Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Day 4 - God is at work!

Cindy again - Brian is in the hammock out back. Okay, I am kidding, but there IS a hammock. I am sure when it is not pouring buckets of rain people use it - LOL. Monday (yes, I'm behind -we had a late dinner last night so the blogging was put on the back burner) we went over to a church in a nearby village - CCA, where several of us went to church on Sunday. You know it takes a lot to leave me speechless but ....WOW....... The pastor told us about HIS dramatic transformation from a "believer" In Jesus to a sold-out FOLLOWER of Jesus and the change this has made in his church. They run a drug rehab for men and women, a feeding center, a Christian school with 400 students, and a host of micro-enterprises designed to offer employment and income for the folks in rehab who are rebuilding their lives as well as other people in this needy community. CCA is THE leading employer in the entire town - which, by the way, is the 2nd most violent town in Costa Rica. They have soccer fields, a snack bar, a car wash, a mechanic shop, a dental clinic, a re-sale furniture shop, and a greenhouse. The greenhouse is run by 4 Chinese people who were born again at CCA and offered their skills to the community - how COOL is that??

They also developed the Yellow House project to reclaim their community by offering safe dry housing to the poor residents. The pastor said these are not programs of the church, this IS the church. He also said, which really impacted me, that if they ever run out of money to serve the poor, he will close ALL of the efforts before he will never sacrifice one. If he has to close the feeding center, he will close the church because if he can't buy food for the poor, he can't buy microphones! Wow- what a heart for God's people. We were sooo blessed by this visit. On the way out of town we stopped by the small town of Jasmine to see the community of yellow houses, including the first one built by NLG last summer. The brave and hearty ones from our team trudged up the mountain in the mud to see the village - the rains have washed out the roads and made them impassable. We saw the villagers walking up and down the rugged hill to get to work or school. And by HILL, I mean rugged mountain, slippery with mud, jagged with rocks, very steep. I marvel at their daily life - most of us rarely walk to the mailbox and even our sidewalks are paved!

After an afternoon of meetings with the church partners, we met with everyone involved in the work here in Los Anonos - the muchachos, the mamas, the church workers, the adults involved in the Bible studies and other projects and talked openly and passionately about the needs of this little village. From church planting to micro-enterprise and everything in between, we heard story after story of God's transforming power. One boy and his mom used to sell crack together from their home. Another boy's father roams the street, a homeless drug addict.One woman is a single mom, another a wealthy real estate agent. Another boy is learning the guitar so he can lead worship. A room full of HOPE - that is what we found last night. God is obviously doing a work here, led and advanced through a pack of young boys, most barely 17, 18 years old - teachable, passionate boys who love God with all they have and want to serve Him. We ended a lively evening by standing on the balcony - 25 or so people, from all over the US and right across the river in CR, poor, not-so-poor, Gringos, Ticos, men, women, teenagers, one totally cute baby and some 30-50-somethings,. - stretching out our arms toward the city lights and praying for God's work in this town. Powerful. BIG STUFF. Pray for the folks of Los Anonos, that God will send just what they need to make his name Glorious from the quebrada to the barrio and back again, from the river banks to the mountains, from the shacks with tin roofs to the high rises in the distance. Pray for wisdom that the Americans involved will be wise and effective, not tossing money around and going home after a week but investing in the community as GOD chooses. Off to more meetings - have a great day! Love from Costa Rica!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Day Three - Sabbath

OK, so in all honesty, this was nearly a true Sabbath day for us. It is intersting as leaders that we rarely take the time to rest physically and spiritually. There are 14 of us here and we went two different directions this morning for worship. My group attended CCA (Center for Christian Adoration). This is the church that "invented" the yellow house project and I love going there at least one time when ever I am in Costa Rica. Their worship is very exciting and has a distinct Latin flavor to it. Pastor Alberto is a great guy who is very "holisitic" in his approach to ministry. What I mean by this is that the church seks to minister to the whole person -- if someone is an addict, they need Jesus and at the same time need help in breaking the addiction, help in finding a job and working hard and discipleship as they grow.

After worship, the teams meet back at the ministry house and spend the day in smaller discussions, spend time reading, even taking some naps. We gather for a wonderful late dinner and then 2 hours or so of discussions about the ministry here and how the 5 churches represented can strategically work together building on the individual strengths of our churches. It is a wonderful time that I believe God has put together to make a Kingdom impact on this community.

Tomorrow will be a full day of meetings, planning and strategizing! More then.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

WANDERING THROUGH THE VILLAGE

Surprise- Pastor Brian's blog has been hijacked by Cindy! Be warned - this is a spanish keyboard and some of the keys don't do what I expect. WOW- today was a great day. It didn't rain until after dinner (yay!) so we had a beautiful breezy sunny day to visit the town of Los Anonos. Our buddy Luis walked us down the giant hill (NO REALLY, like.... a 90 degree incline. not kidding) and across the bridge where we then walked back into the jungle overlooking a rushing river. We walked single file on a path made of mud, rocks, boards, plastic, mud, moss and leaves to a WONDERFUL yellow house in the jungle. A yellow house donated through the generous hearts of the people of New Life Church and constructed by our team this summer. Remember Marvin, the dad with the autistic adult son - he met us at the door wearing a big smile! He was so thankful and told us to make sure to thank the church. His bird cages line the walls, he has made a hammock in the front room for his son - best of all, the night before in the torrential storms, this family stayed warm and dry in his new home. I was just overcome with joy when I saw that glimpse of yellow peeking through the green leaves. This was the Body of Christ reaching out in love to the "least of these" and it was an awesome sight!

