Monday, June 20, 2016

The Pharisee and the Tax Collector

Yesterday, our pastor, Milton Rojas, preached a sermon on the following passage.
Luke 18:9-14
Then Jesus told this story to some who had great confidence in their own righteousness and scorned everyone else: 10 “Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a despised tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer[Some manuscripts read stood and prayed this prayer to himself]: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not like other people—cheaters, sinners, adulterers. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! 12 I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’
13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’ 14 I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
  In light of the polarization that I see (from an 'outside' perspective of almost 8 years in Costa Rica) happening in the church in the USA, this sermon was timely. Whether I believe myself to be better than 'sinners' or better than other 'believers' is not that important.  Arrogance has no place in the Kingdom of God.  God is not impressed with my list of good deeds and accomplishments.  I can do lots of great things and be an outstanding pharisee that talks more to convince myself and others how great (right) I am than actually connect with God and love others.  And in the polarization of issues, political or otherwise, I must be careful to remember that my citizenship in God's kingdom supersedes my citizenship in any earthly nation.  And the mark of his kingdom is love.
  Yesterday I was reminded that I need to stop believing in my own righteousness and the 'righteousness' of my opinions.  I must lean into Christ's mercy, for I, too, am a sinner.  
O God, be merciful to me. . . .

Ayer, nuestro pastor, Milton Rojas, hizo una predica sobre el siguiente pasaje.
Lucas 18:9-14
Luego Jesús contó la siguiente historia a algunos que tenían mucha confianza en su propia rectitud y despreciaban a los demás: 10 «Dos hombres fueron al templo a orar. Uno era fariseo, y el otro era un despreciado cobrador de impuestos. 11 El fariseo, de pie, apartado de los demás, hizo la siguiente oración:[ Algunos manuscritos dicen El fariseo se puso de pie e hizo la siguiente oración para sí mismo.] “Te agradezco, Dios, que no soy un pecador como todos los demás. Pues no engaño, no peco y no cometo adulterio. ¡Para nada soy como ese cobrador de impuestos! 12 Ayuno dos veces a la semana y te doy el diezmo de mis ingresos”.
13 »En cambio, el cobrador de impuestos se quedó a la distancia y ni siquiera se atrevía a levantar la mirada al cielo mientras oraba, sino que golpeó su pecho en señal de dolor mientras decía: “Oh Dios, ten compasión de mí, porque soy un pecador”. 14 Les digo que fue este pecador —y no el fariseo— quien regresó a su casa justificado delante de Dios. Pues los que se exaltan a sí mismos serán humillados, y los que se humillan serán exaltados».
  Con todo lo que está pasando en estos días con la polarización de ideas dentro de la iglesia en los EEUU (de mi perspectiva, ya con casi 8 años viviendo en Costa Rica), este sermon llegó en el momento adecuado.  Que yo me crea mejor que los 'pecadores' o mejor que otros 'creyentes' no importa tanto.  La arrogancia no tiene lugar en el reino de Dios. El no queda impresionado con mi lista de hechos buenos ni mis logros.  Yo puedo hacer muchas cosas buenas y hasta ser una excelente fariseo que habla mas para convencerme a mi misma y a otros de cuan buena (correcta) que sea yo y realmente no conectarme con Dios ni amar a otros.  Y en medio de esta 'polarización' de ideas y asuntos, politicos o religiosos, debo tener cuidado y recordar que mi ciudadania en el reino de Dios sobrepasa mi ciudadania de cualquier otra nación del mundo. Y lo que marca la diferencia en su reino es el amor.
  Ayer, me acordé que necesito dejar de creer en mi propia justicia, y en la 'justicia' de mis opiniones. Debo acercarme y dependerme mas en la misericordia de Cristo, porque yo también soy pecadora.
Oh Dios, ten compasión de mi. . . .

BIG Time Gap

As I opened the blog this morning, I realised just how long it's been since I wrote anything.  It was the day before my dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  The day before.  Now it's been well over a year since he went to be with Jesus.  I don't know that there's any possible way to fill in all the gaps with the feelings and events that have transpired during this last year+.  So, for now, anyway, I'm going to leave it all where it is.  And we'll see. . .

Saturday, March 14, 2015


There is part of me that still can't believe I'm actually homeschooling Sawyer this year.  There's another part of me that can't believe I actually like it.  We're about ready to start week 6, and I thought I'd share my thoughts so far and give a little update.

