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Feb042011

Friday, February 4th

We started walking at 5:30 am. That in itself is worth noting because I hate walking. Walking, in my opinion is right up there with swimming. I don't like to do either one unless its absolutely necessary. I'm perfectly happy to paddle around on a surf board for hours on end, as long as I catch a few fun waves in the meantime. But swimming, for swimming sake, whether in a pool or a lake or a river... I'm just not interested. Walking is the same. I don't understand people who “go for walks”. I'm not convinced by the whole, “life's a journey, not a destination” mentality. I'm not against being in shape and being healthy, but I'd rather find any more exciting way to be healthy and in shape than something as mundane as just putting one foot (or arm) in front of the other, over and over again.

So the fact that I am, for lack of a better term, “going for a walk”, and doing so at 5 o'clock in the morning was VERY out of the ordinary. I'm not walking alone. Curtis, Allen and Honorio are going with me. Three of us have absolutely no idea where we are going. About two months ago I visited Paso Marcos, Costa Rica for the first time. Some missionary friends are going to build a house there and work with the local indigenous population and they had asked myself and the builder who works with us here if we would come and give them some advice about how best to build their home. Paso Marcos is literally at the end of the road. About an hour after leaving the pavement and bumping down the dirt road...it ends. The road just ends. There's a barbed wire fence and on the other side is the indian reservation.

I had met Honorio for the first time five years ago at the Annual Conference of the Evangelical Methodist Church of Costa Rica, in Alajuela. At the time he spoke Cabecar, the language that his people (who are also called Cabecar) speak and very little Spanish. Honorio had started classes that year at the Methodist Seminary. I learned that the first week of every month he walked 6 hours up and down mountains, through primary forest to get to the nearest road, where he would catch a ride (if he was lucky) or keep walking until he got to a bus route, and then travel the rest of the way to San Jose, spend the week taking classes, and then journey, by bus and then foot, back home again.

So on my way home from Annual Conference in December of 2010, I went to Paso Marcos. It's difficult to describe what one feels when literally standing at the very edge of modernity. High on the mountain, before reaching the absolute end of the road, we stopped at an overlook and there, stretching out before us, was ridge after ridge of dense, green, forest covered mountains. It baffles me that anyone was ever able to settle in Costa Rica. Why they didn't just turn around and get back on their boats and sail away I do not know. It was at the same time humbling and intriguing to know that somewhere, out there, hidden among all those trees were between 8,000 and 9,000 (by most recent estimates) Cabecar Indians.

We made our way down to the end of the road, to the barbed wire fence. There is one little wooden house and one little wooden “store” with the most basic of basic necessities in Paso Marcos. As we pulled up beside the store I noticed two young Cabecar children, a boy and a girl, hopping down the steps from the front porch of the store and scooting through three posts in the barbed wire fence. On the other side of the fence is a pasture with a couple of horses, a few cows and then a river. Beyond the river the mountains rise up towards the sky. I greeted the store owner and asked if it would be OK to walk through the pasture and take some pictures of the river. After dodging mud puddles and cow paddies I made it to the base of a suspended bridge that stretches confidently from one bank of the river to the other. I glanced to my left just in time to see the two Cabecar children standing at the very southern edge of the pasture, at the tree line. They were about 100 yards away. They had stopped and were looking at me. I waved, the little boy smiled, they turned around, and disappeared into the trees. If there had only been a little fog that they could had faded into it would have been like a scene from a movie. I'm not sure why, but I had to fight the urge to follow them. I wanted to see where they were going. I wanted to see the world they were slipping into.... Today is February 1st, 2011 and we're about to do just that.

