I’ve discussed much the importance of witnessing, as I feel it is the backbone of Christianity. God has created us as a social creature; meant to live and love as a community. Witnessing is that simple and most elegant order of communication that brings us together as one body in Christ. Throughout my first two years of being a new Christian, I have tasked myself to seeking the liberty of witnessing my faith to others. Each of us are unique and so it is that we find our own expression of witnessing as we are most comfortable, but it is mandatory that we seek God’s comfort and not our own as our inclined demeanors can bring us quite short of our true potential to witness. We should always seek that potential and never be content with the easy.
As I matured in my Christian faith, it began to become a reality that God was calling me to more than my easy witness; that stretch of my hand first, then my arm. God wanted more from me; to show me His power within me and His desire that I use His measure as He has allotted it, not as I might choose to use it. He wanted me to reach out with both arms, and so I knew this growth needed to be sought.
Kathryn & I have been most fortunate that our growth in Christ had been greatly funded by a few small, lay ministries that were in our church. One such is Patricia Hilliard Ministries. Patricia is one of God’s encouragers; as a friend, a Life Coach, a speaker and teacher, and as a fearless missionary. We have both benefited from those gifts within her, and through her encouragement we have grown as God has intended us to do so.
In July 2011, we found that growth opportunity to reach out with both arms to witness through an evangelical mission trip to Puntarenas, Costa Rica; one Patricia had developed in association with Cal Montenegro of Shepherd Network. This trip would take twelve missionaries into the neighborhoods of a port city on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, with the purpose of witnessing God’s Word in our lives and exhorting the citizens of this city to consistently seek out Christ in their lives. It would be a four-day, non-stop push into multiple local churches, a hospital, an orphanage, a prison, both a men’s and women’s conferences, and finally to an open-air church on the top of a mountain. Morning, afternoon, and evening became appointments on our calendar.
This trip I knew was more God’s plan than mine. While I have tested out to have evangelical gifts, I have always believed myself to be thoroughly unworthy to speak for Christ, and that had always been my problem; I had always thought I was to do the speaking, and that God would rise or fall upon my words. Well, in that context we all are unworthy to speak for Christ, but should we give ourselves over to what the Holy Spirit has to say we would find out that we could go on for hours. This is what I was about to intersect in my life; that point where I give up trying to do things for God by myself, and let Him do the talking through me. Witnessing, evangelization is not about man reaching up, but rather about God reaching down.
On the 27th of July, we all left for Costa Rica. Upon arrival at the San Jose airport, Wilmer Godoy, a Pastor from Honduras, was there to meet us along with Pastor Rodolfo, who drove the mini-bus from the airport to Puntarenas. Our ride to Puntarenas brought us to a large house where we could all stay, and we had the most helpful services of a few local cooks who would keep our table full of wonderful things to eat during our down time, while our up time I knew would be a spiritual feast. Many of the local Pastors came by that evening to meet us, and to set the mood for the next few days. Even the mayor, Senor Franceschi, showed up for the gathering. Personally, I turned in rather early that evening, as I was a bit nervous of what was to come the next morning. We were to visit a hospital first thing; to pray for the sick and injured.
Our destination the next morning, the 28th of July, was Monsignor Sanabria Hospital, a one-time Catholic Hospital. The facility was in a thorough state of disrepair, with paint peeling off the walls, exposed electrical wiring in the rooms, rusted hospital beds and stained bed sheets, and pigeons walking about the hallways; more numerous than the nurses.
After necessary introductions with the hospital administration, we were led to the fifth floor where the maternity and oncology wards resided. The rooms were arranged with eight beds along the two opposing walls; no curtaining between, and few necessities like proper lighting and monitoring equipment. In the maternity ward, we met and prayed for young women; really young teenagers for the most part. By American standards, this was a most upsetting situation to see the obvious unsanitary conditions that these girls were facing in their moment of most need. Heartbreaking was the word to describe things.
There was the joy of new mothers and the tragedy of prospective mothers facing the possibility or certainty of their child’s terminal nature. At one point, I came to the bedside of a very young, dark-haired girl who looked to my prayers for her baby within. She had been in the hospital for a few days now, waiting for some word from the doctors as to the mortality of her baby. There had been no sign of life this past day, and she was rightfully scared that her baby had died. One can feel most helpless at these moments, for man can do little other than his science and his encouragement. I could only encourage, but the Holy Spirit can do so much more, so I turned to Him for the right words and prayed for her baby’s life. Soon I moved on as there were many beds with many young women.
