First Things First

We were really excited to get to the States and see all our friends and family. This December was full of rest and good conversation that we didn’t have to translate and coffee! We spent Christmas with our families and then headed off on a road trip from Greenville to Colorado and back (thank goodness we have important people to see in beautiful places!).

After three weeks in the country, we’ve settled into life in Matagalpa. We found a house (with space for guests!), we got a cell plan, and we have gotten lost in the city only three times! The picture above is of the first lunch we had in Nicaragua. These friends met us at the airport! A few days ago we officially moved into our house and our neighbors came over to say hi. Mercedes and her daughter, Yusett, helped us unpack our suitcases and offered to show me where to find trashcans and cleaning supplies. Mercedes noticed we didn’t have a fridge (it’s on its way to our house as I write this), and she invited us over for dinner that night to make sure we had something to eat! We didn’t quite understand her invitation and ended up accidentally eating two dinners that night, but the extra quality time was worth it!

The next few weeks will consist of furnishing our house, hosting some friends from language school, and getting settled into our new roles here. I’ve gotten to translate a collection of case statements to be used as fundraising tools for our staff, and have translated my first live conversation between the area directors in Matagalpa and a church in Tennessee! Kevin has spent the past few days at camp, helping to host a renter group from a church in Managua. We are starting to feel like we’ve finally made it home, and are excited to have more to share with you soon!

 

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Hasta La Vista Costa Rica

I’m actually under the impression that “Hasta la vista” is a pretty Mexican way of speaking, but I like the way it sounds.

Our well-thought-out plans for how this year would look were all rearranged when the crisis began a few months into 2018. We had planned on visiting Nicaragua at least four times, building relationships with our future coworkers and becoming familiar with camp – but then we couldn’t – and it was okay. We got to spend more time building relationships in Costa Rica, see a club grow along with the spiritual growth of our friends, and focus on learning the language that will make our work in Nicaragua much more impactful (hopefully!).

Over the past few months we’ve been buckling down to learn as much as we can until we leave. We’ve begun regularly giving club talks at the Young Life club in Tirrasses where we’ve been helping out, and it’s been really sweet to see how patient our friends are while we try to figure out exactly what word we want to use and help us find it when we can’t. I recently accidentally said that Zacchaeus was a “sausage” instead of a “thief” and that’s why no one wanted to be friends with him (Costa Rican slang for thief is “choricero” while the word I used was “chorizo”). Thankfully my friends assumed I’d meant the other word and gave me a mini-mid-club-talk lesson! We’re going to be really sad to leave our friends here, we’ve gotten to see that club grow from four kids who Jessie (our team leader and the area director) was chasing after, to a club of 20 regular kids who are finding friends to bring all the time! We’ve also gotten to see two kids step into responsibility and begin the training to be leaders which was one of our prayers from the beginning.

A few months ago we visited Nicaragua for the last time until we move there in January, and it was really encouraging. Nicaragua is not back to normal, but the situation is much more readable and the public violence has stopped, so Young Life sent it’s expats back in at the end of August and clubs are back up and running. We were there at the end of September, got to see some old friends (and speak to them in Spanish instead of through a translator!), see some houses we might be able to rent, and visit the first camp for kids since the crisis started this Spring! We are so excited to get to Nicaragua and take part in the incredible healing work God is doing through this ministry – our trip made us so excited that it’s gotten a little harder to focus in class now that we can picture our life there!

COSTA RICA:

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This is María, she’s a senior in high school and is in training to be a leader in Tirrasses next year!

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There were over 500 kids from all over Costa Rica at our last Mega Club!

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This is me trying to be relevant: My friend Pricilla is a sophomore in high school and went to her first  Young Life camp this past summer! (Behind us is Kevin, he’s a freshman and one of the five siblings of a family that Jessie has been pouring into in the neighborhood.)

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Kevin got back into his element at the Mega and is here helping our friend Steven who moved to San José from Nicaragua this year!

NICARAGUA:

Camp Welcome

Immediately when high school friends got off the bus at La Finca they started playing games and messing around – some didn’t even take the time to set down their backpacks!

Camp Project

This is the next big project at camp. The goal is to have a big field in the center of camp where kids can play volleyball, soccer, and some lawn games. Since the crisis has affected the budget, work teams from different Young Life clubs in Matagalpa (the closest town and where we’ll be living!) have been volunteering their time to get the work done! (The closest building in this picture is the new club room and the ones in the background are all cabins.)

