Saturday, August 20, 2011

A Picture's Worth (Part One)

This week 6:8 Ministries hosted the Celebration Sub30 team and I had the privilege of being able to help lead them with Amanda, Brian, and Dan. Although it was a quick four day venture, God accomplished great things in and through this group. Their trip consisted mostly of children’s ministry, where in we would go to different communities and play with the kids there. While this doesn’t seem like a “typical” way to share the Gospel, it means so much to the local youth. Most of them grow up in homes where either one or both parents are addicted to drugs and alcohol. They have absent fathers and mothers who sell themselves to put food on the table. Some even live with family who abuse them physically and sexually. Simply going to color, draw with sidewalk chalk, play soccer, blow bubbles, and jump rope speaks volumes. Offering love through hugs and holding hands is significant because in most cases they don’t have anyone to show them affection.

One day in particular we went to a neighborhood the ministry just recently started working in called New Millennium. It’s one of the most impoverished communities in Alajuelita and among the roughest. On the way there, one of the girls from the team asked me to hold a photo to take with us. It was of Jessica (who had previously been to Costa) and a little boy named Kevin, she hoped to deliver it to him if we happened to find him. While praying for a family in the area, two kids noticed the picture in my hands, immediately recognizing him and pointing it out. When I asked where he was or if he lived there, however, I was given no response and let it go.

Flash forward an hour, the team and staff are interacting with kids and I hear someone call a little boy Kevin. I waved him over to see if he was the one in the photo, pulling it from my purse. The moment he saw himself in it, he began grinning and laughing happily, then promptly snatched it out of my hands. While he quickly ran off and away my only thought was “ What have I done? I just made the biggest rookie mistake possible. I’m an idiot. The end.” As the group and I walked up to him, though, I realized this was the opposite of the truth. God turned a potential crisis into a moment of joy, for both Kevin and the team. We found him sitting on the sidewalk smiling at the picture in his hands and staring in amazement.

In Costa Rica, you rarely find individuals with photos of themselves. Most only receive them for special occasions such as first communion and other significant life events. So it’s completely possible that this was the first picture of himself he’d seen, let alone been given, at least at his current age. It was amazing to witness his reaction, to know how much of an impact something as simple as a photograph can have. It was a small piece of paper, a tiny sentiment, but the fact that it was his to keep meant more than even I understood.

As a photographer, this experience spoke to me and taught me a lesson I won’t soon forget. As a follower of Jesus, it convicted me to walk in the calling I’ve been given and use the talent God has placed in me for his glory.  I hope to use my art form in a way that brings hope and speaks truth, by observing the reality of what goes on here and capturing it for others to see. Kevin has inspired me to find more ways to use my passion for photography during my time here and to bless others through my camera, whatever that might look like.

Here's Kevin holding his photo. Before we left, he told us he planned to hang it on his bedroom wall.  How adorably sweet is that?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Week One.

It’s difficult to believe that I’ve already been in Costa Rica for over a week now.  I would compare my first 10 days here to diving in head first into rushing water. When I got to the team house last Monday, I had just enough time to put my suitcases in the room, greet everyone, and then immediately leave with a team for San Jose. My entire experience here so far has followed that pattern, busy and fast paced. There’s always something to do and I honestly wouldn’t have it any other way. Although I have (thankfully) been given moments of rest, I’m grateful for the way things are constantly moving.

We had the OCC team fly in from Jacksonville the day after I arrived so I’ve spent the majority of this week with them. My purpose here as “ short term staff” is to lead each team in different forms of outreach within the communities of both Alajuelita and Escazu. For this group it consisted of children’s ministry, teaching ESL ( English as a Second Language) to students, running the church thrift store, visiting a women’s rehabilitation center, and praying for local families.

I’m continually amazed by the tension between the beauty of Costa Rica and the brokenness it contains. Living here, I see God’s glory all around, through the lush green terrain and tall mountains. Yet I also see drug addiction, alcoholism, legalized prostitution, and different levels of poverty. The people themselves are gorgeous in appearance, but underneath they carry wounds that are deep and in desperate need of healing. In so many ways it is a portrait of humanity itself. All of creation is made up of the artistry of the maker intertwined with the flawed nature of man, true light intermingled with darkness.

