Costa Rica 2017

Costa Rica 2017

Last winter, my family hosted Priscilla, a student from Costa Rica. This summer, her family invited my sister and I to come and visit them, so in July, we traveled to Costa Rica on our first ever international trip! Priscilla and her family were so hospitable and loved sharing their country and culture with us. Although I struggled with culture shock and language barriers from time to time, I think staying with a family made the experience much more authentic than if we had stayed in a resort.

The night we arrived, our host family took us to Denny’s for a late dinner since we didn’t get through immigration and customs until around 10 or 11pm and there wasn’t much else open. I ordered some “panqueques esponjosos” which was funny because I translated too literally and thought that meant “spongy pancakes.” After seeing an English menu I realized it meant “fluffy pancakes.” After ordering, despite the familiarity of Denny’s, I started feeling anxious about food and water safety and being in a different country. This quickly worsened, turning into panic, and I actually started hyperventilating. Priscilla and her family ended up sitting with me outside on the sidewalk for 30 minutes as I breathed into a paper bag. I think they felt really bad, but they tried to help any way they could, and I was thankful for their patience and kindness as I tried to adjust to being in a new place.

So things got off to a rough start, but when we woke up on day two I was feeling ready to get some food in my belly and explore the area! Breakfast was rice and beans, plantains, and a very lean bacon. After trying everything, I decided I could do without the plantains, but the rice and beans, and especially the bacon, were all pretty tasty. After breakfast, Priscilla gave us a walking tour of her town, Santa Clara.

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This picture is taken from the “hallway” of the local high school. Many of the homes and buildings there were totally open to the outdoors, without glass or screens on the windows. Look out for mosquitoes!

On Friday (day 3), we visited Priscilla’s grandma in the morning, and went to a hot springs resort in the afternoon. I was promised a piña colada in a pineapple, but they ran out of pineapples. Nonetheless, the hot springs were as close to paradise as I have ever been.

 

On Saturday we went to Ciudad Quesada where we briefly attended a festival, tried some delicious homemade coconut candy, and drove through the mountains.

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On Sunday, we went to a Spanish Catholic mass with Priscilla and then attended her church youth group after. The day we went was special because each of the students had to dress up in costume and present on a saint that they had learned about. One of the boys in the group was very sweet and tried to explain the information about his saint to us in English before the formal presentations began.

Towards the end of the presentations, I started to have chest pain and feel lightheaded so I drank some water, realizing how dehydrated I must have been, but the lightheadedness quickly escalated and I whispered to my sister that I thought I was going to pass out. She asked me if I wanted to step outside. I started to tell her I didn’t think I could make it outside, and the next thing I know I am lying on the cold floor and there are people circled all around me trying to get me to come to. There were a few moments where everything was fuzzy except for the strong scent of alcohol (someone was holding it under my nose to wake me up) which seemed to be the only thing holding me in the realm of consciousness. Slowly I began becoming more aware of my surroundings and realized that my hands, arms, and legs were completely numb and stiff (most likely due to more hyperventilation and panic), which sent me into even more of a panic. The semi-bilingual boy from earlier was right by my side the whole time, trying his best to calm me down and help me relax and stay warm. (He actually took off his saint costume and wrapped it around me.) Despite his efforts, I remained numb, stiff, and panicky, and they ended up calling 911 (or whatever the Costa Rican equivalent is) and I went to the hospital. They did a bunch of tests and thankfully found nothing wrong aside from the dehydration and my softball-sized mosquito bites and sent me home with some itch cream. I ended up skipping out on the evening’s activities (orchestra concert and dinner) to make sure I didn’t overdo it though.

On Monday, I was still feeling a little under-the-weather, but Priscilla’s family had some exciting activities planned so I decided to stick it out. We visited Catarata de La Paz (La Paz Waterfall) first, and then headed to La Paz Waterfall Gardens Nature Park to see the Animal Sanctuary.

This is us at La Paz Waterfall.

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This is what we saw when we first walked into the Animal Sanctuary.

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Our first stop was the aviary and I am normally not a huge bird person, but I have to say, the toucans were pretty neat.

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We actually got to hold them too!

 

But my favorite part was the big cats.

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Don’t you just want to cuddle up with him?

On Tuesday, our short trip came to end and we flew back to the States. The trip was a bit stressful at times with my health concerns and minor anxiety, but I have no regrets (except probably the whole not-staying-hydrated thing) and I was glad to have had the opportunity to travel internationally and experience new foods, and traditions, and culture.

