Monday, July 27, 2009

No Such Thing as a Free Lunch?

Disclaimer: I want to let everyone know up front that this is not a post from Crystal so if you are looking for "beautiful words" and "I feel like I was there", no need to read further. I do edit Crystal's post though so I feel I can take some grammatical credit for her posts (I found dog spelled bog in the last post). I felt compelled to write my first blog entry because of an experience I had tonight; here goes nothing...

We've been in Costa Rica for only four days and have already been asked for money twice. Each time a middle-aged man has stopped by our gate and told a sad story of a mother or wife in the hospital that has cancer or a heart problem. They seem very sincere and just don't have enough money to pay medical bills or get a taxi to go to the hospital.

The problem is, I am generally a skeptical person. I hear a voice in my head that says "they're lying and just want to bum money off a seemingly rich gringo" or "this story sounds similar to the last one, did they collaborate?". The first guy even had his story printed out on little sheets of paper so he could let me read it (good practice for reading in Spanish). Maybe both of them really needed financial help and would use the money for medical purposes, but we have decided to offer food to people who come asking for assistance.

Even handing out food is a big step for me because I have the nagging feeling I am being lied to, but that isn't my responsibility to find out, so each time I've gone back in the house and Crystal and I have prepared a small bag of food with some apples, oranges, bread, etc. I must admit that while filling the bag earlier today I thought "I need to lock myself in the house so I stop getting asked every other day!". I also wondered if we were going to get to eat any of the oranges that Crystal bought. Not the best attitude...I know.

Another one of my vices is being frugal; my siblings would say I'm cheap. This just compounds the problem of giving freely to those in need, but also has led to extra trips to the grocery store as I have been trying to keep our grocery bill low but inevitably we need/want more stuff. One of those extra trips occurred tonight and I had to make the 10 minute walk to "Jumbo" (pronounced something like "hum-bow") as it was getting dark outside. This was my first venture out of the house at dusk and Crystal was just praying I didn't get mugged.

Don't worry, I wasn't mugged although it would make for a great blog entry too! I got to the store and did my good ole frugal shopping for the things on Crystal's list then uncharacteristically splurged on a few extras (lunch meat, juice packets, even gum!). After a long battle of figuring out the best prices, I made my way to the checkout counter and the line straight in front had someone almost finished so I started to go there, but I noticed one lane with no one in it; my lucky day! I unload my stuff and after she finishes ringing up the goods some sign on her screen lights up and she starts saying something to me with a big smile. I'm not sure what is going on at this point, but the checker in the next stand comes over and pats me on the back and comes to watch as a bell goes off and they tell me I am the winner and all my groceries were free! I did my best to communicate what I could in Spanish and managed to blurt out "debo comprar mas" (I should buy more) and "gane" (I won!) along with a few other things about not being able to speak much Spanish and I am new here in Costa Rica.

I kept thinking this must be one of those episodes of Candid Camera where someone is going to say they were supposed to win and yell at me, but it was real...I really won! As I walked home, the generosity of God overwhelmed me as I realized that I had given up so little in handing out a couple bags of food and had been so richly blessed with four wonderful kids and a beautiful wife who is becoming famous in the blogosphere. God can even give me free groceries as He desires! I shouldn't sweat the little bags of food; just make sure I have a smile on my face and a cheerful heart as I share the love of Jesus.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Costa Rican Cookies

Morning: I wake up to the screeching of a monkey I assume;
(Uncle B assures us it's a gecko, not a monkey, and that geckos sing like birds). The sun is bright and glaring from water on the tin roof across the street. I tip toe down stairs while the house is quiet, for it is 5 am, and I want to be part of this hushed morning stillness. I open the curtains, warm sun on my face(already!), sitting in the provided couch from which Chloe pulled someone's bungee cord, toy screwdriver and yarn yesterday. My mind begins to suppose that I could cover this couch... wait, I am not organizing or scheming or upholstering right now. I open my Bible to Proverbs because Miguel has been in Proverbs much lately. I'm looking for a new passage to memorize while we transition into a diffferent life.

