Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Keys

Hey friends, I know that there has been some "radio silence" on social media and my blog during the last part of my time in Costa Rica and now the first two weeks of my being "back" in California.  But I was thinking the other day that I should write another post, and this idea of keys kept coming back to me.  Keys, you might ask? What does that have to do with my transition?  A lot, it turns out.

I was first thinking about the literal metal object that allows one to have access to a building or a car or a locked object.  Living in Costa Rica, I had a number of different keys that I was in charge of.  Keys to the Tutoring Center, keys to the SI office, keys for my Suzuki and keys for my home.  When I left Costa Rica on May 11th, I had to give all those keys up.  I didn't make sense for me to have them anymore or to take them with me because I wasn't going to have access to those things or places anymore.  Keys symbolize ownership or belonging to a place or of an object, and my time of living and "belonging" to Desamparados and SI had ended in the every day sense of the word.  

And now I have a different set of keys that I carry around with me.  The familiar key to my Mazda that has been here in California all this time.  And the house key to my parents home that is more on loan than a permanent key in my collection.  But once again, the fact that I have that key to this sweet country home in Shafter, California means that I belong here for this time.  That I have access to it and a place here.  I know that I will always "belong" here at my parents' house and that their key will always be available to me, and that is a source of comfort in this time of transition.  I do look forward to the time when I will have a new set of keys to the next place that I will be able to call "my home."  Where that will be and when that will be, only God knows.  And I'm so thankful that we "belong" to Him and have access to Him.  I wonder if we will have keys in Heaven?  I actually kind of doubt it, since I imagine that everyone there will have access to everything. :)

Thanks for your prayers and kind words and conversations during these days and the weeks to come.  Transition is a journey and I imagine there will be days of longing for Costa Rica and days of great joy of being in California again.  Kind of like how we are to live each day to the fullest here on Earth but also look forward to and long for Heaven!  
 
A few pics from the last days in Costa Rica and the first days in California:
Goodbye and receiving a signed apron from the 4th-8th grade students

Goodbye party with the 1st-3rd graders

Celebrating my birthday with my family!







Dodger game with the Frantz guys


  

Thursday, April 7, 2016

What I'm Going to Miss

For some of you it may come as a surprise to read that I am preparing to leave Costa Rica and re-enter life in California.  Why, you may ask?  That is a hard question.  The short version answer is that I signed on with Students International for 2+ years of service, and now after 4 years I have a peace about returning to my home state for the next chapter of life.  I don't know exactly what that will look like yet, but I am trusting that the Lord will be guiding me as I walk in obedience with Him.  I would appreciate your prayers, knowing that it is going to be really hard to say goodbye here to the place and the people I have come to love so much over the past four years.  

I told my semester student friends the other night, when we were talking about which ice cream they would be that described them emotionally at this moment, that I was a wonderful Cold Stone chocolate creation, complete with strawberries and brownies and peanut butter cups and placed inside a crunchy waffle cone, but...I'm beginning to melt and drip down the sides.  All those delicious toppings are yummy and fun and awesome, but the meltiness is because I'm starting to break down a bit.  Becoming more emotional.  Not in the state that I would like to be, that I should be to be a "good ice cream."  And I expect more melting to happen as the departure date gets closer and then as I try to navigate again life in California.  

As I've been riding buses recently and having some good "me and God time," I've been reminiscing on and reminded of a lot of wonderful things about this time here in Costa Rica and so many things that I'm going to miss.  They include but are not limited to:


