Saturday, December 5, 2009

As this chapter closes…

This time next week we hope to be boarding a plane in San José, Costa Rica that will take us back to the US and Las Vegas! Woo-Hoo! Many things cross through our minds as we contemplate where we have been and where we are going.

First of all, we are grateful to the many people that have been praying for us! Many of you have told us and communicated with us directly and indirectly. We know that without your prayers and God’s daily presence in our lives we would not have experienced all the blessings we have seen: our ability to see God’s activity in and around the school, Sandy’s ability to learn Spanish while struggling with her medication, the friends and relationships we have made while here. Let me give you two concrete example of how we have seen God’s direct involvement in our lives.

One: We were very concerned about finding a doctor that knew about Hepatitis-C, the treatment for it, knew of the potential side effects and complications, and would be able to communicate with us as we learned Spanish. The doctor WE had chosen, the head of the gastroenterology clinic at the closest hospital, was unable to treat Sandy. A colleague of his, however, had studied at Yale and had just returned from working in Dallas on a one year fellowship at one of the premier liver treatment facilities in the world, and although he works at another hospital, he was willing to come to this hospital to treat Sandy. I’m glad God provided that doctor and didn’t let us use the doctor WE had chosen.

Two: We are living in a 4-plex apartment. Although it is about 8-10 blocks from the school, it was the PERFECT place for us to be. Our medical insurance requires us to get all long-term medication from them, yet they cannot ship out of the US. They will reimburse foreign retail purchases, but only twice. Students at our school are living in two of the other units in our 4-plex. What are the odds that Kim’s church would send a mission trip to Costa Rica in October and that Josh and Allison would be flying to the US and back here in November? They were able to bring our October and November medical supplies.

Coincidences? We don't think so! We believe God is watching over us and much of it is due to your prayers. Thank You.

I also want to include some random shots of why we love this country and these people: when there’s a job to do, they get it done, however they can (click on the pictures for more detail!)…

As I was walking to a local store to look for empty boxes for packing our stuff, I came across this parade of various school groups performing Christmas songs…

Please join us as we continue the next phase of our journey!

Monday, November 23, 2009


It takes a Spanish class to teach me a little Greek – how ironic is that?

In my fonética class (phonetics), we read a story entitled ICTUS. It told how many of the towns and countries in new testament times spoke different languages. For commerce and general exchange of information, the common language was Greek; hence the disciples preached, taught and wrote in Greek.

As it turns out, the phrase Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior, in Greek appears as Iesous Cristos Teou Uio Soter. The first letter from each word, in Greek letters are: ἰχθύς (Iota Chi Theta Upsilon Sigma), or with our alphabet: ICHTHUS. (The χ and the θ are represented by CH and TH.) ICHTHUS is the Greek word for fish! How cool is that?

But wait, there’s more…

The fish symbol was intentionally a very simple design: two opposing arcs connected in a point on one side and overlapping on the other side. Not only was this symbol used to indicate Christian meeting places and decorate artifacts, it was also used to secretly identify other believers. If after speaking with someone, instead of coming right out and asking if they were a believer (which could get you in trouble if you asked the wrong person!) one person would draw the top arc. The other person would either ignore what you did, not understanding what you meant, or draw the bottom arc, completing the fish symbol. If that happened, you would each then know that each of you were believers!

Think about that next time you see the fish symbol!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

She Is My Hero!

Last month I wrote about the struggle Sandy is having with the side effects from her medication (click here for the article). Every Friday evening she gives herself an injection; twice a day she has to take three pills that make her feel tired all the time and give her headaches. Medically, Sandy is healing, but physically she is just as tired and the headaches still come and go.

Not really a bright side, but we wanted to share some of the positive impacts on others Sandy’s ordeal is generating…

Sandy told me that at the beginning of each class the instructor usually asks how each student ¿Cómo estás? (How are you?) – Sandy generally answers Estoy bien, gracias (I’m fine, thanks). The other day one of the students, when it was her turn to answer, commented “If Sandy says she’s doing OK, then I’m doing great!”