6:15am: Time to start the morning routine. Miguel's making his famous peanut butter, banana oatmeal. His troops are readying for morning worship over breakfast. Abigail and Nathanael are on a team-- UCLA Yellow Canaries; Julia and Chloe are on a team-- God's Beautiful Feet . The reader on each team is now going through Proverbs, praying with and for each other, and preparing to lead the rest of us in an acapella sing-along. They choose one verse that leaps out at them, explaining why. Chloe is often twisting under the table, standing on someone's lap kissing their face and whispering unrelated tales of reptiles or dogs, while Julia is trying to gain composure and control for the God's Beautiful Feet team(first born deal, Miguel insists)...

9:15am: Three families are walking down the neighborhood greeting each neighorhood guard while walking the necessary 10 blocks to Primera Iglesia Bautista. Straight down the street for a few blocks. Left turn. Right turn at the narrow bridge over a muddy, littered river tangled in jungle. The path beside a busy street is wide enough for one adult and a small child. Chloe and Nathanael see chickens along the river bed. The walk is long, but there is no complaining today.

Block 10. We follow a smiling woman to the children's classes. They are all in Spanish, and our three families of children file in effortlessly. Next is our turn to file into the little class for ages 18-35, where casually visiting friends stop to greet us. They are studying Marcos 7 and I pick up bits and pieces, requiring devoted labor. Next is another service when our children join us for part of the next two-ish hours.

1:00pm: We stop in at Giovanni's pizza, elated to see printed on the door: We Speak English. We watch the masters lift and spin dough into the air, littering the white floured surface with chile dulce and a host of other fresh vegetables. Full and happy, we are now crossing the street--a valiant effort: Two families readied for Frogger, and alas-- there's a clearing! CHARGE! We are laughing, hands held tightly, hoisting our children to safety at the supermercado, where nearly everything seems to be about double what it was in the states.

3:00pm: There are just enough groceries. We manage carrying them home in cheerful, red Jumbo bags without hassle. I am anticipating kneading chocolate chip cookie dough between my fingers for a taste of home. My red bags contain everything I will need, and I'm planning my list of who they will all go to: the guard at end of the block, the man who comes digging through our trash, drinking the last bits of peach nectar from the box...

4:00pm: I am pulling the cookies out of the oven after wrapping extra dough to refrigerate. The townhouse is silent. Everyone is exhausted and piled onto the bed in Julia and Abigail's "apartment" (They are proud to man the secret bathroom under the staircase) where heavy drapes block out all traces of light. I sit at the table to enjoy the first cookie and am sorely disappointed. It tastes nothing like home. Every bit of it is dry, even powdery-- save those chocolate chips we splurged on. For now, home cannot be tasted.

6:00pm: Upon sampling my taste of home, Miguel resolves that we focus on Costa Rica's precious offerings: the sweet vegetables and fruit at the Saturday morning market.

Darkness: The children are in the gated, front courtyard creating parchment script with Skylar and Sydney (quadmates from training now studying language with us). They are rubbing notebook paper rapidly against the tile, "to give it delicate age", Skylar insists, announcing they have found scrolls from 2000BC. The sounds of the night unfold: car alarms, barking dogs, motorcycles... and the children are talking about Sunday School leisurely:
"I didn't understand a thing," confesses Abigail.
"Neither did I," Julia Noel agrees. They happily recall Oreos, the David and Goliath computer video, and games they joined by copying what their classmates did. They anticipate next week, and I am in awe.

His divine power has granted to us EVERYTHING pertaining to life...
2 Peter 1:3a

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Costa Rica

July 24

Morning: Make sure you tie your knots loosely in all trash bags-- that way when people go through your trash, they will not tear the whole thing apart, says our Big brother family, the one that placed a Costa Rican chicken pot pie in our freezer, and familiar foods in the refrigerator when we arrived in the middle of the night--the family that has carted us along beside them through marketing and banking and such things that make up life. Loose ties in trash bags.

No purses--they are too easily snatched.

Always lock all gate layers behind you as you go in and as you go out.

When turning knobs, be gentle.

