Saturday, July 5, 2014

Costa Rica Missions Update #9

           It's not easy leaving family, especially when there is a chance that you may never see them again this side of heaven. Last night and this morning were all about saying good-bye – hugs were given, kisses were exchanged, gifts were given, contact info was written, tears were shed – and, to continue my Forrest Gump sub-theme, that’s all I’m going to say about that.

The Claw and her victim
            Yesterday we left early for the river. After a brief stop at the Ortega Evangelical Free Church to drop off some lunch supplies, we arrived at the dock. Our river safari didn’t have an auspicious start. Soon after we launched, a gust of wind blew Nancy’s hat off her head. As she reached around to grab it, she caught the side of Karen’s nose with her fingernail. Ten minutes of bleeding later, Karen was fully coagulated and Nancy had earned a new nickname – “The Claw”.

            It wasn’t long after we had set off that we saw a couple boats gathered together. One of the first things that I learned when on safari in Namibia is if you see a few cars together, then head that direction because there is something there to see. Sure enough, when we pulled up we saw a family of white-faced monkeys climbing through the trees. Cute little things, although with the new Planet of the Apes movie coming out on Friday, I kept expecting them to pull out nets so they could capture and enslave us (one of them had that compassionate Cornelius look to him, though, so I had hopes that we might have an ally in our eventual escape).
"Hey, let's see if we can get this one IN the boat!"

            I proudly lay claim to the title of “First Guy to Spot a Crocodile in the Water” (a not often touted, yet, among certain groups, highly coveted appellation). He was drifting off to our right, but by the time we got there he was gone. Our disappointment was soon forgotten when our guide spotted another crocodile, and was able to coax it over to the boat by hitting the water with branches. He even got him to lift out of the river, which affirmed our growing assessment of our guide as muy loco.
Solomon, up close and personal
            The highlight, however, was Solomon. I’ve received many introductions over the last week; this one I will never forget. Solomon is the oldest crocodile living in that part of the river. As we pulled into his little niche, he snorted, then, in a scene out of a National Geographic special (or a cheesy made-for-cable movie called Crocnado), he slowly moved his enormous body toward us. When he reached us, he lumbered to the right and swam around the boat. That’s when our guide said, “Solomon is the king of this river, but he is our friend. Touch him.” Remembering the muy loco-ness of our guide, I laughed along with everyone else. But then I thought, “Maybe he’s serious.”

Just after I "reached out and touched someone"
On a whim, I quickly moved to the other side of the boat (Solomon had rounded the front and was making his down the other side), then looked at the guide. He nodded his head, so after Solomon’s toothy mouth and massive cranium eased by (I may be loco, but I’m not stupido), I reached out and touched his back. As I said yesterday, it was surprisingly rubbery as I pushed down against his skin. Then I grabbed one of the ridges and gave it a tug. Best way to describe its feel is if you grab the cartilage portion of your nose and give it a little back and forth twist (gently now, no need to cause bodily injury). All in all, it was the most amazing thing I’ve felt since touching a giraffe’s tongue at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo (just as exotic, yet without the same ick factor).

            On our way back to dock, my fears of a monkey take-over were nearly realized. When
The one on the left was El Jeffe
we pulled in amongst some shoreline trees, a group of the little white-faced beasts attacked our boat. Everyone else, oblivious to the danger, was enjoying having them climbing around and jumping from the trees to the boat and back to the trees (I’m attaching a link to a youtube video should you dare to watch it – NSFW – I, however, wasn’t taken in by their cute little antics. At one point I locked eyes with the one that seemed to be their leader, and I could swear I saw him mouth the words, “¡Eres mio, gringo!”

In that moment, one of my life mottos flashed into my mind – I refuse to be intimidated by a primate (I was very excited when it did, because up until this point in my life that particular motto has seemed fairly extraneous). So, I tried to make my eyes as beady as his, I pointed my finger at him, and I said, “¡Pruebalo, Mono!” Our eyes remained unblinking for what seemed like minutes, before he finally broke off, gave a monkey call, and retreated with the rest of his simian army back into the forest. Most people think being a missions team leader is mostly just administration and taking care of the finances. But there are certain situations where it is utterly rife with danger.
Pastor Jose celebrating the Fourth of July

After our river adventure, we had lunch with Pastor Villegas (same pastor as Wednesday, just a new spelling) from the Ortega Evangelical Free Church, then headed back to the hotel. Later in the evening, we had a farewell dinner with the Fuente de Vida gang (complete with Stars & Stripes funfetti cake [which Nancy had smuggled down from Denver] and glow stick jewelry), then a wonderful final worship service.

I’m writing this from the van on our way back to San Jose. Pastor Jose is in a bit of a rush to get down in time for the Costa Rica World Cup game, so he is causing much consternation within our van with his passing. I just figure that if I haven’t been killed yet on a Costa Rican road with all the crazy passing I’ve witnessed over the years, then God’s got another plan for me.

Please be praying for Karen, Mike, Joyce, and Zac as they fly back home tomorrow. They are all very sad to leave, but very happy to be reunited with their families.
Karen successfully cheering up a sick Madeline

Please also be praying for my family. Madeline has been sick with a stomach thing for the past couple of days. She’s feeling a bit better right now, but it comes and goes. The one I’m most concerned about it Nancy. She is miserable, and is thankfully sleeping in the back of the van right now. Our first stop when we get to the San Jose area will be to drop her off at Eduardo’s house in Tres Rios, where she can hopefully sleep this stomach ailment off.

This will be my last update for a few days. I’ll write one more toward the end of our time here filling you in on the ministry meetings we’re able to have over the next few days, and also giving you some final thoughts about the trip.

Thank you again for your prayers and financial sacrifices that helped to get us here. Each of us is coming back different than when we left. It will be exciting to see what God does with the seeds He planted in us. One quick story about seeds planted. I mentioned before my buddy, Tim Stairs, who translated for me this past week. Tim and his wife, Pam, first came to Costa Rica on a trip I led back in 2003, then they came back on my next trip in 2005. Now they are living here full-time serving the Lord. As I said, you never know what God is going to do with the seeds He plants on a mission trip. May God bless you all.

Final Updates:

Vortex: Totally gone – to where, I have no clue. I have heard rumors though of a Portuguese Quaker community in Guatemala that’s mysteriously losing its wicker furniture one piece at a time. Hmmmm…

Smush Frog: I was so excited this morning when I saw that smush frog was no longer there! Then I walked a little farther and realized that he had become so dried out that he had simply been dislodged from his asphalt abode and was now being used in some sort of vehicular shuffle board.

Tico Time: Later…
A new friend I met upon arriving in Ortega

Another view of our guide tempting death

Pastor Villegas, Pastor Jose, and Sharon

Lunch in Ortega

For those of you who know me well, you will certainly
note the irony of me looking under the hood of a car

When you're exhausted and a bit punchy, you discover
the freaky things that you have in common

My daughter is the only one any of us has seen who can
actually lick their elbow (go ahead, I know you want to try)
Dennis and Nanda - an amazing INCRESE couple

Madeline and Sharon

The church youth showing off their 4th of July glow

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