A few days ago I was talking with one of the instructors about what classes we should take next year. I described to her some of what Sandy is going through and she commented that it is tough for anyone to go through this program and that if Sandy has these issues to deal while attending these classes, “She is my hero!

I was speaking with a friend at church this morning and she asked how Sandy was. She, too, was amazed that Sandy is not only able to attend classes, but do well!

Academics have never been Sandy’s strength; she did OK in school but quit early and later went back for her GED. In the classes here her grades are between 78 and 95… not too shabby.

We know that we are in the midst of God’s will for our lives, and that His plan is always best, even when we are shortsighted. We are glad to be able to see benefit come from this treatment… not only is Sandy’s viral load decreasing, but she is providing inspiration for so many others.

Please continue to pray for us…
1) that the side effects Sandy is experiencing are minimized as much as possible,
2) that we can continue to be an inspiration for others,
3) that we are effective in communicating the gospel to others, in English and in Spanish

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Time to Let Go

Have you ever bought something just to find out you bought the wrong thing… and then discovered you couldn’t return it? That can be really frustrating, especially if it was expensive. Sometimes we will try to find ways to adjust our situation to fit what we bought so the money isn’t wasted, right? Or we will say it’s not really that bad, not wanting to admit our mistake.

Yesterday during my quiet time I was reading in 2 Chronicles and saw the same thing had happened to Amaziah. (WHO is Amaziah, you ask? Don’t feel bad; a few weeks ago I wouldn’t have known who he was, either.) Amaziah was one of the kings of Judah, between Joash and Uzziah.

Amaziah was basically a good guy: He did right in the sight of the Lord (2 Chron 25:2). He only killed the people who murdered his father, and not their children, because it is written in the law in the book of Moses, which the Lord commanded, saying, "Fathers shall not be put to death for sons, nor sons be put to death for fathers, but each shall be put to death for his own sin.” (2 Chron 25:4). For the most part, he was following the Law of Moses.

While he was assembling his forces, he didn’t think he had enough, so to help protect Judah, he hired 100,000 “valiant warriors” from Israel for 100 talents of silver. Then we read: But a man of God came to him saying, "O king, do not let the army of Israel go with you, for the Lord is not with Israel nor with any of the sons of Ephraim.” (2 Chron 25:7). Here he was, following the Law, taking care of God’s people, investing a large sum of money to do so, and is told to not use what he had just bought.

Here’s the exchange they had: Amaziah said to the man of God, "But what shall we do for the hundred talents which I have given to the troops of Israel?" And the man of God answered, "The Lord has much more to give you than this.” (2 Chron 25:9)

WOW! What an awesome verse… and so applicable for us! 100 talents was a large sum then; Amaziah did not want to see it go to waste. He had made this decision in good faith. He was helping others. He had nothing to gain personally by this. Yet how can you argue with The Lord has much more to give you than this?

When you hear God calling you to do something, to go somewhere, to give up something… are you going to fight it and declare you didn’t hear right, or that you don’t want to waste anything? Or are you going to be like Amaziah: Then Amaziah dismissed them, the troops which came to him from Ephraim, to go home (2 Chron 25:10)?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Visa Renewal – ¡Panamá!

One of the quirks you run into when you live outside the US is the set of rules other countries impose on visitors. To make sure we don’t overstay our welcome, we are only allowed to be here for 90 days before we have to leave the country for at least 3 days; then we are allowed another 90 days. We plan to attend ILE for 2 tri-mesters, 4 months each, so we will have to leave the country at least once during each tri-mester. We could have gotten a student visa that would have allowed for us to stay up to one year, but that is a difficult and expensive process.

So this past weekend, we went to Panamá! On Friday, we took a 5-hour, $11 bus ride to the border. We saw LOTS of bananas, or at least the blue bags protecting the bananas. Once we got to the border, we had to buy another $11 return ticket to San Jose and get a $5 tourist card before going to the Panamá immigration window (they also want to make sure we don’t overstay our welcome!). This process took about an hour – did I mention it was raining? A lot?

