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The Godfathers

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If you ever get invited to a wedding in another culture, you should go.   Without hesitation- just go.  It will be so worth it!  We were honored to be invited to the church wedding of two of the young people that we have been working with the past 3 years.  (The civil ceremony which makes the wedding legal happened a few days before.)  The first thing we attempted to do was to discover the protocol for gift giving.  What kind of gift is appropriate to give?  How much money are guests expected to spend?  Are gifts brought to the ceremony or sent to the house ahead of time?  Is there any such thing as a gift registry?  Those are the questions we asked.

The answers were not so easy to come by.  After asking many people, both gringos and Ticos we learned that there were some upscale stores that do a gift registry.  Our couple had listed a store on their invitations… though often times there is no formal paper invitation to be had since there is no mail service delivered directly to the houses here… because there are no addresses, obviously.  Duh.  However, we were given a hand delivered invitation with the name of a store on it.  My husband proceeded to ask around for the location of the store.  He eventually found a website with no wedding registry information on it, but he did find the phone number.  After many calls to the store which was in a different city, my husband placed an order for a gift and asked for it to be delivered to the couple… after we got directions to the house where they were going to live.

So we thought that we all set.  We were familiar with the city where the wedding would be held and Josh had actually been to the church before, so we were good.  The last time we tried to go to a wedding in another town we spent 6 hours wandering lost in the mountains before we decided that we probably missed the wedding and we should just head home.  Turns out weddings don’t start on time either.  We probably could have made it still.

On our way to the wedding, the store called and asked when Josh wanted to come pick up the gift.  He was shocked!  He told them, “You were supposed to deliver the gift yesterday!  If you deliver it today, no one will be at the house.  They are all at the church!”  So after some bickering back and forth, they agreed to have someone deliver the gift the following day.  Strike one for the wedding guests.

Photo credit: Thomas Hawk / Foter.com / CC BY-NC

Photo credit: Thomas Hawk / Foter.com / CC BY-NC

When we arrived at the church, we were sure the ceremony would not be starting on time.  The groom was standing out front waiting for us.  Josh whispered to me, “Oh I hope they don’t ask me to say anything spur of the moment!”  Well he lucked out, all the groom wanted to know was if we would be the “Padrinos” or Godparents of the newly weds.  My husband said we would be honored, but what do the Padrinos do?  The groom laughed like we were making a joke and said, “Oh, you just pay for the wedding.”  (Costa Ricans love teasing and sarcasm.)  And we all laughed… nervously.  We still had no clue what was expected of us.

As we walked into the sanctuary, I grabbed the sister of the groom and whispered, “Where do we sit and what do the Godparents do?”

She shrugged and pointed to the back of the center aisle.  “Just wait here for instructions.”  She said it didn’t matter which side we sat on.  We chose seats in the middle of one of the sections since we didn’t want to presume that the Padrinos would walk down the aisle or be seated at the front.  We were wrong in our humble assumptions.  Strike two for the gringos.

I was actually surprised that we started within an hour of when the invitation said the wedding would start.  I had heard that often times the time on the invitation is when the wedding preparations start for the bride.  So if the wedding starts at 10:00 am, that means the bride will be getting in the shower at 10:00.  The family might sit down to lunch while she gets ready and by 3:00 pm, everyone will be making their way to the church.  No one really knows when the service will actually start.  And no one is bothered by this except the Americans.

In Costa Rica, there is an M.C. that directs the ceremony calling each person down in their proper order like fashion models walking down the cat walk.  “And now we have the grandmother of the bride being escorted by her grand-nephew.  And now we have the Padrinos, please walk to the front Josh and April.”  We hastily jumped up from our seats, ran up the side aisle and walked back down the center aisle together.  At the head of the aisle I looked to the announcer for directions about which side to sit on or if we were supposed to come up on the stage or stay standing along the front like groomsmen.  He was already on to the next fashion models and we were left awkwardly standing at the front.  We slid discretely down into the front pew.  Strike three for the totally lost Padrinos.

Both sets of parents sat across the aisle from us in the front pew and the sister of the groom sat next to me.  It was all totally disorganized and no one seemed to care.  When we realized that we were the only ones who were bothered by this, we let the blush cool on our cheeks and relaxed our tense shoulders.  “Pura Vida” we whispered to each other.  That is the Costa Rican motto which really means “No worries mon!”  Just go with the flow.

After the ceremony we were uncertain what would happen next.  The announcer did something totally surprising.  He said, “If anyone wants their picture with the bride and groom, just come up on the stage.”  So for an hour the guests pushed and cajoled for a spot in line to have their picture taken with the new couple.  It was like a mad receiving line with iPhone cameras flashing everywhere.  Totally disorganized, and again, no one cared.

We didn’t know if there was a reception somewhere.  We didn’t see any gifts on a table anywhere.  (For the record, I did see some relatives whisk some packages into a car earlier on.)  We loitered around the back of the sanctuary talking with guests and family, waiting for some kind of sign.  When the groom finally said he had to get going, we figured that was the end of it.  We headed home to San Jose… hungry.