I met Curtis three years go when he and his family moved to Costa Rica. I got a phone call one afternoon from our pastor to tell me that there was a “gringo” family at the church, that they had moved to San Isidro but didn't know where they were going to live and spoke barely any Spanish. My wife and I became fast friends with Curtis, his wife Chelly (who was pregnant and the time) and their three little girls. They were sent to Costa Rica by Calvary Chapel and after a year of learning the language and getting familiar with “tico” culture, started a church in their home. Curtis studied at the Calvary Chapel bible college in California before moving to Costa Rica and has the gift of being able to recall the appropriate Bible verse for almost every situation/religious discussion. I'm lucky if I can remember the right Testament. Curtis' and his family's passion for sharing the gospel and following Jesus' call to be witnesses to the ends of the earth is inspiring.

Allen is from Birmingham, Alabama. He grew up at one of the churches that supports Costa Rica Mission Projects. He's a recent Auburn grad and is exploring a call to full time mission work. Allen works with an organization called Sozo International. They have set up orphanages in Uganda and Montana and are exploring the possibility of partnering with the Methodist Children's Home being built in San Jose. He is spending six weeks helping CRMP with our volunteer teams before heading to San Jose for the reminder of his time in Costa Rica.

I am a United Methodist missionary from North Carolina. Since 2003, my wife Yolanda and I have been the directors of Costa Rica Mission Projects, hosting volunteer teams from all over the United States, who come to help us with construction projects and to “be church” with their Costa Rican brothers and sisters. It is my fault that Curtis and Allen are about to walk into one of the most remote areas of Costa Rica. Thank goodness the three of us are being lead by Honorio.

Honorio is the Cabecar pastor, of three Cabecar churches in the middle of the Cabecar reservation. The first time Honorio and I discussed the possibility of our visiting him he had surprised me by calling me at home one afternoon. “We're on top of the mountain” he said in Spanish, “there's a good signal up here!” I realized later that he was actually by himself on top of the mountain and the he, like myself, still struggles some with our second language. At some point in the conversation, after he had assured me that this was, in fact, a good idea, I asked him if it was true that it we would have to walk 6 hours to get to his house. I wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry at his response, “sometimes 6 hours...sometimes 8...sometimes 9.” Dear Lord! If it takes him 9 hours to walk home, it may take us 2 days! He has asked me several times if we are all in good shape. But how do even answer that question in this context?! I mean, there's “good shape” and then there's “walking into the heart of darkness for 9 hours without collapsing shape”. I've tried to explain that as long as we can walk at a normal pace and not sprint (or even jog), we should be fine.

The purpose of our trip is simple. All three of us want to learn. We have no agenda, no plans, no programs we're hoping to put into place. We want to learn more about this invisible segment of the Costa Rican population about whom so little has been written. We want to learn more about Honorio and his ministry to the Cabecar people. What kinds of challenges does he face when proclaiming the gospel in a culture still dominated by centuries old traditions. What does church look like when it isn't bombarded constantly by the social movements that inevitably force their way, one way or another, into what we convince ourselves passes for worshipping God. I'm sure we will discuss ways that each of us (the visitors) and our respective ministries, might be able to offer some kind of support to Honorio and help him develop the kind of ministry and witness that he has been called to have there. What I hope to avoid most, is making promises or even hinting at the possibility of doing anything that we may not, in the end, be able to do. What a healthy relationship with Honorio and his churches will look like, I do not know, but I hope that after our trek it will be much much clearer.

We started our journey in San Isidro del General in southern Costa Rica. Drove north for two hours over the “Cerro de la Muerte” mountain pass, down into Cartage and turned east. An hour later we passed through Turrialba and then through La Suiza. The only things notable about this part of our journey was that each town got progressively smaller than the one before, and the roads got progressively worse until they finally ran out. Usually, the first time I go somewhere it also seems to take a lot longer than subsequent visits. The trip home from Paso Marcos the first time seemed like it took about half as long as it had taken to get there. Today, it was the opposite. The 4.5 hour trip felt like 8. But we finally pulled into the Outpost at about 5:30.

