My first message was first impressions, of the pure delight in living in another part of the world, whose landscape is so different from most of the US. Then my first impressions of the Costa Ricans who are so similar to, yet different from North Americans. Now I share my impressions of serving in the Lutheran Church of Costa Rica, that is part of the larger Lutheran Church in the world, yet it is very unique and in many ways more mature than her 30 years that we just celebrated.
When I describe the Lutheran Church of Costa Rica to friends and family, people in town and on the bus and wherever we may meet, I am still amazed by our ministries and how a rather small number of pastors and lay persons are changing the world for good. They are simply following in the footsteps of Christ, seeking out the marginalized, the despised, the vulnerable, the difficult to love, the difficult to help, those who do not fit in the box, or who do not fulfill society’s expectations of their identity. They give without expecting in return. I’d like to share some of these ministries with you. Whether or not you are involved in a church or religious group, there are lessons to be learned, examples to follow, and a renewed hope in these ministries that people can be reached, lives can be changed, and life can be more fulfilling.
I begin with our ministry to los Indígenas, the communities of the First Peoples of Costa Rica. They have beautiful names and places like Quitirrisi, Ngöbe de Sixaola, and Bribrí. I do not live near these communities (most are South, near Panama), but I have heard the stories and have met the people personally involved. Throughout history, Christians in the world have had the notorious reputation of entering a country, a region, or a community and imposing their faith, and often their educational and financial institutions, ignoring, devaluing, or destroying the existing cultures, including their languages, traditions, customs, and their rhythm of life. This abuse has nothing to do with the Gospel in which Jesus did not try to change people of other faiths and nationalities. Sadly our nation is not an exception, so we can learn from this ministry. I am pleased and relieved to report that the Lutheran Church of Costa Rica does not impose itself on the spiritual practices of the Indigenous peoples of Costa Rica, whose faith is part of their identification. Instead, we come in a spirit of accompaniment and offer to help people obtain documents that prove citizenship because many people were born at home and have no actual birth certificate. With documents, they can now vote in national and local elections. It is a very tedious and slow process, but the more people who can vote, the better it will be to secure their rights. We work with lawyers to help recover lands and water sources that were taken from the Indigenous peoples. We also help prepare people to advocate for just wages. Without proof of citizenship, and without the vote, many people have had no support in demanding their rights to being paid just wages. For most, their work is hard manual labor, working in the banana and pineapple plantations. While we complain about the extreme heat and humidity and try to avoid the sun, these men and women must wear heavy rubber knee boots, long pants, long sleeved shirts, and watch out for snakes. They are not paid well enough to properly feed their families, to pay for decent housing, etc. It stings that many of their problems are shared by our own First Nations Peoples. There are some communities who are interested in worshiping with the Lutherans, or in combining elements. There are some who welcome non-Indigenous people to their religious services or ceremonies, and others who prefer their privacy, which the church has honored.
Our Indigenous Communities Labor Day Parade May 1, 2018
For more information on the accompaniment of the Lutheran Church of Costa Rica in the Indigenous communities, and photos, please click: http://ilco.cr/index.php/programas/indigenas/1164-pastoral-indnigena-de-gira-por-la-zona-de-talamanca.html
We have another ministry called la Diversidad that offers a worship service and safe space for the LGBTQ community and friends. One of its members, Alexa Araya, is currently pursuing seminary studies and will be our first Trans pastor. On July 1st in the capital San José our pastors and the synod staff marched in the Pride Parade. It was the most immense expressions of love and respect I had ever witnessed in a public event! I was very touched that several men and women approached me to have my picture taken with them because they had never seen a woman pastor, or a straight pastor supporting the LGBTQ community. We seemed to be the only church group marching. What a shame that so many of our LGBTQ siblings are not made to feel welcome in churches. They not only are welcome in our church, but valued, cherished, and unconditionally loved. This is the way Christ taught us, and in 2000 years we have sadly moved away from unconditional love, choosing instead to judge, rejecting people who are unlike ourselves. I am blessed to serve with people who live the teachings and words of Jesus.
