My trip to Costa Rica for Commission Camping through Pine Cove has finally come and gone, and it was absolutely a trip to remember. One of our leadership members challenged each of us on the team to reflect on certain questions so that we can be sure to remember the best moments and lessons that happened while there. With that said, I would love to share them with you! Here they are:
1. What did God do?
God blessed our trip in so many different ways throughout those ten days. On my first day in Costa Rica, God blessed me by placing me in a host home with a family that truly changed my perspective on what a family walking together in Christ should look like. They joked with me the first night about how everything about them was small — they were a small family (they were all so short!), they had a small car, and they had a small house. But that “small” rule didn’t apply to the overwhelming joy that they showed me; the Quesada family had probably the greatest amount of joy I’ve ever seen. They would eat family meals together every night, something my family doesn’t do often anymore. They laughed and joked with each other, one night even running around the house hitting each other with pillows as a joke because the older Diego had ripped his bedsheets and his mom Magaly was “angry” with him. What was most amazing to me, though, was how every night before everyone went to bed, the family would come together and pray and have bible study. I saw the strong father, Carlos, leading his family as Christ has called him to do. I will never forget the memories and lessons God blessed me with while being a temporary member of the Quesada family.
God also gave me better perspective on life through the Costa Rican culture. The people that I got to spend time with at camp are so much like us here in the United States; they are just immersed in a different culture. Yet there were a few things I noticed as different: I’ve learned that a lot of people here in America have a lot of “stuff” and material things, but are not always content. Many of these Costa Ricans may not have all those sorts of things, but they were content. They were filled with joy because of what Christ has done in their lives. For me, that is a testament that only Christ can satisfy us completely.
Another amazing thing the Lord gave me clarity in through the Costa Ricans (or Ticans) is how intentional we are called to be with others. Even upon greeting one another, the Ticans are much more sincerely caring about how the other person is doing compared to how we in America greet one another. I was convicted by this because I was reminded of Christ’s calling for us in Matthew 22:37-39:
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
There was especially one Tican counselors, Derrick, who impressed me most. On the bus rides to and from the camp, instead of talking to his fellow counselors and friends, he was more intent on investing in the campers. I remember him talking to one of my campers the whole ride back from camp; it wasn’t even his camper! I loved that. The Lord used Derrick to remind me again of the importance of God’s second greatest commandment of loving others as yourself.
God used our trip to change campers’ lives in Costa Rica just as he does so often here in Texas; after nights of club, where we would dance and worship the Lord and then listen to a sermon from one of the leaders, I remember so many kids raising their hands to ask for prayer because they wanted Christ to be the center of their lives. Campers would open up and share struggles with their counselors, inviting those counselors to pour the love of Christ into them. I was constantly reminded that the God in Costa Rica is the same God here in America; he is hard at work changing people’s lives all around our world.
Overall, and in short, God showed up. Like always. What’s such a cool thought, also, is how God used the trip to disciple people in Costa Rica on how to use camping as a ministry. I like the way our camp director Shawn “El Guapo” Welch describes the program: “This was Pine Cove’s second year to Costa Rica, so it was partially a teaching trip and partially a coaching trip as they take on more responsibility of the program. The goal was to train the staff how to put on camp in the most effective and sustainable way, so that even after Pine Cove has come for 3 consecutive years, camp will continue!” Keep in mind, though, that Pine Cove is quick to point out that we are not there to say “we’re right about camping and you’re wrong;” we are there to share what we have learned and experienced from what Christ has done through camping and even learn what the Costa Ricans think about how camping can further proclaim Christ to the nations. Through our blessed interactions with the Ticans, God blessed our trip is so many different ways, and I am so grateful to have been a part of it.
2. What stories can you share?
The Lord blessed me with some great stories to bring home from Costa Rica! One is of a change in one of my camper’s life after having gone to camp. This camper was known for not respecting authority well. However, though my only interactions with him were in broken Spanish and spending time with him throughout the session of camp, we ended up connecting well and he told my co-counselor that he loved and respected me. This allowed for walls to be torn down within him and allowed for a time for my co-counselor and I to share Christ’s love to this camper. God blessed me with the opportunity to connect with him, even though I don’t speak his language.
Another story is about a different camper I had — one who didn’t know the other three kids in my cabin. Three out of the four kids in my cabin knew each other from the youth group, so they were really tight and spent a lot of time with each other. This caught my attention because I noticed the one other camper could potentially feel uncomfortable and out of place because of this. I mentioned this to my co-counselor, and he understood and let two of the kids know about this. I was immediately shocked at how much I did not have to worry about the one not feeling included. During games and club and everything else, these kids made a point to include the one they did not know in their activities. This really impressed me and showed me how Christ can work through campers’ interactions with one another and not just through counselors to campers.