We then walked back down the hill, across the concrete bridge and wound our way back into the town of Los Anonos. Rows and rows of small homes made of tin and concrete packed in rows just beyond the river banks. In many areas the raging river had come perilously close to flooding their homes the night before. It is in this little neighborhood that the Weds night small group meets- they put 18 or so people in a room about the size of your bathroom at home and CHURCH breaks out! Fires were going, cooking rice and all manner of foods, chickens wandered the streets, music blared from houses while boys played pool or hung out on the streets - wild dogs roamed around, chasing the kids on the riverbank. Two little boys rolled their plastic car waaaaay too close to the river bank for this mama while two others shouted ' gringo!" and pointed our way. Everywhere we went, people waved, hugged, or flagged down Pastor Brian - this is his 4th trip to this little village and he has made a name for himself. He has invested his heart in this community and it is obvious. The "muchachos" - the young men who have been meeting in what looks an awful lot like revival to me - adore him and the feeling is mutual. By preaching the treasure of the Gospel faithfully and regularly into the lives of these boys, he has earned their respect. But enough about that - I'll already be banned from his blog for that last paragraph.

You know the biggest thing I saw today was this - people are messed up all over the world. Haiti, Uganda, Gahanna, Costa Rica - families are broken, people are scarred, drugs and alcohol steal lives, poverty is universal. BUT, God's people are there, praying, working, giving- offering a safe place, a warm home, a hot meal, a prayer, the truth of the Gospel, the reality of Jesus and the presence of the Holy Spirit. Yes, the Holy Spirit is alive and well in Los Anonos - He looks a lot like Rodney and Cindy who organize prayer meetings and Bible studies and host teams and spend every day tirelessly reaching out to this community in love. Like Luis, born and bred in this village and spending every day working with addicts and kids and spreading the Gospel all over Costa Rica. And the "Muchachos" - young boys - one whose dad just died, one who keeps falling back into drugs, one who feels rejected because he doesn't have the right clothes- who meet every week and vow to serve Jesus and reach out to their families and neighbors despite hard circumstances.

Enough of Saturday - headed to church on Sunday and then our meetings continue with the other 4 churches involved in the work here in Los Anonos. We have already been blessed to be in their company and learn from them and their passion for this humble town. More to come - we wish you were all here with us! Cindy



Day 1 - Great to Be Back

It is great to be back in San Jose' again! The past three months have flown by and I have anticipated coming back every day. Once relationships are developed, it is hard to be away from these developing friendships. Cindy Schmidt, New Life's Mission Director has joined me on this trip. It is intended to focus on meetings with other US pastors whose churches send teams here and local ministry leaders including Rodney and Cindy LaFrance, the missionaries her on a full-time basis.

After arriving at mid-day (no major flight problems at all), I go into Los Anonos with Taylor, a great 20-something gal who has been ministering here this past year. She goes once a week to a local family's home and does physical therapy with an 11 year old girl who has ceribal paulsy. It is an excellent way to integrate into a family and reach them through this practical expression of Christ's love. It begins to rain while we are there -- it it RAINY season here in Costa Rica. This rain continues throughout the evening! I take a few minutes and visit Marvin, whose home we built this past July. Though it is raining, his home is dr
y and homey. I am so pleased the the Yellow Houses do what they are intended to do! Marvin is very happy with his new place and proudly shows off his now furnished home.

After dinner, we head to the casita for the Friday evening youth meeting. Because of the heavy rain, we start late, but eventually about 30 people brave the weather to worship together. Mike, a pastor from the Vineyard Church in Grand Rapids speaks on what it means to faithfully follow Christ. He uses the parable of the servants to show how important using the resources and gifts God has given to you is to the Kingdom. Several raise their hands, openly indicating that they have not been faithful in their Christian walk. We pray for these and the Holy Spirit shows up and shows deeper issues that must be dealt with, heals broken hearts and draws these nearer to Himself.

If you have read this blog for awhile, you will remember my friend Jason. He had been doing very well in staying away fro
m Crack when our team was here in July, but in late August was drawn back into this very dark world. He has separated himself from other Christ-followers until tonight when he showed up and sat with me at the meeting. Thought he asked for prayer and seems to realize his spiritual situation, drugs are a strong pull temptation used by the enemy to pull men and women far away from their relationship with Christ. It is hard to see him struggling, but I know that God will continue to draw him home -- just good decisions on his part are needed.

And this is JUST day 1!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Off to Costa Rica Again!

I (Pastor Brian) will be traveling to Costa Rica again this month - October 23-29. I will be going down to meet with a group of US and Costa Rican pastors and missionaries who partner together with Harvest Hands to minister in the community of Los Anonos (in San Jose'). We will be discussing the next steps moving forward in ministry there.

As you have read in past entries, God is at work among the people, especially the young men, of thsi small and greatly needy community. As God has begun to transform lives, there is a need to now establish a church there in a more formal manner -- THE Church is there, but a building is needed so that there is room for growth at meetings and a central location from which to minister in a more affective manner. We will also be discussing future efforts in the "Yellow House Project" in that community. The very first yellow house was built there with a New Life team this past July.

Cindy Schmidt, New Life's Missions Director will also be traveling to Costa Rica so that she can get a first hand look at the ministries there. This will continue the Mission Team's effort to have a team Rep see every ministry that New Life supports.

Follow us on our short journey beginning on Friday, October 23! We leave at 6:30 AM!!! Who books these things?

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Day 9 - Day Off and Good Byes


Today was our day off - finishing the trip with a day of relaxation and sightseeing. We drive about two hours west toward the coast and go to a great canapy tour (zip lines) and then to the beach. It is nice to unwind a bit before we head home tomorrow.

When we return to Los Anonos, we are humbled that many of our friends here have gathered to say goodbye. It turns into a worship service and a time of sharing with each other the power that the Gospel has in making brothers and sisters out of strangers. Everyone has to be forced to end the evening since our bus comes at 4am to take us to the airport.

We finish the day a the ministry house in prayer -- and a sweet time of prayer it is. I am deeply impacted every time I come here, but this time, seeing these young believers, brand new Christians and those seeking, personally makes me want to be a better pastor -- focused on our FIRST LOVE! O, if we would all just realized anew that it is all about Jesus!