From there we got a 1-hour, $5 taxi-van ride to the coastal town of Almirante. Next, we got a 25-minute, $4 water taxi ride to Bocas Del Toro Town on one of the islands where we stayed at Lula’s B&B for about $35 a night. It was still raining during our water taxi ride. Needless to say that between waiting at the border, the water taxi, and waiting for the taxi to the hotel, much of what we had in our backpacks got wet!

Saturday morning greeted us with sunshine and blue sky! Woo-Hoo! After some great omelets, Bryan, the B&B owner, suggested we take the bus to the other side of the island to visit Starfish Beach. That was another 45-minute bus ride (I didn’t know the island was that big) but it was well worth it.

The beach was very primitive, in a deserted island sort of way. Palm and coconut trees were growing wild. Old branches and dropped coconuts littered (no, dotted) the area giving it a unique charm. After about a 15-20 minute walk, we found Starfish Beach. The starfish were 8-12 inches across and in water just a few inches deep. We had to be careful not to step on them… yellow, orange, white and many different shades.

After several hours of sunning and swimming, we were ready for lunch. Drew and Jesse, two of the teenagers with us, ordered red snapper and were not ready for the WHOLE fish that arrived. Beth used some of her rice to cover its eyes so it didn’t watch her eat it! We hung out a little longer, before taking a bus back to the hotel. After cleaning up, we were ready for some seafood. Bryan suggested the Cosmic Crab Café, a 5-minute water taxi ride away. Dinner was great and of course it started to rain 10 minutes before we were ready to leave (someone had to have some ice cream or we probably would have made it back before the rain… oops! – sorry).

Sunday morning, after a filling pancake breakfast, we reversed our route and got back to San Jose without incident. We got our clothes washed, did some homework, got the backpacks ready, and called it a weekend! Indeed, missionaries do take time to enjoy what God provides, amen?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Mommy, Look What I Made!

Ever have one of your kids come up with their latest drawing? They were so proud of it and were eager to point out everyone and everything in the drawing, right?

Do you ever get that way with things YOU have made? I don’t mean the “practice” things, but something you’ve made or something you’ve done and you were downright proud of what you had made or done (even if you didn’t want to admit it!). Maybe it was cutting the grass, trimming the edges, AND sweeping up the mess. Maybe it was painting a room of the house. Maybe it was a paper you wrote and the teacher marked EXCELLENT on it. I’m sure we can all remember several things we have done that we wanted to show someone else.

This past weekend I had an opportunity to take a hike into the mountains to see the Three Crosses outside San Jose, Costa Rica. The views we had of the mountains, the meadows, the crops, the city, everything was awesome in the clear air. A friend of mine here at our school, Marvin (named in one of the photos), had a really brilliant observation: You know, Bill, God made all of this for our enjoyment. I’m sure he gets a kick out of watching us enjoy it.

You know, that’s really true: God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth. – Genesis 1:27-28 (NASB). The bible goes on to say: God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good. – Genesis 1:31a (NASB)

God, Himself, declared that it was very good; now when GOD says something is very good, you know it is very good! And just like us when we make something we like, He wants to share what He has made. So get outside and enjoy what God has prepared for us. Don’t feel guilty, but don’t forget where it came from, either!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Not My Will, But Yours…

Have I mentioned one of the benefits, or blessings, of learning Spanish here at ILE, in the midst of over 100 other missionaries, is that we have chapel twice a week. This morning’s message was led by Julie Chamberlain, the ILE director, and intertwined the Lord’s Prayer with worship songs. When she got to the passage Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven, she used as an example, Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemene: Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done, or paraphrased, “Father, I don’t want to go through this suffering, but more than that, what’s really important, is that Your will be done – that’s what I really want.” (MBV – Mister Bill Version!).

Many of you know Sandy is undergoing treatment for Hepatitis-C. It is a 48-week program complete with weekly injections and six pills daily. The side effects she is experiencing include extreme exhaustion (can no longer walk to school without stopping at the park part way – it was a 10-minute walk – and nearly mandatory afternoon naps) and frequent headaches (such that even light is painful). Not to mention the pain from the shots themselves, the depression, the lowered white blood cell count leaving her with a weakened immune system, etc.

