The Costa Rica Trip: First Aid, Paintings, Big Yellow Flippers, and the Gospel.

Mike Thigpen kayaking at Playa Conchal.

     I figured I would interrupt my current series on manliness to bring you all an update pertaining to my Costa Rica trip. Let me just open by saying this: God is astounding. That is essentially all I have to say. He definitely blew my mind on this trip. I don’t even know how to write to you about this. It’s strange that when something is so dear to the heart it is usually so hard to put into words. I’ll give you all a super-condensed account here, though if you want to know more just ask me in person sometime. 

     The basic rundown of it: I co-led a team of 9 to Costa Rica for 12 days. Our goal was to partner with missionaries and a local church to reach out to communities by giving them Bibles and teaching First Aid and CPR. Although we achieved our goal, it was very different than any of us had previously invisioned.

     May 22nd: a 3:30 AM wake-up call summoned Micah, Mike, and I out of our few hours of sleep and into the beginning of an adventure. To my amazement, when I awoke I found that my voice had been completely restored (it had previously been a casualty of laryngitis). A few minutes later we were leaving the hotel on a shuttle heading towards DIA. My mind was racing and yet all I could think was: “This is it. I can’t believe it’s here.”   

     At the airport we met up with the rest of the team and embarked on one epic adventure. Fast forward through security and waiting at the gate, and all of that, and we found ourselves on a 6 AM flight to Houston, where we would change planes and head on to San Jose, Costa Rica. In the Houston airport we had embarrassing moment #1. I should explain that just about all the members of the team had an embarrassing moment at some point, I’ll just record some of the good ones. Well, on the little train, David decided to be cool and not hold onto anything and he fell flat on his face. It was awesome.
 
     Embarrassing moment #2 happened to Russ on the way from Houston to San Jose. He didn’t realize that opening a pressurized waterbottle in the plane wouldn’t be the best idea. The result was a fountain of water shooting out of the bottle in a beautiful arch all the way into the laps of the people sitting behind him. It was awesome. 

     Upon being picked up at the airport, several hours of driving, talking, cow-spotting, and whatnot, ensued. It was dark and the rain was crashing down on us when we arrived at the YWAM Guanacaste base. We received a warm welcome from my friends Diego and Salla and the other missionaries.

     Embarrassing moment #3 belonged to Micah. We were all having dinner the first night when the fan on the wall stopped working. Diego asked Micah to turn it back on. To the amusement of all, Micah soon found that whenever he pushed the on button the fan worked, but whenever he took his finger off of it, it stopped. This went on for quite a while until Micah gave up and Diego said: “I have something to confess to you” and held up a remote control. It was awesome.

     Our first day at the base was spent by a third of our team distributing Bibles and the rest of us organizing $3,000 worth of medical supplies we had brought with us. We were able to make around 40 First Aid kits and the majority of the supplies we packed up again to be given to the clinic. It felt strange to me: to see all the supplies, to be sitting in the base, to be thinking about the people I would soon come in contact with. It was then that I knew it was actually happening. The trip that I had only imagined had suddenly become reality.

     The first class was wonderful. It took place in the community center next door to the base. The center was painted neon pink and green, with cement floors, and door with a bolt on it even though it didn’t really have walls. It also had wi-fi. There were around 30 people that showed up, of all ages. Via amazing interpreters, Mike taught about bleeding, burning, and so on, Julie taught splinting and patient transport, and I taught about adult and infant CPR and choking. I was amazed at how excited, good-humoured, and open the people were. I soon found myself laughing and grinning (largely due to a deflating inflatable baby) with people that speak a different language than I do, and live a totally different lifestyle than I do. Even though it was just a simple class, I felt God showing me that there is something astounding about the mere fact that these people were made and are loved by the same God that made and loves me. It was definitely an incredible experience. 

       The next day began with me giving an impromptu devotional to my team and then us heading out to distribute Bibles. The Bible distribution was unlike anything I could have anticipated. I didn’t get to see people physically healed in front of me, I didn’t get to lead people to Christ, it wasn’t dazzling. But it was real. I got to come in contact with real people, in their homes, living their lives. Most of them knew about Jesus, and about the Gospel. But I was thankful that even if for a second, and maybe just for one or two of the people, that I got to show them that Jesus is more than an empty name, more than a ritual, and more than the religion of their fathers.

     I don’t know what kind of an impact we had by going door to door giving Bibles to every family and praying for them, but God does. Maybe it was all meaningless, or maybe God was at work in the little things. We encountered real people, in real living conditions, and got to give them the words of a real God. Many of them seemed touched that we had a gift for them, instead of trying to sell them something, they seemed amused by our broken Spanish, and appreciative of our offers of prayer. It was so simple, yet there was something so astonishing about it. I can’t even put it into words.

     I wish I had time to tell about each time we gave out Bibles, and each class we taught, because every experience was truly unique, but that would easily make this blog into a book. We distributed Bibles two more times, and taught 5 more classes. We came in contact with all sorts of amazing people. We got to teach classes for children, unwed mothers, teenage futballers, a church, and another community center. We probably had students ranging from ages 5 to 85. The level of outreach was amazing. We got to love on them by giving them Bibles, giving them life-skills, and even doing simple things like playing duck-duck goose with the kids. There were so many wonderful opportunities to reach out to such precious people.