This idea has been the prevalent thought in the front of my mind and heart lately. It manifested itself all the more through an experience the team, Dan, Laine, and myself had together this week. In San Jose there is a place called the Hotel Del Rey, a large pink building with several floors and an ornate facade. Its outward appearance is nothing short of a false face, though, a mask that covers what goes on inside. Behind its inviting exterior, it acts as the largest brothel in this region, one that is world renowned. Men (aka Johns) from all over go there to drink, gamble, and spend time with the hundreds of prostitutes ( including women, men, and transvestites) who are employed there. The average woman who works at the Del Rey is 16 years old, some are victims of trafficking but most go by choice. After learning of this place and what it is famous for from a local ministry called Freedom Street,  the team decided that during their visit here they wanted to see it for themselves. Thursday night Dan took all of us to do just that. During the walk up, no one spoke, everyone was praying and preparing themselves for what we were about to be met with.

I’ve known about the injustice of sex trafficking and prostitution for some time now. I’ve read about it, watched films on it, and even worked with some ministries that fight to prevent it. Seeing it happen right in front of my own eyes, however, turned a thing I’d merely been told of into a hard reality. It was one of the most difficult, heart wrenching moments I've ever experienced. On the bottom floor, there is a bar and casino where the women socialize with their customers. Walking in, we found hundreds of girls and the Johns they were going to be spending the night with. That’s not even counting the rest, who were in the upper rooms already working. Our group sat down and ordered some cokes, all the while watching and praying to ourselves. We stayed there for almost half an hour, every one of us experiencing a broad range of emotions: anger, disbelief, sorrow, compassion. There weren’t many dry eyes to be found. All I could do was seek God, praying for  him to give me his perspective because I didn’t have the wisdom or strength to form one. My heart ached a little more with each girl’s eyes who met my own.  Being unable to find hope in the midst of what was around me, I asked God if it even existed there.

This was his reply, “ I am in this place. I am not absent. I have not forgotten it. I won’t forsake it. I’m here, even in the midst of darkness such as this. “

He reminded me of the most powerful truth I know, that what Jesus Christ did on the cross was enough. It was enough to cover any sin. Any injustice. Any evil. It was enough to cover every act that occurs in the most popular brothel in Costa Rica. I find confidence in that promise, because it’s bigger than me. I put my faith in it, because it means that there is no such thing as a hopeless situation.

I truly believe that God’s heart is breaking for his children who walk through the doors of the Del Rey. I know without question that he longs for each of those women to realize that their worth and value goes far beyond what the next willing man can pay. More so, I trust that he is at work and changing things in ways my human eyes aren't capable of seeing.  I think that our group made a difference simply in being willing to walk in and to face something that was ugly and unjust. The entire time we were there, no one evangelized or preached. We simply sat and observed. We allowed our presence to speak for us. We made a difference, not because of ourselves, but because of the all-powerful God we serve. His spirit went with us and that was enough to make an impact. We were a portrait of Christ’s love in the middle of brokenness and carriers of God’s light; the same light that illuminates bleak darkness and robs it of its power. There is hope to be found, even in the brothels.

"Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and in you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining."
1 John 2:8

P.S. Hotel Del Rey translates to " from the King" in Spanish. To me that says it all.

Monday, August 1, 2011


As I'm typing this, I'm sitting at Gate 7 of Orlando International Airport waiting to board the flight that will take me to Costa Rica. 

Already God has proven himself so faithful. Upon arriving to fly, I was met with hoards of people waiting in line to check in for their flights. Immediately I felt nervous, especially being alone. While waiting though, I happened to spot none other than Spencer Boulter of 6:8 Ministries at the very back. Needless to say he joined me and we not only navigated bag check and security together but are now seat buddies. It's amazing how God can intervene in the smallest and simplest of ways; even if it means sending someone familiar to make an intimidating experience a happy one. 

 This entire week I've had a particular verse in my head and heart that has been a great comfort. It speaks of how God is our confidence. That same word in the original text means something similar to unshakeable. So basically no matter how we competent we might be feeling, God is always our immovable and steady source of security. It completely sums up the place I am in at this point. I feel nothing short of resolute. I'm so ready to begin this new chapter of my life and can't wait to see what it holds for me. 

I'll see you guys in Alajuelita! :)

Don't fear sudden danger or the ruin of the wicked when it comes, for the Lord will be your confidence and will keep your foot from a snare. Proverbs 3: 25-26