Unfortunately I inherited my mom's nervous stomach. Any time I get bad news, feel stress, or am upset about something, the first thing that happens is my stomach getting tied up in knots. For the last three days I've woken up at around 4am with a terrible stomach ache. I know it's nothing I ate, because I'm a creature of habit and I always eat the same things. I am 100% sure that it was because of the anticipation of this trip. I don't do well with not knowing what is coming next. When its really bad I can't eat, which worried me since I'm going to need all the strength I can muster for the trek that lies ahead of us. I've gotten much better, as I've gotten older of handling the symptoms of this disorder, and tried to eat small quantities throughout the day. My fears however were unwarranted. About 30 minutes after we go to the outpost, the dogs, all 20 of them started barking loudly, their attention turned to the path that leads to the front porch. I looked out and there were Honorio and his young son Josafath walking towards us. I don't know if it was the warm smile on Honorio's face, or simply being distracted by the reality that this was actually going to happen, but I suddenly felt normal again. Felt quite hungry actually, and extremely relieved that I would be able to undertake our journey tomorrow without being distracted by feeling bad.

We ate dinner at a house down the road from the Outpost. Rice, beans, noodles with tuna fish, fried eggs and lemonaide. The family that lives in the house has worked with the doctors and other volunteers here for many years and the husband of Iris (our cook) seamed to be able to switch back and forth from Spanish to Cabecar with no difficulty. They have known Honorio for years and seemed genuinely excited about our trip.

 

We made it! It took 7 and a half hours, but we made it. Honorios kids are playing soccer in front of his house with the new soccer ball we brought for them. I'm not sure if the chickens, dogs and pigs are officially part of the game, but no one seems bothered by there presence. The “field” is the only flat spot, conveniently sandwiched between Honorio's house and the church. This is probably intentional as well as functional since it helps keep the ball on the field. The problem is that at either end of the field is a drop off that goes down farther than I can see, so If anyone's enthusiasm gets the better of them the game is suspended while the emergency soccer ball recovery team heads down the mountain to find the where the ball came to rest. Curtis is asleep on the floor in the house, Allen is working on his computer. We are each, in our own way, resting.

The walk was tough. I wish there was someway to know how many kilometers we walked. All I know is that for 7 and a half hours we walked up mountains, then down mountains, then crossed streams, then up semi-dry creak beds, over logs, under logs, etc., etc. Every half an hour or so we'd pass another small, wooden, brightly colored house. We were constantly meeting people coming down the trail. I must admit I felt quite satisfied the first time I got up the nerve to greet one of them by saying “ma-shkina” (hello in Cabecar) and they actually responded, “bei”. I think Honorio got as big a kick out of it as I did. We spent a lot of the day asking one another how to say things in the other's native tongue. I don't know how much of it I'll retain, but it was a fun way to pass the time.

About two hours in to the trek, just in time for a MUCH needed water and granola bar break, we stopped at a little plot of land that Honorio has bought to start a new church. He's excited about the fact that it will be the closest of his churches to the outside world and there are already 13 Christians who live in close enough proximity that they'll be able to make that church their home. He takes his whole family with him to work there for days at a time, clearing out the land, digging in the hard orange clay to get the ground level for the floor. That's at least a four hour walk for him, his wife, their one son and four daughters. We took time to pray with him there before we moved on, asking God to bless that land, the church that would be formed there and Honorio's family.

A couple of hours later and we started one of our final descents before arriving at Honorio's home. He told us that it would be better not to take pictures for the next little bit because we were entering an area where there is a lot of witchcraft. We came out of the woods a few minutes later and there was house made entirely of dried out palm fronds in a clearing to the right of us. I pointed at my camera and made a gesture towards the house. The look in Honorio's eyes let me know in no uncertain terms that I was not to take pictures of that house. I'll ask him later what exactly he means by witchcraft and why that house in particular is problematic.

 

Tomorrow we're heading down to the river (he has assured us its only a 15 minute walk) to baptize 5 or 6 members of his church and have communion. He says that they all understand who Jesus is and have accepted him as their savior. Something he is very careful about before offering them the opportunity to be baptized. He has asked Curtis (the pastor) to help. I cannot wait!

