Wednesday, November 14, 2012

This American Life: Scenes from life back in the USofA


I apologize for the miserably long lapse of time since I've published some updated news. I hope that in the past several months, you've gotten some insight into what I've been up to via prayer letters, church presentations, or personal conversations. I've been back in the United States since May, so I've taken advantage of these past several months to try and meet personally with people (since I'm around to do it!), and also to share publicly at churches about the ministry work I've gotten to be a part of for the past several years in Costa Rica.

My prayer letters for this year are available on my MAF profile website:, in case you missed one of the exciting installments :)

A huge thanks to those of you who I've gotten to have conversations with. Many of these are a real encouragement to my soul. It is good to hear some of the things I'm processing reflected back for me. Of course, I come back a very different person than when I left four years ago. But it is a real encouragement to see and hear about the life I've been distant from for four years as well. That is, I am fascinated to hear about the interesting things going on in the lives of others that I've only been privy to via facebook updates and occasional notes.

While back in the U.S., home base has been the basement of home... that is, I've been living downstairs in my family's home here in Nampa. I was able to visit a few other locations to spend time with family and share about ministry news: Oregon, California, Kansas City, Florida, and Oklahoma. 

I'm working on a more detailed collection of thoughts and experiences that have impacted me since I've been back in the U.S. Until I get that done, take a look through the following photo albums and we'll call it good:
Please know I am VERY grateful for the hospitality, kindness, and encouragement that so many have showed me since I've been back. It is very appreciated. Thank you also to those who have begun giving (or have been faithfully giving for many years) to help me be a part of this ministry.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Ghetto superstar

Greetings! I recently added a few interesting articles in my separate blog about living in La Carpio. There's a lot of writing on there, so if you're behind or even if you are checking it out for the first time, here are some articles you might want to start with:

If you comment on anything there, I'm the only one that can read it. I'll continue to add articles as I find time but I won't always update with a separate announcement on this blog.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Yielo Fieldwork

Please read. Please comment:
Perhaps you're curious about what life is like in an entire community built on land than no one has legal title to, a stone's throw away from the largest garbage dump in the country (and a line drive away from the country club's golf course across the valley). Perhaps you never noticed that in places without paved roads people toss water on the dusty road outside their doorways too keep it from unsettling and coating the insides of their homes and from clogging up their lungs. How are places organized and coordinated where resources are scarce and government can't keep up with population growth? Or ever wondered how people who don't get 24-hour running water store up water for the day when they can't afford sophisticated backup water systems? How many buckets of water does it take to bathe oneself in the morning from a 55-gallon drum?

I recommend getting curious about what life is like for people in parts of the city that everyone avoids, and I recommend finding out for yourself by talking to people who live there and asking lots of questions. Thanks to God's protection and the relentless hospitality of the people in La Carpio, I have no complaints and a huge list of awesome memories from my six months living in "La Cueva." Most of the photos and videos I posted were about our amazingly talented students and the incredible things they were doing, or about birthday parties and interesting things going on. Those are the parts I wanted to share with everyone and remember about my time there.

But the day-in and day-out living conditions in La Carpio can be a challenge, and nobody knows that better than the people who live there. A lot of aspects of a place like that can be just plain disturbing and hostile. This is the well-sensationalized perspective that you can get from most news reports and popular commentary, and the bits of it that are accurate can be quite terrifying when you are face-to-face with them or when someone close to you suffers from these threatening realities. There are tidy phrases to describe life in places like this: fierce competition over scarce resources, "social density", delinquency, "microlocalities", the periphery, environmental hazards... all interesting terms, but what is it really like to live in a place like La Carpio?