  • Costa Rica's national soccer team is a unifier for the entire country.  I have grown to love this team and will miss watching the games with friends and talking about them the next day with the man at the corner store and the children at the Tutoring Center.  I will miss the soccer culture in general. 
  • Everywhere you look is green, green, green!  Some of the most beautiful places on Earth are here in this tiny country.
  • The way the children at the Centro shout out my name "TADA" all day long.  Honestly, sometimes I consider changing my name because of how often it's shouted by the kids at the front door, but I know it's because I'm loved and the "mama" at our ministry site.
  • Speaking Spanish everyday.  I know that I have struggled sometimes and doing life in your second language is hard, but it's been such a good challenge that I will miss.
  • Cheap transportation around the country.  I've mentioned on here before how much I dislike driving here (so that will not make the list of things I will miss) but I am thankful for cheap bus fares to go to San Jose or any of the desirable destinations around.  
  • The cafecito culture and that idea of having more time for our friends and family.  Relationships are vital to Costa Ricans and I see that as such an asset to the culture.  I want to bring back that more "pura vida" and relaxed mindset when I'm doing life with people in CA.  What's the rush/what's more important that this moment I'm in with this loved one right now??
  • Talking about Jesus often and freely with the children I work with.  What a joy that has been and I pray that the Lord continues to water those seeds that have been planted.
  • Loving on high school and college students who have come down to partner with us in ministry.  Having this position as a "missionary" has been a very unique opportunity where I've been able to mentor and speak into the lives of hundreds of young people.  
  • FOOD!  Even though Costa Rica isn't known for their cuisine necessarily, I have come to love gallo pinto, patacones, picadillo de papas, casados de pescado, rice and beans with chicken...my mouth is watering just thinking about all these things.  And what would this list be like without the beloved "granos de oro" or coffee beans that are grown here!
  • The rain forest.  I fell in love with the rain forest during my summer in Ecuador in 2006 and it still has such a strong appeal to me.  Whether it's ziplining through the tree tops, walking across hanging bridges, looking for poisonous frogs and sloths...I love everything about the rain forest, including the vast amounts of rain it receives.  
  • Clean air!  I'm moving back to California.  Need I say more.
  • My SI friends and family.  Cailah, Jessie, Jana, Diana, Norma, Jose, Diego, Cindy, Thompson, Juan, Jeff, Tracey, Kyle, Theresa, and all the dear children that belong to these co-workers.  I am forever changed and impacted because of my relationship with these people. 
  • Worshiping God in a different language.  I know that I could find a Spanish speaking church or group of people to talk about things of God with, but it won't be the same.
  • That green house that is the Tutoring Center on the corner in Orowe, Los Guido.  So much laughter, tears, homework assignments, Bible lessons, recipes, friendships, art projects, Uno games...and of course, the children and their families.  They are the reason I have stayed for four years and I have tears in my eyes as I think about saying goodbye for the last time.
Transitions and goodbyes are never fun.  But they must be embraced, because they are a part of life.  There is sadness because there has been much love.  I don't really know how to do this transition, but I'm thankful for the God who knows exactly what it's like to say goodbye to a loved one.  

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Unplug. Just Be.

I've now been in Costa Rica for FOUR YEARS and have had the wonderful opportunity to do so many different things and encounter so many different people.  Just like with any job, though, what I do at the Tutoring Center and the other programs that I participate in as a part of SI Costa Rica start to become normal and even routine at times.  But the beginning of March I got to go with our ten semester students to Nicaragua and it was such a timely change of pace and overall fantastic experience.  

Every semester program that we run here in Costa Rica has to leave the country for a bit and then return to be able to stay here legally for the four months.  It's just the way the tourist visa thing works out.  Anywho, it is convenient for us because we have a sister organization in Nicaragua and can travel there in about 10 hours via bus.  I had told my director that I would be really interested in going to Nicaragua with the girls because I had only been once in 2013 and was ready to go back.  So at 4 something in the morning we were picked up by a bus we had contracted to take us to the Tica Bus that would take us to Nicaragua, and we were off.

As the leader and the representative of SI Costa Rica who was going with the semester girls, I had to handle the money (not my favorite) and be the one to answer all their questions (and they had plenty), but we arrived safe and sound and quite sweaty.  Something that is SUPER different about SI Costa Rica and SI Nicaragua is that we have our students and outreaches stay with local host families here, and in Nicaragua the short term teams stay on a base all together.  This was really a bonus for myself and the 10 girls because it enabled us to have a lot of time to hang out together in the afternoons and evenings after going to the ministry sites during the days.  AND we were spoiled and had the best food cooked for us every day by the women on staff at the base.

My role in going with the girls was to make sure we got to and from Nicaragua safely and legally, to love on them while there, and to learn from and encourage the SI staff that lives and works there.  I think that God really taught me a lot that week, and not necessarily the things I would have expected to be taught.  First of all, I formed some unlikely friendships because of my being willing to step out of my comfort zone and talk to people that I could have easily not engaged in conversation with.  One specific example of that was one of the housekeeping staff at the SI base that I started a conversation with on Monday.  I had come to Nicaragua with a pretty significant cold, and so I stayed back while the girls all went off to their different ministry sites.  After sleeping most of the morning, I wanted to spend some alone time with God, so I took my Bible and journal outside of the room I was staying in to sit outside.  That's when Rosa came up to our room and was going to come in and clean since she saw that I was out and about.  We exchanged the polite "hola" greeting, and then I felt like the Holy Spirit was telling me that I should talk to her.  So, despite my cold and despite my nervousness to talk to a stranger in Spanish (I still have that fear sometimes, even after 4 years of daily speaking Spanish...) we ended up having a really wonderful conversation and I learned a lot about her and her about me.  It was a really special time for me, and I would have totally missed out on that blessing and being able to encourage her that day if I would have just pretended I didn't speak Spanish and kept to myself.  At the end of the week, I found myself quite emotional when I was saying goodbye and thank you to her for her service.  The Lord certainly works in mysterious ways. 