I got to have a few laughs along the way, too. Before we dressed up for the theme night of Camelot filled with knights, princesses, and dragons, my kids and I were talking about how they always had to use gel to spike their hair and how I never do that. They then proceeded to beg and beg that they could spike my hair just to see what it would look like. I gave in, and they gave me a mohawk! After their work was complete, they said in broken English (which makes it so much funnier), “Now you will have girlfriend!” The hair apparently made me that much cooler.
The story from earlier about my host family running around the house with pillows hitting each other is probably my favorite, though. Magaly, the mom, came to Diego and said “Diego, are your bedsheets clean?” Confused, he said, “Um…yeah? I think so!” She lifted up the sheet to show a huge rip right down the middle of the sheets, and Diego started cracking up while his dad went to their room to get a belt. Magaly got a pillow and started hitting him and yelling in very quick Spanish, while Carlos hit Diego on his legs with the belt. That typically would sound overall chaotic (which it very well may have been) — but because of the smiles on their faces and the uncontrollable laughing that came with it, I could tell that it was just a typical fun moment between parents and their child.
3. What did you learn about yourself?
“No se trata de mi" was an often-recited phrase that we used during camp to remind us of a very humbling truth: "It’s not about me." Personally, I am very much what we at Pine Cove like to call a "retriever"; I have to have intentional conversation frequently or I will shut down. It was very humbling as a counselor to not be able to talk to my campers about their struggles and pour into them, and instead be in the background as more of someone who just encourages and laughs with the kids in my cabin. I learned of the importance of what a simple smile can do for someone; it makes people comfortable, it breaks down walls. I learned that I should not underestimate the power of non-verbal affection.
Another thing I learned about myself: I am very dependent on my “things.” On my car ride from DFW to Austin yesterday, I was talking to my friend Forrest and eventually wanted to show him pictures on my phone. After a minute or so, I became impatient with my iPhone, because “it wasn’t loading quick enough.” I immediately was reminded of what a blessing it is that I even have that phone — especially after having spent 10 days taking cold showers, hang-drying my clothes instead of using a dryer, and learning to not become so accustomed to air conditioning. I should be thankful for what I have, especially the relationships I’ve formed with other people over my possessions.
That leads into another lesson I’ve learned about myself: I take for granted what a blessing my family is to me. To be honest, we’ve had our fair share of disagreements in these past few years, and I’m sad to say that I don’t feel as close to my family as I’d like to. Having been blessed to spend my Costa Rica trip with the Quesadas, I was reminded of what a gift my family is; how no matter what the circumstance is, my parents will always love me, just as Jesus does to us. As I return to my lifestyle at home, I have decided to be more intentional with my family and invest more love into my relationships with my brothers and parents.
4. What did you find most challenging?
As I mentioned earlier, I am very much a “retriever.” This made the language barrier the most challenging part of the trip. Bible studies especially were tough; my co-counselor Diego was speaking too fast for me to be able to keep up well with what was going on during the bible study. I would often tune out because of mental exhaustion from trying so hard to keep up. I learned that I rely so much on verbal communication to share my heart with others. This challenged me to realize Christ’s love is not confined to words and sentences — Christ’s love conquers the limits of spoken language. I learned that I could still invest in these kids’ lives by playing games with them, doing cheers with them, and simply being excited to be there with them.
5. What concerns do you have as you go back home?
I’ve learned in life that a lot of walking closely with Christ is remembering — remembering what he’s done for me, remembering why he’s worth living for. So often I simply forget the lessons he has taught me. In Costa Rica, I was taught so much, and my concern as I revert back to my American lifestyle is that I’ll forget what he did while we were there or be distracted by the busyness of life here in Texas. My prayer is that I will not get caught up in a lifestyle of what I can do for myself, but that I will always be reminded that, like our Timbers Director Shawn Welch always tells us, I have been blessed so that I can be a blessing, and each action I make is serving toward Christ and the gospel.
6. Think through one story to be a representative story from your trip. Tell it often.
I think a great representative story that encompasses all that Commission Camping stands for is my story above about one of my campers that I was able to connect with really well. Though we didn’t speak the same language, we were able to move past the normal connection of verbal communication and we bonded through spending time together and getting excited about the activities that we did. The Lord blessed me and gave me this story so that I could share with others the mission of Commission Camping and even the mission of Pine Cove, which is to connect with campers and share the love of Christ with them.