Gracias por entenderme

Well, we’ve made it through language school and have been back in Texas for a few weeks now. We have transitioned back from Buses and Taxis to commuting in our own vehicles, from daily school schedules and studying to setting our own schedule visiting churches, friends, family and supporters.

We will soon be making our final move to Reynosa and will begin settling our family into our new home. There will be a lot to do learning the difference between Costa Rican and Mexican Spanish and culture, along with all that needs to be learned and done when moving to a new city. After a period of time, our team at Isaiah 55 will begin folding us into the work of the mission, incorporating us into staff meetings and planning sessions before establishing our responsibilities and setting our ministry goals. The coming weeks and months will be filled, once again, with many transitions for our family.

Thinking back over our time in Costa Rica, it is easy for me to see that the Lord was teaching us so much more than language. The week before we left, I was walking home from the store with my son when I was stopped by a young, shirtless man covered in tattoos. He nearly passed me by but then turned and greeted me, “Pura Vida!” to which I responded. He asked if I spoke Spanish and I replied that I was learning. He told me he was homeless and asked if I had any money to spare. Our interaction was simple but as I reach into my pocket for some change he said, “Gracias por entenderme.” (Thank you for understanding me.) I wish I could say now that I had the presence of mind in that moment to say something deep, spiritual and evangelistic to him but I just didn’t have the words. We said goodbye and moved on but his words stuck with me.

I don’t know what had occurred in that man’s life that caused him to respond in that way but it was clear that just being able to communicate was a blessing to him. As I reflect on his words two things occur to me. The first is that our newly minted ability to speak and understand Spanish is a direct gift from God. We worked hard this past year in language school, but we know that without His grace and mercy and His calling on our lives to do this we would be able to accomplish nothing.

The second thing is that for ministry, relationship is the most important thing we can offer others. God’s kingdom is built on his Church and his Church is built on relationships. In the coming years, whatever we manage to give to others through our work on the mission field, be it food, education, income or shelter, all of it falls second to the giving of ourselves to others in relationship and ultimately leading them into a relationship with Jesus Christ.

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Top 10 things (other than language) that we have been adjusting to for life in Costa Rica.

Everybody has their first day of school pix. Here are ours!

Everybody has their first day of school pix. Here is ours!

10—the currency, the Colon. 1 mil=1,000 colonas=$1.82
9—the metric system (all the food weight is in kilos)
8—understanding our oven temperature—it’s in Celsius
7—trying to figure out how to feed our family (translating ingredients and food labels and looking lost in the grocery store)
6—hanging our clothes to dry (while we have a dryer, the electricity to run it is expensive)
5—the noises we hear since we have to leave our windows open for the breeze
4—washing all our dishes by hand (got to stay on top of it after every meal, or dirty dishes take over our kitchen and thus provide an open invitation for ants and other buggies)
3—buying all of our fruits and veggies at “la feria” on Saturdays, and everything else at the Mega Super (not really mega or so super), Price Smart (similar to Sam’s Club), Wal-Mart or the AM/PM (like 7-11)
2—getting around mostly on foot
1—throwing our toilet paper in the trash

Adjusting to all of the above gives you a good glimpse into our first week here in Costa Rica. We finished our orientation yesterday and Marcus and I began classes today. We are eager to learn and speak Spanish “for real” as Calder puts it.

Calder summing up the way we all feel so far this week.

Calder summing up the way we all feel so far this week.

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Our transition to Costa Rica

Mom, Sis & Us at airport

Heather’s mom and sister took us to the airport

Calder & Samantha at airport

The kids playing before the flight from Atlanta to San Jose

Bienvenidos a Costa Rica! We arrived a little after 9pm Friday night into Costa Rica. It was the smoothest airport experience perhaps ever. Our “Big Brothers”, the Morrises, arranged for us to be picked up at the airport, so by the time we got through immigration there was a porter who’d already gathered our 10 bags. He showed us which way to customs and the exit and then handed us off to a gentleman named Ronnie to drive us to our new apartment.

It just so happens that we live right next door to our Big Brother family, the Morrises. Upon arriving at our apartment we were greeted by the Peter and Melanie, who took us through our apartment showing us all the ins and outs and quirks. Our family stayed up late that night unloading a few bags, calling my mom and sister on FaceTime and putting our own sheets on the beds.

Saturday morning Calder was eager to get outside and meet the Morris kids, ages 5, 3 and 1. We enjoyed a pancake breakfast with them, and the only requirement was that we bring our own chairs! We already love that the Morrises love coffee and pancakes as much as us! Later in the morning they took us to la feria  (the farmer’s market) to get fruits and veggies. Even though it was a small market set up in the park, it was overwhelming. Once we get used to things here, I think it’ll be a lot of fun. There was even a Zumba class going on there and there was a lot of playground equipment for the kids.