Tomorrow will bring travel and return to our normal lives -- a new normal for those of us impacted by these days in Costa Rica!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Day 8 - Winding Down a Bit

Today began with the Farmer's Market promptly at 6am! Only James managed to get out of bed that early and go with Rodney to take care of the weekly task of buying vegatables and fruit for the ministry house. At 9:30 we headed into downtown San Jose' to go the artisans market to do a bit of "tourist-type shopping". It is filled with handcrafted items from around Costa Rica as well as other Latin American countries. This is just a short stop before we head back to Los Anonos. We have a lite snack and then prepare to go tot he Men's Rehab Center for a big BBQ that we have been looking forward to all week.

At the Men's Rehab Center, we gather in a grassy area of the center and Lester & Tito lead in worship. Maximo, the leader of outreach at CCA shares the fact that we can all come together as Christ-followers and Christ-seekers and find unity in spite of our cultural differences. James shares his testimony in a really impactful way that obviously hits the 45 men in the Rehab in a way they understand. Addicts in recovery have a special way of communicating that is amazing. They just get each other. I get to share for a few moments and then the director of the Rehab shares. The theme throughout the time is threefold: 1. We need to stay connected to Jesus to succeed 2. We need to stay connected in church community to succeed and 3. We need to stay connected with at least one other strong believer who will challenge us to continue growing closer to Jesus. No matter where we go in the world, the principles of transformation are the same.

We return to the house for a relaxing evening that includes a time to debrief with Rodney and Cindy about our week here. We again talk about the people we have connected with and the joy we find in watching God work here. We end the evening praying for a young guy names Dago, who is suffering with what seem to be migrain headaches. He had not had one all week, but is suddenly hit by one. This young guy has a hard family situation and very little support at home, so after extended prayer that God would touch him and keep him from being fearful about this, we try to help him practically with some time of rest and some medication. Imagine being a young guy and having no one there to explain the massive pain, blurred vision and even trouble swallowing that comes with migrains.

We close the evening in a circle of Gringos and Ticos praising God for His grace. May He continue to spread it in Costa Rica and Ohio in miraculous ways!

Day 7 - Climbing

Day 7 begins early for most of our team. 7am brings a bus to the door and we head to the mountains along with 15 or so of the young men and women from Los Anonos. Above the city of San Jose' is a large white cross -- the plan is to hike to the top of the mountain to the cross. This is a grueling effort, and I (call me crazy) have chosen to take a pass! So Aaron Walker will share with you the experience:

The hike took an hour and a half to get to the top of the mountain and the view was amazi
ng. The boys ran ahead of us the entire way and pointed out different locals as they took great pride in the beauty of their country. Once we reached the cross at the top, the energetic boys wanted to take a different trail down to show us the river on the other side. We were told that it was "close and easy" (Ha!). Taylor (the 20 year old intern that is living and working with Rodney and Cindy) and I decided to go. We soon realized that the "trail" was a series of cliffs along the side of the mountain. As we "climbed" down, we would literally slide, surf, and roll down the cliffs and catch one another before falling off one of the footings. Taylor was a great sport, but after numerous falls and scrapes and realizing the river was actually near the base of the mountain we had just climbed (and knowing we had to climb back up the same way) we decided to turn around. Taylor was pretty tired, but what was really cool was seeing 3 of the boys care for and carry her each difficult step of the climb; the boys were truly sacrificial gentlemen. Well, we eventually all made it back up and then down the other side. It was a great bonding time with the boys as we all breathed in the overwhelming beauty of God's creation (and we can now all laugh about each others' falls).

Those of us who stayed behind spent some time in the village talking with those we came across, stopping at the little school where several moms were having a sale to raise funds for the school. Mark's donated soccer shirts (probably 60 of them) were the first things to be sold, so we feel we had a small part in helping in the effort. We cleaned up some around the mission house and tried to see our "mountain crew" with binoculars! It was the less strenuous part of the hike! HA!

The dedication of the yellow house took place at 2pm. Nearly 50 of those who participated in the effort gathered in the living area of the new home! We presented Marvin with a Bible to commemorate the day and told him that though his house had a key, this Bible was really the key to life. Several others shared about the beauty of building a house together as a multi-cultural team, some of the local guys shared and we were all touched by the joy that they had as they were learning the happens when you serve others. The electrician was there too and told a story that most of us had not heard -- several years ago, a bridge connecting the two sides of the community was washed out, so Marvin, all by himself, with lots of resistance, built a small foot bridge from bamboo, pieces of wood and wire, really anything he could find. His bridge reconnected a whole community until a new bridge could be built! He had served his neighbors in the past and now his neighbors were serving him by building a new home. Pastor Alberto from CCA talked about the fact that this effort is proof that the church is indeed the hope of the world! Prayer for the house is followed by a pizza party -- exciting here since pizza is not a normal part of a poor community. As we take photos of the the "team", expanded to far more than the 9 of us from the states, I am touched by the sight of what God wants happening all the time in His church -- people from all kinds of backgrounds working together, ministering together to prove that we are really ONE "cross-cultural"!

Friday nights is the meeting of the young people and by 7:30, nearly 50 people are jammed into the Casita to worship and seek the face of Jesus. The temperature continues to rise but no one seems too concerned since they are their to meet with God, not be comfortable...hhhmmmm...I wonder how this would work at home? Lester and Tito lead worship and then Rodney says that this will be a night for Q&A. Here are some of the questions:

* "What is happening when people are prayed for and begin to cry and seem to lose control?"
* "Why don't I always feel like others do when God is here? Others say they feel a fire inside them,
but I don't."
* "Sometimes the pull towards drugs seems strgoner than the pull toward Jesus. Why is that?"
* "Can I get the same feeling that I had when I was saved?"
* "What will it take for us to be ready to be leaders?"

These are excellent questions from any group, any where. Several of us help to answer these questions and Rodney carefully guides the evening. I am convinced that this helped many people grow in their walk with Christ.