The oncology ward was equally a spiritual task to persevere through, and also inspirational. We met a couple of men, strong in their faith and patient in the Lord’s work to heal them. One man came up to us and showed us his abscesses, so that we knew what to pray for in his need.
After some time on the fifth floor, we ventured up to the sixth, and while first standing in the hallway, I happened to look down the hall and see a young woman quickly walking our way. I sensed she was seeking us out, so I called for one of our interpreters to engage her in conversation. She was quite animated in telling us that her brother, Domingo, needed desperately our prayers, as he had consumed poison after his wife had left him the night before.
When we arrived in his room, the sweat, the fear, and the smell of death was upon him. His body system was shutting down, with death possible at any time. His sister and mother, in attendance, were Christians, but he was not. His lips were burnt where the poison had passed, and his insides burned where ever the poison went. His eyes searched for some event that would take this all away; pleading and desperate.
While four of us came around his bedside, Eddie, one of our team and fluent in Spanish, took on the duty of talking to this young man; inviting him to seek Christ with all of his heart and to embrace Him with his spirit. The young man needed to know that he could do nothing without Christ, and that with Christ in his life, all things were possible. As Eddie talked softly, yet with urgency, I watched Domingo’s eyes repent and his face grow calmer. It was amazing how this young man sought out Jesus at a time when there was little he could do, he thought, to save his life. If he was to die, here and now, then let it be with the Christ. We all prayed for his healing. We comforted the sister and the mother, and by the time we left this young man, he was racing to get his confession out for God’s forgiveness. Our tears between us flowed for some time as we moved on with our work.
First Night of Testimonies
We returned to our residence that afternoon, got a brief rest and some food, and then prepared for the evening’s work. Our mission team of twelve broke into three groups. We each were assigned to a local church where two of us four would have the opportunity to evangelize the congregation. Joyce, from Tree of Life Church, headed one team that included Karla, an Oncologist from Honduras, Kathryn and I. This would be my first experience of a gathering of Christians from a different culture, and I quickly found myself immersed in a praise & worship of God that included singing and dancing in the aisles. Later, when the Pastor had finished with his sermon, he turned to an introduction of us and, with that said, Karla came to the lectern to speak.
Karla chose to speak on something of her own experience; that being her struggle with her own health. She talked long on the magnificence of prayer and God’s covenantal response. He had healed her so she may continue to do her work for others.
Soon afterwards, the Pastor made an altar call for those wishing prayer from us. I have seen this before, gone up to receive prayer before, but now God asked more of me. Now He wanted me to help others. By the time it was over, it was about 10:00pm, and we went onto another church where there was a dinner prepared for us all. Got home around 11:30; and we all disappeared to our bedrooms to get our own healing – a good night’s sleep.
At some point in the early morning hours of sleep on the 29th of July, I awoke, lying in my room. I spent a few minutes looking upward in the dimly-lit darkness and thought of the events from the day before; thanking God for all He had done and had shown me. I then closed my eyes to the expectant deeper darkness of sleep, but I did not receive such a familiar encounter:
The Willing Tree
What I received instead was a vision that flashed into my consciousness; that of a sunlit meadow. It was quite serene and beautiful, with a gently rolling landscape of green grass before my eyes. In the distance – at a point where I could take in the whole image, but still close enough to appreciate the detail – stood a tree. This tree was tall, mature, and well-rounded. It was full of lush, green leaves, and large, trumpet-like, white flowers began to sprout out, covering the tree’s foliage.
It was just at that moment, after I fully recognized and appreciated what I was looking at, that the tree’s branches – from top to bottom – seemed to ‘bow’ and then slowly right themselves in unison. Once done, the white flowers then gently began to cascade to the meadow floor, and upon their landing there began to appear more white flowers; these arising from the meadow grass itself. More flowers appeared on the meadow grass and they soon spread beyond the tree’s perimeter.
At that point, I opened my eyes to the familiar, dimly-lit bedroom and began to put to order what I had just seen….
The meadow is Puntarenas, and perhaps in a larger context, the world. It is God’s world – His creation – so light infuses all of the meadow with clarity and color. In God’s kingdom, man can see and understand the full reality of God’s grace and love, and at the same time understand the detail of all of God’s creations. It is as if ‘dimension’ is different when in God’s presence; allowing all to be in focus at the same time.
