How do you sum up a week of ministry in Costa Rica in a few short words? You can’t. But if I had to summarize the trip in one word, it would be this: surrender. Surrender to God’s will. Surrender to God’s ways. Surrender all the ways I think things are supposed to work. Surrender my needs, my wants, my plans, my schedule—surrender it all to God.
I had one primary goal and expectation going into this trip: that God would take me out of my comfort zone and stretch me so that I could grow more in Him. Looking back at the trip, I know that He did this, but perhaps in more subtle ways that I didn’t expect. We did a variety of work projects outside in the hot, sunny, and humid weather. We got to lead activities with the children every day and spend hours playing with them. We got to practice our Spanish and learn ways to overcome language barriers. Several of us got to share testimonies with the people there during our devotion times. We got to attend an all-Spanish church service. We even got to do some fun recreational activities, such as spending time at the beach and the pool, shopping for souvenirs, and climbing down 300+ steep stairs to get to a private waterfall.
Each of those activities and more served a specific and unique purpose from God for this trip. God taught me unique lessons through each activity we led or participated in. But beyond all that, the biggest lessons I took away from this trip were not connected with any one specific activity, but rather connected with the experience as a whole.
Lesson #1: Give up control. It is amazing how much more fun life can be when you realize that those things you thought were such a big deal really aren’t. Each day, I didn’t really know what to expect, but it was okay! I knew we were in the hands of God, and I could rest in that. Things didn’t always go according to plan, but (unlike my normal tendency) I didn’t let it bother me. I just thanked God that, when things didn’t line up with “my plan,” I knew it was because He had a better plan!
Lesson #2: Don’t worry. This ties right in with Lesson #1. During my time in Costa Rica, worry was the furthest thing from my mind. In the natural, I could have found plenty of things to worry about, like having a big role in leading and being responsible for a team of twenty-five other people, including many who were thirteen or fourteen years old—and all the potential things that could come up in such a group. But I just didn’t worry—and I really didn’t need to! God had everything under control, and there was such a grace upon this trip. We trusted in God, and He made everything come together.
Lesson #3: Reject the fear of man. Along with Lesson #2, one specific area where I did not worry was regarding other people and their thoughts and opinions. On this trip, it was so easy to say no to the fear of man and to rest in the fear of the Lord—to focus on His love, approval, and acceptance of me, rather than trying to gain love, acceptance, and approval from the world.
Lesson #4: Find joy in life. I looked at the children there at the Home of Life and marveled at their unconditional love, joy, and acceptance toward us, a team of people they had never even met. They warmed up to us so quickly and began calling us “amigo” or “amiga.” I will never think of the word “amigo” the same way again. Seeing these children’s hearts to love helped me to expand my own capacity to operate out of love rather than fear. Each of these children inspired me in a deep way. They do not have a family or many possessions, yet each of them carried such a spirit of joy and laughter. If they can find such joy in life, what is my excuse? When I grow up, I want to be just like them.
Lesson #5: Expect the unexpected. One particular child, whom I will call “Aiden” (not his real name), became my amigo basically from the very start! Before we were finished with our first craft activity, this five-year-old boy came up to me from another table and just wrapped his arms around me and kept hugging me! We became fast friends, and we played countless games together throughout the week. It was hard to say goodbye at the end. I did not expect to connect with a child so quickly, but God used him to leave an impression on me that I am sure I will never forget.
All in all, there is so much more I could say about the amazing things God did on this trip. I was so proud of the students and parents who went with us, for their hearts of dedicated service, for pressing on when it got hard, and for being intentional about developing relationships with the children and adults at the Home of Life. On the last day, when I saw so many students and parents with tears in their eyes after saying goodbye to the children, I knew that the trip had greatly impacted them. In our debrief meeting that night, they each shared ways that they had seen God throughout the week and ways they want to see a change in themselves as they return. God did outstanding things in each person, both those on the team and those at the Home of Life. For that, I give Him all glory and praise. Thank you to each of you who supported us, through prayers, through finances, and through words of encouragement. You made a difference. You made a huge impact in the lives of many. And it was all for the glory of God. Praise be to Him.