ashleyandandrew

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Thank You November 30, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — AshleyandAndrew @ 10:57 am
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In 16 short months of life in Costa Rica serving as a missionary, I have learned a ton. In fact, “a ton” is highly understating the number of lessons I’ve learned. I wish I could come up with words to describe all the ways I’ve grown as a person throughout all of this. When I think of cramming all that I’ve learned while doing this into just over a year’s time, it sounds like crazy talk. For all the many people who have helped me learn and grow in my time here, I’d like to say thank you. You have taught me much.

Thank you to the founders of FSM for teaching me about not being afraid of the challenges that exist in this world. I am no longer so overwhelmed by what needs to change that I am too scared to take the first step. I can imagine many years ago that it seemed like a crazy idea to think we could actually change Bajo Tejares in real, tangible ways through this mission. But that craziness didn’t stop the founders from carrying through the vision God had for this community. What if it had? What if they were too afraid to take on something like this? We’d have a lot of people in this community a lot farther from God. We’d have a lot of kids continuing to struggle with their education and continuing the cycle of giving up. There would be a void of happiness that this mission brings. We’d miss out on the laughter of the children when they come here to play and experience what safe and secure feels like. There are a few of us here at the mission still that knew Larry personally. Occasionally, one of us will say something like “What would Larry have done in this situation?” First and foremost, we want to do whatever God would have us do. But I always think it’s interesting that we can think about things by asking what Larry would have done and simultaneously understand that that is what God would want us to do as well. I think that goes for all the founders honestly. That’s when you know that you’ve been fortunate enough to have great leaders in the faith to look up to. For that, I am also grateful.

Thank you to the mission teams and volunteers that have come through here in our time because from them I have learned the true meaning of being one body of Christ. 1 Corinthians 12:27 says “All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it.” Sometimes you hear verses over and over, but until you have seen it lived out, they are just words on a page. I’m fortunate to have seen what it’s like to work together as the body of Christ with many, many people from all over the world. It has taught me that we all bring something to the table and it would be a grave misfortune for any one of us to break away from what God would have us be as one.

Thank you to the tween and teen girls who have taught me how vitally important it is to treat others as you wish to be treated. It is something so simple that we all learn in elementary school. Yet somehow, I’ve come to appreciate this group of girls so much for always being gracious. There are a group of them that have never given up on me and my pitiful Spanish. In the beginning, it must have been a huge headache for them. Now, we talk and talk and talk. Don’t get me wrong, my Spanish isn’t amazing now by any stretch of the imagination, but it gets the job done. It would have never even gotten to that point of such easy conversation if they had stopped bothering a long time ago. I am so grateful that they never gave up on me. I know that I don’t ever want to give up on anyone when they are making a genuine effort in whatever aspect of life it may be in. You never know the fruits that your efforts could bare on either side of that situation.

Thank you to our generous sponsors who have taught us so much about God’s faithfulness. God is faithful to provide and it’s been proven to us over and over again. We could never have done what we’ve done here without people being generous and believing in what we came here to do.

Thank you to a few of my closest friends back home for teaching me the value of wise counsel. I can’t even recall the countless hours spent discussing my life here and the challenges that have come up. I am lucky to have friends that listen without fail but never tell me what I want to hear just because I want to hear it. To listen unconditionally is a marvelous thing. But to have friends who only tell you what you want to hear is a terrible thing. I have genuine, honest friends who may not have known all the characters in the scene and perhaps couldn’t even follow all the complexities of what was happening, but gave their best, straightforward advice that they could offer up. I’ve always been very appreciative to have friends that are true Proverbs 13:20 amigos. I can certainly look back on the past year and say that I have been walking with the wise, maybe from another country, but we’ve still walked this path together.

Thank you to my fellow gringos here in San Ramon for reminding me of the importance of fellowship and how important your own culture will always be to you. It’s not always easy being immersed in a culture so different from your own, but I have greatly appreciated my time spent with other Americans as a small escape back to my “normal” when I needed a break.