The tree is our mission team, and perhaps in a larger context, the faithful stewards of God’s creation. We are those willing spirits eager to submit to His life-enriching will; obeying His call to witness to all of humanity. We are the branches of the one body with the Christ as its trunk; firmly planted in the soil of the rich meadow. Life gives life.
The green leaves denote our healthy nature when in union as one body, for through Christ we are regenerated – redeemed from our death – and partaking in the symbiotic relationship with all of God’s world. As man breathes God’s air and man receives his nourishment from God’s land, so do these leaves.
The white flowers denote our blossoming as Christians, and our many testimonies of witness of God’s wonder; His grace and His love for all of humanity and creation. The white flowers are lilies, and the history of this flower is replete with meaning to both Christians and Jews, as well as many other cultures. The Lily was a popular flower in the ancient Jewish civilization and is mentioned in the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. With Christianity, the lily became the symbol of chastity, purity, innocence, virtue, and resurrection. The lily is said to have sprung from the tears of Eve as she was expelled from the Garden of Eden. To dream of lilies in spring (the meadow) foretells marriage, happiness and prosperity.
The ‘bow’ is our willing submission to God. This is a humbling of ourselves to His will and mission at this time in our lives. This is our recognition of Christ’s call as noted in Matthew 28:19-20:
19 “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Within this context, it is easy to understand the gentle cascade of the white flowers to the meadow floor. This is our response and obedience to God’s will; our witnessing, testimony and prayer for the people of Puntarenas and the world. It is to be done in love; sharing the richness of our relationship with God with all those we meet on this mission trip and forever more.
Our promise – our covenant with God – ensures the fruitfulness of our efforts. There springs forth white flowers from the meadow grass, adding onto our own; symbolizing the fruit that shall be born from our efforts. These new flowers spread out from underneath the protection of the tree’s branches and into the full sunshine of God’s light and into the world; symbolizing the desire of the newly faithful to reach out to the seeking and the lost for the unity of the body; to share the good news of God’s love and His eschatological fulfillment to come.
After rising from that vision, and as dawn crept overhead, I walked the shore to think it all through and set this vision in my mind as a reminder for all my days ahead.
Our ministry that morning took us back to the hospital for a little more work. When we heard this – those of us who had prayed and comforted the young man, Domingo – were anxious to close the door on our concerns. If he was still alive we would find him in bed number 606. You can imagine each of our hopes; knowing that God works things out not always to our understanding. After meeting with the hospital chaplain in the community room, we were allowed to separate from the rest for a moment to seek Domingo out.
The wall from the hall into the hospital room, where bed 606 was located, was glass. Bed 606 was the nearest to the glass wall, so we knew the truth of God’s work in life and death would immediately consume us as we approached the doorway. Miracles are miracles, and man can never be fully prepared for one.
There was Domingo, happy and rested; sitting up in his bed. He saw us and his eyes grew bright with joy and his lips opened wide to a grin of recognition. It was amazing; a miracle. Domingo was healed. His Doctors had predicted his death, and here was life; much to their amazement. We had an animated chat for some time. Domingo’s brother was there, and they both professed that the medicines had done little. It was when we had come in on Thursday, brought him home to Jesus, and prayed our healing prayers that he began to heal. Domingo praised Jesus, and promised to dedicate his life to Him forever; giving strong witness to all who were in beds near to his of the healing powers of Christ.
This was the first time I have seen my God do the thing that He finds natural and man denies its existence – to heal what is we believe to be an impossible situation and restore life through faith in Him. I don’t think I’ll doubt God anymore.
The Prison in Puntarenas
After the hospital, a bit of lunch back at the house, and then a decision…. to the orphanage or to the prison. I had seen the prison a few times as we drove around town. It was something out of a penal colony in the 1800’s; crude, angry-looking, with a lot of barbed wire and watch towers. There was nothing on American television – none of those reality prison shows – that looked anything like this. I’m not sure where Kathryn’s head was, but I wanted her to see this as a comparison to the prisons in Collier County. Kathryn does ministry work at the Collier County jail. We went with Cal and Wilmer. Sandy came also, as did Eddie.
Now Cal is a pure evangelist; his emotions always ready to get into the fray of extolling God’s wonder on this earth to anyone who would listen. Wilmer is the joyful, singing, guitar-playing evangelist; always breaking into song and encouraging others to join in.