I saw other opportunities over that week when the Lord was leading me towards a certain conversation or topic with someone and I had to make a choice whether I was going to be obedient or not.  I think sometimes it is just way easier to keep quiet or keep it at a surface level with our conversations with people.  How often do we feel that tug at our hearts, that prodding to ask that question or to start that chat?  We just get so busy and don't always have time for people like we should, or at least, that's what we tell ourselves.  Something that was so special about being on the base in Nicaragua was that we didn't have cell or internet service, so we literally had no choice but to talk to each other and fellowship with one another.  I sometimes really regret the way that technology seems to have taken over our lives and interrupts just "being" with each other.  

There is so much more that I could share about Nicaragua.  I was impressed and encouraged by what's going on at the Education, Women's Social Work, Agriculture and many other ministry sites there.  We had a blast singing "Where's the Monkey?" when we went on a little boat trip on Lake Nicaragua.  I was blessed to have coffee with Maggie and have her pour into me as she's done every time I've seen her over the past four years.  And being encouraged by the mature spiritual conversations I participated in with these college students was such a gift.  Let me encourage you, dear reader, to take time to "unplug" every once in a while so that you can invest in those around you, perhaps make a new friend, and be available to the leading of the Spirit.  He is so faithful to teach us when we are paying attention.  

Some pics to share from our time in Nicaragua:

Boating on Lake Nicaragua with a view of a volcano in the front.  Gorgeous!
Helping with a craft at the Women's Social Work site.


The cute coil paper craft that we taught the women how to make.

Talking with these sweet kids about God's love at the Education Site.

We hiked up to Jesus.  It wasn't easy, but it was so worth it.  Kind of like being a follower of Jesus.
Loving the view from up where the Jesus statue was in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua.

What a great week we had together! 



Sunday, January 10, 2016

A New Year and a Reflection on Generosity

Happy 2016!  It's hard to believe that we are already ten days into this new year.  I'm not really one to make new year's resolutions and all that, but it is an excellent opportunity to reflect on this past year and also what is to come in these next twelve months.  A few months back I had written in my journal the verse from 1 Samuel 12:24- "But be sure to fear the Lord and serve him faithfully, with all your heart; consider what great things he has done for you."  Coming from a man who had been set apart to do great things for the Lord since before he was born (read about his mother Hannah and the circumstances of his birth in 1 Samuel 1, it's a great story!), these words carry a lot of weight.  There are so many gems in this one verse, but I am struck by the last phrase this morning.

"Consider what great things he has done for you."  And there are SO many great things he has done for me, for all of us!  I spent my three weeks of Christmas vacation in California, driving all over the bottom half of the State as I visited friends and family that I dearly love.  One of the great things he has done for me is to bless me with a wonderful support system of people who love me and love Him.  These past weeks, I have been shown so much generosity by so many people, and in some instances, by people I don't even know.  I want to spend a few moments mentioning some of the different forms of generosity I experienced this last part of 2015.  As someone who lives on the generous financial support of others, it is such a blessing to me when people help to supply my financial and physical needs with their generosity.
  •  The use of a smart phone with cell and data service(and GPS) as I navigate around California.  Those who know me well know that I tend to get lost and don't have a great internal compass.  Using this smart phone saved me on numerous occasions.
  •  Couches and spare beds to sleep on.  And the use of showers and towels and access to their food supply.  :)
    Sweet time with my brother and sister in law