Sandy had a blood test two weeks ago that measures the viral load in her system. If the results of that test show her viral load is now undetectable, her 48-week program can be reduced to 24-weeks. We got the results yesterday and her viral load had decreased from 10+ million to about 170,000 – a tremendous response to the medication, but not undetectable; hence no shortening of her program.

Needless to say we were disappointed. Hadn’t we done everything right? Hadn’t we obeyed God’s call to leave family and friends to do God’s work? Hadn’t we already submitted to God’s will for our lives? Why didn’t God either heal her outright, or at least minimize the treatment program. Others get that benefit, why not us?

Then the chapel lesson this morning… yet not My will, but Yours.

OUCH! What did Jesus do to deserve death on a cross? Why did He have to suffer so much? Didn’t He deserve better? What a poignant reminder that it’s not about what we deserve, it’s not about how good we are, it’s not about how comforted we are – it’s all about submitting to His will even when we don’t understand it. It’s all about having the right perspective. It’s not about us – it’s all about Him and trusting in the faith that comes from Him.

Wow! Do you see God at work here? Yesterday we get “bad news” and are distressed that we cannot cut our suffering short, and this morning a message about yet not My will, but Yours – who could have better timing than God Himself?

Thank you, Jesus, for loving us when we didn’t deserve it. Thank you, Jesus, for the life we have. Thank you, Jesus, for the sacrifice You made for us. May we continue in Your will, not ours.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Remembering Family

Since we are living in Costa Rica, Sandy and I are often asked: Do you miss your family and friends? Sure, we miss them, but we wouldn’t trade what God is revealing to us here through our school, our new friends, and our neighborhood for anything. Since we are in language school with about 130 other missionaries planning to work in Central and South America, it is amazing to hear where they are going, what they are going to do, and what they have already seen God do. We get frequent surprises…

For example, yesterday we stopped by our local panadería (bakery) (I'm teaching you a little Spanish here), and I was chatting with the girl behind the counter (in Spanish, of course!). Imagine my surprise when I looked down at the cash register and saw, I kid you not, a Hope Baptist Church ballpoint pen! Check the photo. I explained to the girl that the pen came from our home church in Las Vegas, en los Estados Unidos. I asked her if she knew how it ended up in her store. She didn’t know for sure, but guessed it came from one of her clientes (customers) or from someone across the street (we also attend the church across the street, Iglesia Bíblica Nazareth – Nazareth Bible Church).

Not only did our world shrink a little when we found we weren’t the first Hope people to visit here, but we also realized how BIG God’s world is. We realized that even though our parents, brothers, sisters, children, grandchildren and many friends are still back in the US, we are surrounded by friends and family here, also. Yes, family.

I immediately thought of the passage in John which says But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name - John 1:12. And then today, one of my FB friends, Philip, posted from Paul’s letter to the Galatians, For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus - Galatians 3:26. I am sure many of you have your own favorite passages that talk about the “family of God.”

It reminded me of the time my pastor, Vance Pitman from Hope Baptist Church, was talking about the time he was in Africa, in a small store about 8 feet by 10 feet, 4 hours from the nearest road, and someone called out – Aren’t you that pastor from Las Vegas!

Whether it’s bottles of water given out on street corners, car washes given to strangers, or ballpoint pens available at church, we are able to experience God’s overwhelming presence, and the closeness of our lives, all over the world. It’s just another reminder that if you are involved in praying for, and/or financially supporting Hope Baptist Church, or your own church, you are truly reaching further than you can imagine and in ways you may never know about. Praise God, Amen? AMEN!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