The end of 2014, as the school year was wrapping up here in CR, and even though his report card showed excellent grades, I suddenly had this sense that maybe I needed to homeschool Sawyer for 3rd grade.  Those of you that have known me for awhile, and know that I was a public school teacher, know the biases I've had against homeschooling.  BUT. . .  over the last few years, my heart has softened.  I can't exactly say how this happened.  Maybe it's because I've met and talked with many homeschooled kids and families and have seen "good fruit" in the way of relevant, poised and deep-thinking kids that challenged my prejudices.  Maybe because my belief in the public education system went out the window when we realised we needed to put our kids in private school here, and a door was cracked open that I didn't notice, opening up my mind to a variety of school options.  Maybe it was because the first time I really considered homeschool was a few years ago as a way to help our monthly budget.  I don't know.

Anyway, we wrestled with what to do.  Would homeschool give Sawyer the one-on-one attention that his teachers couldn't give him?  Would we jeopardise his sociability?  Should we make him tough it out  and have a more 'typical' school experience?  Would he grow to hate school if we put him in this year b/c he wouldn't be able to copy things fast enough, read well enough, or write neatly enough?  Would he be able to enter the Costa Rican school system in the future without a 'real' school report card?  Would the potential benefits outweigh the risks?  We prayed and went back and forth.  As I investigated the legalities, looked at curriculums, analysed Sawyer's strengths (math, creativity, intelligence, energy, passion) and weaknesses (focus, impulse control, fine motor skills, etc), and prayed, I came to the conclusion that it was 'now or never' if we were going to try homeschool.  In short, I decided to go for it, was able to order curriculum and my parents brought it down in a suitcase in January when they visited.  (It was nearly 50 lbs. of books!)

So. . . I'm relieved to say it's been going well.  Sawyer asked me the other day if it was possible to homeschool through college; I told him we weren't ready to make that decision yet.

He does enjoy homeschool, though we have had our moments of conflict.  It's been really insightful for me and is helping me to understand the things that must have been a challenge for both him and his teachers in the past!!  In the moments where he would give up or tune out and take an incomplete in school, I am able to insist he finish his work.  When he needs a break to use up some energy or to refocus, I can let him run around outside, play with legos, or bounce a basket ball.  (Can I just say again how THANKFUL I am for this house and YARD we are living in!!?!?)  We are able to move around the house for different 'subjects' to keep things new and interesting.  I can give him immediate follow-up and feedback all day long.  We do science experiments, reading, and I can let him skip a few math problems if he already knows how to do them.  I can add or take away curriculum according to his needs.  One thing we did over the last 2 weeks was an animal research report that got him writing about something he was interested in (chipmunks :) ), and helped teach the writing process.  He's also learning world history (let's face it--I'm learning, too), and geography.  We are even going through the Spanish and Social Studies books that his school uses, just to stay in the loop here.  Added bonus: he gets to do PE with Thompson at our sports site and Art at the Wood Shop with Joshua.

So far the biggest challenges for me have been related to schedule and also my role in SI.  Sawyer focuses and cooperates much better in the morning, so if we can plow through everything from 7-12 we finish without too many bumps in the road.  But when we run errands, or do anything out of the 'ordinary' it's tough to regain focus later on.  The other hard thing is scaling back my involvement in all things SI-CR-related.  I'm still trying to find a good rhythm for myself in this area.  I told Jeff early on that I was willing to sacrifice that stuff if we decided that homeschool was the best choice for this year.  I meant it, but I also want to be careful to stay connected with our staff and the things going on in sites.  Homeschool can be very isolating, which is probably one of the biggest drawbacks.  In the States people have formed well-organised co-ops and schools sometimes allow kids to still do sports or other activities on their campuses.  Here, there is very little of that since homeschool isn't recognised.

I still worry that I will do things wrong, or screw him up somehow, but mostly I have deep peace about homeschooling Sawyer this year.  A friend once, very wisely, advised us to take school one year at a time.  So here we are in this year.  One kid in private school, one in a private preschool, and one in homeschool.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014


I have known Elvis for almost 5 years.  He was one of the first youth to come to the woodshop when it opened.  His attendance at the shop has gone in spurts.  He will have months or even a year that he is at the shop faithfully several times a week, then a few moths in which we won’t see him more than to say hello.  As I am not at the shop everyday my interaction is limited with Elvis.  However, I cherish the interactions we do have.  He may be the most knowledgeable Tico I know when it comes to U.S. sports such as football and baseball.  So of course we often talk sports and he frequently tells me the Broncos will never win the super bowl.

