In just a couple of days I, along with twelve others from my church, will be traveling to Costa Rica to work for a week with Costa Rica Mission Projects and the United Methodist Volunteers in Mission. This will be our church’s 1st international mission team, and I am so blessed and excited for what God will be doing in and through us. This will be my 3rd visit to Costa Rica with CRMP.
My first visit with CRMP will forever be etched in my memory and on my body. It was a team leader’s worst nightmare (My wife was the leader, I was just along as the good husband). We lost a team member. Literally, we lost a high school student to the Pacific Ocean. In a freak act of nature, a giant wave emerged out of the, at that point, calm rocky beach area. Three of our high school students and one of our adults were knocked into the water, 20 feet below where they were standing. Two of the students and the adult were fished-out of the water. The other student, Marshuan, went missing, only to be found two days later, five miles upshore. It was an agonizing event that has left me changed both mentally, physically, and spiritually.
Things happen in our lives that really suck. Things happen that cause us to recoil into the innermost, darkest recesses of our lives. We retreat to the craggy corners that no one has ever seen – including us at times. We find dark places that we never knew existed.
Suicide – rape – betrayal – abuse – abandonment…
These, and other evils, can take over our lives and send us spiraling into the abyss. And yet, in the deepest, haunting levels of our brokenness, a light shines in the darkness. When we cannot see the way out and up, there is One whose holy nightvision seeks us out so that new life might begin to grow out of the rocky soil of our tattered lives.
In both Isaiah 43 and Revelation 21, God is quoted as saying that there is a newness that springs forth from God’s own interaction with humanity. In Isaiah, the people Israel had been destroyed, carried off, and lives rent asunder by outside, warring factions. Their lives had been obliterated. In Revelation, we have John of Patmos’ apocalyptic vision of God’s dominant, yet subversive, Kingdom-justice overthrowing the Empire that rules the world with power, violence, and evil. This vision of John’s world, echoes the reality that we live in today where countless numbers of people live in brokenness caused by violence, abuse, neglect, and greed. Thankfully, Isaiah and Revelation’s stories do not end at the point of destruction. There is a hope that is offered.
We know, from history and from Scripture, that the people Israel were restored and sent back home to rebuild and grow. John of Patmos’ vision in Revelation ends with God and God’s Kingdom coming to live with humanity, establishing signs of life, peace, and unity. This is our “Good News.” This is where we can find hope in our hopelessness.
For me, God’s newness began to sprout the moment our accident happened. A largely church-less area was immediately smothered with beach combers looking for signs of Marshuan, all the while, praying. Prayer vigils were happening in those beach-side communities where a religious, God-consciousness had not existed for decades. For a brief moment, God’s Kingdom reclaimed that strip of land and it’s peoples. Our host-church in San Isidro de General literally carried us off of our bus and into the sanctuary, where for two days prayers and worship in English and Spanish were offered. When we returned home, set to remember Marshuan’s life and offer comfort to his family, it was Marshuan’s family that comforted us. Amanda, my wife, offered the sermon at Marshuan’s funeral – a white, female clergyperson led the funeral for a young, black male in a town, whose “white elephant”(no pun intended) was its economic and racial divide. Best of all is the friendship that has been created between Amanda, me, and CRMP’s UMC missionary leaders, Wil and Yolanda Bailey.
I confess that, at times, I still get angry with God for the pain that I feel from my past. I confess that I blame God for things that aren’t God’s fault. I confess that it is easier, at times, to live in the muckiness of the pits of despair than to “work out my own salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:13-14).”
I confess that God is strong enough to handle my anger, my questions, my fear, and accusations. I confess that God, even in the midst of my own blindness and brokenness, walks with me and works to restore my life. I confess that God’s Kingdom of peace and reconciliation will sprout signs of life in the most desolate of places, including my own life’s fields of momentary barrenness.