From the moment we entered, Wilmer broke into song with his guitar, and we all joined in as we crossed the grounds towards an ominous-looking building of raw concrete block and tin roof. We entered and before our eyes was a small lobby space and a heavy row of bars that separated us from a cramped room with sky lighting. Inside this room were all sorts of man; mostly shirtless, muscled, sweaty, macho, doing the chin ups on the rafter joists, and engaging in a form of fútbol on the concrete floor. This was a scene not to be forgotten. The threat was clear and palpable in our mouths, and I could see the concern on all of our faces. Cal, at one point, turned from the bars and walked up to me. “I have been in prisons before in Central America, and this is a tough prison.” Cal remarked.
We were led to a small, square, concrete block room with several rows of old-fashioned, wooden school desks. Encircling the room was a built-in, concrete bench. We sat on the bench, in the front corner, and soon an oversize inmate, baseball cap turned and heavily tattooed, came in and he shook our hands. As he proceeded to the back, to stand on the bench, many more began to proceed into the room and occupy the desk seats and bench seating.
The room filled to its capacity, and we found ourselves in a position of some intimidation; vastly outnumbered and sensing that the few guards beyond the door were of little assurance of our safety.
One inmate had shuffled in, and upon seeing Sandy and Kathryn, immediately occupied a seat within lunging distance of them. I could see the look on his face – demonic – and as the service began, I decided to keep a discrete yet constant watch on this fellow. The prison chaplain talked for a few minutes and during that time I glanced continually to this man who had not taken his eyes off Sandy and Kathryn for a moment. Cal was sitting next to me, and I suddenly realized that Cal was up on his feet. He took Sandy’s arm and moved her next to me, and sat himself down where she had been sitting. He had been watching this man also and decided that prevention was the better course.
When it was Cal’s turn to speak, he got up and delivered a passionate sermon that I had never seen anything like before. He immediately got in the face of that obsessed fellow and kept the pressure on, not only on him, but everyone else. This was not a passive call to Christ, this was an impassioned call. Cal exhorted and whirled about with a destination that quickly captivated all the inmates in the room. Clapping, chants, praise quickly rose, and the room filled with everyone’s voices.
I was exhausted just watching Cal, and soon he made a call for the inmates to come to Christ and give themselves over to Him. Thirteen came up immediately, then an extra-large black man, who had been sitting in the front row near Kathryn, and who had been crying for some time, came up (to Kathryn’s joy for she had been praying for him), and was followed by one more. Fifteen in all. Cal delivered the words of acceptance like I had never heard before; the strength, the determination for these men to repent and receive Christ with passion and love. Amazing grace.
We left shortly afterwards; stopping once to bless the entire prison, and walked out to Wilmer’s never-ending, extolling song of praise. We went back to the house for dinner.
To Libertad 81
After dinner, the team began to gather and decide how we would break up into teams for the evening visits to the local churches. Kathryn and I were to go with Joyce again, and Tammy, Sandy’s sister, was going with us. As we enjoyed fellowship in the living room, I could see that Patricia had her attention in my direction. I knew where this was going, as it had been strong in my heart that tonight would be the night for my first walk to the lectern. With her Cheshire smile she let me rest in those thoughts and chose not to engage me, just yet.
As we were ready to go, our team was near the door, and here comes Patricia. She walks up to me, looks at me, and I say, “I know.” We laughed as how God works us together. So we broke up into our three teams; as we did for Thursday evening. We went with Pastor Ricardo to his church in Libertad 81. This is a barrio that fought to attain its identity back in the nineteen seventies, when the government was trying to keep this community from developing. Well, they won their recognition and liberty in 1981.
I spoke first with Daniel as my interpreter, and spoke on the power of faith and love joined together in Christ; the beginning in Christ as faith, and the end in Christ as love. I include it here:
My Greeting to the Costa Ricans Puntarenas – July 2011
My words here, for you, are not of my own, though I am going to speak them in my own manner. My words to come are those from a man named Ignatius. This man was the third bishop of Antioch, a city north of Jerusalem by 532 kilometers, a few decades after the resurrection and ascension into heaven of our Lord, Jesus Christ. He was a student of John the Apostle, and tradition says that he was one of the children Jesus took in His arms and blessed.
In the final decades of the first century after Christ, Ignatius wrote a series of letters to churches in Asia – just as Paul the Apostle had done before him. It is from his letter to the church in Ephesus that I model my words for this service.