A call to those who desire prayer is given and several people come to the center. The ladies move to the area where the young ladies are and begin to pray for them while others pray for the guys. Again, the Holy Spirit begins to minister in our midst. Young people weeping and repenting and others holding on to their brothers and sisters as they deal with God. We could learn much from this energetic and passionate group of believers when it comes to honesty and humbly sharing your failures and pains with each other. As the prayer time continues for over an hour, a youn man with whom Aaron has struck up friendship goes to him and embraces him...for probably 15+ minutes. It is a special moment as this and other relationships have so quickly developed to this level. One of the Costa Rican ladies shares a word from God with Tandy too. The point is that ministry is going on "both ways"; a mutual spiritual impact from culture to culture. It is well after 10 before we return home.

With the mountain hike, the dedication and intense ministry time --- every one is dead in bed very quickly...thus the lateness of this blog. The thought of "goodbyes" is getting harder.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Day 6 - Finish Work & Healing Work

Today (actually yesterday - I was too worn out to do the blog last night), the final touches started to take place at the house. First thing this morning, the crew began to put the roof on the house. They discovered that Marvin had moved a chair and small mattress into the yet completed structure and slept there for the night. He just could not wait to spend the night his new place! Roof work was complicated by a continuous rain that fell all morning. But our crew leaders, James and Jamie, made sure that the work was completed. Everyone was well soaked, but the roof was on. The electrician began work on the wiring while others crews worked on the doors and windows. This is very tedious work, but several Ticos caught on to the tasks quickly and worked hard with the details. At the end of the day we discovered that the glass was the wrong size by just enough to mean that it will need to be re-cut in order for the windows to be completed (just a minor bump). THEN the YELLOW paint goes on -- a task especially difficult this time because the house is built on a hill. Acrobatics were used to complete the task and no one fell and was washed away down river!! As the yellow goes on, I thank God for those of you who contributed to the costs of this trip and those who sacrificed to cover the cost of the house materials. Truly it has taken all these pieces and people to make this a reality.

Throughout the day, we also fix our blooper on the mural, shop for our big cookout at the rehab and do planning for the events of the next few days. Mark brought lots of soccer shirts with him and the young guys are thrilled to get a "cool" new shirt - just something insignificant back home, but not here. Our team had a wonderful prayer time this morning where we were able to minister to one another deeply. This is an easy part of trips to miss because of the physical work, but God always works on team members as much as He does the people here. I will let the team members tell their own stories of what God is doing in their lives, but it is VERY cool.

We are stalled fairly early by heavy rains, so we get a little more down time that has been usual this week. Then in the evening, three of us (Brian, James and Brandon) go to be part of the meeting for addicts. The young men and even some adults are so excited by what God is doing here that more than just addicts come to this meeting time. The small room is filled with well over 40 people. I am amazed that they come to be packed in to a small space that is not air conditioned, to sit on folding chairs, to listen to gringos talk -- with interpretation. Seems like at home, these variables would mean that no one would show up! We are very spoiled, aren't we?

Worship is wonderful with just guitar and the people enter in with passion. James shares his story of addiction, incarceration and loneliness. This story in very similar to many and they connect immediately with him. Rodney shares about our lives being like soil and asks them to seek to be someone who has soil where the Word can impact deeply. Then I share on 1 John 3:16 - we all desire to be loved, but often we do not believe that anyone loves us or even could love us. Jesus came and died because He loves us AND we are to love one another in this same way. When we understand the depth of God's love and then sense and feel it from other believer's we begin to live in freedom and gain a sense of dignity. This understanding gives us constant hope in the midst of our daily battles. Realize that addicts and even the poor struggle to know and accept that God could love them - just like us, right?

We then moved into a prayer time for three groups: 1. Those who struggle to believe th
at God could love them, 2. Those who have deep hurt and pain, 3. Those who can only think about where their next "hit" will come from. A lady steps forward and sings the song "God Will Make A Way" and it is obvious that the Spirit is at work. Chairs are moved to the side and those who desire prayer come to the middle of the room. As we begin to lay hands on those standing there, I can only describe what I believe to be a wave of the Holy Spirit touching lives. One young man falls to his knees crying out in repentance of his past -- just 15 years old, with a child already, terrible family situation, on and on. He remains on the floor sobbing and praying for over 45 minutes. God is at work healing all the junk of the past and freeing him -- just as He desires to do for each of us. Meanwhile others are being touched -- what is happening is from God because much of the prayer is in English, so there is no way that any of these happenings are forced. I am reminded of Pastor Steve's statement a few months ago that in the last days we will see God pour out His Spirit in amazing ways. I believe this is what we are experiencing. The room was filled with men and women understanding God's love and seeking Him in deep ways AND God ministering to them individually apart from anything that we were doing. I could go on and on, but this was an amazing God time. We can tell more when we are home.

The relationships that God is cementing her in Los Anonos are continuing to deepen in spite of language barriers! People deeply in love with Jesus, others being impacted by this wave of the Spirit in this place. Now our team is starting to feel the reality that soon we must leave. But I believe that we will leave here with a desire to see God move in this way in our lives, our churches and our communities.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Day 5 - Half Way Point


Today was focused -- work on the house! Then work on the house more! Then redo the mistakes made on the house! Then work on the house yet again! All of this through blazing sun, then threat of rain, then sun again. Building was a challenge since we are really doing three things -- building with our crew, partnering with the Ticos who know the work AND training younger guys in the skills they need to do these projects. Each of these is critical as we move into the future with the partnership in CR. We could sense that the enemy was trying to challenge us as several relationships seemed to be on edge. In addition, because there were so many people working (or watching the work) at times (sometimes 30 or more), mistakes were made and several "do-overs" were needed. Part of teaching is allowing mistakes, so everyone is learning. Despite the set-backs, all walls and rafters are in place, so that tomorrow the roof, doors and windows can be set and the painting --- YELLOW of course, can be done. Only the electric will be left to do and a local electrician comes in to work on that.

We also finished the wall too -- realized tonight that we have a misspelling, but we'll fix that tomorrow. Murals in your 2nd language is not as easy as you may think! At dinner, Rodney told us that Marvin talked to him today about all that this new house means to him. He talked about having gone into a kind of depression for a long while, believing that no one cared about him and become very closed off from the village. He said that he never knew that this many people in his community cared about him. He is also amazed that people would come all the way from the states to build his home. He used to be an artist of sorts, but in his depression had given it up. The feelings that he has now because of this outpouring of love shown to him h
ave now caused him to want to go back to painting and drawing. God is softening his heart and we believe he will soon come to Jesus. You see, it really is MORE than a yellow house!