Thank you to the college kids of Bajo Tejares for clearly exemplifying what it means to not give up. We have six kids currently studying at university and two more graduating this year who will begin their college coursework next year. The drop-out rate is unbelievably high in this particular neighborhood. I would attribute that partly to the cycle of poverty and uneducated families continuing generation after generation. When the vast majority of parents here are illiterate and unable to assist their kids with any of their homework ever, it makes it difficult for children to grow up and succeed. This mission is slowly helping to break that cycle. More and more teenagers are working hard and being encouraged to keep going. But to the leaders of the pack who have faced more adversity than any other kids here, thank you for having the courage to do what others have said you can’t. And I will just say that some of those people who discouraged them to continue on have come from within their own families. Ponder that for a moment. What’s more, thank you to the college kids for being the example for the young ones that will hopefully follow in your footsteps.

Thank you to our wonderful families who have supported us immensely throughout this process. They have proven that being far from each other is in fact difficult, but not impossible. I’m grateful for family that understood that we needed to go.

Thank you to so many people back home who have taught me the incredible importance of encouragement through positive words and prayers. I never saw myself as the kind of person who needed to hear words of encouragement often but it has strengthened me greatly throughout our time here. 1 Thessalonians 5:11 says “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” Being the recipient of all the encouragement I have received will forever make me want to encourage others in the same way.

Thank you to my husband Andrew who has and will forever lead by example in what it means to serve others selflessly, continuously, and without complaining. You will not come across anyone who will work harder at serving others than him. We’ve put in more hours here than I can imagine any job ever requiring.  There have been too many times to count that I have been so exhausted and wanted to take an evening off from something or skip this or that, but Andrew was there to encourage me to keep going. His example has taught me much. He doesn’t get nearly as much credit because he tends to not be the upfront, go-to person for people outside of the mission and the big decision maker like I have been. I will say this much though, we are a package deal and I wouldn’t have been nearly as successful here without him by my side.

Thank you to the children of Bajo Tejares who have opened my eyes in too many ways to count and have taught me that everyone has a story. Always be compassionate. You never know what that story may be. Unfortunately, I’ve heard some terrible life stories here and it devastates my soul. I want to know every story of every child here, but that would take years and years. I’m grateful to even know just a small portion of the kids well enough to know their stories. And though they break my heart, I think it makes Romans 12:15 more and more important for me to remember. “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” I’ve shared in a bit of both with the children here. I love the times of rejoicing because it multiplies the happiness. I think we would all bypass the weeping part given the chance, but I think it’s a good thing that the kids always have people here to share in that with them too when it comes up.

Lastly, thank you to God for choosing an average person like me to do something extraordinary like this. I have no idea why He’d ever choose me to do all of this. I often think that I don’t do nearly enough here to deserve all the blessings I keep receiving. There are so many precious memories that I will forever cherish from this place and these people and this time in my life. One of my favorite verses in the Bible comes from the Old Testament when God brings the Israelites into the Promised Land. Joshua 21:45 says “Not one of all the LORD’s good promises to the house of Israel failed; every one was fulfilled.” God has taught me to believe in the change that will take place in this world, and to believe that it could involve me if I allow Him to use me.

I sometimes attach songs to memories. When I hear “Thank You” by Mozella, it always reminds me of Costa Rica. It probably always will. Anyways, here is a link to the song on youtube and the lyrics.

 

Mixed up and lost

You showed me love at no cost

And when nobody else cared

You were there

 

Down on my luck

You helped my life get unstuck

And when the world went away

You stayed

 

Thank you for the good times

Thank you for your love

Thank you for the joy you’ve given me

Yeah, yeah, thank you

 

You fight off my enemies

You’d take a bullet for me

And you know I’d do the same for you

‘Cause that’s how we roll

Connected at the soul

And I just want you to know how I feel

 

Thank you for the good times

Thank you for your love

Thank you for the joy you’ve given me

Yeah, yeah, thank you

 

