I am in Costa Rica with our High School mission team. We are working at a camp and conference center owned by the Methodist Church here as well as working at a local church. We are assisting in the construction of their educational facility, pastor’s office and sidewalks which are very helpful during the rainy season. Tuesday we had nearly 80 kids at the afternoon Vacation Bible School led by our students. On Monday there were only a few kids at first, so our students went into the neighborhood with some of our Costa Rican hosts inviting children to participate. Nearly 40 children came after our students shared these invitations. I hope you will take time to look at the blogour students are posting each day. You can read about the experience in their words. I will share some of my observations:
1. The people who came up with United Methodist Volunteers in Mission(UMVIM) are geniuses. UMVIM encourages people from churches to experience other cultures and meet needs that they otherwise would not know existed. It is exciting to see how unified the UMC is in the work it does around the world. Here in Costa Rica many UMVIM teams have participated in building and maintaining this conference center and the church where we are working. The church is in a very poor section of town and the funds and assistance of UMVIM teams have helped enable them to construct a sanctuary that is very nice along with related space for Sunday School. That is only half the story. These teams are also blessed. People you meet when you go on an UMVIM trip bless you in ways unexpected. They teach you things about the Christian life you did not even know you were missing. You discover new insights about being a Christ follower. This exchange is the genius of the system.
2. Your kids make a wonderful group and I am really enjoying being a part of their team. Let me give you a couple of examples:
On Monday the group I was with shoveled load after load of rock and fine crushed gravel to create a foundation for a sidewalk. I found muscles that I have not used since the 1980’s. It was a warm day. Even though we worked all day moving wheelbarrow loads of rock and fill, there was not one complaint. No one dropped out. They just kept working all day long. In the room above our site another group was finishing walls with plaster. They worked the same way. I later learned that the groups back at the conference center had worked in like fashion. Parents, I am aware that it sometimes takes multiple threats to get a dishwasher unloaded back home. Take joy in knowing that they can be true servants when they are motivated. (And if you want to bring a mission team to unload my dishwasher, give me a call.)
They play together beautifully and include everyone. Often teenagers can be very prone to just hanging out with kids they know. I have seen these kids move around when they eat, invite those who look bored to join them in a game and take time to get to know each other while working. One of the greatest marks of Christian community is when we include everyone. What a pleasure to be a part of such a group this week.
3. It is a joy to worship with another culture. Tuesday nightat the mid-week service at the church where we are working, Pastor Victor started a song and invited a group of girls and young women to the front. They were to dance during the song. As our students watched, it occurred to a couple of our boys to join them. You read that correctly. A couple of our boys went up and joined them. Soon some of our girls joined them. Before we knew it, the majority of our group was joyfully learning the motions and joining the dance. What was so great about all this is that they were really having a good time. During the worship service. So who knows, maybe we need to import some Costa Rican dance steps to our weekend worship. The Bible says that the “joy of the Lord is our strength,” and tonight I saw it in action. No, I did not join them. I was having too much fun watching them.
Our church offers many of these mission trips each year. Let me be honest for a moment. At Annual Conference I was given a significant responsibility (more on that later) and I really did not feel like I had time for this trip. But my fees were paid and my daughter was going, so of course, I went. It is so nice to see how God faithfully uses mission trips to help us experience new community, enter a different zone than the one in which we live and gain insights about the Christian life we would have never found otherwise. That has been a blessing to me this week.
Currently, Floris is preparing to send a team to Haitiand a team to Sierra Leone. I know your life is also very busy, but if you get a chance to go on one of these or one of our future trips, I encourage you to do so. Who knows where in the world Christ wants to meet you.
This Week in Worship
Next week we will celebrate our nation’s independence. We have much to be grateful for. Our celebrations should be joyous and strong. We are blessed with a level of freedom that is unequaled in many other countries. However, the freedom we enjoy as a country pales in comparison to the freedom we have in Christ. During the sermon on Sunday we will explore what makes us free and the responsibilities that come with that freedom, both the freedom we find living in the United States and the greater freedom we enjoy in Jesus. We will also offer a special time of prayer for our nation and celebrate Holy Communion. I hope you will join us for worship. Scripture: Titus 3:1-8.