night celebrating the lessons that have been passed down from our grandmothers.

On day 5 we walked around the community FSM serves. We went to the local bakery and saw some of the homes of the women from sewing and baking classes. Then we walked up the hill (or should I say mountain) to the center of the city, seeing the school, hospital, another cathedral and park, museum, hotel, and supermarket. But the best part of the day was spending the afternoon learning how to make tortillas and empanadas, eating duck eggs, and having coffee with a local family. I continued to develop the relationships with the women and English class students I’d met in the previous days; this is what a discipleship trip is all about. This evening’s activity was a Men’s Night where testimonies of a 20-something, 30-something, and 60-something were shared.

Our final day was spent taking the preschoolers to a petting zoo farm where they rode horses and paddle boats, and climbed on the playground for hours! Pizza for lunch and a bus full of napping kids and adults on the way home sealed the experience. I was given the opportunity to preach at the Youth Group that evening about following the path of Jesus. We ended the night having communion as a team. This day was quite difficult for me – I was feeling tired and worn out from the week’s activities. But preaching and communion are two very life-giving things that made me feel better and more like myself. It was a great way to end the week!

The Culture

Two words I would use to describe the part of Costa Rican culture I saw are artsy and passionate. San Ramón is known for producing poets and presidents for the country, and everywhere we looked there were beautiful murals, statues, and attention to detail and pride exuding from the city! We got to visit an oxcart factory, learning more about one of the country’s national symbols. I also heard about one of the indigenous tribe’s yearly festival celebrations with wooden masks and fermented corn drink.

The cities we visited were centered around two landmarks: a massive cathedral and a park. The life and hub of these cities were these worshipful, community-focused landmarks. Since walking is one of the primary modes of getting around, it was neat to see how the cities were built into the sides of the mountains and how the architecture reflected the simplicity of a country whose main focal point was its nature.

And the food – me gusta! Fresh papaya, handmade tortillas, empanadas con queso and frijoles, homemade pico de gallo and guacamole at every meal! Beef stew, burritos, spaghetti, pancakes and bacon, omelettes, and rice and beans: all homemade, all delicious! The FSM team made sure we never went hungry!

The Nature

Speaking of nature, every part of Costa Rica I saw, from the airport to the mission and back again, was breathtakingly beautiful! Vibrant flowers, fruit trees, colorful birds and butterflies, fresh flowing rivers, and cascading waterfalls lined the mountainside. With hydrangeas plentiful and terraces full of coffee beans and decorative plants, everywhere I turned was a brilliant sight. We even stopped on the side of a road at a Christmas tree farm – when the bus doors opened it smelled like balsam and pine! A multi-sensory creation experience.

Even the clouds coming down, weaving their ways in and around the mountain peaks, meant that every time I looked around the view was varied.

If you’ve followed me for awhile, you’ll know how much I love trees. Nature is one of the best ways I connect with God (read Gary Thomas’ Sacred Pathways for more info). So aside from just the regular beauty that exists there, when we came upon a massive 500 year old Ceiba tree with a trunk that is literally wider than my home… I’m still speechless!

The Overall Experience

I could try to share more about the people and the mission, but these are two pieces of my trip that can’t be fully understood without experiencing it. I encourage you to consider a trip that is more focused on relationships, empowerment, culture, and discipleship. I’ve been on two trips like this now, to Costa Rica with FSM and to Kenya with Zoe Empowers. I’d love to share more about either of these trips with you in person, including what short-term missions can look like without doing any harm to the local community there. It can be a sensitive subject, but I think it’s important to share that not every mission trip is created equal. More often than not, project-based trips can create dependence rather than empowerment. This is a complex conversation to have and my writing certainly won’t capture these complexities in one blog post! For more information, check out Toxic Charity or When Helping Hurts.

If you’d like to support Faithful Servant Missions, consider going on a trip or donating to support the cause. They also have fundraising events in the US, including a 5K each February in Florida. Check out https://www.faithfulservantmissions.org/ for all the information and to get connected.

Thanks for making this a part of your day!
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