When I decided to live in La Carpio, the best explanation I could give was that it was a learning experience, and pretty much everything about my time there was a learning experience. I went as a student and a guest. But there was a spiritual dimension to it as well, one that most strongly impresses on my mind the term "reconciliation". As I wrote somewhat aggressively in a spin-off of Thoreau's famous statement of Where he chose to live and What he chose to live for, I am not satisfied with an unexamined life that accepts these inequalities passively, and I want to see for myself what good news God's message of love has to speak into this issue of increasing disparity between the rich and poor. I wanted to understand what growing up in La Carpio was like for the youth we work with. I wanted to know what day-in and day-out living was like for a family in a "squatter settlement."

The over-all conclusion I have is good news. We're not all that far apart as it may seem. In fact, we are deeply connected on this issue, and the quicker we realize it the more ways we can work toward true reconciliation, and making the world a better place.

So, I felt from the very beginning of my time there that this was good news that I should share with as many people as I could, as best I could, in the most detail that I could. Toward that end, I am finally beginning to compile and write up some of my notes and journal entries from when I lived there. This blog is where you can find all my research, notes, videos, journal entries, and commentary about La Carpio, all in one place. I'll continue to update it as I find time. I hope you enjoy it; I hope you are encouraged; I hope you feel as convicted as I do about people living in hazardous places like these; and I hope I pique your curiosity about finding ways we are all connected on this.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Moodle Month

Earlier this month we had two fun events relating to the learning platform we use, called "Moodle." Moodle is an open-source web environment for managing and delivering on-line courses in a virtual environment. Lots of universities or seminaries will use Moodle or something like Moodle to construct their virtual classrooms, where students log on and participate from all over the world.

At the beginning of February, Rosalia and Maureen from our Learning Technologies team here in San Jose led a 3-day workshop last week teaching educators and administrators from various seminaries and missionary institutions in Costa Rica how to design and deliver their classes on-line. There were 8 attendees, and these classes will help them make the training they offer available to Spanish-speaking students all over the world. The attendees will learn more about how to use the Moodle learning management system to set up virtual classes for on-line students. I audited the class as well, since I usually help with the technical side of the Moodle installation, but don't usually know what all goes into the construction of a course within the program.

A week later, two fellow MAF missionaries from Nampa visited our team, Tony and Brian. We talked about lots of topics relating to educational strategy and the platforms we use. Also, Tony and his family plan on joining our team here in Costa Rica before the end of this year, so he got to be introduced to the country and see a little of how our team works here.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

From more connected to more protected

Most recent news for me here in Costa Rica is that I've moved to a new apartment closer to where I work (and closer to where I was living before). It has been a lot of fun getting settled and experiencing some privacy and quietness, a luxury I haven't had for the past three years I've lived here in Costa Rica. San Francisco de Dos Rios, where our offices are and where I'm now living, is quite different, if you can imagine, from where I was living in La Carpio. 

Part of what I will have to do in these next months is wrap my perspective around a different approach to security, safety, and comfort. I've already been thinking a lot about the differences between where I'm at now and where I was living in La Carpio. Put simply, in a place like where I live now, people feel safe and secure when they are more protected, whereas in La Carpio, safety came from being more connected. I could leave my car parked on the street, at night, without worrying about it being broken into or robbed (well, I worried, but nothing happened). This is doubly perplexing because La Carpio is notorious for delinquent crime and most of the kids on the street knew that my windows open easily from the outside. Here in San Francisco de Dos Rios, a car on the street at night is an automatic invitation for a break-in. I only left my car out on the street once in SF2Rios and it got broken into, combed for everything of value, and then they popped the hood and jacked the battery. Cars are regularly broken into in front of our office and in the web of streets between where I'm now living and where I work, and muggings are pretty common. And yet, this is where all the foreigners flock to live (both latino and anglo foreigners), and they still somehow perceive a place like this to be safer. In some ways, it is, but in many ways, it is not. Each place has its horror stories - I could get robbed or harmed in La Carpio or I could robbed and harmed in San Francisco de Dos Rios - the former seems more "worth" the risk. To take one of my favorite quotes from the devotional I was reading while I lived there, 
we learn that the most dangerous place for Christians to be is in comfort and safety, detached from the suffering of others. Places that are physically safe can be spiritually deadly" (from Common Prayer: A liturgy for ordinary radicals).
While I was living in La Carpio, I didn't write or discuss much about the experience publicly, because I was fully focused on being present, with minimal analysis. Participant observation and delayed judgment would be the anthropological way to put it. Plus, there were a few other concerns I had about how such a move would be perceived by others, and it turns out they were well-founded. Granted, I didn't have a very reasonable explanation for what I was doing - at least, I didn't bother to build a case for it. Now, however, I'm planning on taking some time these next few months to go back over my journal entries and rehash some of the things I learned and experienced. Moving to live there was probably one of the most radical moves I've made in my life up to this point, but during my devotions I had a great prayer guide that reminded me I was in good company. A lot of things made me confused, uncomfortable, and uneasy. Most of the time, though, I remember feeling quite content, at peace, and almost electrically alive, thanking God for exactly where I was, exactly at that moment. I am still asking myself why I left, if that's the way I felt. I think, though, it was a natural transition point, and I need some time to think and reflect on my time there.

