(Due to the prolonged delay of this blog, I have decided to combine two themes into one post. I would recommend not reading them consecutively, but rather waiting at least 1 day between them... so as to not be overwhelmed by the multitude of new details concerning my life in the GAP.)
Santo Tomás, Chontales
The writing of this post has by far been the hardest. How does one write when there are no words? 'Ah, but I thought you had a problem with Spanish, not with English' you say. Indeed, this is the case. But there are some matters which, in their greatness, transcend any one language, and the best we can do is render our words as mere footholds that lead us at least somewhat closer to them. In my case, I have been left speechless by a people. Let me explain. In the last week of October, The Gappers took a bus a mere 12 hours north-east of San Jose to a small town in Nicaragua, named Santo Tomás. Little did I know such a short distance could merit such drastic changes. 12 hours north, and the air around us grew sweeter, warmer, dustier, wilder, and more filled with the busied gabble of human life: the now familiar Costa Rican accent exchanged for one nearly indiscernible to my still-adjusting ears. Streetvenders, money changers, customs police, and parrots were our first welcome party, but we were soon greeted by coordinator of the community of Cristo Resucitado, and two hours later, we had arrived at our home. Four Gappers, five days: a youth retreat, bible study, and evangelization night. Being so few in number, we all had more responsibilities: I lead the retreat games, a section of the Bible study, and gave my testimony in the evangelization night. These events were my first true test in Spanish; the first time in two months that I had been useful on account of my words. And before, during, and after every single event I was under the sweetly humbling realization that every word I uttered, correct or ill-used, was not my own... and that I was being formed, humbled, and used in these events solely for the glory of God. Yet when I think back on that trip, what lingers in my mind is not the words I spoke, nor the games I lead, but rather the great generosity of the people there.
From our very first moments in their town to our final night, we were given their best, their all. Every moment, every encounter, every meal was imbued with a disposition of selflessness and service. My immediate reaction was not one of gratitude, but one of confusion. Why this goodness towards me? I had done nothing for them. No good deed, no act of service had I offered them to render their actions justified. But it was through this generosity that I realized that every other act of goodness done towards me was not because I deserved it, but rather that everything I have been given is a gift. And it was in their generosity, flowing not from their excess of material goods, but rather from the spring of a self-abandoned heart, that I encountered something tangible and life-changing. If one were to ask me how I would describe selflessness in action, I would point their eyes to the small town of Santo Tomás.
Most Gladly Therefore...
This second post-within-a-post is basically a summary of all of the other things I have been doing in my time as a GAP-er. I have indeed waited far too long to write this post, and I fear it will turn out more vague and confusing than enlightening, but we shall see. Recently we finished a 5-showing
event of the movie October Baby in an effort to promote respect for
human life, as well as raise funds to help pregnancy crisis centers. We
are also doing a lot of preparations for a conference in Honduras in
January with youth groups from Costa Rica, Honduras, Nicaragua, and
Guatemala. This Friday I will be leading an event called Cafe con Biblia
with the university outreach section. Cafe con Biblia is basically a
Bible study where we drink coffee and explore a specific passage or
theme of the Bible. The theme will be Hope.
In other news, we have had a grand total of 6 retreats in my nearly 4 months in the GAP... three were for our benefit, and the other three we led. It truly has come full circle as our most recent retreat was at the same retreat site as my very first retreat. However, whereas in my first retreat I spent my time preparing refreshments and sitting underneath a eucalyptus tree praying for the retreatants and begging God to show me how I was going to make it through this year, this latter retreat I spent as the co-leader of logistics, and praying to God for the strength to make it through the day. Maybe you are not very impressed with that change, but that's alright; I am not asking you to be.
Actually, speaking as someone who thought it would take me two months to become fluent in a foreign language without any experience beforehand, I can understand the feeling of disappointment. I have now reached that lovely point in my Spanish in which I make a lot of mistakes. Before I would sit in silence and nod my head so that people would know I was still alive and understood the blurred idea of the conversation. Now when given the occasion, I open my mouth and make a fool of myself. To think that I will probably spend my entire GAP year struggling to be understood and speaking with words that are not truly my own is something that used to terrify me. But I have come to realize that my words were taken from me so that I could see that the gift of speech was never mine to begin with. And in this realization I could give back more fully what already belonged to God. Not to mention, most of us spend our entire lives being misunderstood.. I
have just been given a 10-month-long license to be frustrated by that
To believe that I have nearly completed four months here is
something I still have trouble getting my mind around. So much of me
still feels like I have just arrived. More like time hasn't moved at all
for the last few months. My hope is
that I am serving well, and growing in faith. I am certainly learning how to fight well, to get back up when I have fallen. And above all, I am learning to
find joy in my weakness.