  • Many tabs picked up at restaurants as we shared a meal together.  And many delicious homemade meals made specifically for me and my cravings.
  • Undivided attention as I shared what's going on in my mind and my heart, and encouragement and prayers for all that is to come in this new year of life and ministry.  So many people sharing encouraging words, hugs, and the fact that they pray for me.  This is a generosity that is immeasurable.
    Beautiful San Diego with some of the best friends
  •  For the first time in my life I experienced a stranger in front of me paying for my food in the drive through. It really did touch my heart! 
  • The second Christmas in a row that I was gifted a free ticket to Disneyland!  And it came with fun friends to enjoy the magical day with!  
    Fellow SI Costa Rica staff and intern friends ready for a day at Disney!
  • Friends who made sure they had childcare (in many cases, their kind husbands) so that we could spend some time having "girl time" together.  I love their children, but it is so special to just be able to be ourselves together, face to face.
  • And of course, mom and dad allowing me to stay at their home, come and go as I pleased, eat their food, interrupt their daily routines, etc.  They are beyond generous to me in so many ways.
As we start off this new year, I would challenge you to also consider the great things he has done for you.  I limited my list to things that I noticed only in these past weeks as I was "home" visiting friends and family.  How can I be more generous to those around me, both the people I know well and those I don't?  My old pastor from Neighborhood used to say that "we are blessed to be a blessing," so let's be a blessing to each other by being more generous!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Give Thanks

In the spirit of Thanksgiving (weekend) and wanting to focus on the goodness of the Lord and what He has done, I thought I'd write a post with that theme.  Thanksgiving isn't a thing in Costa Rica since it's uniquely a U.S. holiday, but our multicultural staff celebrated with turkey and the works on Friday evening at our leaders the Dixons' home.  I've missed Grandma Rogalsky's apple pies these past four years to be sure, but I'm grateful for the chance to celebrate together in community here.

Some of the ladies (and little Joab in the background) enjoying the Thanksgiving spread

So back to the being thankful topic at hand.  Here are just a few things that I am thankful for as I consider the past months here in life and ministry in Costa Rica:
  • All of the team members and students who come down to love on kids in the Tutoring Center!  Jose and I are the staples here but these "gringos" that come bring a fresh energy, perspective, love and man power that we need to be able to do our job well.  
    Team McFarland, Cal Poly and Bellvue

     
  • The fact that SI owns the Tutoring Center is a really positive thing for the community of Los Guido and our ministry.  It sends a message that we are here to stay, Lord willing, and want to continue to invest in the community around us.
    Our new sign to let everyone know who we are when they walk past our building!
  • New kids always find their way to our door!  Oftentimes the season after summer and all of our extra helpers have gone, we see a drop in attendance by some of the kids.  But the moms and kids themselves are great advertisers for us, and we have welcomed new faces this fall when some of our old faces have taken a break from studying with us.
    The two kids in the front right are new and faithful attenders.  Those are my cool parents in the back. :)
  • A new church that I have become a part of these past six months or so.  Having attended an English speaking church for the majority of my time in Costa Rica, I felt God leading me to find one that worshiped in Spanish.  My friend MacKenzie and I have been attending a church led by a young Tico pastor who is passionate about the Bible and Jesus, and we have felt welcomed there.
  • Although our 4th-7th grade girls' group's attendance has not been as consistent as I would like to see, our study of "Grandes Mujeres de la Biblia," (Important Women of the Bible) has been going really well!  They are remembering who and what we are talking about from week to week, and are excited to read and discuss what God's Word says about these godly women.
    MacKenzie leading a discussion about Hannah.  LOTS of girls came the day I took this picture.  :)
  •    All of the financial and prayer supporters of both the Tutoring Center and me personally!  Chances are, if you are reading this, that means you!  I'm so thankful for the people who are invested in this ministry and make it possible that it continues.  
There are MANY other things that I am thankful for that I could include here.  In a world where there is so much pain and ugliness around us, it is so valuable to take time to reflect on His goodness and good deeds.  What things are YOU thankful for?  

Sunday, November 1, 2015

A lifelong learner

When I was an undergrad and then a teacher credential student at Fresno Pacific University, I heard a lot about the idea of being a "lifelong learner."  I received an excellent education and gained a lot of knowledge in college, but that did not mean that I was ready to take on all that teaching in a public school in a small farming community at the edge of a big city had to throw at me.  I learned so much those 5 1/2 years of teaching in Fowler, CA, and it was a wonderful place to do ministry through the noble occupation of public school teacher.  Fast forward to 2015 (ten years after graduating from FPU!!) and I am continuing to learn, every day.  Living in Costa Rica outside the capital city, I am in much more of an urban setting than I ever have been before.  Add to that the difference between being from a first world country and living in a developing country, there are many many differences and things to be learning and growing in.  

There are so many things that I wish I could change about the systems and way of life here, especially in the community of Los Guido where I work at the Tutoring Center.  My students receive such a sub par education that it's almost a surprise when they DO have class.  There is not a substitute system in their school district, so if the teacher has a meeting or conference or illness or whatever, there's no class that day.  It is so unfair because these children have so much potential to learn and develop into contributing members of society, but I just don't see their education being valued as it should by the powers that be.  The Tutoring Center exists to be an extra support to what they are learning and working on at school, but if they aren't at school, our job becomes a lot more challenging in trying to fill in all the huge gaps that are left.