Tonight, some of the guys went to the Planche' to spend time with the teens and play some ball. More importantly, they are forming real relationships that have given way to conversations about life and relationship with Jesus -- you should hear some of the Spanish coming out of our team!!!

I went with Rodney to a home Bible Study in a local home -- 14 people were crammed into a very small living area (maybe 7X9) as we studied the parable of the seeds and the soils. How amazing to see seekers, believers and new Christ-followers come together and seek God through His Word. Lots of wonderful things happened, but just one story for today -- the question was asked, what "rocks" or "weeds" are you struggling with in your life right now? Giovanni, a 19 year old new believer (being freed from drug and alcohol) said that his relationship with his mother was strained and that he treated her with disrespect and harsh words. Rodney told him that he should go to her, look her in the eyes and seek here forgiveness -- now did I tell you that his mother was sitting across the room? Rodney told him he could do this later, but this young man humbly walked to his mother and fell at her feet, looked up at her and asked forgiveness. He then fell into her lap and began to weep. Others of us in the room moved to him and began to pray for him and he began to heave as he cried. This lasted for more than 10 minutes. More prayer ministry took place, but god was doing too much to tell here.

More than a house. More than a trip. More than come gringos going south. It is a God-mission, a God-sized endeavor for which only HE has the power!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Day 4 - Floors, Murals, Prayer...etc.

What a day! My goal is to keep this post short because I am wiped out, as is most of the team. It has been an intense, event-filled day. Aaron put it this way... "full & rich"! This really does say how the 9 of us are feeling not even half-way into this trip. I am thrilled at the unity of our team considering we come from 3 different churches and only met as a team one time before coming for a day of training. On day four, it feels as though we have know each other for far longer than reality tells us. This has contributed to the level of ministry we have been able to be a part of. We discussed tonight the things that build relationships -- laughing together, crying together and serving together. This is very, very true -- give them a try!

So... today we finishe
d wall panel construction, finished the floor, continued work on the mural (almost done), got caught in a rain storm, prayer walked, visited in homes and even made a valiant attempt at a ladies craft project (it's all good, but don't ask). Let's just say that plastic bags and young boys don't mix!!! We also continued the in our joy, experiencing the intense emotion of being in a very small room while waiting out a rain storm and listening to 15 or so young men, many of whom have struggled or are struggling with addictions, worshiping God with their voices shouting out as loudly as they could. Watching these guys, who we have been working side-by-side with on our projects, close their eyes and praise a God who has shown them His amazing grace, brought most of us to tears! Now THIS is church folks! This was not happening just a few short months ago. Only Jesus pulls this kind of stuff off!!!

On a personal note, Rodney and I visited in the home of a lady names Sandra who lives in a very small house with her EIGHT children (ages 3 months to 16 years). All of the children share beds...in the same "room" that is just big enough to hold two bunk beds. When I was invited to go into the room, I had to turn side ways just to stand in it. This lovely lady has a wonderful spirit and is making progress in her walk with Christ -- just another story of what God is doing among the people of Anonos. By the way, I held her youngest throughout the visit and got spit up on five times -- now THAT is a mission trip!

On a far less serious note, their is a tradition here (at least that's what we are told) called "spider". It consists of grabbin
g an individual by the arms and legs and throwing them into the arm and then stopping their downward trajectory just before they hit the pavement below!!! Sound fun? That's all about that for now, but it will give you something to ask about when we get home. The best part is that it is done only among those who are friends -- we are now officially friends!!

Words and even photos cannot really do justice in expressing the things that God is up to here or what He is doing in our lives. I think that some of you will be welcoming back a different person than got on the plane just 4 days ago.

NOTE: The picture of the white-haired man is Marvin, for whom we are building the house!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Day 3 - The House...and More Begin


Today is actually "Yellow House, Day 1". We leave early to start work, frankly wondering what all lies ahead as we try to figure out exactly how to build this one. Praise God, the designer of the yellow houses was here all day, guiding our crew in the initial stages -- the really important ones -- of the footers/foundation. If you don't the house square every thing else goes wrong. The best part of today is that at least a dozen, probably more Ticos are with us -- not watching -- but looking. We are thrilled that what is happening is that we are doing far more than coming in and giving. We are now teaching! There is nothing like seeing people contribute wholeheartedly to their own community. This means that the effort can be sustained even in times when teams from the states are not here.

As we begin the day, Eric takes on of our buddies (Jason) to the clinic. A couple of weeks ago, he went with a team hiking to pray on a mountain near here and one of the visiting teens, trying to be funny, pushed him and he hit a rock and sliced open his foot -- ten stitch
es!!! Now, Jason is the guy who I we net last July who was a crack addict who had been stabbed in the leg -- we took him to the clinic then too! We're pretty sure he's accident prone!!! The great news is that he is all out for Jesus, has been living in deliverance and freedom and is doing great -- other than that needing surgery thing he keeps going through!!

The rest of the team divides into three groups -- partneri
ng with locals on projects:
1. digging/footer crew - making sure the house is level and steady
2. panel crew - building the walls that will go up later in the week

3. mural crew - another mural project awaits, this one at the entrance to the "drug area" of the village called the Cabrada! This one will have an overtly spiritual message!

Everyone works hard all day.
We are thrilled to see the ownership that is being taken by the locals. By day's end, many on our team are "supervising", while the Ticos are doing the work -- and some of this work takes real skill! Progress and answered prayer! Quick breaks are taken for lunch and then a late day cafe' (coffee). Our construction goals were all met and many spiritual relationships are continuing to form and grow.

After dinner some of the guys go down to play at little football with the young men! They seems to love having Gringos around -- especially men who give them attention, love an respect. You would be proud of these guys who are just pouring themselves out into these still developing lives -- lives that only God knew He would draw into the Kingdom in miraculous ways!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Encounters...God Style!

