I was part of a group of 10 from our church that traveled to Abangaritos, Costa Rica from June 20 - 27. Our mission was to help put a roof on a church currently being built for the approximately 1,500 people living in this remote area on the west coast of Costa Rica.
Although we planned on helping to put on the roof, we knew that there would be opportunities to share our testimonies, witness to people in the community, provide programs for the children and youth as well as attend regular church services.
However, our purpose in Abangaritos went far beyond what we were originally planning to do. It became evident almost immediately that we were there to fulfill God's special plan for Abangaritos that went far beyond what we thought we were there to do.
This was an amazing realization that was fulfilled not only through numerous answered prayers each and every day, but also by the talents and abilities he gave each member of the team to perform any task - no matter how great or how small - on a daily basis.
My eyes and ears were opened and my faith in God was increased each and every day when I was physically able to see, feel, hear, touch and experience God all around us. Seeing prayers answered, no matter how big or small, on a daily basis was incredible!
The fact that some members of the team would get together and talk about something one night and then see those things take place the very next day was a miracle. These answered prayers were not based on "luck" or "random chance" or any other human possibilty - they were only possible through God.
One such example was when we were told (the night before we were going to install the trusses on the church) that we would need at least 15 men in order to complete the task. We knew that there were several men from the church who would not be able to come that day because they had work outside the village.
We had prayed that God would bring us 15 men the next day. During that same prayer, we had also discussed that we wanted opportunities to witness to people in the community.
The very next morning, our team leader and mission leader said that we were going to go out and recruit men from the community to help with the trusses (answered prayer) and that we would witness to people in the process (answered prayer).
While we were recruiting men from the community, we had an opportunity to recruit a man (Liber) who was waiting for the bar to open at 9am. He said he would come and help us immediately (and he was also accepted Christ later that week). We also recruited another man (Wanner - Maria's father) in the community who did not have a job and had a family to support. He also agreed to come with us. One of the members of our team also witnessed to him and his family.
After we went into the community to recruit help, by the time we began we had EXACTLY 15 men (answered prayer). Not only that, but when people had to leave for various reasons, others showed up at the exact same time to keep 15 men consistently throughout the day.
Toward the end of the day when more people were needed to help finish putting up the last truss and help with clean up, there were 20 men. This was just one small example of how God answered prayers and fulfilled his plan through us and the people of Abangaritos.
Despite the incredible things we did each and every day, I always told our team members during our nightly debriefing session that I was completely satisifed with what I was doing but that I didn't know my purpose for being there.
I knew God had called each one of us on this mission trip for a reason. Throughout the week, I saw others fulfill their purpose. But I didn't know what mine was. But I was still happy, excited and content with each and every day that took place.
Throughout the week, I played with the children and participated in several of the children's programs. There was one little five-year-old girl that caught my eye early in the week. Her name was Maria and there was something about her that just filled my heart.
Throughout the week, Maria and I began to form a strong bond, but I didn't know why or what it meant. I was just drawn to her because of her beautiful smile, the sparkle in her eyes, her childlike innocence and joyful attitude.
On Thursday night after one of the children's programs, Stacey and I decided to give Maria a gift. We gave her a small necklace with a cross that we had picked up in Italy when we married two years ago. Her mother said that she would teach Maria how to take care of it so she would have it forever. Maria also gave Stacey a beaded bracelet that I took and wore the next day.
This is when I realized that my purpose for coming to Abangaritos was because of Maria, but I didn't know why. Friday was our free day and it was also the day we were going to pack up and head back to San Jose to prepare for our flight back home on Saturday.
During lunch, I felt compelled to write Maria a letter and have it translated to Spanish so I could read it to her before we left that afternoon.