I enjoy these conversations about sports but more so enjoy the conversations about life.  I frequently ask Elvis about what he is learning and what God is teaching him.  For a long time if he had not gone to church recently he didn’t know how to answer, because to Elvis what God was teaching him was exclusively tied to the last sermon he had heard.  And too be honest Elvis’ church attendance is let’s just say sporadic.  However he is receptive to the Lord and eager to talk about spiritual matters.

Over the last five years I have watched as Elvis has grown from a squirrely young teen-age boy into a man.  He has grown in patience, perseverance, responsibility, truthfulness, and grown closer to the Lord.  Recently two events have demonstrated Elvis’ growth.  First he finished 8th grade.  Elvis dropped out of school several years ago, and went back to night school this year.  He stuck to it and was able to pass the year and advance to 9th grade.  He also finished a ukulele at the shop (the photo above is of Elvis with his ukulele in process).  He persevered and showed patience as he chiseled, planed, and sanded his ukulele by hand.  The Elvis I met almost 5 years ago would not have accomplished either of these.

Over the time I have known Elvis God has slowly transformed his life.  It has been transformed through consistent interactions with our staff members at the shop who have faithfully and consistently poured into his life.  Thank you Jeremy, Dustin, Jehudi, and Joshua for pouring into Elvis!  I see great potential in Elvis as he continues to become the man God is calling him to be.  I look forward to watching what God will do in and through my friend in the years to come.

La Convivencia

In October we were approached by the principal at the school we partner with in La Capri (this is the school where our Special Education Ministry Site is located and we also have sports programs at the school) about helping with the “Convivencia” for the 6th graders.  The “Convivencia” is a traditional year end activity celebrating the 6th graders accomplishment of finishing elementary school and launching them into high school (here we don’t have Jr. High/Middle School.  It is straight from 6th grade to High School).  Usually this event is done in conjunction with the school religion teacher and very rarely is an outside organization trusted with thus event, let alone an evangelical one.  As we continued to talk with the principal it became clear that she did not want us to help with the event, but rather she wanted us to take charge of the event.  So we politely said we would be happy to do so, but we would clearly present the Gospel during it.  She said that would be fine.

Over the next few weeks as we began to plan I asked myself several times what we had gotten ourselves into.  You see there are 4 sixth grade classrooms at the school with over 30 students in each class.  So we were in essence planning a party for over 120 6th graders who look forward to this day for years. No pressure.

A local camp connected to the church we attend agreed to let us use their camp for the day at less than 25% of their usually fee, since it was during the week and an event working with youth from an at-risk neighborhood.  We also were able to schedule the day during an outreach so we would have extra logistical help.  The team members from Highlands Church in Paso Robles, CA were amazing as they helped prepare and serve food, fill water balloons, clean up, etc.  We could not have done it without them.

Too be honest I had little to do with the actual planning of the event as our staff members Diego, Jana, and MacKenzie took care of the planning and preparation.  The rest of our staff joined us for the day and it was a tremendous success!  Our staff members worked in teams as each team was in charge of a group of about 15 6th graders as we moved through 4 game stations in the morning.  Each game was debriefed afterward discussing the values we could learn from each one and how those could help us as we started high school.  Our staff also took advantage of every opportunity to talk about Jesus, and how we all need him.

Following lunch the associate pastor, Roberto, from our church shared a great message about conquering the giant that is high school and clearly presented the Gospel.  After a time of response and reflection each student received an envelope of letters from key people in their lives encouraging them during this time of transition.

The day went better than we could have imagined.  The 6th graders had a great time, a memorable time, and repeatedly heard about Jesus.  It was also a humbling day.  Humbling to think about the favor God has given us in the communities where we work. To see some of the now young adults whom we have been working with for the last 4 years enjoy this day was rewarding.  It is also humbling to reflect on being asked to do this event.  For an evangelical organization to be asked to do this type of event by a public school is unheard of.  Praise God for his faithfulness and for allowing us to be his hands and feet.  Please join us in praying that the seed that were planted and watered that day would grow and flourish into Godly men and women.

Here is a slideshow of pictures from the “Convivencia.”

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

15,000 words more or less

 The view from the porch.  So many shades of green and red!

 The "chicken coop" that currently houses our trash and recycling.  Also doubles as a playhouse.  The gate to the right goes up the mountain to the lookout and bonfire pit.

View through the fence where we are going to plant some veggies.

 Tucker, who we adopted with the house, and Cici.  Thankfully, they get along wonderfully.  I think they got mixed up about their beds, however. . .

