If you are a regular reader of this blog, you may know that I (Scott Oswald) sometimes fills in for my wife Carey. Today I am sharing about a recent trip I took. About 5 weeks ago I returned from a mission trip to Costa Rica where we partnered with Christ for the City International. Before this year our church was involved with missions in Hong Kong, China. Although the destination has changed, the need for such trips has not. If you are interested in hearing more about this mission field, it will be shared during the sermon time at our church this coming Sunday. Next week, you can view the sermon online via our Vimeo page at https://vimeo.com/bslcomaha.
Prior to traveling on this trip, the only thing I knew about Costa Rica is that it had rainforests, monkeys and a soccer (futbol) team. Located in Central America between Nicaragua and Panama, it is home to roughly 5 million people.
The sites, the sounds, the smells of Costa Rica are hard to miss. Lying in the tropics, flowering vegetation is everywhere. Lush green mountaintops surround the capital city of San Jose. Active volcanoes billow steam. Foggy mist floats among the rainforest trees. Streets are packed with vehicles. The rumble of a truck is heard in the distance. The sound of a horn. Lightning strikes and thunder crackles. Children playing in the distance. The smell of older model cars and diesel hang in the air. Breakfast, lunch and dinner. The smells waft through the neighborhood, teasing the appetite.
In contrast, kids playing soccer on a field built on top of a dump. In the distance, the rich mansions speckled across the hillside looking down on those living within tin walls below, each topped with a thin tin roof some of which leak every time it rains. Homes built one on top of another. Vegetation is sparse. No lawns. Minimal trees. Barren. The ground shakes, sometimes with an earthquake. The sounds of children as there’s no school this morning due to overcrowding. The smells. Not just from food but from the raw sewage, flowing constantly in concrete gutters on the sides of the streets.
Life is hidden away, off the main street, flanked by tall shoots of bamboo. A creek flowing, but one not meant for drinking or washing, deposited with sewage and trash from the storm the night before. Roosters crowing in the middle of the day. Homes of tin walls and roofs again, electrical lines strewn together in a makeshift kind of way. Up the hillside the path leads. Radios blaring in the distant. Young children wondering who’s invading their neighborhood. The five gallon bucket washing machine sitting on the bare ground. The orange and white wood door off to the right. What lies behind it? The kitchen sink, outside the house on the left. Full of dirty dishes. A steady water supply, working to clean the bits of rice out of the bowls.
This is Tirrases, Costa Rica. A community of 19,000.
Up the hill lies a bright blue building, with rainbows, flowers and butterflies painted on the front. Horacio and Esther, the grandparent figures to the children in the neighborhood, welcome all who come through the door. This is Primera Escuela Biblica de Tirrases, the primary elementary school of Tissases. An empty lot lies next door, previously a home to drug dealing. The home mysteriously burned down one night after the police had left and the property was soon sold to Horacio and Esther. Probably not quite a coincidence.
Using the resources they have, Horacio and his wife Esther greet children daily – offering a snack, games, singing a Bible lesson. This club setting, so similar to the Youth for Christ clubs in the United States, is a safe place, free from the drugs and alcohol that have pulled so many dads away from the family. The smiles. The singing. The noise. There is hope, if not for the adults, then for the children. Horacio has a vision, a bright lighthouse on the hill. A way to guide children, and adults. A dream of a new school. A school not only for children, but one to teach life skills such as cooking, sewing, woodworking and computers.
I love the words to a song by Chris Tomlin titled “How Great Is Our God.” It’s even more amazing to hear it sung in Spanish, by children. While in Costa Rica, at the end of our week, I had a moment. As a storm rolled through on Friday, and as the rain later stopped for a brief period of time and a fiesta was held at Primera Escuela Biblica de Tirrases for the children, complete with a Christmas tree set up in the corner, “How Great Is Our God” was played over the speakers and sung by the children. Though the words were in Spanish, the song and tune was clear in my head. Feeling a bit emotional in the middle of the song, I ventured outside and glanced at the horizon. I was amazed as what I saw was a glorious rainbow appearing in the distance. And it wasn’t like any I had seen before, with it lying low to the ground over the houses and the community. Tears started to fill my eyes. I cried.
Later on in the afternoon, a birthday party was held for a woman named Sara. Sara is suffering from terminal cancer. She is the mother of four children, elementary school age and younger. Four children without a dad, a dad who left them all. Sara lives up the hill, past the bamboo and the creek. Past the roosters and the five gallon bucket of laundry. Next to the kitchen sink sitting outside her front door. The day following the fiesta was Sara’s 40th birthday. A cake was purchased for the fiesta, candles lit and Feliz Cumpleaños was sung. Sara unwrapped her gift, a rice cooker. She was in tears. But a couple weeks before we visited, Sara received a much greater gift. She joined the family of Christ through baptism. Her future is set, no matter what happens with her cancer.
Again – up on the hillside, past the bamboo and the creek. Past the bucket of laundry. The wood door to the right, painted orange and white. What lies behind the door?
Behind the door was an old toilet. It was not hooked up to running water. The moms and the kids that used this toilet would manually fill the bowl with water. The tank wasn’t even connected to the bowl. The toilet and shower were surrounded by tin walls with a wooden orange and white bathroom door, inside rotten plywood sitting on top of concrete blocks for a floor. The sewage ultimately makes its way to the creek. This is everyday life in Tirrases. Something we as Americans can’t comprehend. That day in Costa Rica, outside of our box and environment, we worked to fix this situation the best we could. We bought a new toilet. And a toilet seat. We installed that toilet. With running water. And a shower head. And shut off valves. Things so simple that we take for granted. Sara and her children received something they couldn’t comprehend – a working toilet.
God’s work is taking place here in Tirrases and some of the neighboring communities – one adult, one child, at a time. As I heard someone say the week I was there, “We live in a third world country with a first world God.” The love that is being shown in Tirrases daily and the vision of building a new Christian school in one of the darkest places I have seen is truly uplifting. With help from our church and other churches across the country, that lighthouse on the hill will soon be built.
Making a Difference,