A Day in the Park

This is one advantage to learning by immersion – time away from studies yet still learning!We are in class 4 hours daily, Monday – Friday; that’s equivalent to a 20-hour class load! We have one hour of lenguaje (language and vocabulary), one hour of fonética (learning how to pronounce words and phrases), and 2 hours of gramática (learning the grammar). Add one an hour or so of homework every night and it’s not hard to see how a trimester here is worth about two years of studying Spanish in a school in the US.The teachers here don’t like to give much homework over the weekend; they say that the brain itself needs time to “rest,” so we went to the park today. Since all the street and store signs are in Spanish, and the vendors and people are all speaking Spanish, we are still learning.But we are learning something else, also: simplicity. There are many parks here, and the families take advantage of them… with simple things. They fly kites, they play with soap bubbles, they sit and talk, they play on playground equipment, and they use cardboard to slide down hills.You don’t see many kids with Nintendos, GameBoys, or other electronic diversions… they read, they play with toys that don’t need batteries, and they get along just fine.Yep, we’re learning a lot more than how to speak Spanish.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

In Spirit and In Truth…

I have had the privilege to worship God in 7 countries and three languages: English, Spanish and Arabic. I am still amazed that people all over the world worship God in the same way… reverently, excitedly, with arms raised, clapping, looking up, crying, laughing, and so on.

We have been in The Spanish Language Institute for about 4 weeks now trying to improve our Spanish. I think I have gone from what I used to call a 3rd grade level to the 4th grade! I hope to be in junior high by the time we leave!

Today we attended an all-Spanish worship service for the 5th week in a row. I still don’t understand everything we’re singing (even though the words are on the overhead), nor do I fully understand the full message form the pastor (although I’m getting better). Since the words are on the overhead, with a slow song I can get all the words out at the right time; with a faster song, my tongue and lips sometimes get messed up and it comes out garbled, if at all. Fortunately the band is loud enough most people don’t hear my garbling!

What has become clearer to me over these past few weeks, however, is the passage from John where Jesus is talking to the Samaritan woman: God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth – John 4:24. That’s what it’s all about – worshiping in spirit and in truth! I know my savior, I know the truth; I can worship Him in spirit and in truth even if I don’t know the words on the screen and even if I don’t know everything the pastor is saying (although the more I know the better the worship experience, certainly).

I believe that is how followers of Jesus all over the world worship the same way – they worship in spirit and in truth, not through reciting words from a book. What an awesome God we serve, amen? Amen!

Friday, September 18, 2009

What's In A Name?

Names don’t matter; it’s what’s in your heart, right? Then why does scripture place so much emphasis on names, God’s name in particular?

I remember my pastor, Vance Pitman from Hope Baptist Church in Las Vegas, describing the 3rd commandment: You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain. How long did I think that meant don’t curse using God’s name? Well, there were Hebrew words for cursing and that’s not what this verse is talking about. Webster’s dictionary includes the following for name: “a word or phrase that constitutes the distinctive designation of a person or thing”, and “reputation-gave the town a bad name”. When a man and woman get married, the woman normally “takes” the man’s name as her own (when Sandy and I got married, Sandy became a Stevener and now represents us!). When you become a Christian, you take on God’s name, Christ, and from then on, you represent Him! The commandment also says to not do this “in vain.” Vain is something that “has no real value.” Don’t take His name lightly! It means something. His name has value! How do we know this?

I am reading through 1 & 2 Kings now, and came upon something I hadn’t noticed before: Solomon said Behold, I intend to build a house for the name of the Lord my God - 1 Kings 5:5. As I continued to read, from chapter 3 through chapter 8, that idea is repeated: Now it was in the heart of my father David to build a house for the name of the Lord, the God of Israel – 8:17… too many references to list here: read it for yourself! David intended to build, and Solomon built, the temple for God’s name.

Deuteronomy 16:2 says You shall sacrifice the Passover to the Lord your God from the flock and the herd, in the place where the Lord chooses to establish His name; in verse 6: the Lord your God chooses to establish His name. Note the Lord chooses to establish His name, not His power or His rules. When Moses was sent to rescue the Israelites from Egypt, he asked God for His name (Exodus 3:13-14).

Skipping to the New Testament… Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved - Romans 10:13; at the name of Jesus every knee will bow – Philippians 2:10; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved - Acts 4:12.

So, what’s in a name? It depends on the name. If it’s God’s name, that’s everything!

