Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Tico Tuesday, June 20th

Last Thursday, my small group did a prayer walk around our town, San Rafael de Heredia. I drive through it often, but, I have not been able to get to know it as well as I'd like since moving here in October. I usually get to know my town by running and bicycling around it, but with my knee surgery last year and a nasty sprained ankle a couple months ago, I haven't been running much lately, and it has been hard finding time to get in a good bike ride. So, our prayer walk was a wonderful adventure. I loved being so intentional about praying as we walked along. We also stopped to pray in a couple strategic places, including the corner of the park that is right in the center of town between the school and Catholic church and across the street from the municipality. As we walked and prayed, I felt my love growing for my town, and a desire to get out into it more.
Aerial view of the center of San Rafael, Heredia
And, I discovered we have a full size track! I'd heard there was one, but thought people were talking about a different one I'd seen that isn't full size and not so nice looking. While I prefer to not run on a track all the time, I like having it as an option, and love that it is so close to my apartment! I can't wait to use it!
Anyway, the prayer walk. You never know what you'll discover or what God will do in you, but it sure gave me different eyes and deeper love for my pueblo. The prayer walk was actually one of our assignments for the God Provides series we're doing right now. Only a few of us in my group were able to go, but it was a really special time. If you haven't done one before, I encourage you to do so. All you have to do is walk and pray: blessing and interceding for the town, praying for the people around you, praying for the properties for sale or rent to be bought or rented, etc., etc., etc. I don't think I'd done a prayer walk since college, but I sure don't plan on letting almost another decade go by without doing another one!
Thank you for your continued prayers for me. I have been coming up with some ideas and strategies for small groups, and have set aside this Friday as a retreat day to pray and do some strategic thinking and dreaming. I'm excited for what's to come!
May God bless you and use you to be a blessing to your town!

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Tico Tuesday, June 13th

Salutations from Costa Rica!
I've been visiting 1-2 small groups per week over the last few weeks, in addition to the meetings with my own small group. It's fun getting to know people, seeing who is in which group, and seeing each facilitator's leadership style (and getting to eat delicious things like last night's dessert torte of ripe plantains, refried beans, cheese, and cinnamon!). Rudy, our head pastor, often says that the bigger our church is, the smaller it must be. This means that the more people we have coming to our church, the more people we need in small groups.
I have been doing a lot of thinking and brainstorming about small groups lately. How do we take small groups to the next level? What does that look like? What will it take? I've been wrestling a lot with these big, hard questions. Being small group coordinator is a lot of hard work. I am amazed and very grateful for all that has happened with and in the area of small groups in the past year and a half that I've been in this role. I kind of feel like I've created a Frankenstein though: I can't do it all, it's too big for me. That is a good thing though, and I'm working hard on trying to strengthen and grow my core team, but issues of time and commitment make it quite a challenge. So, I'm continuing to learn...and seek the Lord about it. Will you pray with me as I work to clarify and strengthen the vision for small groups and share it with others so they can catch and spread the vision too? I'm registered for a small group conference at Saddleback in July and I have high hopes that will be a fruitful, transformative time. I appreciate your prayers for that as well.
May God help us all to better understand and spread his vision for his kingdom!

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Tico Tuesday, May 30th

This past Saturday, we had the first 401 CLASS ever! For years we've been offering the 101 Welcome class, the 201 Discipleship class, the 301 Service class, and now, finally, we gave the 401 Missions class! It was a big group of people, and it was a beautiful time! One of my favorite parts was when we split into pairs and told each other how we started our relationship with Jesus (pictured here).
Quite a few tears were shed in those 15 minutes, and it was a wonderful opportunity to remember what God has done for us, who he is to us, and the difference he has made in our lives. At one point Rudy (who was teaching the class) asked where we would be if it weren't for our relationship with Jesus, and the answers were astounding: in jail, dead, with a whole bunch of alimony to pay to a bunch of different women, a drunkard, homeless, in an abusive relationship, etc. That's not to say Christians are invincible to these things, but they generally are uncharacteristic of the Christian life. Thankfully, Jesus accepts us wherever we are, picks us up, cleans us from the inside out, and gives us hope, peace, and joy impossible to be experienced any other way. Sometimes we still suffer the consequences of past decisions for a long time, but God uses that for good.
Anyway, it was a challenging, inspiring day. Again I was reminded of the importance of remembering who I was before Christ, the difference he has made in me, all he has done for me, the things from which he has protected me, and the hard times I've gone through, knowing I wasn't facing them alone but with him by my side. Not to say I don't forget sometimes, but thankfully, God's love and goodness for the people he has created has absolutely nothing to do with us. It doesn't depend on us not even the tiniest fraction of a percent. It doesn't get any better than Jesus!
May the hope, peace, and joy of Jesus fill you this week!