The entire county that I live and work in has been a place of strife the past year or so, and a lot of it has to do with a territorial drug war that exists.  I don't understand that stance that the law enforcement takes sometimes and why they don't do more to help solve this issue.  I realize it's way more complex than I could ever understand or imagine, but it is heartbreaking to hear my students talk about the gunshots they sometimes hear at night and see in their eyes not necessarily a fear but an acceptance that this is part of their "normal" of life.  

These problems are not unique to Costa Rica or Los Guido.  Our world is broken, and thus systems are less than perfect and people don't love and value one another as God desires us to.  We can read the news feeds or turn on the television and just get so overwhelmed that we just want to curl up and shut it all out.  We can decide to go numb or on the other extreme, become so self-involved that we don't care about what is going on in the world around us.  God has been teaching me lately that He has given all of us a place to live and to serve, and we need to do that the best we can, with the help of the Holy Spirit, where we are in this moment.  I can't solve the issues of the Costa Rican public school system.  But I can be available for those 10+ kids who are going to show up on Tuesday morning to study with Jose and me, and do my best to love them, point them to Jesus, and remind them of their potential.  

I pray that I will always be learning, seeking how I can be a part of bringing restoration to this broken world.  To be the hands and feet of Jesus.  And I pray that you will do your part as well.

Here are some pics of what I've been up to lately!
A 4 year old's pirate birthday party with these SI friends

My friend Mallory, a cute little blond pirate

Two of my silly second graders that have become really great readers.  I'm a proud teacher.

Getting out of the city for a day of sun at the beach.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Seeing the bigger picture

I am so thankful for my SI Costa Rica family.  Here we are pictured with our summer interns and a group from California that was with us for two weeks this summer.  As a staff, we are all so different from each other; age, gender, nationality, conflict style, leadership style, personality...but at the end of the day, we all are committed to being a part of this multicultural missions organization.  We share the same vision of seeing students (the North Americans who come to work with us) and the poor (community members) transformed into the likeness of Christ and discover their true calling.  

The Centro de Tutoria is undergoing some construction work and we decided that it would be better to close the Center for a few days because of the noise and dirt and disturbance.  That meant that Jose and I needed to find another place to be in the meantime.  As much as I missed my kiddos from Los Guido, it was SO GOOD to spend time with some of my coworkers and see what they do at their different ministry sites.  It is one thing to hear them talk about their kiddos and ladies that they work with, and it is another thing to see it for yourself.  I got to meet a young man in Las Fuentes who is working hard to make different life choices and actually just came home from a spiritual retreat through his church today.  I spent a day with my coworker Norma talking with both victims and perpetrators of bullying in a public school, with the goal being to get to the bottom of the hurt that is causing the mistreatment of their fellow students.  And I was able to help with an English class that we had for a group of teenage mommies, who had to grow up way too early in order to take care of their own babies.  We cannot change their life choices after the fact, but can help  be a part of them making better choices in how they parent and have relationships in the present and the future.

Sometimes I wonder if what we are doing in the communities really matters.  When we see situations of drug use and child abuse and violence and alcoholism happening in the homes of the kids and the women that we work with- does our presence in their lives make a difference?  We can get discouraged when we see hard situation after hard situation.  But I was reminded this week that we are called to plant seeds and to be faithful.  Sometimes we might get to see the fruit of our labor.  God has been so generous to me in showing me a bit of "fruit" when I think about some of my former high school youth group students in California and how they are following Jesus wholeheartedly now that they are college students.  But we are not promised that we will see fruit- Paul even said in 1 Corinthians 3:6 "I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow."  That's the key- it will be up to God when and how and where it will grow.  For now, I want to keep on planting seeds in the children and students that I work with.  And trust him to be faithful in the rest. 


As I said before, I'm encouraged by my staff and the different ministry sites that we have around Desamparados.  I am thankful that I now have a better understanding of what is happening in the Las Fuentes house and La Capri school and the Woodshop and the Microfinance groups.  (I could also talk about Sports and my friends in the Office and Child Sponsorship, but I didn't spend time with them this week.  But they certainly are being faithful to the call that God has given them here in Costa Rica as well.)  I see Jesus in my coworkers and I see why He has each of them in the ministry sites that they are assigned to.  May we each be faithful to plant the seeds where we are placed!