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.