Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Stolen property and Kept Faith.

On Saturday, the 6:8 staff all went to Jaco for a day of hanging out on the beach. It was a great time spent relaxing, talking, and enjoying the water together. Afterwards a group of us went to the Taco Bar for dinner. During the hour we spent there, two of our bags were stolen from the car that was sitting not even 50 feet away from where we were eating. My book bag was one of the ones taken; along with my camera, journals, Costa Rican phone, make-up, money, and other personal belongings.

Once we realized they were missing, we quickly tried to figure out just how someone could have gotten into the vehicle. The doors were locked and there was no trace of forced entry. There's a history of robbery in this particular area of Costa Rica because of the great number of tourists who frequent it. More than likely the thieves were professionals and experts at stealing. They took our belongings quietly and swiftly as our backs were turned, without us even noticing.

My immediate reaction was shock and disbelief. All at once I was angry and heartbroken. I felt violated and disrespected in a way I've never experienced before. I found myself standing in the middle of the parking lot, sobbing. As the others circled around me to pray, I reached a breaking point. All I wanted to do was pack my suitcases, get on a plane, and go back to the United States.

Anyone who has met me knows that my camera isn't simply an inanimate object in my eyes. It is the source for my art-form, my voice when I can't find the words to speak. Both home and here in Costa, photography serves as my ministry. Through it, I am able to see the beauty in the world and show it to others. Each of the photos held within it had significance and meaning. My writing, too, is a way that I find and share God. Those journals contained a month's worth of thoughts poured out onto the pages; they were filled with memories and moments from here I'd hoped to never forget. To have both snatched away in one fell swoop was a hard slap to the face and spirit.

After we talked to the owners of the restaurant and went to the police station to file a report, we still had a two hour drive before making it back home. Amanda turned on some music and all of us began singing together and worshipping God. His presence was thick and tangible, even in the midst of a car crammed full of gringos who'd just had a long, discouraging night. In the middle of one of the songs, he told me to read these passages in Philippians:

Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has actually resulted in the advancement of the Gospel, so that is has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to everyone else, that my imprisonment is for Christ. Most of the brothers in the Lord have gained confidence from my imprisonment and dare even more to speak the message fearlessly. 
Philippians 1:12-14

For we are the circumcision, the ones who serve by the Spirit of God, boast in Christ Jesus and do not put confidence in the flesh-although I once had confidence in the flesh too. If anyone else has grounds for confidence, I have more: circumcised the eighth day; of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, persecuting the church;as to righteousness that is in the law, blameless. But everything that was a gain to me, I have considered loss because of Christ. More than that, I also consider everything to be a loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. Because of him I have suffered the loss of all things and consider them filth, so that I may gain Christ. 
Philippians 3:3-8

I prayed that my attitude would mirror Paul's. A man who realized everything that he endured, including imprisonment, was not without purpose because it furthered the Gospel. More so, it increased the faith in those who looked to him for guidance. God used Paul's willingness to abandon his abilities more than the talents themselves. His works transcended worldly influence because he placed his hope in the eternal. I've never been thrown in prison for what I believe or persecuted for the same reason; but I have experienced the sting of loss and know what it means to feel helpless. I've had to learn to place something I hold dear into the hands of Christ, trusting that in the end it will amount to more than I could ever produce. I hope that my reaction to this circumstance ( and any other I meet) would encourage others to trust him more as well; to declare boldly that no matter what our faith requires of us, it is never done in vain. 

I may never see any of my stuff again and there's a chance I will never know exactly why this happened. What I do know is this: God is still sovereign and worthy of my praise. He didn't cause the pain I'm feeling because he is not the author of suffering. He can, however, turn this somewhat bleak situation meant to inflict harm into something that accomplishes his purposes. I trust in the intentions of my Father because I realize they are for good and never for evil. I believe that through those individuals stealing the things I cherish most, he is going to do greater works than I can comprehend. I have forgiven them and I love them, in spite of myself. I pray they would see the love of Jesus Christ in the photos I've taken or read the words he's inspired and that somehow a seed is planted and a life is changed. 

