This is a guest post from our friend and co-worker Tim Strange. It’s his account of our real-life adventure with a missions team from California. Missionaries can’t prepare for every natural disaster, but with a lot of prayer and help from others we were able to get our whole team out of the jungle without any loss of life. BTW, Tim is getting married in a few days, so maybe his wild bachelor missionary days are behind him… probably not.
“When you pass through the deep waters, I will be with you. When you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned. The flames will not set you ablaze.” Isaiah 43:2
The past weekend was an incredible adventure in ministry. I accompanied Josh Amiot, a team from Rocklin California and some language school students to Namaldi an indigenous reserve in the Limón Province. They say that getting there is half the battle, only this time I think they were wrong…
As we turned off the highway to the reserve it started to sprinkle and no one gave it a second thought. After entering the reserve we made our way down to the Chirripó River and drove along side it for a couple of kilometers toward the church. We crossed 4 small rivers along the way all flowing into the Chirripó. After leaving the river road we drove up the hill to the church and the rain started to fall harder.
Since it was raining we could not paint the roof of the church as planned and decided we would paint the inside. We “ran” back out to the main highway to buy some paint. As we entered the first hardware store, I thought it was funny the store had a 3 foot wall around it and a ramp that went up over the wall. Daniel, our Costa Rican pastor friend, said it was to keep the flood waters out. I soon found out how bad the waters would rise.
After returning to the church we noticed the river was rising but not by much. We had a great church service that night and all hunkered down for the night in hammocks, in the church, in a cabin and in our cars. Heavy rain fell all night. Around five in the morning I decided to drive down to the first river crossing and see if it was passable. Where yesterday it had been 8 to 10 inches of water flowing was now about 2 feet. I waded down the road to where the river’s edge had been and it was knee high, too deep for our cars to cross.
After some discussion and searching we found another road and river crossing that we could make it out on. We told the team we would be walking to the river and then crossing by foot, and then the cars would shuttle them to the bus. By the time we got back to the crossing the river had risen considerably. We started crossing by having the guys form human chain and passing all the teams backpacks and hammocks across, and then had the girls go across with the help of the guys. The whole time the river was growing as more water rushed down the mountain. After getting most of the team to the other side, Daniel decided to drive his car and trailer over to the other side. As the Forerunner and trailer entered the water it bounced on the rocks and water was pushing it down stream. With not a moment to spare it made it to the other side.
We still had 6 or 8 people who needed to cross the river and for some unknown reason some of the guys had started back towards us from the other side of the river. As they crossed it looked like they were loosing their footing and were going to be washed down stream. A Cabécar Indian named Alexis, who seemed to be able to walk on water, helped us rescue them and get a rope a cross and tied from my car to the trailer. The rest of the team crossed the river holding the rope and getting pummeled by the current. Josh and our language school students started to cross, but the current became too great and they had to turn back. After returning to our side of the river and the team on the other side, it was decided that Josh would try and make it back a cross and Daniel, Jon, Pierce, Meghan and myself would stay and try and get the cars out on Sunday.
We were happy they got out but had no idea the ordeal they would go through to get back to San Jose. We returned to the church and the shelter of the cabin. We only had snack foods and some cornflakes to eat and enough clean drinking water to last a day or two. We set an 18-inch stockpot out to collect rainwater. It filled to its capacity in less than two hours. It seemed like the rain never stopped. At times falling so hard you could not yell loud enough to be heard. Looking over the valley, the river had risen so much that the sandbars and the river bend had disappeared. All that was left was the tree tops.
Cell phone service was spotty. Signals faded in and out one could only hope the call would go through. I was able to call April Amiot and let her know the team got out and call and few others and send an email asking for prayer. IPhones are great on the mission field! Daniel was able to call his Dad, and found out he was on his way from Guanacaste to help us. We then learned that his mom was stuck not far from us, as the Forerunner could not make it out.
Late afternoon the rain let up for an hour or so and we set out to explore. The road we came in on was completely washed away by the rain and the swollen river. We tried to drive back to where the team had crossed and as we drove we could see the small rivers had combined and flooded the valley as we continued a tree had fallen and was blocking the road. Continuing on foot just after the tree the river had washed out at least a hundred foot swath of where the road had been and where the team crossed earlier. There was one other road we could try so as we turned around and proceeded up to the top of the hill and came upon a rockslide blocking our only hope besides walking out.