So anyway, for the next few months during my time of solitude (anything feels like solitude after living with 18 people!) I plan on revisiting my journal entries, my notes, and my "research", and finally sharing some of the stories and things that I learned while I lived in La Carpio, including the different reasons why I went to live there and whether it's something I could (should?) do again. I haven't quite decided how I'm going to put all these experiences into words, but it will probably be through entries on a separate blog. If you are interested in following along on that specific experience, please let me know by commenting or sending me an e-mail or a facebook message or whatever, just so I know to keep you in the loop. I will continue to update this blog with general news and stories, but I won't be announcing each time I update the other site.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

This American Life: Part Christmas

Well, I have since returned from 2 weeks in the U.S. for Christmas and some R&R with my Idaho friends and family. I got some much-needed relax-time, and a lot of low-pressure hang-out time with people in the Nampa area. Besides not getting to see everyone, my time there couldn't have gone any better. But overall, I quite enjoyed not having an agenda, a task list, a schedule, and any projects to work on for a short time.

Some highlights of my time in Nampa stand out - I got to see and hang out with Isaac, Rain, and Camden (Hughes) for my birthday, in which I struggled to maintain a positive score in an intense game of Dutch blitz. My cousin Ryan got engaged as well, and I took engagement photos of my brother Camden and his fiancé Habtam. Over the next week I remember lots of food, stories, card games, and an occasional burst of political discourse. I briefly reconnected with the political topics in the U.S. after a several year black-out where I only receive the highlights that make it to local news stations. 

I was hoping for some snowfall, but there was none to be found the whole time I was there, except a brief dusting. The temperature didn't change much at all... just the scale - that is, I went from about 25 degrees Celsius to 25 Fahrenheit. I took a few nostalgic walks through the NNU campus, watching the sparrows and woodpeckers flitter around the cold lifeless trees, and was even surprised by a family of quail in the bushes outside the prayer chapel. The campus felt like a lifeless ghost town during Christmas week, but I amused myself imagining how the shopping cart got into the Elijah drain, and listening to alarms from abandoned dorms strain to resurrect some life out of the empty rooms.

Some other highlights were: developing film with Mark and Kelly in the fine arts darkroom, playing racquetball with my dad at the gym, visiting Jason's secret "writing spot" where we can watch the trains and traffic whiz by below without being detected, and discovering some half-a-dozen hidden geocache treasures. I got to visit the Whosoever Sunday school class that is still going strong with a sum total of probably over a millennium years of wisdom, and see some friends in the ICM International Church. And if that wasn't enough, I got to drop in on a Lord of the Rings marathon on New Years' Eve at Paul and Gracie's, and trek out to some hot springs on the banks of an icy river with my family. And right before I left, I got to attend an MAF team meeting in person, and visit with Brian Ward and his family for a short bit.