 

 

The End of the Middle

In the last few months we’ve gone to Young Life camp, visited Guatemala, seen the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica (with my parents!), and moved into our own apartment for the rest of our time in language school, so I’d say we have a new perspective on things. Here are some things we’ve learned:

-Work Crew is just as exhausting no matter where the Young Life camp is located.

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– Guatemala is much cheaper than Costa Rica, but their street vended hot dogs are just as dangerous.

– Snakes are not always as afraid of people as we are of them.

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-Bucket hats are Costa Rican

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– Instead of dust being an issue, we have to “dust” every day because of all the volcanic ash.

– There are 22 different verb tenses in Spanish (but there are 19 in English so we’re not making life easy for second language speakers either).

K

K and I are in our last 4 months of language school and we’re starting to give club talks at our Young Life club in Tirrasses!(This is K teaching our class how to fly-fish in español).

 

A Nicaragua Update:

The seven expats who were evacuated from Nicaragua in July have all returned in the past few weeks and are readjusting to life. The protests have calmed down and politics have returned to a somewhat normal state (the government is still persecuting people who had spoken out during this Spring and Summer, but they are no longer responding with violence on a broad scale). Our friends in Nicaragua all say that life feels more or less the same, and Young Life has restarted meeting with kids in larger groups. Through these past few months we’ve gotten to see Young Life Nicaragua rethink what it looks like to do ministry and to care for their communities. They changed out the 1 big meeting, 3 small group meetings, and 1 one-on-one meeting a week to focus on one-on-one relationships during the crisis. Our leaders would go from friend’s house to friend’s house, visiting with their high school friends and also encouraging their families. They had to ask the question “what do you need to do Young Life” and their answer was Jesus and discipleship. I’m really inspired by their creativity and resilience, and we’re so honored to get to work with these people when we move there in January!

May/June 2018

We’ve hit the halfway mark for our time here in Costa Rica, and we can communicate in Spanish now (más o menos)! Since our last post, we’ve started a new trimester, spent more time with our Young Life friends in Tirrases, lived through an allergic reaction to mango skin (Kevin), and discovered how to download library books remotely (Anna)! We’ve been going to a Presbyterian church here in San José and found out that it’s connected to Mitchell Road – the church my parents and Kevin’s grandparents attend. And we spent a month fending for ourselves while Emilio and Zoraida visited their granddaughter in Ohio.

Ministry:

Young Life in Tirrases is growing and it feels like an honor to get to see this club start and grow. This neighborhood is mostly immigrants from Nicaragua and is known as a dangerous and poor area of town. Gangs are an active part of life there and young men can easily get swept up in communities that don’t care for them. There are lots of young, single moms and many people grow up knowing only one parent. The kids that are going to Young Life are coming from different family backgrounds, but they’re all neighbors and friends. It’s really sweet to see them play together and let down their walls together.
It’s really opened our eyes to the complexity of the Bible, too! Our area director was giving the club talk one Wednesday and she picked the story about the crowds trying to condemn the adulterous woman. In the beginning of the story, Jessie explained what the word ADULTEROUS meant and Kev and I expected giggles or uncomfortable wriggling from high schoolers hearing things about “sex”, but instead they all looked pretty grave and listened maturely. I commented about how differently that would have gone over at a club in the States, and Jessie told me it’s because almost every kid in that room has seen the heart-breaking effects of a broken home. Jesus’ kind redirection of the crowd’s attention meant even more to those kids because they are more personally connected to the pain the woman was going through. It’s such an honor to get to know these kids better and better, and to get to see them acting like kids!

Mega Club Copa Mundial

We also got to take our friends to the second Mega Club of the year (where every young life kid from the country comes and spends time together, in this case, watching a preliminary soccer game for the World Cup). Every socio-economic class was represented there and kids from all sorts of neighborhoods communed together and played together. It was a huge deal to get to watch!
We’re preparing to go to camp as part of Work Crew the second weekend in July, so please be praying for the supernatural ability to communicate and for extra energy! Some of our friends from Tirrases will be there too, so please be praying for their time as well!