Thank you for loving me every day

Thank you for showing me the way

Thank you for things that I’d never say

Thank you for the good times

Thank you for your love

Thank you for the joy you’ve given me

Yeah, yeah, thank you, thank you

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Valeria’s 10th Birthday! April 7, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — AshleyandAndrew @ 6:30 pm
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A couple of weeks ago was Valeria’s 10th Birthday! This girl is one of my absolute favorites here at the mission. She is unbelievably smart and goes to one of the best bilingual schools in the area on an academic scholarship. Valeria is in fourth grade and has the most complicated homework I have ever seen for elementary school. Last year, we started doing algebra  equations in third grade! She has some of her classes solely in English and therefore Andrew and I, the resident English experts here at the mission, are tasked with helping her prepare for presentations, work through projects and homework, and just speaking good conversational English with her. For a child that has only been learning this language for three years, going on four now, she is incredible. After attempting to learn a foreign language myself, to hear her flip back and forth between verb tenses and know so much vocabulary, I’m amazed… and jealous.

Anyways, I am blogging about her birthday because I like this memory a lot. Maybe ten years from now around this time of year, Valeria and I will be sitting in a Starbucks in the US while she’s on spring break from a phenomenal university like Florida State, remembering the good times like this over a $5 coffee. And yes, it has clearly already occurred to be that I need to plant the seed early on in this college situation. She probably needed her first FSU shirt like yesterday. Nonetheless, about a month ago, Valeria was up here in the apartment working on an assignment with me and we began to talk about her 10th birthday coming up. I asked her what she wanted for her birthday and she responded with a hair straightener, now that is a girl after my own heart! She mentioned that this would be the second gift her father would give her. At first I thought he had already given her an early birthday present and this was going to be his second gift to her. Then she explained that she received one gift from her father for her first five years (of life) and she will get one for her second five years. My heart broke for Valeria in that moment. Her father doesn’t want a whole lot to do with her and she doesn’t spend too much time with him for that reason. She wasn’t so much excited about the hair straightener itself so much as the fact that her father had actually promised her a birthday gift.

Valeria and I

So on a Sunday morning, the phone rings and it’s Valeria inviting us to her birthday party that afternoon. Andrew and I figured we would probably go for a little while, long enough to make an appearance and get the opportunity to invite her to go to dinner with us one evening as our birthday treat to her. I was a little nervous to stay too long because sometimes events like this are not so fun for the mediocre Spanish speakers such as ourselves. To be at a big gathering with people who speak no English is sometimes quite lonely. But as soon as we arrived, we saw Valeria’s mother, Teresa, and her aunt who we know pretty well by now. By the grace of God, I can understand Teresa’s Spanish very well. Plus Valeria speaks great English so we were already more at ease. I noticed that there were only a few family members at this birthday gathering. A couple of aunts, cousins, grandma, and a few friends of the family. I immediately felt grateful to be invited to an event that was clearly a small gathering of close friends and family.

The food that was being prepared was ready shortly after we arrived. We were going to have chalupas. Previous to that moment, I had only ever heard of chalupas in the Taco Bell context. Let me tell you, that is not what this was. Taco Bell has clearly taken some artistic liberty on their menu choices and creations.

Chalupa

This was a flat, hard shell tortilla topped with beans and pulled chicken mixed with some sort of sauce. I was good with that part. Then, of course, it was covered with cabbage and the dreaded mayonnaise and ketchup combo. That is one thing I hate about this culture, they love putting mayo and ketchup all over things that definitely don’t need it. I only eat ketchup with french fries and mayonnaise very lightly on a sub. As you can see, a picky eater such as myself is not going to fare well in this situation. We were served first so I sat with my plate in my lap and politely waited, thinking of a back up plan on how to eat most of this without the cabbage and condiments to avoid making awful faces and potentially throwing up. Teresa realized we weren’t eating and told us to go ahead and not wait. Great. It was go time. Andrew fared amazingly well even though he doesn’t so much like the cabbage, mayo, and ketchup combination either. I was able to do some interesting shifting on my plate to consume most of what was there without all the mayo and ketchup. Minus the previously mentioned questionable parts of the dish, the chalupa was actually quite tasty. Nothing like Taco Bell, as to be expected. I think if Valeria ever visits the US, she’ll need to go to Taco Bell just to compare and contrast. That will be an eye-opening experience on several levels.

