14 April 2011

Trash: A True Story

I keep two plastic bags hanging on my bed post. One is for dirty clothes, and one is for paper trash.

Last night, I closed a chat with a friend by saying I was going to bed. Sweet dreams, he said. I thought briefly to myself about how I almost never have any dreams I can remember. 

I very, very rarely have trouble sleeping or wake up at night. But last night, I woke up suddenly at 3 or 4AM. Naturally, I thought,

“Well, this is dumb. I’m awake in the middle of the night. I guess I’ll go back to sleep.”

I reached for the sheet to curl up against the night breeze. But then I realized there was something in my hand, something by my pillow, something scattered on the mattress. It was trash from my plastic bag. Somehow, I had reached over the edge and down into the bag, and put trash in my bed. Basura.

Weird, right? That’s what I said. In my half awake state, I gathered it up and stuffed it back in the bag.

Out of nowhere, a couple of verses came to my mind. Verses that talk about trash, or basura. It says “Aun estimo todas las cosas como perdida por causa de Cristo, por amor del cual lo he perdido todo, y lo tengo por basura, para ganar a Cristo, y ser hallado en El…”

It was nice to have a Bible verse to go with things, but I wondered if it wasn’t a sign that I am treasuring earthly things more than knowing Jesus--or a warning against that tendency. Slightly disturbed by the gravity of that possibility, I went back to sleep.

In the morning, there was still some trash on the floor next to my bed. I was reminded right away of what happened, and of the verse, which I’ll put here in English for you guys:

I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him” (Philippians 3:7-9, NLT). 

God never ceases to amaze me in the ways He chooses to speak to me, just when I need it.

05 April 2011

Costa Rica: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

I really saw the hand of God in so many ways during my recent trip to renew my visa. I had been feeling pretty homesick and worn out, so it came just when I needed it.  I took an 8 hour bus ride through the breathtaking mountains to get to the capital, San Jose, where I stayed with family of a coworker for 3 days. Thanks for praying about the visa issue—praise God that I was given the maximum stay, enough to last me until I come home on August 9.

The border crossing town of Pasacanoas was a bit of a mess, with no clearly marked signs of where to get the stamps in your passport, and lots of people offering to change your Panamanian dollars for Costa Rican Colones, at dishonest rates. But God brought a random gringo who spoke Spanish with a horrible accent to all the officials, which he knew by their first names. He let me know just where I needed to go. He said he learned English in Florida growing up, when he was the only white kid on a baseball team of Cubans. I thanked him for his help.

My Panamanian phone didn’t work once I crossed the border, but I met an ethno-biologist from Barcelona with a sweet Andalusian accent who let me use his phone and later helped me get a taxi from the terminal to the church where I met the family I was staying with. He made sure the taxista knew he couldn’t over-charge me just for being a blonde, blue-eyed foreigner (“macha” in Costa Rican Spanish, “fula” here in Panama). Oh, and he also shared his vegetarian supper of eggs, beans, and rice wrapped in a huge leaf and cooked over an open fire by the indigenous people he does his research with. How cool is that?!?

Zila (the sister of a coworker), her husband Orlando, and their daughter Melody were my very friendly hosts. We went to “el puro campo” (the pure country, as in very rural area) for a day and a half, where I ate fresh guava. I never knew this before, but guava looks like a three-foot-long green bean. The fruit is white and surrounds several pits inside.

Although I loved Costa Rica, I was reminded during several parts of the trip of the sad reality of sex trafficking. At the border, there is a huge sign from UNICEF warning travelers to be careful and report suspicious activity. In a five minute taxi ride in San Jose at 8PM, I saw at least 3 prostitutes on street corners. When I told the taxista I was going to the area near a certain motel, he seemed a little alarmed. I explained that I was going to the church right next to the motel, and he laughed and said that there is a difference between motel and hotel in Costa Rica… motels are for stays less than one hour. O sea… (whatever…).  
This all makes more sense now that I learned that prostitution is legal in Costa Rica. (But pimping is not, apparently. Interesting.) In church on Sunday morning, the pastor said Costa Rica is the second in the world when it comes to sex tourism. The U.S. Embassy says, “ Costa Rica is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children trafficked into forced labor. Costa Rican women and children are trafficked within the country and to neighboring Central American countries, Mexico, and Japan, for commercial sexual exploitation. ” (http://costarica.usembassy.gov/tipcostarica.html).