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Tico Tuesday, May 23rd

It's that time again... I had an appointment at Migration last week to see what they had to tell me about my request for permanent residency that I submitted in October. They told me that I'm not eligible for permanent residency yet! This is due to previous migratory woes: that time it took 19 months for me to get a new residency card and I ended up having to change migratory categories to one that isn't eligible for permanent residency. Once I switched categories again a misinformed worker at Migration told me I'd be eligible for permanent residency when this card expired. So that bad news is, I need to pay more money and renew my current temporary residency as a religious worker because it's not good for me to go about life with an expired residency card and nothing in process for a new one. The good news is, I have an appointment in December once I will actually be eligible for permanent residency, and I have a nice, helpful man on the inside doing everything he can to make things work out favorably for me. Tomorrow at 9:30am (11:30am Eastern) I have an appointment to hand in the paperwork for renewing my current residency. Please pray they accept the paperwork and that there are no further complications in this process.
It's not fun stuff, but recently reading "Jesus Calling" reminded me that "in this world you will have many troubles, but take heart, I have overcome the world" (my paraphrase of John 16:33). I don't know if migratory woes are the kind of troubles Jesus might have been referring to, but it is good to remember that life won't always be easy and that whatever happens is an opportunity to trust God and grow closer to him. He has everything under control.
And so, instead of boring migration paperwork, I send you a picture of my latest creation and a place I hope to go soon on a day off! I present you: don Mario's birthday cake.
May God give you strength and wisdom in whatever troubles you may be facing (and a good trip to the beach soon)! Thank you for your prayers!

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Tico Tuesday, May 16th

It's a toy! It's a flower! It's a butterfly!...or some relative of a butterfly. This beautiful creature that I wasn't sure was actually a creature greeted me on the floor of the classroom where I was going to teach the last class on inductive Bible study. At first I really couldn't tell if it was some kind of toy or half flower left from some craft or something, we were meeting in a children's Sunday School room, after all. But wow! How wonderful to realize this was indeed some kind of butterfly-ish thing! The things of nature I see here never cease to impress me. And even after 8 years, I keep on seeing new things. Did you know Costa Rica contains 6% of the world's biodiversity? Have you ever considered coming to visit me? For real? I'd love to have you!

Anyway, moments like that are a great blessing to me. Lately I have been insanely busy--with commitments every night of the week and the days quite full too. There is a lot to be done! Did I tell you we're going to start another series at church this coming weekend?
So, yesterday on my day off I relaxed at home in my jammies all day and caught up on journaling and read a little bit: I'm re-reading "The Shattered Lantern" and it is helping me remember all the things in my life that turn my focus away from God, and my need to slow down, be grateful, and refocus on him. My plate is full, but I can choose whether or not to stress. I still have a loooooong ways to go. But those butterfly spying moments help me reconnect with God in the midst of the busyness and turn back to him. The calendar may be full and the to-do lists long, but I can maintain peace in my heart and not be controlled by my circumstances. God has been teaching me a lot about not being so controlling too...He is so good to me!
May we all keep our eyes open to the beautiful wonders around us and remember God's presence with us! Thank you for keeping me in your prayers!

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Tico Tuesday, May 9th

Welcome to the office of the Executive Pastoral Team (EPE) at church! My desk is the second one in, before the filing cabinet. Sorry it's not the greatest shot. I just wanted you to get an idea of where I have started spending a lot of my time. My desk hasn't been here for long, and the filing cabinet is a quite new addition too. It's so nice to have a space designated just for work! That means I am working a lot less from home now. Unfortunately, the internet cuts out sometimes, which is quite inconvenient, but, that's kind of how life is. I love the view and all the natural lighting we have, though the brightness does make it hard to see our computer screens. It's completely worth it though.
We are blessed to have such a beautiful location for our church. We are blessed to have office space and a church building (and on the same property!)...not something we had a year ago! But we are coming up on the one year anniversary of moving on to our property. It's hard to believe that was almost a whole year ago now! How easy it can be to get used to something like that! I drive by the school where we used to meet every time I go to church now, and much of the time, I totally forget that I used to have to turn in there to go to church! But I'll never forget the first time I went to up to our new church building. The transition from the school up to our building happened while I was in Cuba, so I came back, all impacted from that trip, and it was all I could do to hold back the tears as I drove past the school and went up to our building. It wasn't just "the property" anymore. It was, and remains, the home of Vida Abundante Heredia. We live in a place where we are free to meet and worship Jesus. That isn't the case in Cuba, nor in many other countries. I won't say there's no persecution here (because there is, though not always direct), but I am grateful for the freedoms we do have and the ways we have been able to serve our community better by having our own building. It's incredible how easy it can be to take things for granted, isn't it?
Let's give thanks this week for some of the things we often take for granted! I am thankful for each and every one of you who takes the time to read this!

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Tico Tuesday, April 25th

Our head pastor Rudy is turning 40 on Friday, so on Sunday afternoon we had a party for him at church. It was a sweet time to celebrate him and have some fun. And of course, you can't have a good Costa Rican birthday party without a piñata! That was hilarious! Latino style, the piñata doesn't just hang there while you whack at it blindly: they move the piñata up and down and send it swinging back and forth so you are whacking blindly at a moving target! It makes for quite a spectacle!
The other thing I wanted to share with you today is totally different: I was reading in Matthew 22 where Jesus gives what is known as the Great Commandment. "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment." Of all the things God could command us: to give, to sacrifice, to do this or that... the God of the universe who reigns over all could command us to do anything. But what does he command? That we love him! That we love him with every fiber or our beings. That's it! Because of our love for him, we obey other commands he gives us, but first and foremost he wants us to love and delight in him! And we can only love him because he loved us first and continues to love us with the most beautiful, perfect, eternal, unconditional, complete love there is because he is Love himself. It just blows my mind. He is so amazing, so beautiful, so good, so powerful. He is great and holy, and he knows and cares about every detail in our hearts and minds. How could I not love him? Yet how often, how easily I forget... God has been teaching me some wonderful things about loving him and trusting him, but that's all I'll share for now. If you want to hear more, let's skype!
May God continue to teach you more about his love and loving him!