Eager to fill a bucket with water for mopping, I tug on a stubborn valve only to rip the aluminum (?) pipe in two followed by furious, bursting water from the exposed line. I grab a 13 gallon trash bin, full in seconds, and watch cold water spurn the laundry courtyard, the kitchen, the bathroom...

"Miguel! Miguel, I'm having an issue..." I call.
"What kind of issue?"
"The kind you'd be interested to see."

He reaches the bottom stair, stepping into water that does not relent. He disappears, searching for the water main. No success. Next, he's fumbling with locks, trying to unlock the gates to call for help. Success. Maybe our next door neighbor, Big brother, will know where to turn the water off. Lord, we do not know what to do. Help.

Our landlord is driving down the street and sees flustered gringos, his new renters, out front. He pulls over. Within minutes, he shuts off the valve hidden underneath a plastic tube in the sidewalk, and the pipe stops rushing. He walks inside to survey the scene, which is only slightly problematic, due to tile flooring. Gingerly detailing his future return to repair the valve, He leaves moments later, our broken microwave under his arm, about as contented as one could possibly be. We are uncertain as to when he'll return, or when there will be water again.

Noon: Miguel is walking to get some fish, chicken and pork chops for a neighborly lunch with new missionary families, while I muse through bags, looking for toothpaste, which seems to have hidden itself since the Travelodge in LA. Lunch is delicious, families are adjusting and the peach nectar is a fast favorite.

Darkness: The duffle bags, rescued from the morning flood, are drying out in the laundry courtyard. The floor is dry. My eyes are bleary red. I sprawl out across our cold-sheeted bed and scratch three words into my notebook: believing, thankful dependency.

Believing, thankful dependency.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Atalaya, Smiling

I am in a Cessna grazing maybe 6,500 feet above the Amazon basin. An hour has passed. We've left Pucallpa for Atalaya. Our plane is steadily skimming over closely clumped broccoli through which muddy rivers snake. My mind sees Nate Saint's canary yellow plane and Palm beach where he landed (Through Gates of Splendor, Elisabeth Elliott). Everything beneath me feels deeply familiar: brown rivers which meet, then go their own ways separated by silky sandbars... Along the bank, civilizations come into view, and Marty is detailing places He and Michael were following on a giant wall-sized map stretched across his dining room table last night. My eyes start to burn with hot tears.

Michael sits beside our missionary pilot, dialoguing between headsets about aeronautical charts, which he previously created in his past-career. He is brimming with all the fervor one will ever see from one such as Miguel, because he is using the tools he once created from a desktop. He is exhilarated.

We are nearing the landing strip, a crude asphalt patch welcoming us. From my view, Atalaya seems to be similar to what my mind has always imagined a small island to resemble. Stepping out of the plane to my right a hilled-pasture with grazing white, bony cattle grows into a bright blue sky. There are groups of close-knit trees interspersed among grassy green patches. Nestled atop the hill, sits the mayor's house. Atalaya has around 10,000 who make her home, none of whose faces are white. Where cement streets and even curbs have not yet been laid, the ground is silty brown laden with smooth river rock. In some ways, Atalaya is even more progressive than Pucallpa.

Pucallpa's markets and port are hard-packed with a colorful mosaic of trash wrappers, smashed banana peels and bottle caps. Broken glass, rotting jungle fruit and limp green lechuga line stalls beside stately bags of dirt-crusted sweet potatoes and plump tangerines. Giant holes in both the streets and the sidewalks require vigilance. One must always be scanning where his feet will step next, while holding tightly to whatever is in his hands. My eyes continually rove across curious onlookers and eager pickpockets while dodging drops in uneven ground and poles which reach unexpectedly out of the earth in the most unsuspecting places. Pucallpa's sky is deep azure and her earth is covered in green: almond and blossoming mango trees. There is continual tension between this raw,lush beauty and chaotic, soot-covered walls which host San Juan Cerveza advertisements and spray-painted political ideals. The streets are perpetually crowded with loud, weaving moto-taxis blasting purplish clouds of motor fuel. The port boasts a consuming bonfire, the size of a small building, sitting in the river rock with elderly, shirtless men missing both teeth and shoes. They generously carry heavy loads with broad smiles. Grandmothers in multi-colored halter tops smile, their arms dripping with beaded necklaces and bracelets for sale...

