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Costa Rica Mission 2019: Reflections of a Rookie

 Costa Rica Mission 2019: Reflections of a Rookie
At the suggestion of my wife Jane – who thought I needed to meet more Emmanuel parishioners – and the strong encouragement of Mary Balfour, I signed up to go on the 2019 mission to Estrada, Costa Rica. Never having done anything like this before, I had no expectations, or even any experiential context for setting some. But, the thought of a week in the tropics in mid-February had some appeal.
I dutifully purchased all the items on the checklist provided by our trip coordinator, Mav Hankey, and, as instructed, arrived at the airport on the day of departure at 4 AM for a 7 AM flight! Travel day turned into a real slog. Arriving at Earth University, our residence for the week, 19 hours later, we were shown to our nice rooms – not Hampton Inn, but not Motel 6 either. I looked forward to a hot shower and sending a text to Jane letting her know of our safe arrival. But ... turning on the faucet, no water; and message to Jane doesn’t go through, so no internet. My thought: I shouldn’t have bypassed the whiskey section at the duty-free shop!
Fortunately, internet service is restored at 4 AM when I receive a text from Jane: “Hope you got there. A little concerned.” I confirm our safe arrival, relating some of our experiences of the day, concluding with “Not a happy camper.” Still no water. Up at 6:15 and – glory be – the water is on. It is the start of a delightful first day.
After breakfast – the first of two meals a day at Earth’s open air dining hall that were much better that the dorm food I used to get – we load into our van for the 1 hour drive to Estrada. As a first-timer to the site, the church is a bit primitive. But, the spirit of the local people and the Deacon Kattia, is as positive and welcoming as what we experience each week at Emmanuel. We have a late morning service led by Kattia. It is in Spanish and I don’t understand a word, but I am mesmerized by Kattia’s glow and enthusiastic delivery.
Following the service, we are served a delicious meal prepared by the women of the church. There is a full-service kitchen in the community building (location of the planned school). This is another first in what will be a series of great lunch and break servings throughout the week. One measure of how well we were fed at both the college and the church is that in spite of the hard labor we performed all week, I gained 3 pounds.
Monday is our first work day and, for me, it was a bit chaotic and frustrating; our first test of being flexible. Instead of retiling a floor – our expected assignment of the week – we are divided into two teams: Ray Brown and Fred Giltzow, our most skilled team members, are put to work on some plumbing repairs in the community building; the rest of us are to clean and paint 20 long, heavy, metal beams for the subfloor structure of the church. It took us awhile to get fully instructed, organized, and underway. We also had to do a lot of moving the beams around so that we could work in the shade as much as possible. The uneven, rocky grounds provided an additional challenge to my weak legs and poor balance.
By the end of the day, we run into what will become a recurring problem: shortage of key supplies. As we depart, Fred insists on what, to my delight, becomes another daily recurrence: stop at the corner store to pick up beers for the drive back to Earth.
At Tuesday breakfast, Fred and his wife Gigi – the most experienced of our missionary group – help me get attuned to Costa Rican timeliness and efficiency. Although we get off to a slow start at the worksite – late delivery of supplies – by midmorning, we hit our stride and