Pride Parade San José July 1, 2018
A shout out to my dear friend Jo Ellen Morrison who made me a set of stoles for my ordination! There are being used across the map. Mil gracias!
For more information about our Diversity community please click: http://ilco.cr/index.php/diversidad-79.html
After a couple months I am still struck by the similarities and differences between our countries. It is not a secret that I am serving in an impoverished area. The children in my congregation do not live in town but out in the country. Many of their parents work in the fruit plantations–las bananeras y las piñeras. The children sometimes come barefoot. They often have clothing that was clean at one time…. They always come hungry. After our Saturday Bible study and crafts one of the girls asked if she could take home the remaining couple of liters of a six-liter bottle of water I had brought for them for snack time. ‘‘We don’t have water in our house, Pastora.’’ Not begging, not guilt-tripping, but just informing me as children do. We take so much for granted in the United States. There is running water at the church but it is undrinkable.
Before classes and worship we all help remove the iguana and gecko droppings from the tables, benches, and on Sunday, the altar table. Although we have doors and window shutters that close, the space between the walls and the roof is often open in many homes and buildings to allow air to circulate. This is how the occasional four-legged or winged visitor gets in. I do not mind sharing space, but not so much with the wildlife! Today a child squealed in worship and said ‘‘Pastora, there go the cows! Get your camera!’’ Sure enough, there were several cows walking within a few feet from the entrance. When we sing, we are accompanied by the roosters that walk around the grounds and hop up on the low wall and look in at us! The dogs still attend worship, but they sit in the entrance. We always have little geckos running up and down the walls. There is a bigger lizard-looking guy on my web page. He is a cherepo. See how long his tail is, and he has a vertical fan on his upper back. There is one living in our almond tree but he is the same color as the bark so pretty invisible. When he jumps to the ground and starts running, he runs on his back legs only, which is truly comical (only if he is running away from our open doors and window). Antonia, my housemate, offered a photo of a giant one, perhaps an iguana, clinging to the utility pole at the edge of our patio. He looks to be 25-30 inches long including his tail. I am glad we have never met!
Now I know who is running across the metal roof at night—not squirrels or cats!
Those of you who are preachers, or who give talks, conferences, etc., you know how the sometimes the smallest thing can distract you from your thoughts. Imagine hearing a bird chirping and glancing out the window and seeing this!
I admit I can get lost in my sermon looking out the side window. I also get lost writing at home looking out the front door. You’ll notice many of my photos are taken during the rain. This is the rainy season, from May though November.
Most American children do not have animals attending worship with them, but they share a love of their pets and a natural curiosity of animals and bugs. Here we have several names for ‘mosquitos’ including sancudos and bocones. I love Nature but I go to great lengths to avoid mosquitos and biting ants, mostly because they can carry diseases like dengue, although this country does not have many cases of malaria. I purchased insect repellent during my first week here, bringing a second bottle of the natural spray to church so the children are safer. One bug I do not see often is the housefly. We have more exotic invaders like dragonflies, giant moths, centipedes, and scorpions (although I have not seen one here, nor have I seen a snake).
In two weeks we will be celebrating the feast of San Francisco, patron saint of animals. Next weekend the children and I will go around the neighborhood to invite people to a blessing of the animals on Saturday, October 6. The little ones are excited. This is a project they can fully participate in as children. I told them I will print fliers but they can color them before we pass them out. Their joy becomes mine!
Sometimes I feel bad that these children do not have some of the opportunities that our children have in the US. Then there was the day that it poured for the 4th or 5th day, non-stop. We had a pond in the side yard of the church. At first the girls stood next to me looking outside the window and said ‘‘EEEW! Pastora, the boys are all wet and dirty.’’ In five minutes the girls were jumping in the pond, chasing each other and the dog who joined them. I looked at them and thought ‘What game do children have in the US that brings more joy than a gigantic mud puddle?’ I still cannot think of one! I will be posting videos on facebook some day because this site does not support video. Then you’ll see all of them soaking wet and never happier!