I was most overwhelmed by my lack of knowing the currency and metric system. I need to learn about Cosa Rican Colones and kilos ASAP! I also didn’t know how much to spend
or how long things would stay good. All things that will get sorted out in time, I suppose. When we got home I had to go sit in a quiet room and pray for about 15 minutes to recover from the experience.

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early morning play in our new home

That afternoon, Marcus and I spent time unpacking and moving furniture around to suit us. It became evident to me that to make this feel like home, I needed some “homey” things, so I asked Melanie to take me to the home goods store where I bought a rug, 2 throw pillows and 2 seat cushions. Amazing the difference it made! I also found some fun, yellow folding chairs for our back patio and Marcus enjoyed doing his quiet time there Sunday morning.

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Our new place after decorating plus one sacked out Calder on the couch.

Another family we’d met prior to coming via the “small world” is the Halberts, who are also missionaries here in Costa Rica. They graciously brought us dinner Saturday night and stayed to enjoy it with us. We spent the rest of the weekend settling into our new home and trying to rest before the busy week ahead.

Yesterday we attended orientation for the kids’ school. Calder will attend pre-school at Sojourn Academy and Samantha will be at Rayitos del Sol daycare. Although different names, they will be in the same building and on the same campus as us. Today, and for the rest of the week, we will be in orientation for our school, called Instituto de Lengua Espanola (ILE). Classes begin next Tuesday.

Overall, we are doing well. We do miss our family and friends, but are grateful to be able to use modern technology to see everyone. We are glad to be done traveling for a while, and feel like we’ve made our apartment a safe haven before the hectic nature of language learning really begins. We’ve been to a few parks with the kids and are navigating our way around on foot to the grocery stores. We have also been very blessed by the Morris and Halbert families. Having them here has made for the smoothest possible transition we can imagine.

Heather and the kids at Okayama Park

Heather and the kids at Okayama Park

Marcus & Calder at Okayama Park

Marcus & Calder at Okayama Park

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We appreciate all the prayer support we’ve received from you all. Keep ’em coming! Love to you all.

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Good-bye Cedar Park

Over the last year and a half our family has been planning, traveling, training, fundraising and looking toward the day we would leave our current lives and embark on the new adventure that would be our missionary future. Working out of our home in Cedar Park, there lingered a sense that we hadn’t quite started down the road God was calling us to. Yes, we know that all of our preparations are a part of our ministry to the corporate Church. All of our training, networking, fundraising and sharing of God’s work in Mexico with others is an outreach and part of the work of a missionary but still, we were called to go out and yet we were still at home.

As of yesterday, that has changed. Yesterday we finished packing up a month’s worth of clothes for the kids and ourselves and set off down the road, never to return to our house in the same capacity again. Today we are in Beaumont with Heather’s family, tomorrow there will be more fundraising and sharing at a new church on Sunday and then Monday we are off around the globe for cross cultural ministry training in Belgium. The difference is this time our final destination, after the training and the travel, isn’t “home,” it isn’t Cedar Park, its out “there,” out in the world. We will return to our house in a few weeks to finish packing, load the moving truck and say goodbye to our friends and family but we won’t be living there anymore. It will only be another stop along the way.

We were told to take time to say good-bye to the places and things we were going to miss. I’m not sure we have taken the time to do that. The finality of us leaving never really sunk in. Besides, there has been so much to do just to get down the road. Hopefully there will be enough time left when we return to properly pay our respects. If worst comes to worst, when we finally do arrive in Mexico, Cedar Park will only be a 6-hour drive away. It is also a blessing that technology today allows us to stay in touch with friends and family no matter where we are in the world. In that we take great comfort.

Perhaps Calder summed it up well, the way 3-year-olds do, as we all sat in the car yesterday preparing to pull out from our driveway. “I can’t wait to go on our Big Adventure,” he told us, “because I don’t want to live in our house anymore.” While we are sad to leave the people and the places we love, there is a definite sense of peace in moving forward in the direction God has been calling us. We are grateful for this missionary calling on our lives and grateful for God’s faithfulness to fulfill it.

 

 

 

 

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San Antonio

A few weeks ago we spent a 10-day stretch fundraising in San Antonio. In many ways it felt like a homecoming to us. While the time we spent there was full of hard work and many mission presentations, we also were able to spend a considerable amount of time catching up with old friends. We were even able to spend a day at Sea World; Calder is still talking about it.

As you may know, San Antonio is where Heather and I met; it is where we were married and where we still have many close friends. While we are still realizing the benefits of our fundraising efforts during that time, we can easily count our trip as a success. We were able to speak about our mission at both services of Redeemer Presbyterian Church (our “original” home church) as well as to their satellite campus in the Westover Hills neighborhood of San Antonio (Fun Fact: Redeemer’s Westover Hills campus is led by Manny Alaniz who also led Heather and my first community group as a couple in his early days of ministry). We were able to meet with people all through the week for lunches, dinners and desserts and share with them the wonderful work God is doing in Mexico through Isaiah 55 Ministries and how they can be a part of that work through their financial gifts, prayer and service.