Please, do not look upon me as some ordained minister, well-practiced and knowledgeable in the Word of God. I am not, but I am bound to Christ through my revelation from God that transformed me forever. I am no more perfect than you. Consider me your fellow disciple; one who yearns to learn the Word and be obedient to God’s will, and so please listen to me as your brother.
Coming here to Puntarenas gives me great inspiration to the task before me, and I can pursue this task because of your faith, your exhortation, your patience and your long-suffering. These things strengthen me and pushes me forward. For that I thank you and I bless you.
In love I therefore cannot be silent with you, nor can I sit to the side while the race is run. Instead, I wish to exhort you to run the race for Christ with me, as God’s will commands us to do. Our lives, together in Christ, are inseparable and the will of our Father.
Our race together is as one body – one Church subjected to its authority – as found in Christ, our High-Priest, and beneath Him, the ordained authority of your church. Your church leaders are the harps of the angels and you are the strings fitted upon those harps – all playing thus in harmonious love and thus Jesus Christ is sung in exaltation.
And in so doing, we are a choir – melodious and unified – in the harmonic glory of God – one voice through Christ to the Father so that He may be pleased with your voice, and know by your works that you are in Christ as one.
Here, I wish to caution you to singular pride as you seek the Lord, for one who does things in the flesh, cannot do those same things in the spirit, nor can the reverse be true. The things of the spirit cannot be of the flesh. So I plead onto you all to observe carefully your thoughts, your words, and your deeds as constant Christians, and submit yourself to the grace, charity, and forgiveness of God.
And even more, be sure to push away all sin; turn your heads away and listen not to those who would teach you things that would lead you away from Christ. Pay no heed to those who would cast stones for they suffer the same sins within themselves that brings their condemnations upon others.
Rather, pray unceasing for the salvation of the seeking and the lost. Repentance is there for us all; but a short reach to the hand of God. Let your words and actions give all hope of a better world.
Be meek in response to their wrath. Be humble in opposition to their boasting. Take their accusations and hatred, and return only prayer. While they stumble in their faith, be steadfast in your faith. And when they give you their cruelty, show them your gentleness.
Let us not imitate the sinful conduct of others, and yet you must not leave them to their death. Be in fellowship in all true love so that they may see no evil in you or the body of Christ – true holiness and righteousness of the flesh and the spirit.
Each one of you can give power and authority to the other in coming together to give praise to God, to worship God, and give thanks to God. For in being together in the body of Christ all powers of Satan oppressed upon the person is banished, and Satan’s intent to destroy all mankind is prevented by the unity of your faith and love.
In your unity – in loving relationship with God – all things are possible. In your unity – in loving relationship with God – peace is more than a dream; it is a reality. In your unity – in loving relationship with God – prosperity is but to reach out to your neighbor, and with such heaven and earth are one.
Each one of you must strive to faith and love; must endure all trials, and climb over all obstacles to be one in Christ, for He is the beginning for you and He is the end that gives you eternal life in heaven after this flesh is gone. Your beginning is in faith. Your end is in love.
These two qualities – joined together – are of God, and shall transform you into the likeness of Christ; revealing all hidden things to you so that you may know peace. All other qualities that are part of a good and holy life are born from these two joined qualities, and no man living obedient to these two qualities will be left in sin and death, or in hatred of another man.
The tree is judged by its fruit. A seed may transform into a young tree, and that youth of a tree may grow to its full height someday, but will that tree develop its full maturity so that it may bring forth the measure of which God intended for you? Will your fruit be born so that others may find life in your fruit? Life is to bring forth life, but it cannot do so through death – that being the rejection of Christ and the disobedience to God’s will. Your words and actions declare your Christianity. You can no longer walk through this death you call life simply within your selfishness. Instead, let faith and love take you by the hand and walk you with Christ.
Now, through your declaration of the good Word of God, Jesus Christ, that you speak to others there is no power in those words unless they are joined in the good works of your unity in faith and love. All mankind finds completeness in word and deed, and teaching through that unity, your words become living and true. Live chaste in Christ for He is the one teacher over us all who spoke and it was done. Live open to Christ and you shall even hear Him in His silence, and silence will be holy onto you.
Nothing is hidden from God. Your very secrets are laid before Him at all times; even before you know them yourself. He knows the map before it is drawn, and He knows your course before you are born in this world. So it is only perfect to live as His temple; to be one in Christ so that your radiance will speak to others as God Himself. And for this we love Him so. Oh, how we love Him.