     Life at the base was amazing as well. It was so astounding for me to see how God can bring together people from all over the planet to shine His Light. It was an interesting experience. We were an American team working with Finnish and Costa Rican missionaries, staying with a Korean team, and teaming up with a Brazilian pastor to reach out to Costa Ricans. People who would have nothing in common in the eyes of the world were drawn together with one purpose: to glorify God. I think it was a beautiful picture of how the Body of Christ should be.

     We really connected with all the folks at the base. Saying good-bye to them all was easily the hardest part of the trip for all of us. There were so many great memories and stories shared among everyone. It was remarkable. One of the missionary couples, Kimmo and Laura, told us that they connected more with us over the span of 5 days than with any of the other teams. It was truly heart-breaking to leave, but so encouraging to see all that God had done in such a short time.  

     Fast forward through a long day of driving and fun and we arrived in Brasilito over by Playa Conchal. The girls and Russ stayed at the Ecos del Mar hotel and the rest stayed at my parents casita. It was quite a great time. We shared a lot of great times as a team hanging out at the casita, playing games, chilling on the beach, learning karate from Bryan, and studying the Word together.

     It was interesting that inspite of all my efforts, my plans for the second week fell through, so we had no set ministry plan. It became a time where God just grabbed a hold of our hearts in the quiet way. There was definitely a lot of spiritual growth in the quiet times spent with God, the devotions we shared with each other, and the times we got to reach out to people in the most random places. We got to reach out to the folks selling things on the beach, the guides on the zipline canopy tour, a begging lady outside the airport, a guy that worked in one of the airport souvenir shops, and so on. It was remarkable how God had His hand in it.

     One of the most memorable parts of the trip for me was spent with the poor woman outside the airport. This wasn’t the contrived poverty we see in the States a lot of the time. This was real. She was probably in her 80’s, had problems with her teeth, needed a cane to walk, and was using an empty Pringles’ can to beg for change. I gave her some of my spare colones and was ready to move on, but Julie stopped and saw through the woman’s circumstances to see her for who she was, and I am so thankful for it.

     It was so astonishing to be able to bless this poor woman. We took a little time to talk with her, pray over her, give her change, and hand her a bag full of snacks. It was so simple, yet I learned so much about God just from that small moment. God sees through the circumstances that blind the eyes of men. So often when we look at a poor person we notice the poor, but ignore the person. It made me understand that just as that woman’s circumstance was real, and evil in the world is a dark reality, so too God is real. He is at work in those situations.

     I learned that God cherishes people. It was such a short moment and yet it holds such significance in my mind. In the eyes of the world we would have had nothing in common with this woman. We were a group of people from one of the wealthiest nations in the world, and she was a poor woman living in a fairly poor country. We spoke English, she spoke Spanish. Yet there was something so unique about getting to connect with this lady and bless her and leave with hugs and laughter. By the world’s standards, we had nothing in common, but in reality we had everything in common. We were made and are loved by the same God. 

     I’ll end this with the tale of my embarrassing moment from the trip. I was pleased to find that I had reached the final stretch of the trip without making a fool of myself when all of the sudden tragedy, or rather comedy, struck. During our last day at the casita we were loading up the van, and somewhere along the line I left my gigantic yellow flippers unattended on the porch with the purpose of leaving them at the house. They were subsequently loaded back into the van at some point and burried under luggage. I discovered this when we were an hour and a half’s drive away at the hotel near the airport.

     Since I had taken a box of medical supplies as my check-on bag on the way there, I did not have a bag to stick my flippers in. I wound up having to clip them to the sides of my pack, giving myself large yellow wings. I wound up walking through four airports with those flippers. One of the best parts was accidentally slapping people with them on the plane as I made my way to my seat. *Slap* “Sorry!” *Slap* “Sorry!” All way to row 26. They also almost got stuck in the security scanner and made it profoundly difficult to stow in the over-head container.  

     But it was totally worth it just for one moment. We were all sitting in the gate waiting for our plane to board in San Jose when David showed up wearing a Nacho Libre (luchador) mask. That certainly made for some fantastic group photos. Without a doubt, it was tremendously awesome. Though the best reactions came when I dawned the Nacho mask and spread my wings for take-off. That got the whole gate laughing and taking pictures of me. I am now quite satisfied that there are probably pictures of me acting ridiculous circulating all over the world. I felt like a super-hero. In fact, I have now taken on the alter-ego of the Shutterbug.

     All in all it was an astounding trip. God definitely had His hand in it. I learned so much about praying about everything, trusting God with the little things, and stepping up to lead when He calls me to do so. I’ve definitely been changed a lot from everything God did on this trip. There are so many stories to tell and lessons to teach, but I’m afraid I’ll have to save them for another blog. But as for now, I’m already planning to go back.

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About Jonathon Thigpen

I am a student, writer, photographer, traveler, teacher, and Lego enthusiast, who is endeavouring to be a man after God's own heart.
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