Personally, I didn’t see any clear evidence of child sex trafficking during my short stay. Of course, it’s illegal—but in a culture with motels on so many street corners—with a  population and tourists already obsessed with instant gratification and turning people into goods—it doesn’t surprise me that it is such a problem. It doesn’t surprise me, but it digs and cuts at my heart to know innocent children are being exploited like that.
On the morning I left, I picked up an innocent-looking newspaper in a mom-and-dad’s cafĂ©. Between the celebrity gossip and local crime reports was ad after ad for the sex business. In the classifieds section, the “massage” section was the largest, with only a couple ads declaring the legitimacy of their services with the disclaimer “NO SEXO.”

After all of these glances into the not-so-underground world of the sex business in Costa Rica, I got a closer encounter with someone who is probably involved in it. On the way back to David, Panama during a 30 minute food stop, I was approached by a fellow passenger wearing a baseball cap. He appeared to be around 30 years old, and was smoking a cigarette. He introduced himself and I asked him where he worked. After having just read what I did that morning, I must have raised my eyebrows a little when he said he was a “masseuse.” Seeing my reaction, he said suddenly, “Oh no, actually I work in security for special events.” He proceeded to talk about how he has visited practically every country in Central America. “With your job?” I asked him. He said yes. So now he’s a masseuse-turned-security-guard who travels the world? Likely story. He asked me where I was sitting in the bus, but thankfully the bus was completely full. That was enough for me. I told him well, nice to meet you, it looks like the bus is re-boarding. I coldly shook his hand, but then withdrew mine after he fingered it sensually. I boarded the bus without looking back. That was the last I heard of him.

I had a lot of time in that bus ride to think. I didn’t have a window seat to enjoy the beautiful mountain views, my seat-partner was sleeping the whole time, I couldn’t sleep, and the curved, uneven roads would have made me sick if I had tried to read.

Although I have no proof the guy I had met is involved in the sex trade, it wasn’t the point. What if he was? Then I had shaken hands with hell. And if he wasn’t? It didn’t matter. He could have been. He could have been, and that encounter could have happened to any other girl traveling alone. The rest could be history.
It wasn’t that I was thinking these thoughts in an attempt to exaggerate the danger I was in. In reality, I never felt in any real danger. I had been praying for the whole trip, and I knew God was with me. A verse I’ve memorized in Spanish echoed in my head: “YHWH shall preserve your going out and your coming in—from this time forth and forevermore.”

But I did let my mind go there, because I did want to put myself in the shoes of women who are trapped in the sex trade. Why? Because for a long time, God has put a burden on my heart for their situation. Jesus stood up in the temple and said, “He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives,” and now we are the body of Christ, sent to heal the brokenhearted and proclaim liberty to the captives.

God has given me a lot of ideas about how I can use business and missions to reach out to victims of the sex trade. But Costa Rica reminded me of the gravity of the whole situation. It’s gonna require a lot of grace and power from the Holy Spirit to enter that battlefield. It’s a good thing that if God is for us, who will stand against us?

I want to close with something I wrote awhile ago:

 “But what about now? It's so easy for me to dream about the future, but what about now? [God has given me ample opportunities to live out my calling now.]
Unless you live in a hole, you have a friend who has been sexually abused. Trust me, you do. . . If you happen to find out which ones, don't freak out. Don't express your concern, and then emotionally keel over and start spending time with other friends. This IS your time. This IS the moment. You MUST use it. Just love, and love out loud. Love consistently. Love tangibly.

And if you have a (girl)friend, Christian or not, who has fallen sexually, the same holds true. Remind me of who Jesus ate dinner with that one time? And that other time? Oh, and that other time... Prostitutes. Remind me of who He defended from ruthless men? Oh, a prostitute. Remind me WHY Christ came to this earth? Not to condemn, but to save. 

Show that broken woman that her life is worth living, that she is worth loving. Then, maybe, she can begin to let go of the guilt and pain she harbors from years of mistreatment. Then, maybe, she will know how to love the life inside their womb. Then, maybe, she will see what true redemption looks like.”