La Carpio Funeral

By my reckoning, La Carpio isn't an overly dangerous place (I promise it's not, Mom). Like a lot of places in the world, there is potential danger at specific locations (East St. Louis) or if you're doing certain things (trying to steal stuff). But since I've been here I haven't really worried about personal bodily harm. I cruise our several-block area with relative confidence and peace of mind. No prob.

But, that's when it's bright. By night La Carpio wears a cloak of unpredictability. The shadows turn to pitch and the blissful ease sleeps with the sun. And this foreboding is mostly attributed to the gangs who operate during the "hours of bad decisions" as Steve says.

Sometimes people get hurt here. Beatings. Stabbings. Shootings. These things happen. It's in the news. But La Carpio's nightlife has been a shade more lethal this past week. Two people, sadly, have been killed.

And for us gringos, one of these deaths hit closer to home. Cesar, a chico on one of our soccer teams, lost his 28-year-old cousin on Thursday night. His name was Jose Sandoval. He was married with three children. It was in all the local papers. They said the murder happened in the wake of an argument at a local bar. There were multiple shots fired and a life lost. The perpetrator is a known gang member. The victim was not.

See the article here in its original context (graphic footage warning).

But, the family of Cesar came to Steve after the death and asked for transportation to the cemetery. We have a carry-all vehicle, so we openly accepted. And so, with fewer than two weeks in the country, I got my first look at a La Carpio funeral. Below are some photos of the sorrowful event.

Transporting the family. Latinos can be reserved in potentially turbulent emotional situations. I couldn't sense the degree of our vanload's sadness.

The immediate family held a viewing of the body in a La Carpio home. Like funerals I've been to, adults talked quietly in small groups while kids played reservedly.

The casket processional moved down the corridor toward the final resting place. The sobs of the victim's mother carried for hundreds of feet. She clutched the casket and collapsed to the ground in anguish. No pictures are necessary to recollect the harrowing scene. My brows raised and my spine chilled. The audible tears of a mother grieving her lost son are not quickly forgotten.

Cesar and his baby brother a few days before the murder.

Two of our amigos reading about the recent deaths.


In some ways, the people of La Carpio have a better life perspective than most of us. They see all of life through a local lens, a lens that focuses on celebrations of birth alongside tragic last breaths. Cradle to grave. Their spectrum is vivid. And I wonder how I would think about the world differently if I called La Carpio home.

But these events also give way to opportunity. Death has a way of shifting priorities. Of raising life questions. Opening the vaults of our dark hearts and forcing previously-suppressed issues to the forefront. My prayer is that some of La Carpio's patrons would seek truth and security in Christ in these times of uncertainty.

And this uncertainty permeates their lives. Wondering about money, about subsistence, about safety. About a national identity amidst a foreign land. I pray they would rest and identify with Christ, knowing that the work has been done for them. And knowing that in the fierce physical difficulties, there is true spiritual hope.

As humans, we look for ways to validate our existence. We seek avenues to give us status: Grades. Careers. Sex. Marriage. Children. Awards. Intellect. Possessions. Friends. Appearance. Power. Influence. Success. Many others too. And these can be good...and bad, if improperly used.

Sadly, in La Carpio, status and gang membership are fast friends. To an outsider a willful inclusion among their ranks seems foolish. Short-sighted. Not worth it. I've thought this. But La Carpio is their life. Their home. Their fish bowl. We have business casual Friday. They look for things to steal to pay for their next high.

And so my specific prayer is that the youth would not desire the backslapping approval of the gang life and the social weight it caries.

Most people came to La Carpio looking for a better life. One of increased opportunity and promise. A lot of them came from Nicaragua in the 80s during intense political turmoil that saw an 80 percent drop in per capita earnings for the Nicaraguan populace.

But it's hard to imagine the feelings of parents who in coming to La Carpio envisioned fatter times for their families. And then as they watch their kids fall into drugs and theft and violence. I would guess that this is not what the parents envisioned. And I think about the future of this place — the adults, the gangsters. The kids.

There is much to pray about. And much to be sad about. But God has a plan here. He's sovereign. People are broken and hurting and need grace. And they long for hope. And what a permanent hope there is! I pray that even a few could have it here.

Yo Apoyo A La Sele

Wah? Sorry for the unexplained Spanish... If you're around Costa Rica then you might have seen this phrase on LIVEStrong-type bracelets worn by many of the locals. It means "I support Sele," which is short for Seleccion Nacional. This is the name of the Costa Rican national soccer team. The big shots. The ballers. The proud players of the red, white and blue of Costa Rican patriotic lore. (seems like these colors are familiar...)

And, with a week of living here under my belt, we decided it was high time to see La Sele work their cleated magic. So we did. And we enjoyed a rousing bout against Honduras on Wednesday evening in the crisp San Jose air (as lightning flashed over the mountains in the distance). We found out after getting there that it was the 23-and-younger team playing. Kind of the bench-warmers. But no matter. Honduras led late in the second half, but CR managed a draw after netting a goal with five minutes remaining. Quite exciting for all the 5,000 (or less) people there.