Atalaya is different--smaller. There are moto-taxis, but they travel along freshly laid cement streets. The market stalls sit tidily upon curbs. I marvel at neatly stacked piles of clothing and cheerful red and white striped hammocks hanging along store fronts. The people are timid and curious. Some are shouting greetings from their brick and mortar piles, as they momentarily stop their labor to observe outsiders, for Atalaya does not regularly host visitors. Accessible only by boat or plane, she sits alone, a neat and tidy grid in Asheninka territory.

When Nicanor, a Spanish-speaking brother in Christ arrives alongside the way to lump us into his moto-taxi, we figure one of us may sit backwards and the other three will have enough space to sit comfortably, while searching the community. Where will we live after language school? What will be home base from which we will set out into the jungle to be with the Asheninka? We are looking for a home to rent; searching, searching... a dark, narrow corridor squeezed between a tall, mostly finished brick wall and hotel-like structure is available--each family member having a separate room and bathing quarters but no kitchen area, no gathering place. One could be built outside, we reason. Then there is a tall, hot warehouse with a roll down garage front: Peeling-painted, cement walls without windows--no light. Another home is resting on a shaken cement foundation; tin roof lifted above cement walls...we peek in the window to see darkness, and a hastily clad clothesline strung between the two walls. Someone is living there while the owner searches for a new resident. Their empty yogurt bottles litter the grass and dirt...

"A house must be built on a strong foundation," Dena decidedly announces.
"I'd rather start from ground zero," agrees Marty.
"You will need a peaceful haven to come to when you are weary from your work in the communities," Dena insists. She asks to see land for sale. Nicanor pulls alongside a curb and stops the moto-taxi beside a brick divide walling off mature, ripening fruit and cocoa bean trees. We walk in through the backside of the property. It is shaded and glorious under the hot sun. We stumble upon two massive graves as we wander through the thick, muddiness, glad to be wearing rubber boots. I have the notebook and pen, and Marty insists that I write "WOW!" next to the number I copy beside the lot's specifications. Both Dena and Marty start musing how our children will love the trees and the fruit and the space...but it will need some structure. We will need to build. In the jungle, this is just a matter of weeks...enough musing for now. We are all hungry. I pocket the information and we taxi to Shao-Ling: Peruvian food Chinese style. Our waitress is a young girl my Julia's age, and I am hungry to talk to her, but I cannot. My Spanish is so poor. I resolve that my time in language training will be spent prudently. During lunch, Marty, Dena and Nicanor are speaking Spanish. My mind wanders as I begin processing what I have seen and sip cold, yellow Inka Cola.

Lunch is over. Soon, We are making our way back to the airport, where an anxious, Atalayan mother, newborn held close, is waiting to board our chartered flight. She must get to the hospital in Pucallpa where her seven year old daughter is ill. The pilot assigns her and I to the back of the plane. First she boards. Then it is my turn. The pilot tightens my seat belt, and shuts the door. I look away from the woman and pray, "Show me what to do. I cannot yet speak her language. Help me." I look into my lap and my camera is there. I have been holding it this whole time. My camera! I can show her my own children! Excitedly, I push the play button, and fumble through scenery pictures scrolling back, back, back...there! "Mis ninas y nino" I smile, "Ocho, seis, cinco, y tres!" I can talk! She studies my face, then the picture. She is not impressed. I keep scrolling, nervously searching for a family picture. "Mi familia," I am smiling. She studies the picture, then studies Michael. She studies the picture again, and our eyes meet...

This time we are both smiling.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Stay Close

Crossing the street in Lima is an art. Pedestrians do not have the right of way. Is there a breath in the steady stream of cars--Yes? Then move. Now.

Yesterday, I stood on the side of the road. Michael saw the breath and proceeded forward. He was on the other side of a busy impasse before I knew it, and I was still standing in the same spot... waiting.

