Costa Rica 2014 – Part 3

InPrisonAndVisitedOne thing that has struck me during this time in Costa Rica is something that strikes me every time I travel in the developing world. When I travel in the developing world I’m always reminded of how high our expectations are as residents of the U. S. We expect to have our own room. We expect to have meat at every meal if we want it. We expect that the electricity will always be on unless there is an emergency. We expect to have these and many other needs met as a natural and ongoing part of our lives and if they aren’t for some reason we feel as if we’ve been shortchanged. Most of us are blessed because our expectations are almost always fulfilled.

But having these (and our many other expectations) met doesn’t necessarily make us happy. Many people who have most if not all of their expectations met just aren’t happy. It’s been shown over and over again that material prosperity, convenience and comfort don’t automatically translate into happiness.

The expectations of people in Costa Rica are much more modest than they are for most of us. Rooms are shared. Meat is a luxury that must be stretched when it’s available. Rarely, is meat the centerpiece of the meal. Electricity is almost always available but it can go out most any time and sometimes it just does. It went out for no apparent reason for about an hour or so while we were here. But even though expectations are a good bit lower here than in the U. S. life goes on. And it goes on with faith and hope and joy.

I have learned a great deal from those whose expectations are lower than mine. One thing that I’ve learned from these friends is that I don’t need nearly as much as I think I do. I can tone down my expectations a good bit and it will be fine. I don’t need as much room or as much meat (food) or constant electricity to be happy and fulfilled.

Happiness and fulfillment come from having a deep and meaningful relationship with God and from having deep and meaningful relationships with other people. That can be done most anywhere or any time with far fewer resources than I sometimes think that I have to have. I’m learning to redirect my expectations toward maximizing my relationship with God and with others.

That is one of the wonderful gifts that I’ve received from my time in Costa Rica, Chile and the other places I’ve been privileged to visit. May God bless us all to find out what really matters rather than settling for that which looks good but turns out to be hollow and unfulfilling.

Costa Rica 2014 – Part 2

Costa Rica - Based on OCHA MapThe Kairos weekend got off to a great start on Thursday evening (May 22). Today (May 23) was the first full day of the weekend. As we’ve been spending time in the prison I’ve been noticing some things . There are definitely some differences and similarities between our prison culture and the prison culture here.

First the differences. Here the men wear their own clothes. There are no uniforms as there are in Alabama. Here men can choose how they want to wear their hair, beards, etc. There are men with long hair, short hair and mohawks. However, I haven’t seen a mullet yet. There are all sorts of beard styles as well. Here the prison is staffed at full capacity. There are corrections officers everywhere. At home our facilities are chronically understaffed. Here, the families of the inmates can bring them food. At home that is tightly restricted.

Now the similarities. The inmate population is achingly young. At the communion service on Wednesday night I was struck by just how young the inmates are. That is also true of the Kairos participants. Just like at home there are many teenagers in the prison system. Drugs and alcohol are a major factor in criminal activity here just as they are at home. There are several participants in the weekend who don’t know how to read or write. Lack of education is a major factor in criminal activity here just as it is at home.

There is one other similarity that I noticed right away. The men here respond positively to our presence in the prison. When they are shown the love of God in real, tangible ways they are very receptive to it. That reminds me once again that God’s love is the greatest power in all the world. It doesn’t matter whether that that love is shown in Costa Rica or Alabama. It doesn’t matter where it happens. It does matter greatly that it does happen. I am thankful for a church like Bluff Park UMC that prays for and looks for ways to show God’s love to the world whether that happens at home or in a country far removed from home.

Costa Rica 2014 – Part 1

Flag_of_Costa_RicaTom Duley and John Gates arrived in San Jose, Costa Rica last night, a little tired from travel but none the worse for wear. We have settled into the Hotel Franco which is a bed and breakfast in the heart of San Jose. San Jose is the capital of Costa Rica with a population of 2 million. It is a busy and bustling place. Hotel Franco is an urban version of the Hostal at El Vergel we stay in when we go to Chile.

There are eight members on the team. All of us are from Alabama. We come from Birmingham, Huntsville and Demopolis. We all have extensive experience in Kairos prison ministry. We are here to work on a Kairos team with the Costa Rican Kairos community. The Kairos weekend begins on Thursday.

We will spend the day today touring two prisons. Rev. Carlos Cunningham is the leader of the Kairos community in Costa Rica. He is also chaplain to several prisons in Costa Rica and the pastor of a small church. Through his efforts the Costa Rican government has dedicated one prison as a faith-based prison. The first prison we will visit is this faith-based prison.

The second prison we will visit is San Sebastian prison in the heart of the city. This is the prison where the Kairos weekend will be held. There are eight cell blocks in the prison. Each cell block has an inmate pastor who has been trained by Rev. Cunningham. These pastors care for the men in their cell block in much the same way that all pastors do. They teach, counsel, visit, lead worship, preach, etc. As a part of our time there today we will worship and celebrate communion led by the inmate pastor in one of the prison’s cell blocks.

It promises to be an enlightening and inspiring day.