 

Honorio has now joined the soccer game. The same Honorio who walked six hours out of the jungle yesterday to meet us, and 7 and a half hours back into the jungle this morning. Now he's running around like a mad man on the soccer “field”. Amazing.

 

Last night Allen, Curtis, Honorio and I sat down together in the church, illuminated only by a flash light. We had lots of questions about Cabecar culture and traditions, Honorio's challenges as a pastor and his own story of coming to faith in Jesus. We wound up being late for dinner. What follows is a very brief summary of the key points of our conversation: As a tribe, the Cabecar have one chief who lives about a four day walk from Honorio. He is considered a God. Every year he sends out delegates of some sort to take up offerings from the Cabecar people. Some of the money is used for planting crops, some for buying clothes. We never really got a clear answer about the rest. I suppose some of the people who give, do so because they want to support the king, however, many of them give in order to seek blessings for their crops or curses on someone else's. We'll get back to that in a minute. The good news for Honorio is that after years of refusing to pay, the “tax collectors” have stopped coming to Honorio and his church members. The only King he serves is our Lord in Heaven.

“Witchcraft”, as best as I can understand, falls into two categories here, though they often overlap and are practiced by the same witchdoctors/shaman. On the one hand is the medicinal healing that comes from different combinations of roots, flowers, leaves, etc. If you or someone in your family is sick, you can go see the “doctor” and for a fee leave with a potion that should have you feeling better in no time. I have no problem recognizing that there are lots of things that grow naturally that do as good a job (or better) at restoring health than modern medicine may do. However, the “magical” aspect that they seem to attach to this kind of “healing” I do find troublesome.

The other aspect is more overtly dark. If you don't like someone and want a curse put on them, you go to the witchdoctor. If you want to find a really hot wife, you go to the witchdoctor. If you want someone's crops to fail, cattle to die or children to get sick... you go to the witchdoctor. Honorio explained that the house we had past on our way here is one where witchcraft is practiced, and while nothing would probably happen to us if we took a picture of their house as we walked by, we would only walk by twice (once on the way in and once on the way out). He, on the other hand, walks buy weekly and feared that he might be attacked if he was associated with our picture taking. I didn't feel the need to ask him to clarify “attacked”.

When Honorio was 8 someone was doing a series of revivals on the reservation. He told us that as soon as heard the message of Jesus, he believed it, accepted it and became a Christian. Unfortunately he was the only one in his family who had that experience, which made home life very difficult for him for the next few years. He is proud of the fact that now, 20 years later, his entire family is Christian. After leading the church for 8 years he started going to the Methodist seminary in San Jose. Even though he has graduated he wants to continue studying. Right now he is excited about taking Homiletics II, Greek and/or Hebrew...unbelievable!

 

When Honorio called me the first time to talk about this trip, I asked him if we should bring tents to sleep in. He said it would be better for us to sleep in his house with his family. So at about 8, after a very long day we crawled into our little fleece sleeping bags (which turned out to be woefully insufficient for the 50 degree cold we would wake up to in the middle of the night) lay down on the hard wood floor of Honorio's home and prayed for exhaustion to do its thing quickly. I'm pretty sure I fell asleep hearing Honorio's wife in a voice so soft it was barely audible, singing lullabies in Cabecar to their 1 year old daughter Rabel.

I wish I could say I slept like a rock. Unfortunately, my back and knees and neck and pretty much every other part of my body did not do well on the hard wood floor. I think I set a personal record last night for tossing and turning. Basically I would just stay in one position, either on my back, my stomach, my left side or my right side, until something started to ache...flip over and wait for the aching to resume. I did sleep some, between flips, but not much. The cold I mentioned earlier did not help either. I'm not complaining... just stating the facts. Eventually the stars, of which there apparently are many more than I had ever imagined, began to fade and the sun came up over the mountain. I have the sneaking feeling that tonight, with the anticipation of tomorrows hike out, I'm not going to fare much better.

