Goodness gracious… I feel like I’m flying through my life these days. I don’t want time to stand still, but I need it to slow down just a little. Every Sunday afternoon, I find myself thinking that the weekend flew by and it’s already time to go back to work on Monday. But in the blink of an eye, it’s Friday again.
When I was growing up, I used to have crazy anxiety over how much sleep I was getting if there were something important happening at school the next day. I took the importance of a good night’s rest for exams and things like that to the extreme. I remember countless nights of watching the clock and calculating how much sleep I could get if I fell sleep right at that moment, then recalculating a few minutes later, and recalculating again an hour after that. Nowadays, unless I get no sleep at all, I understand that a few cups of coffee can set a bad night’s sleep straight right quick like. But somehow, I’ve turned this scenario from being worried I won’t get enough sleep to worrying that my time here in Costa Rica is going by too quickly. And in the same way that I would lay in bed at night and calculate how much sleep I could get, I now constantly think about how much time I have left here. One minute, we’d only been here a few months with many, many more to go. Now suddenly, we’ve been here for almost a year. We now have just half a year left or so. We originally committed to stay for one year, and if you didn’t already know, we have extended our commitment through the end of 2013.
We’ve been through all kinds of ups and downs in our time here. I guess this wouldn’t be a very realistic composition of our time here if I didn’t talk about such things. Recently, the teenagers have been driving me absolutely insane when it comes to youth worship. Sometimes it seems like their mission in life to just make things as aggravating as possible. When people take us for granted and don’t appreciate anything we are trying to do, I so badly want to explain to them the sacrifice it takes for us to be here. This isn’t a paid job for us or a vacation. We are missionaries. We make nothing. Yet somehow this is one of the most involved jobs I have ever had. We work tons and tons of overtime each and every week and not only do we not have time and a half pay to look forward to, we don’t have any pay at all! When people back home don’t understand why we are here doing what we are doing, I can kind of get that. But when the people here see us working all day and doing ministry most nights of the week, and can’t appreciate why we are here and what it takes… it’s frustrating. So I say all of that to set up the story behind the teenagers and our battle to worship.
A few months ago, Andrew and I implemented Tuesday night youth worship. Previously, Tuesdays were solely youth recreation time. For our first six months here, it was the evening that I dreaded the most because it felt a whole lot like babysitting a bunch of teenagers. Who needs that headache? But we did it because it was providing a safe place for teenagers to go at night where they could have fun and not be hanging around in the streets. When we came back after our Christmas visit home though, we knew it was time to give the kids what they needed. Maybe not what they wanted, but what they needed. The teenagers here could play ping pong, foosball, and the wii for hours on end. Actually, they much prefer that over anything else. Changing every other Tuesday night from recreation to worship was certainly going to have some opposition. We blogged about the first night, which went really well. The set up is three or four worship songs, split into groups of five or six people, read a passage of the Bible and answer questions that we prepared. It seemed at first, that the majority of people were unaccustomed to worshipping. And it seemed that they were especially unaccustomed to reading the Bible together and talking about.
After a couple of meetings, we still had kids coming. The problem is that a lot of them would talk during the songs, joke around during their small group time, and answer the questions as fast as they could so they could play games afterward. They were completely missing an opportunity to worship God and dig into His word. One Tuesday night, I asked one of the youth afterwards why no one wanted to pray, worship, or read the Bible. His response was “I guess we are just lazy.” I told him I couldn’t quite understand that when Andrew and I were giving them the opportunity to do all of these things during Tuesday night worship time. I will say, there always seemed to be some tiny positive in each of our Tuesday night worships that kept us going. I asked Jaikel to help us set up the sound once and he suggested some worship songs for us. It was a small thing, but he cared enough to give his input. A couple of times, I’ve been lucky enough to open my eyes during worship and see a hand or two lifted in praise, no joking or anything, just genuine and sincere worship. We’ve consistently had around twenty kids coming to worship nights. After the first few go arounds, I thought they would just stop coming when it was worship and not recreation. After all, there are a few guys that consistently ask us every Tuesday if it’s worship or recreation. When we say it’s worship, they beg us to do only recreation. Every time this happens, I want to smack them and say, “you are going to worship whether you like it or not!” Even in my head, I’m joking when I say that. But in all seriousness, we have to do what’s best for them, even if it’s not what they consider the most fun at the moment. The group that whines and complains about worship still shows up surprisingly enough. Andrew and I made the commitment a while back that we would keep doing what we’re doing every other Tuesday night, even if it’s just the two of us showing up. At the very least, they’d see who we are and what we’re made of. And if no one showed up, they’d know we were still there in the church worshipping because it’s important to us.