We wanted to say a special “thank you” to all the friends who hosted us, arranged dinners and desserts and shared meals with us and all of those who came out to hear our message during our time there. We are so blessed to be a part of God’s great kingdom and to partake in so wonderful a community as we have in Him. None of what we are doing here would be possible without the lead of the Holy Spirit and all of your support. We will continue to thank God for you and to pray for you every step of our journey.

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Our Journey around the Southeast in Pictures

 

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The Lord’s Provision

We have been home now from our big fundraising trip for two weeks and we are just now feeling like we are getting our heads above the water. What an experience it has been taking such a long road trip with young kids. There were highs and lows along the way and the first week home that we set aside for rest and putting the household back in order was definitely needed. “Active recovery,” I believe, is what that’s called. We drove over 3500 miles stopping twice in Tennessee, twice in Georgia, twice in Florida, Alabama and then Beaumont Texas before finally heading home. God’s grace abounded on our trip; I know that because we survived it and made it home.

It is exciting to know we were able to share the vision of what God is doing in Reynosa, Mexico through Mission Isaiah 55 to a lot of new people. There are also a lot of new people who have now joined us on our journey, partnering with us through prayer and encouragement. We have even gained a few more monthly financial donors (which is some of the point of a fundraising trip, no?) We are now right at 60% of our needed monthly pledges. And, we still have more verbal commitments to follow up on!

So what is next for us? From the beginning of this support raising process, and even a little before, Heather and I have felt that part of our missionary calling was to the churches in our local, South Texas, area. Because Isaiah 55 and Reynosa are so accessible to this part of our state (less than a 5 hour drive from us), we have felt a burden to establish relationships with churches in this area and encourage them to participate in the work going on in Mexico; not only financially but also through summer mission trips. We are filling in our calendar with weekend trips all over South Texas to speak at churches and share the vision of God’s work we are headed to do.

Our goal now is to raise the final 40% of our financial need in the next three months before we leave for our Cross Cultural Ministry Internship training in July. To our eyes this is a daunting, near impossible task. An example from history of a similarly difficult task would be securing the release of 600,000 of God’s people from slavery in a foreign land. Perhaps you are reminded of a child who once slaughtered a giant of a man with only a small rock. Or this might bring to mind the story of an elderly man who herded two of every known land animal onto a barge he built and then lived on it with his family for more than a year; all before repopulating the earth. Of course we also know from history that no person could do any of those things. God did all of them and he will bring all of our support in at the right time. Please continue to pray with us that God’s right time will get us on the mission field as soon as possible. We are eager to begin the work he has laid before us there.

 

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The Trials on the Trip

Spiritual warfare is a term that most of us, especially in our western comfortable culture, don’t understand. Even for those of us who do experience it tend to write it off as coincidence or poor circumstance. I have heard stories from the spiritual front lines of scary confrontations with obviously demonic forces but that stuff doesn’t occur in our lives here, in the United States. Right?

When Heather and I were planning our long road trip for this month to fundraise and share about our ministry everything was going smoothly. Almost too smoothly. With almost no resistance, no complications, we planned each leg of our 3 ½ week tour of the U.S. Southeast. We were excited to get started.

Then it happened. The week we were to depart for our journey, Heather came down with the flu. Awful. She was down for the count for three days unable to do more than take care of baby Samantha and rest. I was trying to unpack from our previous trip, pack and prep for our up coming trip, care for Heather, care for Calder and we were trying to decide if we should leave on time, push the trip back or not go at all. Finally we decide to leave one day later than we had planned. The morning was a rush. Finish packing, load the car, get the kids ready to go. Our departure time was moving later and later, 3 year-old Calder was giving us extraordinary fits. Finally we are all in the car, I turn the key and… nothing. The battery was dead. I had just run the car the night before and I have no idea what happened to kill the battery overnight. I was able to jump start the car off my truck and we were on the road a little while later. The next three days of travel went surprisingly well but now we are sitting in the middle of the worst winter storm Tennessee has seen in years and we are looking for a clear window of weather in order to continue our trip.

So how are we to view these sorts of set backs and frustrations? If this was any other type of trip, non-missionary related, we might just say to ourselves “there’s a bunch of frustrating circumstances. Too bad.” But as it is, we have to call it what it is, spiritual warfare to frustrate our efforts to do God’s will and we pray, and ask others to pray, against it. 1 Peter 5:8 tells us: “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” Satan loves to find ways to raise our anxiety and put fear in our hearts. I know there are other Christians in this world suffering horrific outward oppression and suffering at the hand of Satan, but he is also called the deceiver and would love nothing more than to subtly trick us every day into thinking that God does not love and care for us. Every time little things happen along our journey and we question, “Does God really want us do to this? Will he really take care of us?” it’s like Satan telling Eve again, “You will not surely die [God has lied to you].”