After a breakfast of Pop-Tarts and fresh orange juice, Honorio said he wanted to head down to the river around 9 for the baptisms. As the morning progressed additional family members showed up at eventually we started the 30 minute hike down to the river. He says there are 10 or 12 ready to be baptized but most of them have left the reservation to pick coffee, so they'll have to wait till they get back. There were 6 on the list for today. I'm afraid some may be confused by what I'm about to say, but that's never stopped me before. Standing on a rock, at the edge of the Chirripo River, in front of an audience of 15 or so Cabecar indians, reiterating what I know they have already heard from Honorio...the miracle of Jesus' death on the Cross for us and what this public proclamation of belief, this baptism means, and then reading Romans 6:1-4 to them... I felt like a real missionary. I don't say that to diminish what God has done through CRMP over the last 8 years, but when I hear the word missionary, at least in the classical sense, the scene this morning by the river is what comes to mind.

So one by one, into the water they went. The water was shockingly cold. I mean, unless we somehow hiked out of the tropics yesterday, water here should not be THAT cold! Curtis was a trooper because he was the official “dunker” along with Honorio, and had no choice but to get in. “En el nombre del Padre, del Hijo y Del Espiritu Santo”... and under they went. I hope that the expression of shock on their faces had at least something to do with the sacrament they were participating in and was not just from the cold water. Either way it was a wonderful morning with a church family we never knew we had and I feel honored that Honorio asked us to be part of it. We forgot to take the crackers and grape juice with us, so we'll be having communion tonight at the church.

We rested most of the afternoon and headed to the church at 6 for worship. Honorio said it would be a short little service with a couple of songs and then communion. Over two hours later we were finishing up the prayers for healing and heading back to the house for a dinner of rice, black beans and yuca. During worship they sang a few songs in Spanish that I knew and several in Cabecar that obviously we had never heard before. It's always amazing to hear people praising God in a language one doesn't understand, but to still be able to feel/know what is going on. Sitting in that little wooden room, on a tiny wooden bench about 12 inches off the ground, with only two small flickering candles providing light, listening to Honorio preach to his flock in Cabecar, being asked to read scripture out of a Spanish Bible, serving communion to them alongside Allen and Curtis, praying for babies with colds and old women with sore bones and migraines... was one of the most authentic and genuine worship experiences I've ever had/witnessed. One of the things I first fell in love with in Costa Rica, 20 years ago, was the simplicity of worship. I'm glad to have been able to experience it again. What a gift!

After dinner we took some time to share the pictures we had taken during the past two days with Honorio and his church. They gathered around the computer or squished their faces next to one another behind the little LCD screens of our cameras...and laughed a lot, at us and at one another. Curtis has introduced them to the really fun game of sneaking up on someone in the dark and surprising them by taking a picture of them with the flash. They found the resulting expressions of shock captured by the camera to be quite hilarious. Eventually we headed to bed. Honorio said that our four legged taxis (the horses that would help carry our packs) would be there at 4:30. Just before falling asleep (this time fully clothed with wool socks, long pants and two t-shirts to battle the cold) Honorio came into our room and handed me a Cabecar Bible. I may never be able to recognize more than a few words in it, but I will treasure it forever. It will always remind me of the lengths people will go to to hear, preach, teach and understand the Word of God, the message of salvation in their own tongue. It is already on my book shelf, next to my Zulu Bible, another one I will likely never be able to read, but both to me are tangible symbols of the universality of this thing we call the Universal Body of Christ.

 

By 4:45 the taxi/horses were packed and we were on our way. Our dim little flashlights lighting the way through a dark, dark forest. For me, walking in the dark seemed to make it go faster. By the time the sunlight started to filter it's way through the jungle canopy an hour and a half later, it felt like there was already a lot of trail behind us. Parts of the trail were easily recognizable from the trek in on Tuesday, other parts made me wonder if were going a different way. Honorio promised us that walking out was faster than walking in because you go down hill more on the way out. Sometimes I felt like like the going down was more challenging than the going up since light rains had made the trail slick and you had to be REALLY careful not to build up too much momentum or there was no telling where you'd stop. We took a break at the one spot where there is a cell phone signal and called ahead to the Outpost to let them know what time to expect us for lunch and ask Mark, a missionary living there if he would mind bringing the truck to the end of the road to pick us up when we get there.

