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October 02, 2009

Home Again

I hope you all have had a very productive and enjoyable summer so far. I just returned from a two month stay in Costa Rica, which, in case you don’t know, is about 10 degrees cooler than where I live in Mississippi! In fact, in the middle of the night, with no air-conditioning, I needed covers on the bed because it would get quite chilly.

Michal and I had a very interesting time during the month of June. We went to Forester Instituto Internacional in Costa Rica to study Spanish. Michal had never taken any Spanish at all, so she started in the beginners’ class. Unfortunately, everyone in the beginners’ class had taken at least two years of formal high school or college Spanish. Undaunted, she hung in there with the big dogs and came out speaking Spanish as well as any of them! Because I had been studying on my own and knew some vocabulary, they put me in the intermediate class. It was tough, but I too came out speaking Spanish. We are by no means experts. Rank amateurs would be a better description. But it is a base to build on, which we both needed.

During the beginning of the third week of classes, I developed some sort of stomach ailment that made everything difficult for me. I would go to class during the morning hours, but instead of using my afternoon and evening studying, I mostly slept. We kept talking about taking me to a doctor, but no definite plans were made, and I continued every day to think that maybe this was the day I would feel better. So although I did go to the lab to make sure I didn’t have a parasite, I never did go to the doctor. I continued to be sick the whole month of July and did not get better until I had been back in the states for about a week. A great side benefit, though, was that I lost some weight!

On July 2, late in the evening, the Mars Hill group, along with Robert and Jamie, arrived in Costa Rica. They got up early Friday morning and traveled to Sarapiquí to a fairly remote area to visit with relatives of one of the families of the Sabanilla congregation. They are Christians, but their area is so remote and difficult to get to that there is no formal congregation. The Gospel Opportunities team will be researching this area to see what can be done in the future to help the church grow. Everyone had a great time, crossing the river in a wire basket, swimming and meeting a wonderful Christian family. But, of course, they all came home totally exhausted! I stayed in Sabanilla, since I was too unsteady healthwise to face the difficult journey.

On Monday, July 6, we started our VBS and English classes. The VBS was held where the church meets. Jamie stayed at the VBS and helped Chris Rich with play-time activities. Robert, Michal and I were teaching English classes at a school located about 1/2 a mile away. Michal and I taught beginners, which means we needed to speak a lot of Spanish! Robert helped Virginia Searcy, from the Mars Hill group, with the intermediate students.

I have to admit that I have never actually taught much. But I can say with all honesty that I loved teaching English using the Bible to grown-ups. Michal and I shared classes; I taught the morning class while she assisted me, she taught the afternoon class while I assisted her, and we traded off who was to teach and who was to assist during the evening class.

We left for the school every morning at 7:15 am and didn’t returned until 9:00 pm every evening. We walked to the church building twice a day, for lunch and dinner, and the rest of the day we were in class, until 8:30 pm. It was really rewarding, but three classes a day was very exhausting for everyone.

Every day except Saturday we had a baptism, either from the VBS or from someone taking the English classes. On Sunday morning, we had a graduation for all of our English students. There were two baptisms after the morning worship. It was so exciting to have one of our students respond to the invitation and become a Christian. That made Michal and I very happy! Her daughter’s boyfriend, who was also in our class, had come to us after one of the class breaks that week and asked a question about the story of the sheep and the goats, with tears in his eyes, because he was an unfaithful Christian. We talked for awhile, and we introduced him to some of the people in the Sabanilla congregation. He witnessed his girlfriend’s mother being baptized that Sunday, and it was a good time to talk to him about his life and introduce him to more members of the church. We have heard from Steven that he and his girlfriend asked for help so that they can get their relationship right with God.

After a truly hectic week of VBS and English classes, we took Monday off, souvenir shopping, playing soccer with some of the members at Sabanilla, doing laundry, etc. Tuesday was camp day. We got all our stuff packed and met the bus at 1:00 pm for the four hour drive to Sarchi, in the mountains. The camp was situated on an old coffee plantation and is owned by a congregation in Paragould, AR. We had 18 North Americans, about 30 Costa Rican Christians, and about 20 campers, 16 of whom were non-Christians.

Since the main emphasis of the camp was to evangelize, there were lots of studies and classes. We were all proud of Jamie who gave a devotional before the whole camp. Robert gave the final lesson on Sunday morning to wrap up the weeks’ theme, and did his usual fine job!

What a great week! We had 10 baptisms! And with each baptism, the speakers reminded the church family of their responsibility for loving and caring for these babies in Christ. It was so uplifting to see the encouragement that these new Christians were already getting. We hope that they will continue to care for these young people, so as not to lose any of them. Steven says that so far they have been attending the worship in Sabanilla.

Also, one of the people who came to camp was a man who was baptized last year but who has not been faithful. Michal got a verbal agreement from one of the elders at Sabanilla to stay in contact with this man and help him in his Christian walk. We so often forget how hard it is to change your entire life. It is such a shame to let someone with the spirit of God slip back into the world because of our lack of support and care. We forget that they are just babies in the faith, and they need us to help them stay focused on the prize.

What a great summer! So many new Christians! It was especially rewarding for Gospel Opportunities, since the Christian camp was our first team effort in Costa Rica. We are looking for more opportunities to serve, not only in Latin America, but in the states as well.

Now that we are back from Costa Rica, we would really like to visit with you or your congregation and present to you in person what we have been doing. Robert is always ready to speak to the congregation, and Michal or I would love to speak to your ladies’ classes. And, of course, any of us would be eager to make a presentation to the elders. If you would like to hear about what we do, just let us know and we will be happy to arrange a time. We are really excited about our work and want to share it with you.