And tickets were only $3 (1,500 Colónes), so we brought a van-full (VF) of kids from La Carpio to watch too. They acted like they were bored 'cause it was the second-string team. But we caught them cheering and getting into it more than once. Kids. So transparent.

But not a bad intro into the professional world of latin-american football. Viva la Sele!

As a side note, it seems a bit strange that my Nicaraguan amigos would cheer so heartily for the Costa Rican team. And since Costa Ricans aren't especially hospitable toward the Nicas. Hard to say... I guess it shows that you end up cheering for the locals. No matter what colors they're wearing...

But, a few pics:

Random concession dude, a superfan, and Roberto and Lapiz.


Roberto, Juancho, Lapiz. I picked up a nifty Sele jersey at the gringo mall. Maybe I've earned the right to wear it? But I like it all the same.


Carlos Enrique - aka "Lapiz"

POSTED IN | 11:14 PM

Meet Carlos Enrique. He is tall and skinny, hence the nickname (lapiz means pencil). He is 13 years old. He plays on our younger kids soccer team. Since being here last week he's become a quick favorite. His smile and goofiness are great. He pulls on my leg hair and he nicknamed me Juancho. He and a few others like it when I do a voice beat box to a reggaeton beat while dancing around like a nerd. This is one thing I'm pretty good at. And it's fun.

Today Lapiz told another kid that I'm his new friend (Juancho es mi amigo nuevo). An endearing gesture, and heartfelt I think. And then ten minutes later he asked me to buy him a video game at the local store. The kid knows how to work the system. I told him the game would be bad for his health. He asked me why (Por Que Juan!?). I wanted to say "because it will rot your brain" but I didn't know how. So I said nothing and it was equally effective. Fortunately the kids don't mind when I lapse into lingually-inhibited silent spells. And Lapiz is no exception.

He has a mom who keeps a pretty tight rein on him and he doesn't know who his dad is. He has one sister and no brothers, which in La Carpio, is an exceptionally small family.

But the chico is very bright. He knows lots of English words and phrases and shows potential for higher education. I don't know if this is possible, but it's comforting to hope that some of the kids in La Carpio will make it out into a broader life. Or at least have an opportunity to do so.

So, here's Lapiz. (The photo above was a self-portrait. He borrowed my camera today and snapped some pics)

Getting harassed by older and bigger Leonel.

Coke float.

Coke (Coca) drinking contest. He can hold his own.

Learning the ropes of camera use. It took him about five seconds to figure everything out.

Warm up.

Becoming Spiderman (with help from Roberto).

A video clip Lapiz shot with my camera. Steve, my roommate and fellow gringo, was asking Lapiz if he knew about William Shakespeare and Macbeth (we might be taking some kids to see Macbeth next month in San Jose).

La Carpio's Main Drag


Typical sights and sounds while driving down the main street of the neighborhood.

Attempting an Explanation

Well, as is the case at certain times in life, we find ourselves in wholly unpredictable and foreign environments. We move, we get new jobs, we're the new kid, we stick out, we don't speak the language of the locals, etc. And so the task of simply "getting" the new environment is hard. And tricky. It's new and exotic and exciting for sure. But tricky.

And so it is that on my third day here in Costa Rica and La Carpio, there are a multitude of observatory impulses reaching my brain, but only enough brain power to comprehend a fraction. The other impulses are getting stored in my "for later" compartment, alongside Algebra and the Absolute Zero Theory. But hopefully I'll revisit the fresh thoughts more than I have the others. I'm only one man, people...

But I'll say that I don't know where to start in describing this place and people. A good way maybe is to think about how you grew up and how that led to where you are now.
What did you do as a kid? Who were your friends? What did you do on Sunday afternoons and on weeknights? What type of house did you live in? In what country(ies) did you live? What did you eat? What kind of clothes did you wear? How did people treat you considering your ethnicity?

These life experiences in our formative years invariably led to where we are now. We are, largely, a product of our direct environment.

So, with this in mind, consider what your life would be like as a child in La Carpio:

You are Nicaraguan, but you live in Costa Rica so your parents can get more work. You are discriminated against because of your ethnicity. Some worse than others. You and your siblings live in a 300-500 sq. ft. home that might have a concrete floor, or not. Your street outside is probably dirt and mud. There are 50 mutts in the immediate area. But they don't bother anyone really.

You probably go to school for a few hours a day, and your education stops in your earlier teens. You probably have enough to eat, and you love to play outside with your friends, siblings, cousins and random gringos from Oklahoma and Texas. You probably have at least a few cavities and you might be missing some teeth. You LOVE soccer and play it whenever you can. You might be hooked on crack or other fantastically addictive substances. You rarely travel outside your neighborhood, or even your block if you're in a gang.

If you are in a gang, your life is largely unsafe and getting stabbed or shot isn't uncommon for your demographic. You love traveling outside of the neighborhood in a gringo's van. You like rough-housing with your friends. Your days are spent traipsing the block and having a laugh wherever you can. Your life is comparatively less busy than other Western kids', but you probably have a real passion for life and a wonderful ability to live in the present moment that surpasses those of the gringo kids.

