Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Costa Rica

I imagined toucans and jungle, and I imagined being immersed in a new country and its culture. I envisioned taking notes while observing behavior or discussing in small groups among my peers. I knew next to nothing about what to expect, but I knew I would be challenged and that I would grow. The opportunity to do my internship in Costa Rica would be one that would shape me and give me a glimpse at a world I had never seen before. I knew this experience would be a crucial part of my progress in becoming a counselor or in working with high school teens.

Day one of our trip, we discussed the opportunity for a few students to go out that very evening to the streets to pass out cookies and coffee to the local prostitutes. I considered not going, I was exhausted, I didn’t know if I could handle the emotional pieces of that exposure, and I was worried my family would worry if I went. I reluctantly put my name in the jar and began to pray. I told God that if he wanted me to go, I would, but that I didn’t want to. My name was the first to be called. I internally sighed towards God, but I’d be obedient. I would go, and I knew God must have had something special for me to see that night, especially since I told him I did not want to go.

Later that evening, we began prayer and worship and it hit me. I suddenly was faced with the reality that I was about to step into a battlefield of spiritual warfare. I was going to see it in person, not on a movie or in an article clipping. I prayed, and I felt God with me, I told him I wanted to be where he was, where he led me, and that I was surrendered to his will. I know that in my career, I will have to approach God with the same heart. I was reminded that evening that I was not in control. As much as I prayed for people to come to know the Lord, I had to trust that God is in control of the timing. I didn’t even know if I would have the opportunity to share with any of the prostitutes, but much like Paul tells Timothy, “Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12, NIV), I would be an example or simply love the prostitutes by being there with them that evening.

The small group of students and Face of Justice volunteers went to the streets. The first prostitute I encountered was a man, but you couldn’t tell from his face. He had perfect hair and makeup, but broad shoulders and large feet. He called himself “Josie”. God showed me something beautiful the second I placed my hand on him in prayer. I saw him as a little boy, with no makeup or high heeled shoes. I saw him scared, vulnerable, broken, and I saw a male figure that abused him. I saw how much God still loved him and longed to be with him. Shortly after we got back in the van, I saw a car pick up Josie and drive away. This hurt. After the tiny shred of hope I felt while we prayed, I saw him leave to prostitute himself. After sharing the love of Jesus with someone, you hope they hear something that resonates. You hope they might make a better choice next time. Rarely do you see them reject that peace you’ve shared with them only minutes after you leave. Ignorance really is bliss. I had to remember that God is bigger, and that Josie’s story isn’t over yet. Professionally, this experience strengthened me. I had to overcome the discomfort of my personal feelings, being tired, worried, and not knowing what to expect. I will also be able to overcome disappointment, while also trusting in God in the moments that sting. I intend to work with at-risk high school students. I expect that my experience that night in San Jose will prepare me for similar adversity. I imagine I will encounter many students that it feels as if we have taken ten steps forward while working with them and seeing them grow, only to watch them make bad decisions that will take them fifteen steps backward.

The morning of the day we visited the rehab center, I felt very little empathy towards the men at the center, before even arriving. I was prepared to judge them, seeing as I had a hard time believing those with an addiction have anyone to blame other than themselves. Very quickly into the men’s stories I began to cry. One man shared that he had been in the rehab center for three months, and he had a two-month-old baby. He missed his baby’s birth. I looked around the room and no one else seemed to notice that teeny tiny, extremely significant fact. I felt angry; angry at the men, especially the man that isn’t there for his newborn baby. I wanted to yell at every man there and tell them that they were ruining other people’s lives, not just their own. Their choices, their own choice, to put their addictions before their families are now affecting their families and their children. I had pulled our professor out of the room for questions, and he offered sound advice and prayer. I was able to let go of a lot of my anger and resentment that day. I didn’t know I had a lot of those feelings, and acknowledging them and giving them to God, was powerful. This was my biggest area of growth that was added to my personal experience from this trip. I am forever thankful for this experience.

By the end of the week, I felt emotionally drained. I had heard and seen more hurt and brokenness than I ever wanted to acknowledge was real. When you see the child that you know was thrown into a dumpster as a baby, or hold and pray over an infant of a 13-year-old mother, or feel the presence of a very heavy spiritual darkness that lingers where you wish there was only light, it changes something in you. I would not have considered it a strength during the trip to be so emotionally exhausted, but I believe it created an endurance within me, and a tolerance to digest that kind of brokenness. Costa Rica was a crash course on brokenness in our world, which I know pains God to see. I want my heart to break for what breaks God’s heart. I want to feel what he feels and love like he loves. I can’t be the hands and feet of God if I am not moving and doing his work. From the experiences I had in Costa Rica, I was strengthened, professionally and personally, so that I am now better equip to do what God has called me to do.

What I consider to be a weakness from the trip to Costa Rica, is time. I would have wanted to get to know our team better, each individual. I believe teamwork and team building is incredible, and while we did have an amazing team, I wish we did more to get to know one another. I cherish every person on that trip and since God is intentional, I know everyone was there for a specific purpose. I would have liked to know each person’s heart, story, and dreams.

Moving forward. 
I remember my husband used to tell me, “never lose your innocence”. I never fully understood what he meant when he said that until now. The things you read about in newspapers is completely different when you see it in person. I don’t believe I’ll ever fully be able to put everything I saw or felt into words, and I don’t think anyone other than the group that was there with me will ever understand it. My experiences from Costa Rica are pearls to me. They are precious and valuable to me and to those that were there. I am forever thankful for what God did in the lives of those I encountered with Face of Justice, and in the experiences and relationships I’ve had with the group on the trip. I have grown personally and professionally in ways that I would not have if not for this trip.

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