Fresh Start. New curb. I decide to be a bit more ambitious. I see the break. I speed across the street with stellar, clumsy force. Michael meets me on the other side, amused:

"This is an art," He coaches, "You don't miss an opportunity by waiting too long for a perfect moment. But you don't panic like you're being chased. You watch carefully. You study patterns. You seize your moment. You move at a resolute steady pace."
"Ok, ok, " I breathe deep, only half-listening, because I'm glad to be done for now.

All too soon, we try again. He's watching. I see his eyes scanning the lanes. We stand on the edge of what feels like a cliff. It's a curb. Whether cliff of curb, I imagine one hasty step and my story ends the same.

He's firmly gripping my hand.
"Go," He starts moving.
"What?" I stall.
"Come. Now." He's guiding me off the curb, around the front bumper of a momentarily stalled taxi. I see that there is nothing but oxygen between me and the host of oncoming skillfully-maneuvering, battered taxis. Michael has this way of signaling his intentions by how he squeezes my hand and in which direction he does so. This time, I'm signaling intentions of my own. I run for my life, and am safely on the new curb with time to spare. I am bewildered that he's still steadily moving forward with just enough time and space. How can this be? How can he know the rhythm and know this street-crossing art already? After all, I am the artist-- and isn't this an art?

"I was nearly hit!" I resolve.
"You were nowhere near being hit."
"Your point?"
"Crystal, Look. I never change my pace. I know exactly what to do to lead us both. Stay close to me."
"That makes you pretty near amazing. But I would say I'm pretty near fast."
"You don't need to be. You just need to stay close."

Crossing the street in Lima makes one, certain demand: Stay close. Stay close to he who leads. I question and I banter. I love to rant and rave. But to wander is to be willing to risk total separation.

Tonight I'm anticipating the brevity of jumping into an isolated, unknown-to-me jungle community where ours may be the only white faces. It feels like a cliff. But it's only a curb. The Mastermind behind all things created: both cliffs and curbs, the jungle and her mysteries, makes an art of it all. I know not the rhythms nor intricacies, but I know the Creator. He makes one, certain demand. Stay close. To wander is to be willing to risk total separation. Stay close.

Stay close.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Lima 2

9:30am Sleeping still.(This is wonderful!) Someone's knocking. Michael jumps out of bed to meet a beautiful, young couple (Olson's) also staying in the guest house.

10:00am Four of us pile into the backseat of a Toyota, while our zany Master's couple (Tate's) drives us to a market. We weave in and out of traffic, until a maze of stalls appears before us: hair decorum, variegated yarn, leather shoes, raw sausages, hanging tripe and giant bags of golden, purple, and yellow potatoes. We are not carrying purses, and are instructed to refrain from looking prosperous.

12:00pm Return to guest house. Haven't eaten since octopus lunch yesterday, and decide to go explore Ovalo Gutierrez. There's a grocery store there, Wongs. This place has a grand piano sitting between the seafood counter, cinnamon rolls, and a carved wooden staircase. We follow the winding staircase. Later, Michael tells me to pick some ice cream on the way out. I try something new and what I think is caramel happens to be plump, gooey, golden raisins.

1:00pm Tomorrow the McAnally's arrive (Our team leaders!). We clear out of our guest room and move next door to a little bedroom hosting a bunkbed, microwave and refrigerator. The bathroom is now next door. It is hard for me to remember: No toothbrushing with faucet water. All water must be filtered. And no flushing toilet paper down. I am grateful for all of the posted signs.

2:30pm There's a giant pre-Incan layered adobe structure dated between 400-700AD near the guest house. Tour begins. We hike along taupe,dusty trail beside coca bushes, aji plants and yuca, passing llamas and alpacas. Our destination reasonably resembles a layered, square-ish pyramid. We are taken to the top of this massive heap where ceremonies were commenced rendering human sacrifices: 12-25 year old women and children were offered to appease gods and goddesses. They hypothesize the structure's withstanding fierce earthquakes rests upon careful space between adobe bricks and those bodies given to the gods.