God made His Son known to the world for the renewal of eternal life. From the virginity of Mary, mother of Jesus, came the end to man’s fatal struggle with God’s will. Here now, with the birth of Christ, is a star shining forth from heaven above all other stars; a radiant peace showing forth to the astonishment of man. All the stars and planets give praise to this radiant Lord, and there comes an excitement – a wind of the Holy Spirit flowing though all mankind – that is marvelously new for this world.
With this coming, all warning was given to deceit, wickedness, ignorance, and other evils. The old kingdom of Satan was given its final days. “God Himself being manifested in human form for the renewal of eternal life.” (Ignatius of Antioch)
Later that evening the altar call came and we worked God’s plan through the whole congregation. It was really touching with so many children to bless and heal their young wounds. I was beginning to understand my role in the prayer for others, and I found that I was discerning people’s problems and needs.
After the service, the Pastor was so kind. He had prepared for each of us ice cream sundaes with peaches, chocolate syrup and cookies straws. Things settled down by 11:30pm, and sleep called us all home. Saturday morning was coming, and the Men’s and Women’s Conferences were on the schedule next.
Saturday, the 30th comes. It’s time to get a fast shower, put some breakfast into each of us, and then it’s off to our respective Conferences. Patricia really has her girls ready; the excitement was palpable and very noisy. With Cal and the other men a more staid and determined atmosphere exists to carry God’s Word out to the Men’s Conference.
The Men’s Conference
It always amazes me the crude, simple use of building spaces amidst the commercial landscape in which we keep finding the house of God. This time it seemed to be some abandoned car dealership; converted to His purpose. When we got there, the service had just started, many men were in attendance, and I could immediately feel the Holy Spirit very strong within these men.
They were there in true willingness, true obedience to the Lord, and in no time at all we were drawn into the praise and worship. These services carry an intimate fellowship that I do not normally feel in America, though I am fresh at this all. The rawness and open expression is quite something. It is truly a force that flows from Him for it humbles everyone and draws them to worship freely.
Cal was the featured speaker, and he preached a very powerful word. He covered the world in God’s determined fight to save all mankind, and how man must make a decision to put aside false worship and find the true faith. Cal asked me to come forward, introducing me as a new Christian, and permitted me to tell the story of Domingo in the hospital. Cal knows I am in the hands of God’s anointed ones to assist with their work, and I was felt honored to have this opportunity.
Near the end, Cal called us all forward, and we finished with our commitment to serve God; singing in praise with arms locked together in rows that swayed from right to left in God’s harmony. Really sweet!
A few men approached me afterwards to have me write my name on their programs, and one asked for a healing prayer, noting that he has had intestinal problems and pain. The doctors have never resolved the chronic problem, and he hoped that God may do the work they could not. I felt a strong sense to pray for this man alone, and asked the interpreter to stay away to the side. Language comprehension here was not necessary, for my prayer would go to God, not this man, and it was God who would do the healing, so the man was to receive this from God and not from me. I prayed for a few minutes with my hands upon this man, hugged him, and we left for a late lunch at the house.
The Evening Fiesta
By the middle of the afternoon, we began to assemble for the evening fiesta at the local fútbol (soccer) field. We left for the event shortly after 5:00pm, piled into a small bus, and arrived in about 15 minutes. The fiesta was just getting underway with the music and flag teams. There were already a few thousand people ringing the flag teams and directing their attention to the raised stage just flanking the center of the field.
All of the churches had sent their flag teams; filling the whole center of this field. Each team was brightly dressed in uniforms, and each team was doing their own choreography to the vibrant music. When it comes to music and Christianity, here in Costa Rica, it is a lively joining of culture and religion, where there is a joyous shout of praise, praise, praise!
As our team came walking along the side of the field, approaching the stage, a young woman walked up to me, and began to speak with vibrant animation. Her face was happy and shining bright. Luckily, my translator was with me – Danilo.
She asked if I remembered her. There was a familiarity to her face, but to be honest, so much had gone on the last few days, and I had talked to and prayed for so many people, yet I knew somehow I was about to learn more of the power of God. She was the young woman I had spent some time with in the hospital on Thursday. She had been in the maternity ward with a problem with her expectant baby. There had been no movements, no sounds from the baby for the past day and the doctors had feared the worst. The doctors had told her that the baby was most likely dead, and hope was most likely a sad path to take.