A good night's sleep had us all in a better place this morning. We were up early and went to worship at CCA (Center for Christian Praise) for the early service at 8am. This is a more quiet, laid back service that the 10am that we have gone to in the past. But still the worship was wonderful, led by people obviously in tune with God's heart. We are always warmly welcomed at the church and made to feel a part of the family rather than just guests. The pastor gave a wonderful message about "The Prosperity Gospel" discussing it not being what the Bible teaches. Prosperity, he said, is far more than financial prosperity -- it begins with a life that is touched by Jesus and committed to holiness above all else. If you are in the desert, what do you want, money or water? Best part of the morning??? I, Pastor Brian drive the van to and from the church -- 15 minutes and San Jose' roads away! Personally, I am impressed with myself!!!! AND everyone got back alive and not in fear of ever being on the road again!

After church we return, and several of us go to the work site to help clear the items inside. Once the house is clear, we divide into two groups and visit what could be some future building sites for yellow houses. Our new friend Lester takes us to his home and we find a place that during the rainy season leaks badly -- to the point where every thing in the home must be covered in plastic. We meet at the top of a hill overlooking Anonos and pray for the city -- Gringos and Ticos together -- broken for this community that Christ is drawing to Himself.

The two groups have a quick lunch and then head down to the site of the "Yellow House". It is demolition day! Words and even pictures cannot describe what this effort is all about -- steep hill, house near collapse, lots of dangerous footing and material that could come crashing down at any moment. Jamie and James take the lead as we being demo! We are thrilled as our 9 are joined by more than a dozen locals (young men, struggling addicts coming to Jesus, even a lady that until a few months ago dealt drugs herself) excited to see this new house go up. This is something new happening in the community -- joining the Americans in the effort! The level of excitement is palpable. The house comes down, digging away at the side of the hill begins and plans to start the foundation begin. I can't help but believe that God is using this house as just another part of the foundation that is being built in Anonos right now!

We finish early so take some time to make sure we are clean -- spiritually and physic
ally (mostly physically -- since we're not sure where some of the water we are covered in came from!) The team meets to discuss the parable of the seeds and the sower as well as what God is already showing us here after just 24 hours. Some other local ministry workers join us for a big Latino dinner and then we head to the Planche' (gathering area) to spend time with the community. The best part of ministering here is that we get to spend lots of our time with people building relationships and getting to know them and their culture. The discussions that the team -- event hrough the language barrier -- is able to have is amazing. You can communicate really well when it's important enough!

The plan was to play basketball with some of the young guys that are Christ-followers and those who He is drawing into the Family, but there is a women's football (that's soccer to you non-Ticos!)
Just last year, this would h
ave never been happening. Rodney tells us that as God has begun to move in the last month, the people have determined to "take back their community." Last year, the planche' was a place where, after dark, the drug dealers and their high customers would hang out. This year, families are gathered together, children are playing and a community is cheering on a friendly football game! One of the guys who is being ministered to by Harvest Hands has headed up this effort and the people have responded. God changes lives...and those changed lives begin to change a community! We are seeing it with our own eyes.

As the football game ends, and the Gringos from Ohio join with Ticos to play b'ball! Nearly 100 people stay to watch, cheer and laugh at the "white boys" who for some reason have mostly ended up on the "skins" team! This is why I don't play basketball!!! Relationships are being buit everywhere today! You can be proud of this team who have all jumped in with both feet -- no fear!!!

Just as we thought the day was ending, several of us leave the Planche' to walk home while others are finishing play! As we walk, we are approached by two guys, one decked out in shiny red jacket and gold chains. Rodney tells me that this is an addict they have been working with who within the last few weeks has encountered Christ -- his brother brought him at 5am as another team was leaving CR and asked them to pray for him. Now he brings his friend to us in the street. The friend tells us that he wants to come to Jesus, but knows he must make a commitment of himself on his own. He wants us to pray for him -- right there in the street. Now, keep in mind that people are walking the streets, so we are out in the open. We lay hands on this young guy and being to pray, some in English and others in Spanish. Tito joins us and beings to pray in a way that only a guy your own age, who has experienced life here can do. Rodney, then begins to pray in English loud enough for the guys to hear -- he does not speak the language. As our prayer, now mostly in English intensifies, the guy begins to break and weep! I believe that because he could not understand us, God broke in and spoke to him directly. We were out of the way!!! Think of it! REAL street ministry! When was the last time someone brought a friend to you for ministry because of what God was up to in their lives! I believe this young guy will very soon, be a brother of ours (Mi Hermano!)

All I can say is that GOD IS IN OUR MIDST! GOD IS AT WORK! GOD IS DOING A GOD THING!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Day One - Reality Check

The team arrived at the airport at 4:30am! Yes A....M....! Our travel was smooth through Houston and we arrived right on time! We did discover that Costa Rica does not move to daylight savings time, so the time here is two hours earlier than Columbus. Traffic affected our pick and travel, but eventually we arrived at the Rodney & Cindy LeFrance's home where we stay through our trip.

Before we got a chance to take a breath, we heard that the delivery of the materials for the Yellow House had arrived at the Casita (the small room where all activities take place for the ministry). We grabbed a couple bites of snacks and walked to the delivery site. Everyone -- including our two VERY impressive ladies, jumped in to help the locals who were already working. In the past, we were left much to ourselves as we worked, but this time, many locals are helping with the efforts. We are very excited about this, because we want there to be local ownership of the ministry.

We walk the very narrow p
ath to Marvin's house we will be replacing and discover a far more desperate need than we had imagined. Open sides, dirt floors, a dangerous location all make the situation not comparable to most anything in the States. The team, especially those here for the first time are dramatically impacted by the poverty and need of this small community called Anonos and it's people.

After time to relax a bit and have dinner, we gather together along with a couple of the local young adult guys and learn about how our schedule of building will go as well as other ministry we will be doing this week. We worship together and hear the stories of what God is doing here -- a revival of sorts has broken out as young people and addicts are seeking Go
d -- falling on their faces before a holy God, desiring HIM above all else.