Visiting Idaho-home is a mixed-feeling experience, I should point out. It is then that I realize how much I give up to be on the mission field and live overseas, both materially and socially. From day-in to day-out it becomes easy to forget how much my friendships and family time mean to me, but going back is a jarring reminder of how much I miss out on while I'm away. I tend to focus on the exciting things I get to be a part of in Costa Rica, and I truly do thank God for the things I've been able to be a part of, but it isn't without considerable sacrifice. I try not to get wrapped up in how much I give up to be a part of God's work here, but at times I'm reminded, and Christmas time was a big reminder. Not asking for sympathy! Just stating that I have a great group of family and friends that I LOVE spending time with and miss very, very much.

Well, I skimmed over a lot that happened those two weeks, but it was a great, restful time, which I really needed before returning to the daily grind in Costa Rica. Take a look at the following photo album to see some of the other adventures of this Christmas season.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Jesús' first Christmas

This will probably be the last update I'll send directly from "the Cave" for a while. It's been an awesome 6 months here in La Carpio, full of more impacting experiences and life lessons than I have time to write out at the moment, but I'm working on a few updates to let you know some of the things God taught me while I lived here.

Right now I'm full of conflicting feelings of anticipation and severe anguish. Tomorrow I'll be on a plane headed toward Nampa to spend Christmas with my family, a luxury I haven't had for three Christmas's now. I'm excited for that, but I'm not "feeling" it, yet. What I'm "feeling" right now is the painful sadness of leaving a family whose lives I shared for several months now. Each time I get on a plane to leave Costa Rica, I am reminded that the stronger relationships and friendships I make here, the more difficult and painful I make it to leave. In a way, I thank God for allowing me to still be able to make life difficult for myself in this way.

I found a place to live when I return, though.... that's an answer to prayer. I felt an irrationally low level of stress about the fact that I did not know where I would be living when I return to Costa Rica in January. Thankfully, by God's provision what looks to be a decent living situation plopped into my lap less than a week before I left. So now I know where I'll be laying my head when I get back after Christmas. Stay posted.

Normally that would be cause for much greater celebration, but again... I'm not yet feeling it. I'm still feeling the pain of separation and leaving these 6 months behind, and not having had a chance to fully process it. That's one of the reasons I haven't posted regular updates about the experience while I've been here - there are several reasons, but that's one of them.

I'll write more as I find time, but for now I'll rehash a poem/reflection I wrote several months ago when Jesús (Hay-Seuss) was born (the youngest member of the Chilo Tribe, the family with whom I've been living). Since this is Jesús' first Christmas, I remixed the reflection to fit the occasion. The obvious starting point for this reflection was the similarity between the names Jesús and Jesus. Beyond that, you'll have to figure out the relationship between the two in the poem.

Maybe you were born into the Cave,
   into a prickly bed surrounded by animals.

Maybe you were born into a world in the throes of a genocide,
   when babies were considered a threat and killed before they reached 2 years old.

Maybe you were a hated foreigner in someone elses' land. Maybe there were rats there where you lay, maybe sewage outside and soldiers entering houses, Zealots in the street preaching what was best for them and a self-glorifying religion creating burdens to large for people to bear.

Maybe your birth was marked by explosions of light in the sky.

Maybe you were born to a poor family striving to make ends meet, to a young mother with no medical care, living far from home and family.

Maybe your father's hands were calloused, hard, and strong from decades of work with raw materials.

Maybe your parents were displaced for political reasons, and rejected from every door they knocked on for help.

You probably had no privacy at birth, but were surrounded by a dense throng of animals, people, noise, and activity.

I wish I could assure you everything will turn out well for you in the end. It probably won't, but it might.

You might still learn to love and live. Maybe even you will be amazed at the faith you see. maybe even you will see persistence that surprises you. Even if you know how it will all end, never stop pleading for another way.

I wish we had a better world to bring you into, but that's where we're at right now.

We've been waiting for you. Maybe you're the one here to clean up this mess. We're sorry this is what you are born into. Maybe you're the one who can save us from it.