Tirra Club

Life:

Kevin’s parents and grandparents came to visit us at the beginning of May and we went up to Arenal together! This was right after we finished our first trimester and it was a really great time to get to see family.

Hotel Presidente

This was our first day of our second trimester! Those smiles naively full of hope had no idea how hard past tense can be.

First Day of Second Tri

Kev and I have started giving Bible lessons in Spanish, so we have a lot of club talks prepared en Español!

I also got to go to a women’s conference at the school that was really sweet! It feels like our community here has grown and it’s so encouraging to get to walk through this stage of preparation with so many amazing women doing the same thing!

Women's Conference

April

Disclaimer: I’ve been writing this post for a week, and felt like I should add context to what’s happening in Nicaragua at the moment. Here’s what an expat friend in country shared yesterday:

“Earlier this week the government announced changes to INSS (the social security system in Nicaragua) in an attempt to save it from impending bankruptcy… Increasing the amounts that employers and employees have to pay, while decreasing the benefits received.

People are (rightfully) unhappy, and in the major cities they are protesting.

The government’s response was to pull teens out of public schools and have them represent the government in counter protests. There are police in riot gear, tear gas, and a lot of violence going on.

Updates from my news feed this morning.
– 3 or 4 people were killed in the protests last night (I’m reading conflicting reports, it’s hard to know which is correct) and one university student lost his eye.
– a public hospital in Managua locked its doors last night and refused to help people who were injured in the protests.
– public school was cancelled today, but teachers (who work for the state) will likely be required to participate in the pro-government marches.
– independent news stations have been taken off the air, so the only local news on TV is pro- government.
– protests are expected to continue today all over the country.

Please continue to pray for Nicaragua. Not just for peace, but for change. This isn’t just about Social Security and pensions, it’s about years of government oppression, and this issue was what finally woke up the country.”

Reuters reported that the cities seemed to be quieter this morning, but we’re still watching closely and praying.

Anna and Carrie

It’s incredible to think about how quickly changes can happen, a month ago we were visiting Nicaragua and our biggest worry was whether or not to drink the water. We got to meet new friends that we will be working with and explore the beautiful country that will be our new home next year. It’s heartbreaking to think of our friends worrying and anxious about the state of their country just one month later.

 

We also heard about how Young Life Nicaragua is doing and it was so encouraging: La Finca is booked full for every second-timers camp and we’re seeing exponential growth in the mission every year! There’s such a sense of community in Nicaragua that relational ministry very easily translates. Every Central American Young Life (with the exception of Costa Rica) has either been started or rebooted by a Nicaraguan leader who left their home country, which feels especially inspiring because Nicaraguan culture assumes that you’ll live your whole life in your hometown. Now those hometowns are hurting and the next few days may be the start of big changes. I’m really thankful we got to visit Nicaragua and that we know more specifically what and who to pray for.

On a more personal note, there is only one aspect of our trip that I regret…

To paint the picture: Tica Bus (our mode of transportation) was leaving from a corner of Managua with almost nothing around it. We got there 2 hours early. We hadn’t eaten anything that morning. The bus station had none of the substantive food we were apparently banking on. And finally, the bus ride was going to be a non-stop trip for about 11 hours. We needed food.

So, we asked the cab drivers outside where we should go and they pointed us in the direction of a very nice looking older lady whose restaurant of three tables was completely empty and poorly lit (which, in hindsight may have tipped us off had we not been blinded by our empty stomachs and desperation). We ate there and then got on the bus and went on our happy, well-fed way…

Flash to: three weeks later we have to make a trip to the doctor because I have an infection that won’t go away. And, the doctor happened to be an ER at 10pm. And the infection ended up severely dehydrating me (I’m okay now and Costa Rica’s healthcare system is really great and the doctors were very kind and helpful!)… but given the risks, I’d say a long bus ride without food would have been the better of the two choices. #nowiknow

 

 

I Think We’re Two Year-Olds Now?

This past weekend we helped with childcare at a Young Lives camp – the branch of Young Life’s ministry that is for teen moms and their babies! This was our first time seeing a full weekend camp in Central America, so we were very excited about it. The program was funny and the food was delicious and the campers got to experience a full weekend of love and carefree teenagerdom.