In my letter, I said to Maria (this is a short summary):
"Maria, God called us to Abangaritos to fulfill his plan. He brought each of us here with a specific purpose, and I believe my purpose is you. I have come to love you as a father loves a daughter. I don't know if God will bring me back to Abangaritos or if he will bring you to America, but I know I will see you again - even if it's in heaven. I will never forget you, and I will pray for you and your family constantly. I know that God has many plans for you. Stay diligent in your bible studies and prayer. I will always love you. - Nate"In addition to the letter, I had found one last stuffed animal from a huge box of stuffed animals that ProGifts had donated (THANK YOU AMY AND PROGIFTS!) that didn't get handed out the day before to all the children.
This particular stuffed animal was a teddy bear that I noticed before we had even left for Costa Rica. It was a beautiful white teddy bear that I really liked and wanted to keep. But I knew that it would be best to give it to a child.
The fact that this particular teddy bear was the only one left the night before we were going to leave was a sign from God. As this was the stuffed animal that I ended up giving to Maria the next day when I read her my letter!
When we were heading out of town and we saw Maria and her family, she was waving to me and had gifts for me. I ran out of the van and grabbed her and hugged her and told her that I loved her and thanked her for making me the gifts.Maria made me a picture frame with her photo, her name, a message that says "Jesus loves me" and little hearts and crosses. She had also made me a cross that said "Christ" on it and had her name. She also gave Stacey another bracelet when we told her that I had taken the one she had given to us the night before. In addition to those wonderful gifts, she had a letter for me.
I had read her my letter. I was crying so much because I still wasn't sure what my true purpose was and because I loved her and wanted to stay with her. I thought that maybe God wanted me to take her home with me. Maybe that was my purpose - as I came to love Maria as if she was mine. And I would have eagerly taken her with me.
Her mom told us that Maria was up all night crying and even when she fell asleep, she was still sobbing all night long. She asked her mom to write down the words she would speak because she was too upset to write a letter to me.
Her two-page letter was definitely an answered prayer for me, and it went like this (very short summary):
"I didn't go to school today even though I had a test because I was too sad that you were leaving. I have come to love you both as if you were my second family. I asked my mother and father if they loved me and they said yes. I asked this because if they said no, I would have gone to live with you. But they need me and love me and I must take care of them here. I love you Nate and Stacey (she spelled our first and last names perfectly - and no one knew our last name - another miracle). When you have a child, and you will have a child, I want you to name her Jaqueline Maria so that you will never forget me. I love you and will love you always."The reason that Maria's letter was an answered prayer was two-fold: First, it let me know that I was not to adopt or take Maria home with me despite the fact that I wanted to so badly. Second, for those that don't know, I have never wanted to have children of my own. This has been a huge problem in my relationship with Stacey, as she has always wanted children.
Meeting Maria and reading her letter fulfilled my purpose of going on this mission trip. God used Maria to open my heart and let me know that I could love a child that much. God wanted me to experience that so I would realize that he wants me to have a child - a little girl whom we will one day name Maria Jaqueline.
Having my purpose fulfilled at the end of the week gave me such great peace. Although I was completely happy and satisfied in all that we did during the week, I knew there was more. I was also blessed to be able to see each day unfold before it actually happen.
This is a gift from God, and one that I was glad to experience. Throughout the week, there were things that I knew needed to be done or said. And each day, those things took place through members of the team. It didn't matter what it was. If there was something that I felt in my heart that needed to be done, I saw it happen through others on the mission trip.
Each day, I saw God work all around us. I saw him answer prayers. I saw what it was like to come to love people in the name of God just as he commanded. I saw a church roof get put on and a community come together. I saw just how much I could come to love a child. I saw my faith grow in leaps and bounds.
Being in Abangaritos, Costa Rica was the most amazing thing I have ever experienced through God. The lack of distractions and the closeness to God was truly incredible. Words cannot even begin to describe everything that took place and everything we saw.
I pray that God brings me back to Abangaritos. Not only to see the people that we met and help further his plan, but also so I can see Maria again. She changed my life forever, and I praise God for what he did.