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Mission Spokane 2016

Mission Spokane 2016

Well, 2016 is almost over. Last January, I started this blog as a sort of New Year’s resolution. Like most New Year’s resolutions, I didn’t keep up that well (even including this post, I averaged less than one post a month). But there is one thing from 2016 that I have been meaning to write about for months. So without further ado, here is a post about one of my favorite parts about 2016:

This past summer, I traveled to Spokane, Washington with a group of six high school students (including my sister) and three adult leaders (including myself), on a mission trip with my church. While there, we helped with a week-long Vacation Bible School (VBS) in Spokane, as well as a food drive in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho. Throughout the trip we stayed with host families who generously provided us with lodging, breakfast, and cars to use each day for transportation.

At VBS, I served as a “Crew Leader,” so I was responsible for leading a small group of children around to each station. Each day when the kids arrived, we asked them about their “God Sightings” (where they had seen God acting in their lives that day). Their answers included things like “I saw the sun come up today,” or “I ate breakfast this morning,” or “I made a new friend at VBS this week.” Although their answers may seem simple, it helped the children see where God is at work in their daily lives, and helped make me more aware of God’s work in my own life.

One morning, one of the children arrived early and I asked him if he was enjoying VBS so far. He told me that it was the best part of his day. He said that his mom was working that day but they were able to find someone else to give him a ride to the church and he was so happy because he didn’t want to miss any of it.

When we weren’t helping out at the church, we took advantage of our free time to explore and sight-see in Washington and Idaho. On Sunday, we saw the Grand Coulee Dam which is about two hours west of Spokane.

On Monday, we hiked on Mount Spokane.

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Rachel and I at the top of Mount Spokane

On Tuesday, we went to one of the host families’ homes to swim, ride horses, and ride four-wheelers.

On Wednesday, we went boating on Lake Coeur D’Alene.

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Lake Coeur D’Alene at Dusk

And on Thursday we visited the Spokane Falls.

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Spokane Falls

I think this trip has really been a turning point in my life for the way I feel about sharing my faith. Before the trip, I usually felt uncomfortable talking about my faith, even with those who I knew already believed the same thing as me! But throughout the week, I saw the high school students share their faith and insights from our Bible readings shamelessly and confidently and it was so amazing to me. They are at an age where it is especially easy to feel embarrassed or judged; they want to feel accepted. But instead of hiding their faith, I watched them share it and discuss it with each other, and share it with the children at VBS. This isn’t to say that now I am 100% comfortable sharing my faith with every person I meet, but the teens set a great example for me, and it is a stepping stone towards developing that confidence for myself.

This trip also changed how I feel about prayer. I have always believed God has a plan and a purpose and that things happen for a reason, but this week I saw that in action more than ever. I saw numerous prayers answered throughout the week, and I am still seeing Him continue to answer my prayers to help me continue to “live it” as He empowers me to share my faith and my experiences from our trip. The teens were also an incredible example here. They have been brought up in the faith well, and I was impressed by how they prayed and what they prayed for.

The most extreme example I saw of answered prayers happened on Tuesday when we were riding the four-wheelers. Throughout the week, all the teens and leaders started and ended their day with personal devotion and prayer. On Monday night, I wrote out a prayer and I ended it by saying, “give us another good and safe day tomorrow,” without really thinking much about it. On Tuesday, God answered this prayer by protecting us from a near-death experience on the four-wheelers. Without going into too much detail, several of us ended up in situations where we actually could have died or been severely injured, but instead we all walked away without a scratch.

I can’t speak for my fellow passengers, but I know personally that had a huge impact on the way I view my life (especially my faith life). It was kind of a wake up call and in some ways a reaffirmation of my faith. However, if it weren’t for our daily devotions and talking with the children at VBS about their God Sightings, I probably would have told people that we were “lucky” to be alive. But we had all been thinking daily about where God was working in our lives and where He surprised us as we reflected back on each day. So after having one of the biggest God Sightings of my life, I spent hours reflecting on it and the way God was present there. It wasn’t just a lucky break, God has a plan and a purpose for all of us and that moment in the four-wheeler showed me that. God has put me here for a reason and He has a purpose for my life.

As intense as that Tuesday afternoon was, the week as a whole was probably one of the best weeks of my life. And I am still trying to figure out exactly why that is, but one thing I can point to is definitely the people: our welcoming host families, the generous congregation members, the adorable children at VBS, the hardworking and enthusiastic high school students, WELS Kingdom Workers, and of course our awesome team of leaders. 🙂 And I can tell you that given the opportunity, I would definitely do it all over again.