You are a kid and you live in La Carpio.

So, perhaps this helps. I'll get more specific later on. Tomorrow I'm going to watch my first match played by the smaller kids' soccer team that we sponsor. I'm thinking action pics. Stay tuned.

around La Carpio:


Costa Rica at a first glance

POSTED IN | 12:32 AM

A fatigued road-warrior lounges in Houston's airport whilst waiting for departure Costa Rica-side. One hour of sleep tends to make one quite lethargic. Though I slept like a corpse on the planes.

Where I'll be spending most of my time: San Jose's La Carpio. About 100,000 people. Not in Kansas anymore.

This is a comparatively good street. No seatbelts required, of course.

Skateboard ministry. Very popular among the young-uns. And my 30-something roommate.

Tres Leches. Ingestion time: 1 inhalation.

Farewell, Oklahoma


The trouble with going on a long trip is that you can’t avoid packing dirty underwear. I like to rank trip lengths in terms of how much underwear you’re bringing.

“Oh, you going on a trip? How long you gonna be gone?”

“Well, not too long. It’s only a five-pair excursion.”

“Hmm…that’s nice.”

And so it is that I find myself on the diving board of a trip that demands FULL deployment of my undergarment arsenal. Whoa. The whole fleet you ask? Yep. I’m taking all the threads I got.

So, when you’re taking the whole of your U-wear lineup on a trip (12 pairs for me, fyi), you can’t avoid packing the dirty underwear. Because that pair you take off the night before leaving? No time for the wash. You just shove them in and roll.

But why do I need so many skivvies? And where am I going? Good questions.

And the answer is that in a few short hours, I’ll be going to Costa Rica to live out the remainder of 2007, and a bit of ’08. I’m going to work at a children’s home and community outreach center in a San Jose slum.

I’ll do a web site for and write stuff about the mission I’ll work for. I will take pictures and do video documentary things too. Some of this I know how to do, some I don’t. But that makes it interesting. And no doubt the locale will be quite different than suburban middle America, no? I’m curious how I’ll be impacted. Please pray for me.

But yes, I’m quite excited. It’s been a trip long in the works, so it’s comforting to see it to fruition. I’M FINALLY GOING. BOOYAH! And the longest I’ve been away from the home ranch is three months, back during basic training, so the venture will mix my life up considerably (in a good way). I’ve lived in Norman for about 18 years at this point, so the new perspective will be a reviving draught of newness. And it will be good for me to miss home and be lonely. Two things I’ve not felt in a real sense.

But, there will be time aplenty for such cross-cultural musings later on. It’s now one hour before I am to awaken and haul ace to the airplane take off place. So I guess I’ll get a few winks before nudging my spurs into Silver's flanks and trotting south, to the old country.

So here’s to new life beginnings, and new stories of untold plots and characters. Overall I’m very blessed to be going. I’m not thankful enough, probably. And it’s definitely worth packing some dirty underwear over.

Traveling light. A single season-type climate makes the chore of packing quite simple. This is all I'm taking and I couldn't be more thrilled. You don't have to bring many clothes when working in a slum. It's going to be a t-shirt and shorts affair every day as far as I'm concerned. Beautiful.

Middle-School Art


Squall Listing. water color on green construction paper.

From my 7th grade art class at Norman's Longfellow Middle School. Blue ribbon brushmanship for sure...

Red River Flooding - June '07

POSTED IN | 12:47 PM

From the air on my way to DFW from the venerable Will Rogers World Airport.

Seattle Skyline Panoramic

POSTED IN | 11:17 AM

360° view from the Space Needle. From my trip in '06. I didn't have the software to stitch it together til now. Click to magnify it.

Ames, Oklahoma

POSTED IN | 11:56 PM
Saturday morning found the army band traveling northwest from Oklahoma City toward a seemingly unworthy destination. But when we arrived in Ames (pop. 200), the charm of the annual Ames Day Parade overpowered the feeling of metropolitan inconsequence. And the literal two-block parade seemed longer when viewed through a rural lens.

It's good to be in the small places sometimes. I wouldn't pack up my homestead and relocate to a place such as this, but I do like a bushel of elements that the prairie life has to offer. Namely the sense of community and the brotherhood of belonging. The wheaty embraces and the firm and genuine okra handshakes. The fierce friendliness and the desire to help even a stranger beyond what's asked. These are the colors of the country life. At least the country life as I mildly understand it. Two cheers for a deliberate style of life.

So here's a brief look into a communally significant happening among fiercely proud Oklahomans.

Here we are, rip-roaring down the parade route. At this moment we were probably half-way through our first song — the first song of two. Not a long slog. The trombones are always on the front row. Because we're hott and also so we don't kill anyone with our motoring slides. We can be clumsy...

Enthusiastic Ames patron visually telling me about the fireworks show that would happen in the evening. The pooch's name is Mel Gibson.

Sweet country goodness! After the parade we were fed handsomely by the local American Legion Post.

scenes while rolling out of town.

Country mile.

All in a day's work. Army Strong, Sgt. Rush, Army Strong.