We pray for our journey and yours that we always remember God’s faithfulness to us everyday. Even though we encounter trials and frustrations, big and small, we are called to live as sons of our living God, heirs in Christ Jesus, remembering our place in his kingdom.

1 Peter 4:12-13 – Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.

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Leaning on the Everlasting Arms

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The lake at Ridgehaven

The first week of this month we attended a week-long retreat through MTW called Living in Grace. It was held in Brevard, NC, a beautiful place nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

I must confess that my attitude initially going into this week was what I’d call “no bueno”! I was flustered because I thought this was something in which the whole family could go, but when I signed up online 6 weeks prior I realized that we couldn’t bring children. Fortunately, my dear in-laws could keep our son. Unfortunately, it meant spending a day’s time driving to Colorado with a potty-training toddler and a very pregnant me, and then turning around the following day to fly to North Carolina from Colorado. The logistics seemed daunting to me, and I already felt tired and drained. Tired and drained mostly from the thoughts floating in my head these last few months: “You’re failing in every role you play right now,” pretty much sums up my destructive thoughts. Blame it on pregnancy hormones, the devil, some combination of things, etc., any which way you sliced it, I was in a bad way.

Looking back on how I felt (and the adjectives I used in the previous paragraph) pointed to my need for the week focused on grace and the restfulness of a retreat! And by God’s grace, that is exactly what I got.

Restfulness came in the form of waking up every morning to the peaceful sounds of the woods and a view of the lake, 3 meals a day that I didn’t have to plan, prepare, serve or clean up after, uninterrupted conversations with my husband, a little hiking and enjoying fellowship with other missionaries in the same stage as us, as well as some veteran missionaries.

Perhaps the greatest restfulness came in the form of the focus on grace. I quickly realized that out of my desire for control and approval I had been operating with a spirit of self-sufficiency and pride—a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality, and it was sucking the joy out of my life. The song “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” came to mind because I knew that it was in the strong arms of Christ which I needed to be relying, not my own. The first verse and chorus go like this:

What a fellowship, what a joy divine, leaning on the everlasting arms;
What a blessedness, what a peace is mine, leaning on the everlasting arms.

Leaning, leaning, safe and secure from all alarms;
Leaning, leaning, leaning on the everlasting arms.

 Words: E. Hoffman; Music: A. Showalter

Leaning on the everlasting arms of Christ I find joy divine and peace is mine! Oh, how I needed this message. Oh, how I needed those everlasting arms to reassure me that there is nothing that I can do to make Christ love me any less or any more. He has already paid the price for me, and I can rest in Him.

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The view from our room.

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Enjoying a light hike up to a waterfall at Ridgehaven.

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Please, Just show up

But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” Luke 18:16-17

I don’t know what it is exactly that causes me to expect that, as a newly minted missionary, I should have some great physical, intellectual or spiritual contribution to every ministry focused activity I show up to. Perhaps it’s my maleness or handymanness or just my humanness. The truth is that recently with life, work, mission training, support raising, 2-year-old child rearing, and us having a new one on the way in November, I have just been a whole lot of tired and it has been difficult just to show up, let alone contribute greatness.

So, two weeks ago when our family left town with our friends at Christ the King Church–Austin, and a few other churches, to spend the next 7 days working in Reynosa, Mexico at the mission where we eventually will be serving full-time, I was afraid that just showing up would be my greatest contribution for the week. Maybe it was, and maybe that was enough.

If I took anything away from our most recent trip to Isaiah 55 it was this, a reminder that Christ is building His Church, we just need to show up. Now, obviously, we are all called to do more than just show up, but that is the first step. Over that week I saw a little girl just thrilled to have someone throw a ball with her, kids playing joyfully with each other without a common language, sinks got fixed, trash got moved, fences painted. I watched as a man met, for the first time, a student that he had been sponsoring, and later heard about how he could truly feel Christ’s unconditional love when he hugged that boy. I learned how we, as a group of believers from different backgrounds and different churches, renewed others faith in summer mission trips like these, just because we showed up and loved each other.

“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:35

Did I make any great contribution on our trip? I showed up and I know that God is doing great things everyday in Reynosa. He is doing them through His Church, through Isaiah 55 Ministries and through the church teams that serve there every year. Our family is extraordinarily blessed to have been called to show up to Isaiah 55 every day and to watch God’s work unfold before us. I hope, if you ever have the opportunity to show up as well, that you won’t miss the chance.

-Marcus

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