As the bus curved down a treacherous hill in the pouring rain, I wondered, “What are we doing here?!” Yes, it had been 10 months since I saw my sister and her family who decided to do mission work in Costa Rica. I missed her dearly, but “Why, O why, had I decided to travel with my 85 year old mother to a town which was not even on the map?”
“Sheer craziness!” I thought to myself. However, God wanted it and I was so glad I listened (for once). The plane rides ran smoothly, but this 4-hour bus ride was just the start of the pilgrimage. Luckily, my mom was offered a seat, providentially near a seminarian. However, my brother-in-law and I stood for hours on the crowded bus.
However, after reaching our halfway point nearly four hours later, God showed me some beautiful things. My sister and her girls were so glad to see us. I could see they were so happy to have some family support. They looked tired, but serene.
When we finally arrived in the small town of Coopevega, Costa Rica, 12 miles south of Nicaragua, I was exhausted, but happy. The five days flew by with simple meals of rice, beans, and eggs and sometimes, meat cooked on a camping stove supported by cinder blocks. We were touched that my family went out of their way to purchase meat which we were sure they probably couldn’t afford.
The spirit there was one of joy. Oh yes, their 2-bedroom home with a metal roof was a far cry from their spacious 3-bedroom home in Indiana, yet they were happy. Throughout our time, we visited with the poor in Coopevega and Limoncito, a neighboring town.
We prayed the rosary and brought them staples of beans, rice and coffee. We were touched that all were so friendly and welcoming.
One day we visited a poor family in Limoncito. The home was sparse with a mud floor. Ill-fitting panels of wood made up the outside walls and I wondered what these poor people do during the 10-month rainy season of the slightly-cleared rainforest. I was sure rain would easily make its way into their home.
I was impressed by their kindness. They offered my mom their “best” chair — a rocker sparsely-woven with wire on a very thin metal frame. However, the family and children sat on benches which lined the walls.
The babies slept in worn hammocks not made of cloth but what looked like a shower curtain. As a Secular Franciscan, I gazed in amazement at this abject poverty. St. Francis would be happy here, but my heart ached, “I have so much at home, it’s shameful,” I thought.
The gracious family listened intently as my sister Penny talked while her husband John translated in Spanish. She spoke of the joy of knowing God and how much He loves us. In addition, she spoke of Our Mother, Mary, and the rosary. Much love filled that house and I sensed they had some hope after we left.
During each home visit, owners shared their coffee and lives with us. Most do not own cars, so they walk everywhere on a red mud road that winds through the town. Although they had little, smiling faces greeted us.
Since the nearest hospital is hours away by bus, many older people die prematurely. They are loving people, but many there do not know God and need catechesis.
By the week’s end, I clearly understood all my sister and her family had sacrificed: a secure home, job, friends, family, cars, conveniences, even their mother tongue to help others know Christ. However, I saw what they gained: a simpler life and a chance to share their faith. I sat in admiration and thought, “What would I give up to follow Christ?” I wasn’t sure but I know God is never outdone in His generosity.
Peter began to say to him, “We have given up everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the gospel who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age: houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come, (Mark 10:28-30).
© Mary Mitchell, 2017
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