Costa Rica 2016 – Chapter 4
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Written by Brenda Fenderson
“OK, guys. I need your attention! We’re leaving at 6:30 in the morning! Breakfast is at 5:45. They want us in the village by 7 AM.”
“Andrew, that’s sooo early. Do you realize how early I have to get up to be ready by 5:45? I’m not even hungry at that hour.” I whined softly under my breath. But it was not Andrew’s decision. The government granted the doctors a 9-hour full medical license for the village of Limbo where they said there was a need, enabling our team to work in an actual medical clinic for Tuesday only. We would have to leave the village in the afternoon by 4 PM to get supper and be to the evangelistic meeting by 6:30 PM. Andrew had little choice. We had to get an early start to take full advantage of the licenses. While the government had sent two local doctors to the clinic to assist Keith and Andrew, they didn’t have drug licenses that allowed them to prescribe what Keith and Andrew’s licenses allowed them to prescribe. Because of those licenses, people in the village received prescriptions for medications they hadn’t been able to get previously.
Dr. Ron told me that medical licenses for doctors coming into the country usually take 4 weeks to acquire. They get reviewed and shuffled around to at least 3 departments of government. If you have really good connections, Dr. Ron said, two weeks is the absolute fastest. Our doctors were frantically scanning and emailing medical and dental licenses and diploma’s 1 week before we left. Andrew contacted Mananatha Volunteers who contacted their local representative, Manuel Brenes, who knocked on the door of Costa Rica’s Public Health Department every day that last week, running, calling and pulling together resources from local dentists, coordinating with people associated with Mananatha in Sacramento to gather together what the Public Health Department required to move this request through.
All the doctors gave a big sigh of relief when they were granted the licenses on Thursday, the day we left. It wasn’t until potluck on Sabbath in Guapiles that the final piece of the licenses was added. Dr. Ron DePass, the 80-year-old retired professor from the School of Dentistry in Costa Rica, was actually joining us for the whole week, enabling the doctors and dentists to work under his license. We’re not sure how medical doctors were allowed to work under a dentist’s license, but we weren’t asking questions. This was clearly a God-thing. Dr. Ron has committed and surrendered his life to doing what God calls him to do, and he shared that God called him to do this. Meeting the needs of poor people is a cause close to the heart of God. It is amazing how effective God is at pulling strings! It was amazing how things started to unravel in the last 10 days before we left. It was even more amazing how God knitted them back together, building new relationships that He may call on for future projects.
Early Tuesday morning, we were on schedule, heading to a government clinic in a village named ‘Limbo.’ As we passed banana and pineapple plantations, it was apparent that Limbo was a productive, farming community. We learned that it is a community that has good leadership that draws the community together to provide what they need like a medical clinic and a new school. When the local Adventist Elder and Bible worker spread the word that Adventist doctors and dentists were coming to the medical clinic, they got the impression that a good turnout could be anticipated. The medical doctors worked hard. The dentists worked even harder. There was more need than they could satisfy in one day.
Consider this. The Adventist Elder and Bible worker have been working to raise awareness and interest in Adventism in the town of Limbo with the goal of planting a church. The government couldn’t have known that sending Adventist doctors and dentists specifically to THIS town, granting them a one-day license for ONLY this town, was playing right into what God was already doing. The Elder said this was a huge boost to their efforts. The attraction created by Adventist doctors from the United States was more than they could have hoped for.
Stories like this are what makes mission trips fun. We get to see God doing amazing things, orchestrating decisions in governments and local towns, bringing us in to do our part in His grand plan. He enables us to accomplish His will in the short time we have to serve and keeps working after we leave. In this Divine scheme, however, He sometimes keeps us on the edge of our seats while He is actively struggling with unseen forces opposed to His plan.
Down the road from the clinic, Diane Chang and the VBS group of PUC students held a Vacation Bible School program attended by about 60-70 kids. The PUC students provided some creative games and activities. The kids loved them! They had a great time. As the kids left this, and all the VBS programs, wherever they were held, they received toothbrushes and toothpaste. We have dentists, Jasper Yai and Mark Brown to thank for supplying about 1000 toothbrushes and toothpaste for this trip. They were a hit, guys!! Diane and Andrew Chang gave toothbrushes and toothpaste to a lady and her staff running an open-air café right next to the clinic and she gave our group the whole batch of fresh rolls she had just made. Oh! Those were good.
During the afternoon downpour, I was watching unconcerned local people riding bikes in the rain trying to balance umbrellas in one hand, and steady the handlebars with the other. While amusing, these were just sideshows to the miraculous work God was doing for and through us, and for the town of Limbo, on this amazing day. Later I asked Dr. Ron if riding bikes with umbrellas was common in Costa Rica considering the frequent rain. He smiled and said, “Yes, it’s very common.” But he added that they have started making the center pole of umbrellas plastic because several people have been struck by lightening that was drawn down the metal umbrella pole. Who’d have thought!
As I write, it is Thursday. We are on the bus heading back to our hotel. We spent the day at a beach and quaint oceanside town about 2 ½ hours from our hotel. This morning we said our good-byes to Dr. Ron DePass, often called ‘Colonel,’ the grand gentleman that let us work under his license for the week. Tonight, we will pack and be ready to board the bus to go back to the San Jose, Costa Rica airport at 7 AM in the morning.
We’re all a little tired of white rice and beans 3 times a day, but have thoroughly enjoyed the fruit and fresh fruit juices the restaurant has made for us. Today, in spite of being Holy Thursday, during which no one works, a token restaurant staff came in and made us breakfast and a lunch to take along, and a late supper after we got back. They have been awesome, day after day, accommodating our irregular times, having buffet meals ready early in the morning or late at night, as needed. For our beach trip, they sent fresh strawberry juice. That was a treat!!
One quick story from today. As we walked up the beach looking for a table to spread out and serve our meal, we finally found a shady area. We hoped the restaurant sent box lunches. When the insulated plastic carrier was opened, we discovered cafeteria-sized trays full of beans, rice, vegetables, etc. They were still so hot they had to be handled with a beach towel to pull them out. To serve this unexpectedly nice meal, we really needed a table but they were all taken. We looked at the nearest table and realized that a mom, breast-feeding a baby, was holding it down. So we non-verbally queried each other, then asked the mom if we could use the table for a little while to serve lunch. She consented. We had so much food that we offered to let their whole group eat as much as they wanted. This opened conversation and it was discovered that they were Adventists! What are the odds?!
We tend to get so focused on what we are doing for God and others that we loose sight of what’s really going on. The things God calls us to do are but small links in a much larger chain that God is forming. We seldom see much of the big picture. This trip, God pulled back a corner as we got to see how hard He is working to overcome the forces warring against Him. We experienced complications so late in the game as to have stopped us, and kept us from being the link God intended us to be. Through Maranatha and Manuel and many people I haven’t mentioned, God opened windows of opportunity to accomplish His will, all the while adding color and faith-building experiences in ways only God can do.