6:00pm Walk with the Olson's to the Tate's apartment, located behind a giant fortress-like wall, for a feast: Homemade spaghetti and crusty, buttered bread; Salad with all the chopped, disinfected vegetables from the market earlier; Soft, fleshy Peruvian fruit (somewhat like a banana and a pineapple combined), and Burney Tate's hearty, banana pecan cookies. We enjoy our tea and fast friends.

11:30pm Michael is on the top bunk beside the open-windowed breeze. We listen to car alarms going off in the neighboring streets. Maybe tomorrow we will wake before a knock on the door...

Wednesday, July 8, 2009


Celebrating our ten year anniversary in a little preview trip to Peru, before her jungles become home next summer. My journal, stuffed with papers, observations and notes, documents bits and pieces of our time so far.

July 6
11:30pm Dad drops us at the curb @ LAX, backpacks in tow. We wave goodbye...

July 7
12:00am Winding lines of international travelers carrying masking-taped microwave boxes and surfboards are tangled together. Which line do we stand in?

12:20am Watching attendants going through our suitcase, sifting through the things we're bringing for our team leader: Twizzlers, dryer sheets... and the solar laptop charger (the attendants love this!). The suitcase gets zipped and thrown onto the assembly line of others. We're relieved.

2:00am LA's city lights are now behind us and the vast Pacific, lit by the moon, before us. I am deliciously frightened.

4:30am Mine is the window seat. Michael and I watch the sun peek through the horizon while drinking strawberry-banana nectar.
The rest is a blur. Dramamine for motion sickness again owns me. My eyelids are heavy. Next I am drooling, chin against my chest...

3:00pm Lima. I follow Michael. He's a travel pro, and everything is new to me. We wait in line for a stamp. We wait for our checked backpacks. We exchange our money. I am quiet the entire time. He is not used to this and keeps asking if I'm okay... I am.

3:30pm Maneuvering through the city in a taxi. Honking horns. People walk among the cars, selling Chiclets gum, postcards and the like. I smell diesel fuel and settle in to the rhythm of stop and go while Luis weaves in and out of invisible lanes, steadily communicating without a word to each taxi or bus he passes.

Early evening-ish: We arrive at the Baptist guest home, behind tall pointed bars. Common area is shared on the bottom floor, and there are a number of missionary families each enjoying a separate apartment.

Dark: I am asleep again until the famous Pham family is knocking on our door(amazing missionary family of nearly seven). We are wonderfully whisked into their Lima lives for the night. Perfect.

July 8
10:00am Victor is knocking on our door. Time for our tour and we're still sleeping.

11:30am Victor leads us to The Catacombs under Santa Domingo, while He is jovial with the pigeons flocking at his feet, "The rats of the air," He bemoans. Our guide follows the mortared tunnels underground explaining the remnants of 30,000 people buried in our midst. The skulls and bones are stacked beside us. The rich. The poor. The femurs, pelvis' and ribs look the same. Many skulls are similar too. We are somber.

Noon: Seafood along the coast. I do not ask what it is, but I recognize one thing: octopus. Inca cola drinks like bubble gum and I love it at once.

2:00pm Orphanage. Rock walls. Barred windows. Victor is attacked by delighted little squealers: hanging from him, touching his face, squeezing his legs. Michael reaches down and scoops children into his arms; He is glowing. I see a little boy in blue; He is crying. He looks to be Nathanael's age. I lift him to me and he does not leave the rest of the time. He touches my eye lashes. To look into his eyes is paralyzing-- I know we leave and he stays. This can not be. I imagine him with bows and arrows and Nathanael...

3:00pm My heart is full. Michael's heart is full. Victor takes us to his home, and I see a little box of kittens, and meet his strong boys. Victor is a Peruvian brother in Christ, loving the urban poor, listening with his heart to their lives and their pain. His love for Jesus and His people is most compelling. Our chauffeur becomes our mentor, our dear friend and we are greatly helped.

July 9
12:00am Michael is sleeping with his Bible opened across his chest. Have I ever been so rich?