Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Guest Post - On Mission in Costa Rica

A couple years ago my cousin, Grey, went on her first mission trip to Costa Rica. I had just done a photo session with her, so I thought it would be fun for her to write about her trip to go along with her pictures! Two years later now and she's back from her third trip. I asked her to write again and hope this post will be an encouragement to you! 

My name is Olivia-Grey.  I am 14 yrs old and I am passionate about missions.  I have been on 3 trips to Costa Rica, 1 to China and I will be going to India in September.  It is my true heart’s desire to open an orphanage in a poverty stricken area where I can offer protection and the gospel to children who have known nothing but the streets and abuse of others.   I have learned through my travels that we in America do not begin to understand the depth of poverty and depravity of man until we come across children who have never been taught to laugh and play.  Christ made a point of giving children his time during His ministry here on earth.  I can never love them as much as Christ loves them but I can certainly try and point them to the one who can. 

I was introduced to missions at an early age growing up in a Christian home with a grandfather as a pastor and grandparents who served short term with China.  But it wasn’t until I was 12 years old that I began to see the global perspective of missions.  Our youth group spent a month raising awareness for World Hunger and how it relates specifically to children.  I accepted the challenge to give up luxuries to experience what life without something was like.  For the entire month, I slept on the floor, limited myself to just a few outfits and one pair of shoes, , drank only water and ate meat only 2x a week, and I went on an electronic fast by watching no TV, using no computer and no phones.  Along with going without, I also went about the neighborhood doing odd jobs to raise money to send to World Vision.   When the month was up, I found myself very aware of not only living without but very in tune with those in need around me.  While my list consisted of modern day items, it was simply a glimpse of what life must be like for those who live without basic necessities but the removal of those items allowed me to focus on things other than those items.  I was able to see needs I didn’t know where there before. 
World Vision has a dollar for dollar program where if you raise a certain amount, they will match that and allow you to take a missions trip with their group.  Sadly, I was too young.  I was very disappointed as my desire for missions had been ignitated.  But God had bigger plans.  The very next day my aunt called to ask my parents if they would consider letting me go with their church to Costa Rica.  It was only a month away and very short notice but the consensus was to try for it and see how God provides.  And he did…..all the necessary funds came in and 5 weeks later I was on a plane to Costa Rica. 

In all honesty, I had no clue of what to expect.  I knew we would be traveling to poor villages and we would be working with some orphanages.  It was presented as a kid’s ministry mission’s trip.  I honestly couldn’t process how playing with kids would be labeled missions……but I was eager to learn.  There are truly very few words in the English language that can express the emotions and feelings I had upon meeting these precious children and the families in the villages.  I had seen ‘poor’ areas in America…….but our poor is truly their rich.  In the villages, these poor families and children lived in make-shift shacks…..some barely had 4 walls and if they did, they weren’t connected…..they more or less leaned on one another.

 For a family of 8-10, there may be one mattress and a dirt floor.  One elderly lady was so excited that we had come that she brought out an old rickety iron bench.  This bench was truly only held together by a few screws and she asked us to sit.  It was clear from her glowing face she was honored we would sit on her bench.   She then asked us to sit carefully because it was her couch.    I felt so humbled and so broken at the same time because she was offering her best seat to us.  I wanted so much to hug her neck and tell her about a loving God who gave up His throne to come to earth for her.   I began to see this trip was just as much about me as it was her……God was changing me.

We spent much of our time with a few orphanages.  One child we met, a young man turning 16 had never had a birthday party…..didn’t know what a birthday cake was.  He said his only birthday wish was a family.    Others we met were young girls as young as 18 months who had been taken out of human trafficking.  The scars these young girls carry and things they have experienced make our complaints pale in comparison.  It was through these young girls that missions to children became alive to me……became a part of me.  I quickly learned these young children had never learned to play and laugh.  I made it my mission to make one little girl, the youngest  girl to the group, smile before I left.  It took me the entire week…….but God blessed me with seeing a smile.  It was a smile from heaven and I prayed that that little girl would find a family who loved God and one that would teach her to laugh and smile every day. 

When I returned from my first trip to Costa Rica, my mom took one look at my face and knew I was not the same.  She held me as I cried and as I tried to come to terms with what I had seen and witnessed.  She helped me process what I felt and how I wanted to move forward with missions.  She said it best when she said I had left my heart in Costa Rica.  Because she was right.  The first trip changed me…..but it also created a more passionate me…….the me that desperately wants little children around the world to know God……to know His love…….to know his sacrifice…….and to know laughter. 

This year was my 3rd trip.  It was so much fun to go and see the familiar faces of my Costa Rica family.  One sweet lady in the village had recently had her home burn down.  She housed many children without parents and so the church that sponsors the trip was able to raise almost the entire $4000 needed to build a home.  What a thought………they can build an entirely new home in the poor village for $4000 where in America, that is sometimes one person’s paycheck for just a month.  For this trip, we spent the week built a playground for the kids in the village.  To see their faces as the wood was brought in and to see the joy on their faces as the play set was constructed…….it was a beautiful site.  But they  weren’t content to just watch us build the playground.  I was asked by one mom if I would hold her child so she could help build it.  They take pride in using their hands and in recognizing everyone can play a role.

Being around these families and these kids, you would never know how hard they have it.  They constantly have big bright smiles, they never ask for anything, and they are thankful for the smallest gift.  My siblings and I spent weeks making bracelets to take to the kids.  This has become a tradition that we look forward to every year.  To us it would be a plastic trinket….not worthy to be worn.  But to them, you would think I handed them gold.    The looks on their faces remind me to be grateful for the smallest blessings because God can take anything, no matter how small, and use it.

Along with the hard work came some fun playing.  We had a wonderful time ministering to the children of the village playing their version of kickball (which involves the one kicking running circles around the team….very interesting and lots of fun).  They don’t have the luxury of toys and so they amuse themselves with games that involve each other……..a great way to bond and form friendships.  One kid decided to go ahead and plan for the future by proposing to me that moment  made  for a great memory and lots of laughter.

One amazing couple I had the privilege of meeting on my last trip was an elderly couple that currently has 48 kids.  Over the past 37 years they have legally adopted over 100 kids.  I was truly blessed and amazed by their devotion to raise these unwanted kids.  They have answered a calling that very few would answer…….to know no boundaries for their love and to open their doors to all of God’s children. 

Upon returning each time from Costa Rica, I am left with a sense of accomplishment and peace knowing I have been blessed to share Christ with them.  But I am also left with an ever stronger burden to continue the work there.  I realize that the Great Commission isn’t a call just for the college graduate, parent, pastor, deacon or Sunday school teacher.  It is a challenge to all believers…..young and old to do their part in sharing God’s wonderful message.  I feel honored that the Lord allowed me to share with my Costa Rican family such a special message.   I realize the call to missions isn’t just about what I can do for them but also what they can teach me.  My mom was right…..I did leave my heart in Costa Rica and I have learned so much about myself from knowing them.   And I look forward to seeing how God uses me in the future both here, there and in other countries.