 have a productive couple of days on our assigned tasks. We complete the cleaning of the beams, a major “getting over the hump” milestone. At this point, I look more like a coal miner than a tile setter. I, also, in my stumble-bum manner, manage to pull off the wall and break a PVC water line: another unplanned repair job for Ray and Fred.
At the end of Wednesday, we have completed our primary tasks. Thursday morning, Gigi starts a yard cleanup effort and we fall in line. The water line repair team, which now includes Kevin Russ, has to move from their shaded, breezy work location into the sunshine and heat the rest of us have been confronting all week. Their retribution: busting up concrete and digging out rocks with sledge & jack hammers and pick axes. By the mid-afternoon break, we have reached a stopping point and it’s time to clean up and prepare for the festival that will be held that evening. Since there is only one working shower, we have to go sequentially. On my turn, steadying myself while undressing, I manage to pull the sink off the wall! Fortunately, no broken water lines.
After the Bishop arrives, we hold a prayer service jointly led by Father John, Deacon Kattia and the Bishop. Kelly Russ does a reading in Spanish – perfectly pronounced – and I do one in English. There is a great turnout by the community, including many children – possibly motivated by the delicious meal they know will follow. Following a post-dinner play period with the children, we say our good-byes to the people of Estrada and, exhausted but satisfied with our efforts, pile into Marvin’s van for our final trip back to Earth.
We had a great team. We all worked hard, but each member provided an extra special touch:
- Ray Brown, in addition to being Mr. Fixit, was our spiritual guide as this years appointed chaplain. He organized a wonderful set of prayer readings – in which we all participated – that provided an inspiring start and peaceful end to each day.
- Fred Giltzow was a strong partner to Ray on the repairs and concrete busting; and, as noted, was a dutiful coordinator of our daily happy hours.
- Gigi Giltzow was a superlative task finder, consistently coming up with useful things for us to do while we awaited supplies or had finished our primary project.
- Kelly and Kevin Russ provided the energy and enthusiasm of youth to our otherwise over-50 group. In addition, Kevin – at 6’7” – provided the extra “lift” that was the critical difference on some of our tasks.
- Elizabeth Druga and Marvin, our transportation manager, were the wildlife observation specialists who found interesting flora & fauna on our trips between Estrada and Earth.
- Mav Hankey, our trip coordinator, was a travel management genius. All of the trip logistics – at least those under our control – were well planned and executed. To the distress of some of us, she did have an obsession about us being the first in line at the airport check-in counter, but it helped us avoid being behind some very big travel groups.
- Father John was the perfect shepherd to his flock, providing an extra hand wherever needed, keeping the folks back home apprised of our efforts and progress; and, most importantly, strengthening our relationship with the Bishop and Katia.
And, I can’t say enough about Allie Norman, the representative of the Bishop and our Costa Rican trip coordinator. She was with us the whole way and was an exceptional problem-solver

 and translator, responding to each supply shortage, time delay and, yes, unplanned water line break in a calm, positive manner.
Friday was our recovery and return to San Jose day. After breakfast, we took a final tour of Earth’s gift shop and then hit the road for the 2.5 hour trip back to San Jose. We arrived at the Diocesan House, our residence for the evening, just in time for a final, delicious lunch prepared by the women of the church. After lunch, we took a tour of a church school which, although much bigger in scale, provides a vision of what hopefully may be possible in Estrada. Then, much to the distress of my increasingly sore legs, we went on a walking tour of downtown San Jose. Allie had arranged for a very well-informed, engaging tour guide. Fortunately, we had an event that evening and could not complete the 3 hour tour he had planned.
That event was a wonderful capstone to the week. The Bishop had spent significant time with us at Estrada. But, he and his wife invited all of us to their home for dinner. After of week of pork and rice & beans based meals, Vicki – the Bishop’s wife - prepared a superb lasagna, a nice change of pace. They were also very open in responding to our inquiries about how they met and their life together both before and after the Bishop entered the ministry. I asked Father John if the Bishop did this with every missionary group that came to the diocese. He said no, that the Bishop feels a strong commitment to Estrada and is very appreciative of the long-running and continuing support that Emmanuel is providing.
Saturday, we arise at 2:30 AM for the long road home. It is a reversal of the previous Saturday, but a little more time efficient. We land at RDU, as planned, at 6:20 PM and all make it home safely.
Jane asked me “In a word, would you do it again?” That word is ABSOLUTELY. It was a physical challenge for me, and would be for some others. But, we had some good discussions about how to provide a mix of useful work (and play) activities to make the experience more accessible and attractive to more Emmanuel parishioners. You can’t fully appreciate the value of Emmanuel’s time and $ commitment without going through the experience. I hope that more parishioners will take advantage of future opportunities to do so. I am glad that I did.
Brian Denton


 


10Dec
Vestry Meeting Tuesday, December 10 @ 6:00 PM
11Dec
Service of Holy Eucharist (Church) Wednesday, December 11 @ 9:00 AM
11Dec
Exploring the Bible Chronologically Wednesday, December 11 @ 11:00 AM
13Dec
AA meeting Friday, December 13 @ 8:00 PM
14Dec
Youthful Adults Christmas Party Saturday, December 14 @ 6:00 PM
15Dec
Holy Eucharist, Rite I Sunday, December 15 @ 7:30 AM
15Dec
Holy Eucharist, Rite II Sunday, December 15 @ 9:00 AM

350 E. Massachusetts Ave, Southern Pines, NC     eec@emmanuel-parish.org      (910) 692-3171            

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