We will now sleep well! Ready for tomorrow and all it will bring -- whatever God decides that will be.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

36 Hours and Counting!


The team leaves for Costa Rica at 6:15AM this Saturday. We have lots of ministry planned and exspect much ministry to take place that only God knows about at this point. Reports from Anonos are coming in and we cannot wait to get on the ground. Just in the past 2 weeks a "revival" of sorts has broken out among the young adult guys as well as the addicts in the village. Nearly 60 of these precious souls are now asking that a church be started!

A "church?" you might ask. You see, Harvest Hands is a ministry that works with several local congrrgations helping to supply workers and start ministries in the area. They have not started a church...until now! There are a couple of churches in the village, but each of these brings
"issues" to the table that make ministry to young people and especially addicts and issue. In our discussions over the past year, we knew that only God would be able to do what it took to start a churchin Anonos. Apparently, He is up to just that now. He is working in the lives of young men who are seeing the need to give their all to Jesus and fully follow Him. Addicts are ASKING for minsitry and desire to know Jesus. The Holy Spirit is breaking out in miraculous ways as he is healing and delivering individuals "on the spot"!

We get to step into this atmosphere!!! Pray that as we do, that we will be conduits of sorts for Jesus to minister! The "yellow house" we will be building will be one of the most complicated yet built, so pray that God gives us and the workers there insight into the most efficient way to build. Also, because this is the first "yellow house" in Anonos, our prayer is that people in the village will see us building and be drawn to the effort where we can tell them that JESUS has come to build this house -- and build their lives!

We seek transformation continually at New Life and we desire transformation to take place in us and through us beginning Saturday! Come back and watch the progress.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Preparing Ourselves for Service - One Month to Go!

Since this team is made up of individuals from 3 churches, we have worked to make sure we are ready to become ONE TEAM on the field. On Saturday, June 6th the entire team came together in Columbus for 6 HOURS! Yes, but it was way more fun than it sounds.

We took time to listen to each other's stories so that we can rejoice in how God brought each of us to the team. In what can only be God, everyone was very open and shared things that can often take lots of time together to discover. This kind of openess really began to cement the team as a group almost immediately.

Throughout our day together, we talked about the gifts and abilities we each bring to the team. We discussed the challenge of cross-cultural ministry including making sure we go to Coast Rica as servants, not judges! A couple of "games" helped challenge us in the area of communicating in a language that is not our primary language -- let's just say that there were blind folds involved and we'll leave the rest to your imagination! The February CR team (special kudos to Steve Selegue!) provided a wonderful dinner for us in Bert's Cafe'. We worshiped together in the Saturday Celebration and then ended the day praying together for this trip, the people of Costa Rica, and asked God to use us as His hands and heart there.

Please pray for the final stages of our fund raising. Stories are coming in of God's miraculous provision for our trip costs. Also, pray that over the next month, our planning will go smoothy and that we can come up with lots of creative ways to ministry while there. Just one more month to go!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Heading South Yet Again!

The next team heading for Costa Rica has been formed and is the preparation stages. 10 individuals are on this team -- a diverse one with people from 3 different churches! Pastor Brian Robertson and James Green from New Life Gahanna, Eric Obert and Lisa Epling from Ekklesia (the New Life Network Church in the Short North) and Aaron Walker, Mark Danner, Jamie Graham, Tande Rose and Brandon Montgomery from Gallipolis, Ohio. The connection is that Aaron and his wife Cassie were memebers and leaders at New Life for many years. We are excited to see how God uses us to have an impact on the Kingdon this July.

The trip dates are July 18-27. If plans stay in place, we will be building the very first "yellow house" in Los Anonos! Over the past several weeks, the people of New Life Gahanna have given nearly $13,000 to build these houses in Costa Rica. This houses cost $3500 each, so this is a great start to a pool of money we can use for this purpose.

Please pray with us as we work in the fund-raising stage of our effort. Each individual needs $1300 for this trip. If you would like to give, you can do so through New Life Church Gahanna.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Home AND Changed

We arrived home in Ohio over 30 minutes early. The late departure from San Jose caused us to barely make the flight to Columbus from Newark, but we made it. Apparently tail winds were our friends as we traveld north!

While it good to be back home, I am sure that all of us left part of ourselves -- especially our hearts -- in Costa Rica.

Now the chance is ours to be forever transformed and live out what God did in our hearts there on a daily basis here. We will share with anyone at anytime, whenever asked.

Just a note. You will remember that Phil helped Rodney clear the field near the ministry house incasea fire broke out. Monday night, after being away from the house, the Harvest Hands team returned to find that a fire had indeed started in that field. Cindy says it is a mess, but the house is safe. We missed the excitement by just 1 day!

Our next trip to Costa Rica will be July 18-27. Please give me a call at 614-475-8500 or email me at brobertson@enewlife.com if you are interested.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Day 9! Our Final Day in Costa Rica

Today is the day on any short-term trip that team members face with a mixture of joy and sorrow. The joy is because we are heading home soon to our family and friends. The sorrow comes because in just a few short days, relationships have developed and lasting friendships have begun. But for every team this day must come and so we face it with grace.

A little extra sleep helps us recover a bit from the hard week. At the same time, we realize a few more aches, a few more bug bites and a bit more "internal issues" than we would like. The good news is that no one individual is dealing with all three!

We go to church again at CCA and enjoy their Latin influenced worship style. It feels more comfortable for us this week since we have had the opportunity to meet some of the people throughout the past week. The message is about caring for the fatherless and the widows. I am struck by the importance of a community of believers who consistently maintains a ministry of service and care to these parts of the body. I was especially challenged to the fact that many men going through rehab say they began their struggles as at risk children, thus building the case for the importance of men mentoring into the lives of children and young teens.

