Friday, January 4, 2013

Lift Up Your Voice

I think service work/building trips are a very interesting concept.  At the heart of work trips there are two conflicting goals: the work getting done and relational service.  It is a very unique balance of being productive but at the same reserving time to build relationships.  This can be very difficult to accomplish well.  As a junior, I have gone on two other international break team trips with Wesley Fellowship.  Each trip has left an impression on my heart and created relationships that have far outlasted the time I actually spent abroad.  Traveling to Costa Rica, this past winter break was no different;I felt my faith and the faith of my team members grow as we completed relational service with our hosts.

When we arrived in Costa Rica we were very excited about the work we would begin the day after we got in.  However, when we arrived at the church we would be staying at, we discovered that our contact in Costa Rica had a back injury and was unable to move from his home a few hours away. Luckily, our little group of seven had several Spanish speakers so we were able to make new plans with our hosts at the church. Our project changed work locations and our “light” construction crew turned into dry walling an outside three story stairwell (both the inside and outside surfaces) and plastering the third floor. 

The day after we got in, we woke up early to begin working but then discovered that the foreman who was supposed to assist us, quit suddenly. While at first I felt like we were wasting a day trying to find a new foreman, that day became my favorite from the trip. Instead of doing construction work we spent the day with our hosts at the church, walking around town, and sharing our cultures with one another. I speak very little Spanish and our hosts spoke very little English but we still managed to share our thoughts and have fun together. When we found a new foreman, he proved to be an ideal match. It was not only important to him for our group to get the job done but for us to also be learning. He would not only supervise our work but would assist us in the hard parts until we could do it ourselves. Although painting turned into plastering and wiring turned into dry walling, I don’t think I could have imagined a better experience.

As the week continued, we worked with various members of the church and community to help drywall the stairwell we were working on.  As we sweated and served together, we also shared stories with each other.  I learned about and met their families, what led them to join a Methodist church when the majority of their country is Catholic, what they wanted to do in the future, and a lot of, "I will tell you what this object is in English if you tell me what it is in Spanish" game.  

Over the course of the week, we worshiped with the church we were staying at several times.  Every time, I was struck by both the differences and similarities between their service and the services I had grown up attending.  Some of the songs, I recognized their English equivalents but others were completely foreign to me.  While I didn’t understand the words I found myself getting caught up in the passion that surrounded me.  I loved how when it was time for offering everyone in the congregation came and laid something on the alter.  I loved how when we prayed it was never silent.  As the preacher spoke, everyone else whispered their own additions to the prayer.  I could never make up out the whispered words that surrounded me but I could clearly hear the devotion present in their voices.  The words wrapped around me like a blanket and I found comfort in their presence and ambiguity.

When our little team would meet together to discuss our experiences from the day, we often would often spend time retelling our favorite stories and experiences with our wonderful hosts, inevitably ending up laughing all over again.  Often members of the church would wander in during these times and together we would share what the day had meant to us.  It’s hard to say precisely just how my faith was changed by the trip but I think it resides in those little moments: the whispered prayers, carefully being taught to use a drill by our foreman, holding hands with our hosts and team members as we gathered around the table to pray, gentle corrections of my poor Spanish pronunciation, the high fives youth from the church gave me as we finished a game of soccer, and of course the never-ending smiles and laughter from everyone.  

This trip was probably one of the more challenging ones I have been on because of the language barrier; however, I only had to lift up my voice in worship and language suddenly no longer mattered.

Our team members with an Alajuela sign in the town.


Our team members with Julio: our friend, wonderful cook, guide around town, teller of all fruits and vegetable Spanish names, and generally all-around wonderful person.

Part of the stairwell we worked on plastering and dry-walling.