She went on to tell me that I had come to her bedside and told her that the baby would be alright. Further, that I had laid my hand upon her abdomen, and prayed for the baby’s life. She was here to tell me that when the doctors came afterwards to do their last test, they found that the baby was alive and well. Praise God!
It was at this same time, as I was listening to Danilo’s translation, that an older man walked up to me and began to excitedly talk. Now I knew this man. He was from the Men’s Conference this Saturday morning. I had spent a few minutes with him at the end of the Conference; just as I was about to leave. He had the intestinal problem, and he was here now, at this fiesta, telling me that he was healed. All discomfort and pain was gone. His appetite was back, and he wanted so to tell me.
Two people, who I had prayed for God’s intervention into their lives, had found their independent ways to this fiesta, had seen me walk along the fútbol field at the same time, and both came to me with their healing stories. I’ll tell you, I floated. I danced through the rest of the fiesta. God’s work is mighty! He was giving me a confirmation that I shall never put away.
The concert went on until 9:30pm. We had several, well-known musicians and singers driving the crowd through their strong praise of God and His wonders. There was a superb trumpet player, a charismatic singer who got all of the teenage girls swooning, there was Wilmer Godoy, and finally there was a Christian techno-rap group – very cool.
These days have become so rich in experience that they seem to melt together as a dream melts from scene to scene, but while dreams of the mind are surreal, these dreams of physical experience with the Holy Spirit are so very real.
The Church at Miramar
The final morning of our mission work in Puntarenas, the 31st of July, has our chef making us all breakfast. Kathryn is down at the ocean doing her morning praise and prayer. Patricia is charging about in her animated, joyful haze. Cal is off to the radio station for a morning address to all of Puntarenas, and this day is beautiful! We are to go to an open-air church at the top of a nearby mountain for morning service. Can’t wait! It will take us through rolling, rural lands that slowly rise from sea level, and then take a turn for the more vertically-pitched approach. The country-side is gorgeous. The tree-shaded road is in good condition, and the views from the bus are dramatic ones of farmland, valleys, heavy forestation, and mountain tops. Villages are many; each lining the main road, and you can see a communal atmosphere within each town.
We finally come to a mountain top called Miramar, with the bus pulling us all up the final meters of steep incline, only to settle into a parking area in front of an open-air church. A few rows of chairs have been reserved for us at the front; before the musicians and the altar. I have learned there is a culture of music in these Costa Rican churches that is lively and celebratory. It can go on for quite a while, with only a few nods to a more serene nature of worship.
There was a large area before the altar that was open floor, and many people were taking advantage of this space by coming out from their seats and praising the Lord; some standing, some kneeling, some prostrate on the floor face down. On occasion, you could hear the blowing of the shofar by a young man situated back in the middle of the seating area.
There is a strong connection to Judaism in all of the evangelistic churches in Puntarenas. I do not know if it is universal to all in Costa Rica, but I will be doing a bit of research on this subject. The Star of David is everywhere, along with the menorah, and certain lettering or words in Hebrew. The music, at times, also seems to have a rhythm and beat that is very reminiscent of Jewish music.
Two young men were setting the sermon into motion; going through the informative message of who would be speaking. With their introduction, Cal got up and wasted no time in moving into his message. He likes to take current events – the things that have been taking place in our mission trip – in which to form his message to the congregation. This time was no different, and soon into the message I could tell he focused on my experience with the two people who had come to me at the fiesta the night before. Cal wanted the people to know of the power of God, and how He will confirm His greatness to us constantly – in this case the two coming to tell me of the miracles in their lives that came about through our convergence through God.
Cal then invited Henriette to come forward. She has a dramatic, gospel-like voice that soars to the rafters. We all listened to her sing and blend God’s message into her soul searching endeavor. Cal fell right into harmony with her work and it was a fitting finish to see the two carry the message to the congregation.
It was with all of this, and the hearing of my recent revelations of God’s healing powers, that there began a seed of doubt in my mind about it all. Not that the healings I was involved with did not take place, but rather that I certainly could not have been God’s choice for such miraculous action on His part. There simply is no worthiness within me to warrant God’s use of me.
It was at that moment of approaching doubt that words came to me. God told me that He had given me a jewel; His gift to me for this time. He did not want me to put this jewel away for safe keeping within me, but rather to show it to everyone and share it with everyone. I could do no less than God asked, and I felt an inner peace that I knew would help me greatly in the hour ahead. The altar call came.