These ideas were written by several different people, 2000 years apart, in different languages... who can look at this book (the Bible) and seeing consistent themes like this, NOT realize this book indeed had a single, special author, God Himself! Praise God!

Monday, September 14, 2009

School Daze

I thought you might like some photos around our school, the Spanish Language Institute, or as it is known here, ILE: Instituto de Lengua Española. This is the main administration building.
Here is a quick switch between classes (5 minutes).
Sandy talking with Paul and Chrissy during a longer break.
Here is the computer lab: 3 computers, an inkjet printer, and the Internet. 200 colones to connect to the Internet for up to 30 minutes, 200 colones for a color print, 100 for a black and white (100 colones is about 17 cents).
Here is the mailroom with assorted notices. You can send us cards, letters or packages if you like: Bill (or Sandy) Stevener; Instituto de Lengua Española; Apartado 100 – 2350; San José, Costa Rica; América Central (remember to use international postage!).
Here is our snack area, with a good variety of treats; they also have a hot meal everyday for about 3000 colones (about $5).
Finally, here are pictures of us in the classroom. We are taking the same classes, but were placed in different classrooms based on previous Spanish language experience. We each have two classes with 4-5 students each (Fonética and Lenguaje) and one class with about 9 students (Gramática).
Bill and a classmate (April Dice):

Sunday, September 6, 2009


How much bible knowledge do you have? Can you name the books of the bible? Can you find specific verses without thumbing through the rest? Do you know the original languages of the bible? Can you occasionally come up with a verse someone is thinking about? Can you correctly apply specific verses to given conditions? Do you know the bible as well as Jesus did?

There’s nothing wrong with knowledge, but I don’t think that should be our goal. Check out these verses:
Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them” - Matthew 9:36
“When He went ashore, He saw a large crowd, and felt compassion for them” - Matthew 14:14
“When the Lord saw her, He felt compassion for her” - Luke 7:13
“But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion” - Luke 10:33

Do you see it? Do you see the theme here? In every instance, before the text says Jesus, or the Samaritan, felt compassion for someone, they SAW someone. That tells me that knowledge is not enough. Certainly Jesus had all knowledge, yet it was after He saw people, the text says, that He had compassion for them. Certainly Jesus had compassion for all mankind, but it became more personal as He saw people.

Who do you see that might need compassion? Note that the people that Jesus and the Samaritan saw were not their close friends, or even people they normally hang out with.

What’s the point? This: part of our growth as Christians is to constantly be mission-aware. We don’t all have to go to foreign lands to see this (although some people should), but that is a great way to see God’s activity outside our normal comfort zone. Another great way is to get involved with outreach activities already happening at your church, activities that take you away from the church building and into more of God’s kingdom. It could be a children’s ministry, a street ministry, a prison ministry… any type of ministry involving God’s call on your life to get out and see who needs compassion.

Scripture says that after Jesus saw people, He had compassion on them. Are you following in those footsteps?

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Bounty for the Weekend

Saturday morning we had our first trip to the local “farmer’s market” for fresh fruits and vegetables. Although we didn’t take our camera to the market, we did get some photos of some of the stuff we bought. Someone recommended that we clean them first with a 15-minute soak in a weak bleach solution followed by a 5-minute soak in plain water. Here is a picture of the fruit drying after the final soak.

The strangest thing we got was a small red prickly fruit with a grape-like center and a large seed in the middle. The outside looks like one of those fuzzy stress balls. We had seen these in Honduras so they were not a total surprise, but they are unique, nonetheless!

We had several other surprises… the carrots were about as large as normal size cucumbers;
the “oranges” had generally green skins but were normal on the inside.

One more thing we are still getting used to is how many items are packaged in bags… salad dressing, mustard and mayo (we found ketchup in a plastic bottle, although it is sweeter than in the US), laundry detergent, milk, and a host of other things. We even saw plastic containers you could buy to put the bags in... a form of recycling!

Please understand we are only noting the differences, not saying anything about better or worse. We find it fascinating to see how different cultures use the resources they have and consider this part of our education.

We have one more day of orientation on Monday, August 31, and then classes start on Tuesday… woo-hoo!