I have no idea what will come of this but I have faith it will be something beautiful. Even if having my camera stolen only results in my being drawn closer to God, it was worth it. For now, I am thankful for the things I've been given. I have food to eat, clothes to wear, and friends who offer endless support. Most importantly, I have a Savior who holds fast to his promises. This is enough. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

A Picture's Worth (Part Two)

One of my favorite things in the world to do is capture a very special moment in time through a photograph. It brings me such a sense of purpose and accomplishment, knowing that the memory of that event is forever frozen in a visible form. The picture below is an example of one of these moments. The woman's name within it is Maria, she and her family live in a small community here named Wan Pablo. I've known Maria, her husband, and her children since my previous trip to Alajuelita in 2010. They are regulars at Celebracion Igelsia and have developed a relationship with 6:8. Just last month, Cross Creek constructed a home for the family, and I got the chance to go on the day that they received the keys. Even better, I got to watch as Baby Joshua took his first steps in his new home, snapping the photo just in time.

Aside from being something that makes me genuinely happy to look at, it represents an important lesson for me. The week after it was taken, Dan and I took the Celebration Team to visit the same community. When we arrived, we found Maria ( who has a history of addiction/alcoholism) completely inebriated. From what I understood, jealousy had broken out within the community over the house and fights took place as a result. This paired with other traumatic events involving her family led Maria to a place of fear and distress; which eventually brought her back to the substances she depended on for comfort. The team prayed over her, did our best to offer comfort, and moved on to the community center to interact with the kids. On the way, Joshua's sister Celeste gave him to me to carry. He was crying and I noticed that not only was his diaper full but that it smelled awful too.  It had to have been that way for at least two hours, mostly because Maria wasn't in the right state of mind to change him. Though I'm not a mother yet, nothing in me could allow a baby to sit in his own dirty diaper. So I proceeded to gather a couple girls from the group, go to a local store to buy a new one, and we changed him right there. While it was an incredible moment because God used us to demonstrate his love, it was also discouraging for me personally.

To be honest, it was difficult for me not to feel angry with Maria after that afternoon. I had witnessed instances of God moving in her life, I knew that she was aware of the truth and what was right. Yet there was no difference in her behavior, instead she turned back to old vices and behaviors. What's worse, she neglected her own child to do so. For the next few days, she and Joshua were on my mind a lot. I prayed for Christ to renew not only her heart but mine as well.

One thing I have been struggling with significantly during my time in Costa is remembering that it God's place to change each individual I meet. Not mine. This fact isn't so easy for me to accept. I'm a nurturer and a fixer, to a fault at times. When I see someone who is hurting, I ache for them to be comforted. When I see something that is broken, I long to mend it. It's just a part of my nature.

I've realized how great the need to abandon this tendency is for me; as a missionary, Christ follower, and human being. Even when Jesus walked the Earth, he didn't take it specifically into his own hands to change people. Instead he loved them and felt compassion for them, while telling the message of the Gospel to all who would listen. He never took on the responsibility of their reaction to that truth but simply presented it and allowed it to speak for itself. He trusted in the one who sent him, knowing that though he planted seeds it was the Father who brought the harvest.  The Son of God found his strength and constancy in the realization that ultimately Abba was the one working through him and transforming hearts.  I am beginning to do the same.

That Sunday Maria not only came to Celebracion Iglesia but also went up to the alter for prayer. The same week, she brought all three of her kids to the feeding center and youth service. This past Saturday, she attended a conference intended specifically for women, and I got to help prayer over little Joshua. These three separate occurrences prove that in some small way she desires to move forward again instead of back. So it's true that this photo is representative of a hard lesson about faith I've been learning. But it is also a source of hope. I truly believe that Maria wants to get clean. I know she is capable of being a good mother to her children and longs to do so. More so, I trust that God is working within her and bringing things to fruition in his time, not my own. Every time I look at it, I remember this and surrender her to him once again.

Baby Joshua taking his first steps in his new home.