It was a long night and in the morning using my iPhone we found out that both roads going to San Jose were closed due to high water and most of the team had made it back to San Jose. Josh and 7 others had to spend the night at a restaurant in Siquirres. We were out of food and water was getting low. We decided to try and hike out and find Daniel’s mom. Where she was at there was food and shelter. As we packed our belongings and secured our cars. Our indian guide, Alexis told us he would help us cross the river and get to the road. We started out about seven in the morning and walked down to the river. We were not sure if we should go upstream or down closer to the mouth of the river to cross. As we looked across the valley we could see the road about 10 feet higher than the river. The water had washed the road and all the drainage pipe down stream.
Looking over the valley you could see rock and sand bars between the river currents. Alexis lead us through the currents dodging trees as they rushed down river and shifting rocks as we went. Fighting the currents took all our strength as the water pushed against us forcing us down river; it was by the grace of God we made it at each crossing. At each rock outcropping we found different wildlife waiting on us, from poison dart frogs to bullet ants. We made it about half way upstream when Alexis spotted a fellow Cabécar Indian who motioned we should come back down stream and cross where he was. So we turned around and headed back across the same rocks and currents we had just crossed over. You could hear rocks tumbling in the river as they were carried down stream, they sounded like gunshots as they smashed into one another.
After what seem liked an impossible journey we found ourselves within 60 feet of the rivers mouth. Water was carrying trees and other debris passed us as it rushed down the valley in the Chirripó. Several Cabécar Indians had crossed where Alexis told us to cross. The pastor and his two sons had joined us and were trying to cross to go to the nearest store to buy food. It was 4 kilometers away. Alexis crossed over to a rock outcropping that had several trees piled on it. He made it look effortless. Daniel started to cross but I told him I was not comfortable crossing here so close to the rivers mouth and rocks tumbling in the river, one miss step and one could be swept into the river and carried down stream and never seen again. The water seemed to go down a little and I decided to try and cross to the logjam. I was half way there and the water rose and began pushing me down to the rivers mouth. Alexis grabbed hold of me and pulled me to the rocks. I was now separated from the group.
After seeing the trouble I had in crossing to the log-jam the others decided to try and cross upstream where it had been a little calmer yesterday. Alexis pleaded with them to return and cross where I was but they proceeded upstream. We watched them until they were out of sight. Not long after they were gone several large trees washed down river one catching on the rocks I was sitting on. I began to pray for my friends who were upstream that God would protect them, I prayed for josh and the team that they would make it out. I prayed that God would guide me through currents and to a path to safety.
Alexis was worried because there was no safe place to cross upstream, as if where we had crossed had been safe! We walked on the logjam to the rivers edge and set out walking on the rivers edge. The currents pushed us as we tried to cross from one rock outcropping to another. At times we wadded through 3 feet deep rushing river. It was amazing seeing the destructive force of the river. Trees littered the rivers edge, some wider than cars. After following the river for a couple hundred yards we found an access to higher ground. As we climbed out of river the road was right in front of us.
Alexis began to ask every Indian he saw if they saw the others from my group. After a lengthy conversation we found out they were with another group of Indians trying to cross upstream. Alexis told me there was no path to safety where the group was and they had to come down to where we were. I waited as he climbed back into the river and watched him fight to go upstream to the others. About a half hour later I saw Alexis coming back with the others belongings and the group behind him. After climbing the muddy bank and we were all happy to see each other. We had made it to the other side! Almost 3 hours to cross but we had made it and we were safe.
Looking down the road we spotted two men in red shirts coming towards us. Daniel shouted, “It’s my Dad!” Pastor Eric and Alvaro, a member of the church, had found us. They brought us clean drinking water and food. After some more celebrating our reunion we began to walk out to where the car was located. After a couple kilometer walk we spotted the car, it was on the otherside of a bridge that had been washed out.
After driving towards the highway we found the trailer and sitting by another river crossing with a steep hill on the other side. After wrestling with the trailer and slip sliding up the hill we were on our way home. As we drove out of the reserve you could see how far the floodwaters had pushed inland. All the way to the highway and beyond water had pushed it way passed everything in its path. We had to detour through the town of B-line and the damage was worse. Water had been as high as 6 feet. Dogs were on the roofs of houses. It was sobering driving through there knowing most did not have the resources to replace what they had lost.
We proceeded on the highway to San Jose and there were pieces of banana trees over the road. I asked Alvaro where we where heading and he told me Guapiles to join Josh and the rest of the team. It was great to be reunited with Josh and the 7 team members. After a shower and a bowl of hot soup it was time to head home to San Jose. We crammed 18 of us into three cars and headed off. We knew we were overcrowded so 4 of us road the bus back from Guapiles. It was nice slow ride back to San Jose, I could finally relax and give thanks to our Lord for safely guiding us home.
Some one asked if I would go back to Namaldi considering the danger of flooding. Absolutely I would go back. Some one there still needs to hear the gospel. I’d just check the weather report next time!