Towards the end of the hike our group started to stretch out more and more, especially once we got down beside the river where the trail is mostly level. I wondered about trying to gather everyone together to make out triumphant exit from the forest in a pack, but felt like each of us, myself included, was probably enjoying the opportunity to take these last steps alone with our own thoughts. I don't know how long it will take to process everything we saw and experienced over the last three days, but I am grateful that we all made it there and back safe and sound. I feel privileged to have spent time with a people and in a place that few ever see, and most of all to have witnessed the way God is at work there through the faithful.

Seeing the white Land Cruiser a few bends in the trail away from us felt a lot like seeing the white flag (signifying one more lap) the first time I ever raced Motocross! I was ready to stop walking. It had been an amazing journey, and though physically exhausted, I didn't feel nearly as bad as I had been afraid I might. My knees and back and feet were sore, but nothing more than you would expect after walking up and down mountain trails pretty much non stop for 6 and half hours. Honorio had been right, it WAS faster coming out than going in. We said our good byes to Honorio, thanked him for his hospitality and for sharing his life, faith, family and culture with us and promised to keep in touch. You know, a lot of time I think we really over do it with technology and being “on the grid”, but I'm glad to know that I can send him a text message anytime and the next time he walks over that high spot on the trail, his phone will beep and he'll get my message. And I know it will always make me grin when my phone rings and the caller ID reads: HONORIO.

 

Curtis and I jumped in the river (again, way to cold for my liking), I took one of the top ten best hot showers of my life, had lunch, each took a 30 minute power nap and shockingly felt good enough to head home. I had hoped that this would be the case, but we had considered staying at the Outpost another night to rest and heading back to San Isidro the next morning. A little after two o'clock we were journeying again, this time riding high in a giant Ford F-250 Superduty ExtraCab Turbo Diesel pickup truck. Our hiking shoes had been thrown in the back with the rest of our dirty gear. The ride home was fun. We joked about things we had seen and done, tried to remember as many of the Cabecar words they had taught us as we could (I can say “Hello crazy pig” like the best of 'em), wondered out loud about the seeds that have now been planted and how they may come to fruition. At times we were quiet. Each of us alone with our thoughts again. It's fascinating to me how three people can have the same experience, but that experience can mean such different things in the life of each one of us. For me, the missionary who coordinates building projects and tries to build relationships between congregations in the states and congregations in Costa Rica, for Curtis, the young pastor who moved to Costa Rica with his family and started a church in the living room of his house, and for Allen, a young man who believes that God is calling him into the mission field but not sure exactly what that is going to look like yet. What a blessing to be able to to share this adventure with these guys who although we are “like minded”, we are also each so different from one another.

 

To those of you who knew about this trip and prayed for us while we were gone... thank you. We all made it home safe and sound and had an amazing time seeing how God is at work among the Cabecar. I assume that is what you were praying for! For those who didn't know, but saw the comments on facebook about our “very long walk”... well now you know. I hope that it was as interesting and entertaining to read about this adventure as it was to do it! JESUS TE MA KIME.

Peace

Wil

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Reader Comments (4)

I loved reading about your adventure and walk to visit with the Cabacar people. Amazing. Tell us how you say "Hello Crazy Pig.....so we will know if you are calling us that when we come to Costa Rica! All the best, Tachi

February 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTachi Dellinger

Not sure if you might be interested in knowing but there is another great non-profit organization operating in Costa Rica that is a division of the free wheel chair mission. They have given away over 9000 chairs now to less fortunate Costa Ricans. Check out their site.

Costa Rica charity

February 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCosta Rica Charity

Really i like your post. We are also in same field. For more information visit our site.

November 18, 2014 | Unregistered Commenteradaptivesports

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