I am sad that three families have moved away and there went 5 children from my Communion class, but new children have joined us. Last week a new girl, about 10, said ‘‘Disculpe, es Usted gringa?’’ She nailed it! Most of the children have no concept of the size and location of their country, let alone the rest of the world. Whereas the US sees itself as a giant in the world, Costa Rica is proud to offer what it has, which is friendly and authentic people, natural beauty, incredible fruits, vegetables, coffee, and chocolate (is there anything else?). They are proud and happy to share their country with the thousands of tourists who visit year round. I think their money is interesting, with dolphins and monkeys on the bills!
One big difference between our two countries is the use of color. I am always touched by the display of bold colors of the houses and businesses, even the buses. I have already posted photos of the breathtakingly beautiful flowers.
One big difference that I have found in my town of Puerto Viejo is that there are many family-owned businesses, and not that many big businesses that hire from outside. It occurred to me that my street looks like the diagrams in the Spanish textbooks with the Verdulería (fruit and vegetable market) la Panadería (bakery), which I am looking at as I write. This has been difficult, trying to stay away from bread and cookies and at all hours they are baking not 40 feet from our terrace! Notice the chicken on her way somewhere, crossing the doorway.
There is a Catholic church at one end of the block. La Clínica is at the other end. In between is our home, the grade school, and a couple small shops. Our kitchen and laundry room windows face the school and occasionally I hear ‘‘Hello, Ticher!’’ There is a supermarket that would surprise Americans. Although the meat counters are refrigerated, as well as the very limited freezer and refrigerator space, the stores are not air-conditioned. They do not have dropped ceilings so they are not so brightly lighted. Some interesting things are rice and beans are stacked on pallets because they are a daily staple in most homes. There is one side of an entire aisle filled with tuna and sardines! I love the 20 plus different kinds of tuna—not just in water or vegetable oil. My favorites are packed in olive oil with balsamic vinegar and another with olive oil, tomatoes, and fresh basil. I can open these and eat without adding anything. On the other hand, there are very few cold cereals, packaged cold cuts, no pre-cut or pre-packaged fruits or vegetables. Beer is sold by the bottle or can in the refrigerated section, or by the six pack stacked in the middle of the aisle. Wine and liquor are behind a counter and someone (who has never touched a drop of wine) assists by asking me how many bottles from the right or left. Pointless to ask by name! Often it is still too hot in the evening to include wine with dinner. I just go to the default water bottle. Something we expect to see in supermarkets is an entire aisle of greeting cards and wrapping paper, ribbon and gift bags. Since there is really no home mail delivery, and Hallmark dictates the holiday cards we need to send, it makes sense that there is no such aisle here! People celebrate birthdays by having their favorite meal and people come over and give them hugs and stay for coffee and homemade cake. There are no places to go with children for pizza parties, burger parties, mini golf, etc. I find it refreshing that there is much less materialism.
Most people do not have cars in this town. We walk or take the occasional taxi (they are all red). I have to share the inside of one that I took a day when Costa Rica was playing in the World Cup. The front window was full of things and he had the game on his telephone mounted on the dashboard! He actually drove pretty carefully so I did not complain. There was so much traffic, he could not go fast if he wanted to.
The buses only head out of town, including the one I take 2-3 times a month to attend meetings and workshops in San Jose at the synod office. It becomes part of the daily or every other day routine to shop because you cannot carry everything in one trip, even with a ‘carrito’. These are the little two-wheeled carts that work for shopping and for bringing giant water bottles and cookies to church. I am glad that every Saturday that someone will always reach and help as I heave my carrito with the 6 liter bottle up the steps of the bus and even carry it off the bus for me when I arrive at my stop. I am still touched by how helpful people are in Sarapiquí, the region where I live.
To finish in color, here is a magnificent sunset from a few days ago. I held my breath for 10 minutes, watching the light and color change. Jonathan Jarquín, pastor friend, took this. Mine did not pop with the same color.
I leave you in peace and look forward to sharing more very soon.
Rosemarie Doucette, pastor and missionary