Our ministry team came to the front and took on our work. This must have gone on for about an hour. For me, this was not a time of blessings for many in the advancing crowd, but instead an internal time of insight and reflection into the lives of each person who I either singled out, or one who tapped me on my shoulder and asked for prayer. The process was draining, and I found myself going back to the altar several times to submit myself to Him in order that He may renew my soul for further work.
It was somewhere in the middle of this time that a man, probably around forty years old, appeared before me and began to speak in very good English. This man had something to talk to me about that I felt was private to him, and was perhaps something he did not want to talk about with a member of his congregation or the other team members.
He started by asking for a prayer for his wife. She was experiencing pain in her left shoulder and arm. The doctors had no diagnosis, and the pain was not going away. She was moody and unhappy. His wife was not here though, so he wanted me to pray for her through him. He then went on to tell me about a dizziness he was experiencing, and an upset nature within himself. To be honest, I knew what was coming next.
He confessed that he was a truck driver, and he would be gone from his wife frequently, on the road for three or four days at a time. He found temptation in his life – pornography – but wanted to let me know that he had not “done anything yet”. I took this to mean he had not advanced theses urges into anything graver than temptation.
I was given a clear vision of this man’s spiritual illness, and began to preach, rather than pray, to this illness. I told him of his responsibilities to his own healing and that of his wife’s. God was not going to do all of the work here. God expected this man do the ‘lifting’; that it was his responsibility to submit to God’s will, to give up man’s will, and to be the head of the family. God told this man that he must come to this altar – here in this church – continually. He must go to his knees, and he must ask forgiveness. In seeking out God, with each step he takes, he will find renewal and healing. He will find a release from his pain, and he will find the joy in being a servant of God.
This message, I told him, was for his wife also. There would be no separate prayer for her, for the two are joined as one. God told this man that he must go home and tell his wife everything that was said to him here at the altar, that he must bring her to this church and the two of them, together, must kneel at the altar so He may cleanse them both and bring healing. There was no more that needed to be said. We hugged. He moved back. I moved on.
At the end of the call I was exhausted and began to retreat to my seat that seemed a mile away. As I crossed the space in front of the altar, there on the floor – collapsed – was the man whom I had engaged so strongly. His tears flowed and his prayer to God was fervent and purposeful. I knelt next to him and hugged him; acknowledging his submission to God and God’s pleasure in his repentance. Service ended a few minutes later. All told, it had lasted three hours.
We all thought we were heading back to the house, but Wilmer and Cal had other ideas….
We found ourselves traveling to a small village, and parking next to a simple church. Like most churches in Costa Rica, there was no window glass and thus no air conditioning. Amongst the trees nearby was a crude structure of tin roof and a simple post & beam construction holding the roof up in place. Underneath were at least a hundred people in celebration and fellowship. The BBQ grills were fired up, tortillas were being made, the corn was steaming to perfection, cups of ceviche were being passed, and our appetites got going.
Live music came floating out of the church where musicians had set themselves up with a PA system, and we entertained not only by the locals, but Wilmer got up and had a hilarious time singing with the children and giving us all a good-natured taunting. Cal came out at one point and danced his Colombian Salsa before us all to shouts and laughter!
It really was an amazing afternoon. The people, the whole event, were so refreshingly simple and honest. This community saw a Sunday afternoon as a time to get together and give thanks to God for all of the riches He gives unto them. I think we finally got out of there around 5:00pm. Sunday evening was to be ours to enjoy together back at the house. Monday morning would come soon enough, and our travel back to Naples would begin.
How does one sum up such an experience? To say it was a learning curve in my walk with God diminishes the all-inclusive nature in which God works. In its essence, this experience was a confirmation to me of how God meshes all things together into an infinite opportunity for all men and women to make real access to Him, and to know that a path exists that leads one directly into a close relationship with God.
But this is not simply for one’s own personal redemption and enjoyment. This is God’s singular plan from the beginning; that all mankind will be part of God’s eschatological intent for the world. He entwines us all into one purpose, and calls us all to live in His Spirit and not in our flesh. Only there can we find peace with one another, respect and love.
I’d like to close this post with a short video from our Sunday afternoon fiesta at that small church. As you can see, Cal can dance almost as good as David!
God Bless – Reese