Outside our borders
Personal narrative of a student on her first out-of-country experience
September 23, 2016
New culture. Different language. Unfamiliar environment. My first out-of-country experience, and you must know, I was ready to dive head first into all the new aspects of a different country. Little did I know, my experiences in Costa Rica would be life changing. The memories I made have had a major impact on my heart and imprinted on my character.
I went to San Jose, Costa Rica on a mission trip with my church. It was the summer going into my sophomore year. I was extremely excited, for multiple reasons. 1) Costa Rica was apparently a beautiful country, enriched in culture. 2) I am absolutely obsessed with the Spanish language. At the time of the trip, I was going into my third year of taking Spanish. 3) I love Jesus and this trip was all about serving Him and serving the people of Costa Rica. I remember the night before our flight left, my heart was filled with butterflies, pitter-pattering like crazy. I don’t think I had a minute of sleep that night. I couldn’t contain my excitement.
The game-plan was to teach elementary/middle school students English during the morning, in the afternoon we would serve at an orphanage, and immediately following, our youth group would walk with the kids to a nearby playground, playing fútbol, jump rope, and everything else the kids loved.
Our youth group split into pairs or groups of three and we would raid a classroom (with the bienvenidos of the maestra, of course) and teach a small class of kids English with a Bible lesson tied in. I don’t know if you’ve ever taught your primary language to a group of people that don’t know what you’re saying, but it is, as we found, quite a challenge. With two translators for our group of 30 from the church, some found it very difficult to communicate, at first. With one, two, or three years of taking a Spanish class in high school, we learned to communicate through wild hand gestures and even crazier body language. We communicated through heads tilting back in laughter and huge bright smiles. We communicated through broken Spanglish. We communicated through our eyes. We grew amazing relationships. Many, many of these kids grew up in extreme poverty. I grew up in a different type of world than these kids could ever imagine, and yet, we shared something in common. We shared the same God. We shared the same love of God. What a beautiful image?
I grew particularly close to a little girl named Allison. We found each other each day I was there. We shared lunches together, braided each others hair on the daily, I gave many piggy-back rides, we bonded over talking about family and God, we played on the playground together. She taught me new Spanish words and she would laugh, squint-eyed at my toddler-level Spanish grammar. The bond and friendship I had with seven-year-old Allison leaves me amazed. Although I was supposed to be her role model, 8 years older than her, she taught me more than I probably taught her. She taught me to appreciate life. I could never thank her enough for the gift she gave me.
On our last day in San Jose, we visited a small, local church. American culture church is the polar opposite of church culture in Costa Rica. Let me explain. Every single individual in the States, has the chance to go to church. There are five churches within two miles of my house. Many churches stress about getting money from church-goers, many stress about the “production,” many church-going Americans go to church because they imagine God sitting in heaven like Santa checking off an attendance sheet every Sunday. They may go every Christmas and Easter. Church is just there for them when it’s convenient. Church culture in Costa Rica… not even close. These people, for the most part, have nothing. Us Americans complain about the temperature of our church and whine about the length of the sermon and grumble about the song choice of worship. That church in Costa Rica was about 80 degrees hot in there and the air was filled with humidity. It was small, many people, standing. I was sitting next to my best friend, Emily, and we were both drenched in sweat, as was everyone else in the church. And yet, I have never seen followers of God worship like these people. They were crying tears of joy and dancing in the aisles.They were passionately praying out loud. The people of this small church were not just attending it, they were worshipping. The people were fully present, and fully engaged. They were so happy, not one grumble, or whine, or complaint. They have nothing, but in their eyes have everything they need: God. Sweat dripping down my face and my back, tears running down my face, I had the biggest smile on my face and in my heart. I felt God in that moment, more than I ever had in my life. This experience was life-changing.
My memories in Costa Rica, still have an impact on me from a day-to-day basis and have changed my future, two years from returning. I am going to double major in nursing and in Spanish because I plan on going back to Costa Rica on medical mission trips and serving these people and taking care of them, and when I do, I will not communicate through broken Spanglish, but be able to fully communicate through Spanish and of course squinty-eyed, heads thrown back laughter. Allison and the people of the small, Costa Rican church taught me to appreciate life in its fullest. I appreciate and thank God for how much He has blessed me with and I never take what I have for granted. I don’t focus on everything I want, I focus on the one thing I need and have: God. I think American culture Christianity needs a revival. And I think the Costa Rican people can teach us a thing or two about humility, thankfulness, and what God is all about.