I had heard of weddings where there was indeed a beautiful cake on a table, but it turned out that the cake was cardboard and only one little disk at the top was real for cutting for the photo.  It seems that Hollywood has influenced Costa Rican culture in a way where young couples thought they wanted a cake since that’s what they do in the movies, but no one knew what to do with it.  And since cakes can be insanely expensive here (Most people don’t bake or even know how to use their ovens.  They store their Tupperware in their ovens.) they opt for a fake cake that looks good in the pictures.  So I was bracing for no cake.  I was quite shocked at no reception at all.  Strike four for the hungry Godparents.

The lessons we learned at the wedding made us feel honored that our friends had opened this cultural portal for us.  We left feeling proud to have navigated another pot-hole filled mile of culture and for having not embarrassed ourselves too badly by not knowing what was going on.  We were able to “roll with the punches” and we survived.  Plus we learned that not much flusters a Costa Rican, so we should just relax and enjoy the Pura Vida too.

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Boundaries

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I’ve spent this last week thinking a lot about the need for healthy boundaries in life.  Normally I understand my own boundaries and limitations without giving it much thought, but when a major life-change comes along, sometimes the boundaries need to be shifted to accommodate that change.

For me, some of the hardest boundaries to draw are between people.  I have no problem enforcing boundaries over non-human elements.  I try not to bring work home with me.  I am retraining myself not to answer work emails on the weekends.  I am starting to shut my office door when I need to focus on some task without being interrupted.  Those boundaries are easy for me.  The more difficult boundaries are between myself and other people.

[Now, please, please, please don’t think that I’m trying to send anyone a not-so-subtle message with this blog.  If you come to me tomorrow and say, “did you write that blog about me?!”  I’m going to smack you and tell you to quit being so self absorbed.  This is NOT about one person, but it is about people in general.]

Photo credit: joiseyshowaa / Foter / CC BY-SA

Photo credit: joiseyshowaa / Foter / CC BY-SA

Here’s what I’ve noticed about boundaries between people.  When you are in a people-focused occupation… like ministry… your automatic response is to want to help people and to fix their problems.  Here’s where I get into trouble and over extend myself.  There are people in our lives who truly need and deserve our time and attention, and then there are people who are just a drain on me emotionally.  And sometimes it’s hard to know the difference.  Sometimes boundaries must be readjusted when I realize that a person is moving from one category to the other.

When a person only wants to talk about their problems, and never reciprocates concern for my wellbeing- it’s time to redraw the boundaries.  When a person’s problems never seem to get any better no matter how many suggestions I give, that’s an indication that I have them in the wrong category, and I need to make some adjustments.  I can spin my wheels in mud forever with them and nothing will be resolved, so now I need to limit the amount of time I give them.

It’s not only for MY sake, but sometimes it’s an indication that I’M not the one who can help them.  That’s not to say that NO ONE can help them.  But if they keep coming to me, they will never seek another avenue.  Plus, it’s like I’m denying that Jesus is really, ultimately the one that they need- not me.  I don’t want to create a dependency issue, so I use boundaries.

Photo credit: Sean MacEntee / Foter / CC BY

Photo credit: Sean MacEntee / Foter / CC BY

Another red flag that indicates that the boundaries are not in the right place is when a person just flat-out exhausts me.  When I start dreading seeing their name pop up in an email or I start navigating crowds to avoid someone, then it’s time to put some space between myself and the person who drains me.  I know that sounds heartless for a missionary to say.   But I need those boundaries for my own health and well being too.  How can I help others if one or two people are draining my limited energies.  For me, my feelings are the fuel indicator lights of my life.  When the big red E is blinking, we have a problem.

The last thing that I want to say about boundaries is that they can be in different places for different people.  For me, I have friends that I never get tired of being around, and others who require me to pull myself inwards and withdraw into myself more.  It depends on the person and how  they either energize me or drain me.

For other friends of mine, the time of day is the thing they need to pay attention to- that’s where their fuel light is located.  I have a friend and fellow missionary who goes to bed early.  We all know that’s her boundary.  We don’t get offended when she leaves a party early or backs out of a dinner engagement because she’s tired.  That’s just her limit.  When she’s on E she needs to go to bed.

[This same friend gave me a handy little phrase that I now use to help me say “no” without offending.  I now say, “That’s not going to work for me.”  So if you hear that from me, it means NO.]

Photo credit: kristarella / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

Photo credit: kristarella / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

For others, their limits involve their iPhone or cell.  They are tempted to answer every phone call, every text, every instant message they receive in the very moment that their phone dings.  (They are like Pavlov’s dogs who were trained to drool at the sound of a bell.)  That little ding becomes a demanding little dictator separating them from friends, family, and events happening right at this moment.   These friends need to learn to turn their phones off and give their attention to the present.

So you see, we all have boundary lines that need to be drawn, guarded, and reassessed frequently just to keep us emotionally fueled up and running smoothly.  That’s where I am with this new school year and new job.  I’m readjusting boundaries and reading the fuel light frequently.  I’m having to say No to people and things, not because I’m mean and hateful, just because I’m human.  Boundaries are necessary.

Adventures in Missions!! On the wrong side of the raging river.

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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 California Team… clean, dry and totally unaware of what awaited them.

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!