During the weekend it kept dawning on me how different I am here. If we had been at a normal Young Life camp I would have probably had wonderfully deep conversations with the other 6 girls I was staying with … as it is, I only have the vocabulary of a two year-old and it’s pretty difficult to find out what’s going on in someone’s heart when your language is confined to the present tense and verbs like “run” and “eat”. It’s humbling to not be able to be as friendly as I’d like to be, to have to shrug my shoulders a lot and give a soft half-smile to signify that I’m a lost cause in the conversation department.

That being said, we got to spend all three days with people at our very own language level – toddlers! I learned new words from the 1 and a half year-old I was assigned to take care of. He used the word “over there” liberally to try to convey to me just how much he wanted to go back out the door where his mom had come from. And I spent a whole afternoon talking to him in baby talk because that’s all I have! “Do you see the house?”, “Do you see the flowers?”, “What do you see?”… it was like our homework, but in real life!

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We got to see a Mega Club where all the Young Life kids from CR came to hang out!

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This is the neighborhood we get to start club in this week with Jessie! It’s called Tirrases, and most people who live here are either from Nicaragua or their parents are.

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Here’s the group of Young Lives girls and their babies from our area!

 

You Can Go Your Own Way

We arrived at language school four days late, and because of this we missed orientation. Living here unoriented has regrettably caused us to be behind culture-wise and we’ve had to find our own way around (note the tie-in to the title).

We spent a whole Saturday trying to figure out the labyrinth that is the bus system, and yesterday I found an app that acts as a Costa Rican bus map. I turned to my friend, with an excited and somewhat prideful expression on my face, “Look at this incredible app I found for buses!” I can only assume that I’m about to change her entire experience in Costa Rica. As I turn my phone toward her she says in slow motion, “Is it Moovit? They showed us that at orientation.” Deflated, I turned back to my homework.

We also went to the National Museum a few weeks ago. It was beautiful and interesting and it made us feel very well informed about our new home. At school every fun fact I’ve tried to pass on (Costa Ricans are called “Ticos” because of their accent! Costa Rican women keep their maiden names! Pedestrians don’t have the right-of-way!) was met with a kind smile and a “we learned that at orientation”.

Even though our hard won knowledge about marriage customs and bus routes doesn’t amaze the people around us, it feels like a gift that we’ve had some extra catch up work. We walked around San Jose looking for a bus to take us home and found a wonderful coffee shop. We had really long conversation with our Tico Parents about the name “Tico” and possible picked up some Spanish in the process (yet to be determined). And because we are still not completely sure of cultural norms we may or may not have crossed some lines with Zoraida and get to help her in the kitchen now! We learned how to make tortillas this week, and it looks hopeful for more lessons in the future.

Our next goals:

  • talk to Emilio and Zoraida (our Tico Parents) without looking at our Spanish dictionary
  • find a way to get to church by bus (that’ll require changing buses which feels like leveling up)
  • learn how to make agua de avena (a really delicious drink Zoraida makes with oatmeal – I’m under the impression it’s healthy)

A note on our day-to-day: we have to take a nap every day here because just functioning in a new country without language is exhausting. We also have much less mobility without a car and I try to not walk alone once it starts getting dark. Talking to people in Spanish is possible right now, but it takes a lot of patience on both sides! Our capacity is so much smaller here than it was in the States, that we have to constantly check in and see how we’re feeling. Thankfully, with Year 1 of marriage under our belts, we have coping mechanisms for stress, and we’re learning the art of letting small things go without getting grouchy about them. Looking back on how lost we felt a month ago, it is really encouraging when we return to our neighborhood and it feels like home!

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We walked to a park at the edge of our neighborhood that people were warned against in orientation because of the traffic you have to cross to get there – I’m naming this one “Ignorance is Bliss” (we were very careful)

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Our first hike in Costa Rica – this beautiful person next to me is Jessie. She’s worked with Young Life in San Jose for ten years, and has the same affinity for the outdoors (praise hands).

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We are trying very hard to become soccer fans. Emilio took us to this game with his favorite team, and I’d say we made leaps and bounds in the way of soccer fandom. Kevin even yelled at a call the ref made. More updates to come on this front.

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We went on a trip to the province next to San Jose – Cartago, so that we could see this church – the Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Los Ángeles.

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On our way to the beach this weekend we passed over a bridge that’s famous for the salt water crocodiles that live in the river underneath. It took a while to relax at the beach after seeing the neighbors.