The Tuesday night before last, I didn’t want to do worship. I had the same few guys complain to me again about it being worship night again. I was in a bad mood and I knew my attitude wasn’t so great. But I looked up a bible passage and prepared my discussion questions anyways. As I walked downstairs, I prayed for a better night with the youth and that they’d actually get something out of it. We always open in prayer. The majority of the time, no one wants to pray. They’d rather me pray in English and them not understand a single word of it than one of them having to pray. But Beto actually volunteered to pray. He’s kind of a jokester, a good kid, but somewhat mischievous at times. I remember legitimately thinking about what I would do if he slipped some inappropriate joke into his prayer. Crap. What would be my course of action then? I listened as closely as I could to make sure I was understanding the Spanish. All of a sudden, he said he was thankful for Andrew and I doing this for them. I’m not sure if my face reflected the shock as I may have been jaw dropped, but I was grateful the lights were off to conceal it just in case. Later that same night, one of the three small groups ended up having really good discussion and they all took it really seriously. They ended up talking for probably twenty five minutes or so. One of the other groups finished extremely fast as usual. And the last group did seem to talk about all the questions and give it real thought, but also finished pretty fast. But there was that one group that actually discussed all the questions and cared about the bible study! After we were done with the worship and bible study, we let them play games for the last half an hour or so. It was the craziest thing, but one of the girls left right after we were done. She came for the worship part, but didn’t really care to stay for the games. Talk about that being a first. This past Tuesday night when we did recreation, Jonathan came up to me and asked, “why don’t we just do worship every Tuesday night?” That made me come full circle with this whole youth worship deal. At times, I have dreaded doing it with them because of how much some of them complain and express their disinterest in it. But you know what? They don’t have to come. There are kids here that legitimately appreciate the chance to worship and do bible study with us. And in their own teenage way, maybe they also appreciate us and what we do here.
It’s taken a long time to get to this point, on a variety of levels. I feel like I can finally say we have seriously good relationships with a lot of the kids here, of all ages. The kids can no longer pull a fast one on us when it comes to the reading rooms and doing programs. We know the drill and they know we know it. I’ve got serious authority with the preschoolers. That may sound silly, but it takes time. They are much more well behaved than they were last year when I took over. We have our little routine and it is so wonderful. We’re talking openly and honestly with the teenagers. They respect us. Is that not a major win in and of itself? I feel good about where we are with the language. Learning a new language is tough. I almost think it makes you a different person because it takes so long to become confident in what you’re saying. It’s hard to go from being a confident person who owns everything they say and do with boldness in their job, relationships, social circles, etc., to concentrating so hard on what to say and how to say it. It will humble you beyond what you even imagined possible. I’m not a terribly funny person, but I like to joke around and be sarcastic. Do you know how hard that is in a foreign language? I made a joke in a group of people this past week and I thought to myself, that is serious progress. It sounds so stupid, but it’s true. I still don’t really love talking in Spanish within groups of Spanish speakers. It still makes me nervous. So to make a joke on top of that… that’s progress my friend.
I’ve learned a great deal about this position I’m now in. As it turns out, missionary is really code for ‘friend, co-worker, communications manager, therapist, master of crafts, nurse, strategist, head of logistics, playground patrol, human resources, director of public relations, advice giver, decision maker, sponsorship liaison, teacher, etc.’ I don’t recall half of those things being in the job description, but we get to do a bit of everything here. I’m not even sure how you put half of that on a resume and have anyone believe it’s the same job position. For my entire life as long as I can remember, I’ve always enjoyed having responsibility and being a leader in the environment I was in, whether it was school, work, church, or whatever else. Not much has changed. Someway or another, I’m the go to person for all kinds of stuff here. If we’re out of toilet paper in the mission center, I’m going to hear about it. If someone on staff has a problem with nearly anything, it’s coming to me. If there’s confusion on where to code an expense, I’m getting an email with questions. One thing’s for sure, I feel needed here… even if it’s to keep the toilet paper inventory at bay. And when every last person here is driving me insane with requests, ‘situations’, problems, questions, and whatever else, I still love them all and I’m thankful for my life here. There have been crazy difficult times here, but I have never once regretted coming here. Never once have I wished God had chosen something else for me.
A friend of mine asked me recently if I thought it would be easy to jump back into life in the US when we move home. My answer was honest and simple, yes. And probably far too easily, in fact. That’s just the way of the American lifestyle. It’s unbelievably convenient. But when I think about returning to the US, I know the most devastating part about it will be not seeing these people everyday. Do you know how many hugs I get a day from the children here? If I just think about leaving them all behind for too long, it makes me want to cry. My neighbor and friend, Maga, asked me recently when Andrew and I would have children. I should say that everyone clearly assumes we don’t want children since we are “so old” and don’t have any yet. By Costa Rican standards, I should probably be planning my third baby already. In any event, I told her that we’d probably have children in a few years once we are back in the US and settled into life there again. In complete sincerity, she responded, “but then I’ll never know them,” with such obvious disappointment in her eyes. I can hardly imagine a time when I won’t be coming here, even after I’m living in the states again. I know I’ll bring my kids here to visit so they can understand another piece of the world besides their own.
Well, tomorrow is Friday… again. Another week has flown by. I’m going to make a serious effort to concentrate on the present and not worry about the future and how fast the time is going. If this were even slightly boring, I’m sure the time would creep by. Ha! Quite the opposite here in Bajo Tejares!