 The road that runs in front of the house.  To the left is Desamparados Centro, to the right Patarrá and Los Guido.

 Bathroom #1.  Fun and spacious.  To the left is a HUGE closet.

 Sawyer's room which doubles as a guest room. At such times he is happy to sleep on the floor in the other bedroom.

 Olivia and Lynnea's room.  Check out the perfect bed nook.

 Master bedroom.  Windows, windows, windows!

 Bathroom #2, aka master bathroom.  Shower and toilet are to the left, but I wanted to highlight the storage area!

 The AMAZING kitchen!  It is about 3 or 4 times bigger than each of the other kitchens we've had here, plus tons of cupboards and counter tops.  And WINDOWS!!

 The dining room.

 The living room.  Beautiful wood, and more windows!  The area behind the couch houses books, art supplies, toys, and some boxes that still need to be unpacked.

 From the driveway.  The kids now have room to ride scooters and bikes.  They also love the basketball hoop.

Looking up the left side of the house to the patio/laundry area.

I realized I didn't get a good shot of the actual porch, which is also AWESOME, nor of the mountain or fire pit.  But, in order to get some pictures up here, those will just have to wait for another post. . .  
Thank you to all who have prayed (and prayed and prayed) with us about housing!  Thank you, Jesus, for this over-the-top provision!!  Praise him with us?!!

1 + Months Already!!

Many of you have heard that we moved into the amazing house that I posted about a few months ago.  It's TRUE.  It all happened quickly at the end, but here we are.  God is GOOD.  Praise God with us!  We were in the middle of hosting teams and other guests, so I hadn't had time to do more than post a few random pictures on Facebook.  Entonces, I'm making myself sit down to write a post that will hopefully fill in some of the details.

Essentially what happened is that the missionaries that own this house really want/ed to sell it.  It would have been so much easier for them to return to Canada without a house here in Costa Rica to think about.  They all-but-sold it twice, but backed out of each deal for lack of peace and a conviction that they weren't supposed to sell to either of those couples.  So, after that roller-coaster ride, knowing that we were really interested in it, but without a way to buy it, they asked if we'd rent it while they took some more time to pray and regroup.  So, after a couple of conversations working out the details, we packed our stuff and moved it over.  (At the end it all came together in maybe a week or something!?!)

So here we are.  We keep marvelling at the way God has worked things out.  "We get to live here?  Really?"

This property is truly amazing.  We are still very close to our office, ministry sites, host families, etc.  We are on the main road (our only reminder that we are, in fact, still in the city), but surrounded by fruit trees, grass and flowers.  There is an amazing 'mountain' that rises behind the house to the bonfire pit and a breathtaking view of San Jose.  The house is spacious, has an amazing kitchen, porch, and tons of windows.  I'm serious about the windows.  Somehow washing dishes isn't so bad when you have a great view.

We have already had the privilege of hosting Jeff's parents and our nephew Thomas, as well as Nate and Maggie Slabach, as overnight guests.  And we've been able to host cultural activities/bonfires with 2 different teams, plus a couple of other activities.  Amid the many unpacked boxes and chaos of moving (our guests have all been very gracious!) we have been in awe to see God fulfil this sueño (dream) and allow us to steward such a place as this.  May we steward well.

Olivia, Sawyer, and Lynnea are all thrilled, too.  I was watching Sawyer playing outside yesterday, running and shouting and throwing and other boy-things, and it struck me again how much God cares not only about our ministry, but also about our kids.  I trust that the years that we have lived without a yard and without amazing windows have been for great purposes, too.  But my mommy heart cried out for nature and space for my kids--Sawyer especially--and God has answered in such a big way that my heart spins.  I have no way of knowing how long we will live in this house, but for this time I am thankful beyond words.

God, I was crazy to hope for something like this, to ask you for something so great; you are spoiling us and I don't deserve it, but thank you.

Please pray for the Hilstad family as they transition back to life in Canada, and that God's will would continue to be done with this house.

Pictures to follow soon!!

PS Another great thing that God has worked out of this is that the landlords of the old house were willing to hold that house for our new teammates, the Fasts, who will be arriving this week.  They will be cozy as a family of 6, but the location is perfect for them as they settle in and get to know Desamparados, especially without a car right away.  They'll be walking distance from the language school, groceries, the SI-CR office, preschool and bus lines.  The other advantage is that we can have it set up for them before they get here.  Friends, God is a God of details.