After a quick lunch, we head to Jasmin for the "Final Game in the World Series of Baseball" between the US and Nicaragua. OR as it is commonly known, the old Gringos vs the young boys of Jasmin. Many of these boys have heard about baseball, but never gotten the chance to play. With only a little coaching -- in another language remember, the boys get the hang of it. Rodney wisely brought a whiffle ball and plastic bat to play with since there is only a small peice of flat ground to use for the game. A small group of parents gather on the hill above us to watch this site. It is amazing how a language barrier can be broken with a simple game of baseball. Everyone, including the kids laughed and had a great time...but alas, the US lost the game in a tight 25-20 battle. How wonderful would it be if some of the dads watching today realized the ability they have to connect with their sons through simply playing with them. Maybe in coming Sundays, we'll find father-son games going on in Jasmin and a few more at risk kids saved from a life of addictions.

Immediatley after the big game, we haul ourselves up the hill to the build site and find Joselyn at home in her new place. The electrician has been there and added electric to the house. Joselyn has also added here own touches including simple drapes in all the windows. This is very significant since her old "house" did not have any windows. She seems pround to have us tour the place -- the place that was simply a dream to her this time last week. We take a few minutes for a team picture with her before passing out copies of photos we have taken of the children throughout the week. They are all very excited to get these gifts and we are pleased to know that maybe we brought a bit of the love of Jesus to them and their families. Maybe one day soon, as the Father draws them to Himself, they will more completely understand the reason a bunch of Buckeyes came their way.

A trip to the store to purchase Costa Rican coffee for all our coffee loving friends is next. Let me just say that going shopping with 7 men is something I never want to repeat again if at all possible. I can also tell these guys wives that they should never let their husbands say anything about having to wait at the grocery for them again. It's just entirely too sad a story to tell at this point...

Steve and Paul make a quick run down the hill to Los Anonos to check on yesterday's projects and determine what follow-up is needed. Several of us stay back to clean up. I get the chance to spend extended time with my young friend Tito. god has great plans for this 19 year old young man and it is a blessing to be a small part of his life. After dinner, the New Life Team and the Harvest Hands Team meet together one last time. We discuss the Kingdom of God and how it differs completely from the world in both its goals and its methods. We share what God has done in our lives this week. As we prayed together I was most struck by a prayer that Cindy LeFrance prayed. She asked God to never let us forget the sounds of Los Anonos and Jasmin -- the sounds of the poor, the needy, the forgotten, the children, the church. I pray that same prayer. "Lord, never let us forget. May we continue to be transformed into the likeness of your son Jesus, who gave His life as a ransom for us."

Off to bed to rise early for the airport and the journey home; forever changed, forever grateful and pressing on to minister through our tears to those whom Jesus loves with a passion that took Him to the cross.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Day 8! Covering the City

Today was a day with lots of pieces. We went to several sections of San Jose today. Very early this morning, most of our group -- 4 out of 7 (you can guess who's who) -- left at 6am to go the market with Rodney to gathering the fruit, vegetables and flowers for the coming week. Rodney brings home a new bouquet every Saturday. Now, so you don't think Rodney is so much better than we US husbands, keep in mind that a huge bouquet of tropical flowers, or roses, or lilies cost between $5 and $10! But he still gets credit!

The rest of us rose late -- by 7am, ate a good breakfast and then started preparing for the day. Phil and Ed have been hit by the Costa Rican Stomach Bug (just a food thing probably) so they rested some. Steve & Paul worked on a stove that had been donated. They repaired and painted it as best they could and then delivered it to a woman in Los Anonos with 7 children and one on the way. Ed, though not feeling well, joined them in this under taking which included using a dolly to bring the stove down a very steep hill side with dirt steps (and in places, just uneven ground). It was a site to say the least. We think we'll send a photo to Sears and challenge them to come up with a harder delivery! They worked to rewire the stove so that it is usable. For you electricians, the stove is 220, but the current they were working with was 110! Quite the challenge, but now there is a working stove that this family can use to fix meals instead of going to the "common kitchens" found in the community (just basic wood shelters where woman can cook over fires).

Craig, Jeff and Brian went to work on an area in this same location that is very steep and extremely hard to walk up. I would say that some sections reach about a 60 degree angle. It is just smooth hard ground in most places. In other places it is a thin layer of dirt covering trash. It is hard to explain, but essentially over the years, trash of every kind has been dumped in this area and built up to allow sections so deep and thick that you can walk on it to reach the top of the hill (probably 150 yards from the bottom to the top). With pick axes and shovels we created about 16 steps in this area to make the ascent and descent easier. Craig is an excellent foreman and could see this all in his head! This is a project that Rodney has wanted to accomplish for nearly 2 years! The first step is now done. Next wood braces and then maybe concrete will be added. Come rainy season, this could all wash away without reinforcement.

Phil arose from his sick bed to help Rodney clear talk grasses near the ministry house so that fires that often start during dry season would not impact the house. We have already seen at least 5 fires this week in the parts of the city we have been in. One just 2 nights ago here in Los Anonos.

After lunch, we took a trip by public bus to the center of the city. It was teeming with vast numbers of people in the shopping district. To describe it as crowded would be an understatement. We walked many blocks before we reached the artisans market where you can find most anything made in Costa Rica. Family members can expect lovely gifts! Another long walk and then the bus ride home finished out this adventure. By the way, if anyone asks...Ed does not like crowds, Steve is never even tempted to make a purchase and the bus drivers in San Jose are experts in over charging Gringos!! Ha!

We had a late dinner including some of the leadership of organizations we have worked with this week. It was great to discuss future ministry possibilities with them. The future looks very promising as a partnership seems to be growing. The Kingdom is big and when different parts of that Kingdom discover their individual strengths and work together, impact is maximized. This is just like it happens in a local body of believers, only on a larger scale. When each one operates in their strengths and giftings, the Kingdom prospers and grows.

Late to bed tonight after the day spent covering the city. Tomorrow we head to church, a baseball game in Jasmin and a series of long good byes! As our time in Costa Rica comes to a close, the seemingly quick passage of time is very real -- and the time to reach the nations seems even shorter than it did last week.