We hung around the house for a bit, saw family pictures and talked with different family members.

Our hike through the land

Then it was time for an adventure. The main house we were in is the grandparents’ house. They own quite a bit of land and several of Valeria’s aunts and uncles live right there on what I’d call a family compound almost. Valeria, Teresa, David (Valeria’s little brother), and a friend of the family started to take us on a tour of the land. I would have never guessed the family owned so much. We saw all kinds of things; spiny trees, a small natural pool of water that comes up through the earth, beautiful flowing plants that they call golden rain. It is a fantastic area for kids to run around and play. Slightly wooded, but not dangerous in the slightest.

Chicken Coop

Then we made our way to the chicken coop. This one is quite legit compared to what Andrew and Mark were building in Panama. This family apparently knows a thing or two about raising chickens. Valeria let us feed them and told us all about what her responsibilities were each day with the chickens. It was all very cool.

Our last stop was at Valeria’s house. It’s the one directly behind the grandparents’ house that I had only ever seen from the street. I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. I will say, it is much nicer than the average house in Bajo Tejares. But you still always need to put into the perspective of what it would actually be like to live there day in and day out. It is one thing to see it on a short fifteen minute visit to the house and say ‘oh that’s not too bad.’ It’s an entirely different situation to imagine waking up each day and living in that house, going to sleep there each night. When I look back at my college dorm room and consider it fancy compared to what most people live in here, that should say something. Nonetheless, Valeria asked very slyly if I knew which room was hers. It was the one with the bright pink cross on the door that I gave her for her first communion last year. Inside her room, she has pictures of Larry and Cheryl along with everything they have ever given her.

Valeria's Room

She was so proud to show us every Christmas gift she has received from them since the mission opened five years ago and started doing the Christmas parties each year. Teresa showed me a picture of Valeria hugging Larry and told me that the picture was taken the day they told Valeria that Larry had cancer. Valeria told me just a few days ago that she loved Larry so much because he was more like a father to her than her own father is. She holds on to every memory of him as tightly as she can because what she misses the most is the love he showered her with. Maybe she will never get that from her real father, but she will always remember what it was like to be loved by Larry. When I think about how smart she is, all that she has learned, and how beautifully she is growing up, all I can think is that Larry would be so, so very proud of her.

We made our way back to the main house where we got ready to have some coffee. As we were waiting for the coffee, they brought out these crazy fruits called granadillas. Being quite skeptical of this, Andrew and I let Valeria know that we’d be happy to share one. Yeah, right. All of our attempts at getting out of things (disguised as using good manners) just seemed to fail miserably when put up against their generosity. We each got our own granadilla. It looks like an orange but inside are small, grayish, edible seeds in a jellylike substance. The texture is quite uninviting, but we had to try it. I have the worst gag reflexes out of anyone I’ve ever known, so this did not go so well for me. I actually spit some out in my hand and wiped it on my jeans when nobody was looking. I got Valeria to take a few bites of mine, but then she caught on. She finally said “you don’t like it, do you?” and I felt terrible. I lied and said I thought it was wonderful, I was just so full that I could hardly eat anymore. Thank God the coffee was ready and I could move past the granadillas.

I brought some girl scout cookies with me to share with the family. I’ve got to be honest, I have never seen a box of Samoas inhaled so quickly. Those were a hit. We enjoyed our coffee and cookies, homemade bread among other things. And alas, it was time for cake. We all sang Feliz Cumpleaños and had brightly colored pieces of a princess decorated cake. As Andrew and I said our goodbyes, three hours later, I couldn’t have imagined a more delightful Sunday afternoon. I honestly wonder sometimes why God would ever choose me to be a part of things like this. Why would I ever be worthy enough to live this kind of life? Lucky enough to make these memories? I have no idea, I really don’t. But I am beyond grateful to be doing what I am doing and to be given these opportunities.

Happy Birthday Valeria!