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Costa Rica 2016 - Chapter 2

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Costa Rica 2016 - Chapter 2
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Written By Brenda Fenderson
What’s that NOISE?! …I think it’s rain on our metal roof! I pulled back the curtains in front of our sliding door to expose the tropical downpour. Umbrella...No. Hood on jacket...No. Had we actually come to Costa Rica completely unprepared for rain??
Following the best night’s sleep most of us had enjoyed in a long time, we arose to rain, which for Californians brings hope of drought relief. For Costa Ricans it’s so ordinary it’s hardly noticed. Considering its capacity to soak a person almost instantly, we were wondering exactly how we were going to negotiate the walk to breakfast without getting drenched. To our relief, in 15 minutes or so, the downpour pulled back to a mist and allowed us to go for breakfast.
Once our appetites were satisfied, we boarded the bus, crowding guitars and supplies in aisles, using jump-seats (arm rests that fold down into the aisle with tip-up back rests) as our group slightly exceeded seating. (Bus laws are different here.) We arrived at the Peniel Education Center gym (the school) towards the end of the Sabbath School discussion. This was a special weekend for the local church and, due to the anticipation of larger audiences, all weekend meetings were being held in the gym. The Sabbath School lesson discussion was largely lost on us, as it was in Spanish without interpretation. As we patiently sat and waited, and especially as prayer was offered, it became apparent that a good night’s sleep was not enough to fully eliminate the tendency to fall asleep unexpectedly.  “Prayer is dangerous,” I told my husband after, with eyes closed and head bowed, I caught myself dozing.
The Worship Service began with Alex Chang and a group of 5 to 6 PUC students leading congregational singing.  A little later, Alex gave the first of several health talks to be presented by students, supported by Ralph Foliente running the slides. The local church provided Special Music including beautiful voices any church would welcome, taking full advantage of electronic accompaniments controlled by laptops and an iPad, with projected words and background graphics, and a member operating a portable PA system. This church was already taking full advantage of available resources to create a quality worship experience. So why were we here? This was beginning to look like a resourceful church that could take care of itself. After the potluck, I pressed English-speaking members (of which there were only a few) as I tried to get an understanding of the church, school and community. As I did, I began rounding out my picture of a talented local church with several educated members, even a young doctor and professor.  It was gradually becoming apparent that this was not your typical ‘mission’ church. The problem? Maranatha’s sizeable investment in the school was in jeopardy in part, because enrollment in the school had dropped off to an unsustainable level causing the church and conference to question whether to keep it open.
So why were we here? Certainly we didn’t come all this way to simply paint the gym and fill a few teeth. How was our presence going to change anything?
The sermon, along with messages for the evening meetings, was delivered by Hernan Granados, a Bible teacher, the Dean of Newton Hall, and a much-loved and respected pastor at Pacific Union College. He’s an engaging and passionate speaker. One of the first things I noted was that he is a master of the bi-lingual sermon. Speaking fluently in both English and Spanish, he moves back and forth between languages, keeping his storyline moving without loosing track of where he is in his message. He was born and lived in El Salvador until he was 9, and relates well with the people in Costa Rica. He’s good at bringing Jesus promise of ‘life more abundant’ to a relevant personal level where it’s blessings can be felt and praise for a faithful God can be elicited.
The new pastor of the SDA Church in Guapiles, Rodolfo Richards, and his wife, the new school principal, Pamela, arrived in December, 2015, along with their daughter and son-in-law. Along with church members, they worked until school started, painting the inside of the gym and cleaning the school, preparing for opening day in February, the beginning of the school year in Costa Rica. Starting in February with just 8 students, it has grown to 21, with 3 more expected to join after spring break. Building maintenance had been neglected for quite some time, but the Maranatha-built education center is still an uncommon facility with great potential. Some of our tasks include painting the exterior of the gym, improving its appearance in hopes of attracting new interest in the school as a quality educational center. Members stated that even they would not send their children there because the quality of education, as well as lack of auxiliary programs, had fallen to an unacceptable level, especially compared with other local schools, including a successful private school in town. We came, in part, because Maranatha asked us to help the new principal and staff project the message that change has arrived, rebuilding is occurring. They desperately need to get attendance to a level that would enable them to hire qualified teachers to further raise the reputation of the school and what it can offer the community.
Our afternoon activity, going door-to-door to homes around the school, was designed to raise awareness of the Health Fair the next day while delivering Steps to Christ in Spanish and offering to pray for the residents’ requests and needs. Each of our groups of 7-8 people had at least one interpreter, who ended up doing most of the talking. Doorbells were almost non-existent and virtually all properties were enclosed with iron railing on top of masonry walls. To us, they appeared to be as impenetrable as a walled city. To our local interpreter, it was no problem. In an attempt to draw the breeze into their homes, people usually open doors and windows when they are home. All you do is call out, ‘Senor’ or ‘Senorita’ and they come out and talk.
Our group, looking for more homes to visit, was taken to another area about 20 minutes away. It was a much poorer neighborhood surrounding a nice, new Adventist church. We found fewer people willing to accept prayer in that neighborhood. What we didn’t know is that we were laying the groundwork for the whole group to return to that neighborhood in a couple days offering Vacation Bible School in the church and medical exams in a covered area outdoors. By almost 4 pm, we decided we’d better head back to the school so we didn’t miss the bus back to the hotel and supper and then back to the school for the 6:30 meeting.
We have come to paint the gym, fill and extract teeth, go door-to-door, give health talks, lead Vacation Bible School for kids, … all ordinary tasks outside of the bigger picture. We have come that through these ordinary tasks, God can do the extraordinary work of engaging the community’s interest in this ‘turn-around’ school, and to give the local church hope and belief that the school is worth fighting for. Our work and presence is intended to inspire the new pastor and principal with the great potential of the school and help them realize that they are not without needed support and resources. This Adventist school truly is a prize worth striving for.
Everyone is working hard. The schedule is demanding. We have a job to do. May God bless the service that these PUC students are giving and the vision and inspiration for missions the doctors are infusing in these pre-med and pre-dent students as they work side-by-side.