The most recent update from 'round these parts, from my perspective. If you care to do some reading instead of just looking at photos then please, dive in. It's kind of long, but just remember all those posts of photos with no text that gave you an instant blogger fix. Perhaps I've earned a few minutes of your time...?? If not, there are new photos below to satiate your A.D.D. needs.
September saw us do many activities with kids in La Carpio: pro soccer games, eating out in San Jose, flying kites in the park, go-kart racing, bike repairs, routinely making coffee in our community center kitchen (personal fav), Saturday afternoon Bible studies, seeing a movie on the big screen, the usual soccer games in the park, trampoline jumping, a trip to the Museo Nacional, visits to the hardware store (the kids always make a beeline for the free coffee bar), numerous games of pool in the local hangout (I lose most of the time), arts and crafts with visiting missionary groups, potato-sack races, skateboarding ventures, the launching of an English class and probably many more things big and small that don’t readily come to mind.
So it’s been quite an eventful month and a definite joy to give previously unattainable opportunities to some of the kids and people of La Carpio. It’s hard for someone like me to appreciate what it must be like for an average La Carpio 10-year-old to be driven out of the neighborhood for a visit to the National Museum and treated to savory pastries afterward. However, it does remind me of when I was a kid and being ecstatic to merely visit the Ace Hardware store with my dad on Saturday mornings. All kids like to go on adventures, I guess.
And it’s been truly touching as I’ve observed the faces of the kids when we’ve been to a few Saprissa games (one of Costa Rica’s premier professional soccer clubs). A ticket only costs us $3, but is worth vastly more to a La Carpio youth who has grown up cheering for his team and who can now say he’s seen them play in person. That’s a neat gift to give, and like most of these activities, costs very little monetarily. (And it’s been strange to be suddenly plunked down in a place where I am comparatively monetarily wealthy. That’s been an interesting paradigm to experience)
And most of the time the kids are very receptive and thankful. Giving audible appreciation for the sundry activities and happenings that take place. They are good kids in this regard. And well mannered to perform the requisite courtesies. And it’s easy to give when they say thank you, when they acknowledge something was sacrificed (if only time in the schedule) for their benefit.
This week, following the trip to Museo Nacional, our little troupe (Steve, me, and three other kids) enjoyed some tasty cheese empanadas and soft drinks. As usual, the monetary drain of the purchase was negligible, and we happily obliged to treat the kids and ourselves.
And as he finished his last bite of cheesy goodness, Jorge, an upstanding 12-year-old who’s kind of on the fringe of the usual La Carpio pack, turned to me and offered his explicit thanks. “Muchas gracias, John,” he said as he looked me in the eye and gave a nod. A smile came easily to me, and I returned the gesture with a “con gusto” (with pleasure). My spirits were warmed, and it felt good to be contributing to the cause, even in a small way such as this. It’s easy to give when there are thanks in return.
And these kids are precious and uniquely wonderful. That much is certain. But sometimes there’s not always a thank you in return. Sometimes there’s not so much as a nod or a sniffle of appreciation in response to a gesture of good will. And suddenly it’s not so easy to give. Not so easy to have the pot-o-gold feeling that comes when a simple thank you is uttered.
And then other times, those who have received a blessing have the audacity to ask for more, or simply respond with an ungrateful attitude. A casual asking for money immediately after being treated to a stunning soccer game, the coveting of the new experiences of others, indifference to a friendship being extended. And the manifestations of discontent continue.
On Thursdays, a group of missionary students from a local Spanish language institute come to La Carpio to help out and do activities for the kids. Their desire to serve is evident, and their love for the people touching. And usually the group brings some kind of food for the kids. This week it was popcorn. And the dispersal of Mr. Redenbacher’s buttery finest was orderly at first, but soon the kids swamped the dispersal stations, pulling on each other and all saying “Me! Me!” An organized chaos you could say. And we see this in the States too. Little kid birthday parties come to mind…
So these things happen too. The negative alongside the positive. The sin with the sanctification. And such is the reality of the fallen and yet redeemed life. But how are we to respond? Should we always show grace and passively let things happen? Or should we always hold the line and demand “proper” order and a thankful heart? It’s hard to know how to react at times.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus offers these words:
2 “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matt. 6:2-4)
So, we are to give to those in need. And we’re not to be proud about this. And invariably there will be times when our sacrifices will be simply consumed and unappreciated. I don’t think this suggests we should manage our resources loosely by any means. But ultimately we aren’t giving to others for the personal enjoyment that goes along with it (though that is a part of it). Our acts are for God and for His glory.
I pray that we would know how to relate to the people here, and respond in grace when it is needed. And still offer ourselves and services and resources even when it seems there are unappreciative hearts amongst the thankful ones. And I pray that our deeds would reap a harvest for the Kingdom, even if it is a harvest unseen by our eyes.
But then I think about my own life. I think about the blessings I’ve been given, the innumerable good things that have been purposefully gifted to me at the hand of the Almighty. God has given me my own Saprissa games, my own trips to the museum, my own cups of free, undeserved coffee (with milk and sugar, of course). And He’s endowed so much more.
And yet, like the children, at times my heart is clouded and unimpressed by God’s blessings for me. I am bored and hard and largely unthankful. And I wonder if, when I’m in the popcorn lines of my own life, that I realize I am also pushing my neighbors aside and shouting “Me! Me!” If I am honest, I have to say that I rarely notice my own brazen offenses.
So I am humbled and given a fresh perspective on the reality of my own discontent and need of repentance. I need to recognize all I’ve been given and further realize I deserve none of it. I need to say thank you more. And I need to offer further appreciation for the prodigious favor I’ve been shown by God. And what freedom and peace of mind and contentment there is with a grateful spirit.
And ultimately, I pray that the ministry could be one that empowers the people of La Carpio to empower others. A chain reaction of service. I pray that we would be about more than giving simple excursions or meals or experiences, important as those are, and that we would be about teaching the people in La Carpio to realize their blessings and talents and to use those things to pass the lesson on to others. There is a myth in La Carpio, I think, that suggests life here is underprivileged. Most people don’t wallow in self-pity, but a feeling of collective powerlessness does appear at times. A self-defeat that is enhanced by comparatively less-opulent living conditions, and discrimination from Costa Rican society.
But a real power of the ministry here, I think, is in helping people to realize the blessings they’ve been given, and the ability they have to serve one another through those blessings. The real power is in fostering a sustainable, appreciative worldview that seeks to feed the shouting mouths that cry “Me! Me!” and does so dutifully and all for God’s glory alone.