I am blown away by the events of Sunday night. For New Years Eve we had our first annual Youth Skate Competition as well as a carnival for the younger kids and the families that are attending our house churches. We also have a short term missions team of 14 people in from Arizona who were ready to put on the games and face painting for the evening. Everyone on the team and our staff were so excited for this event to take place, at the same time none of us knew quite what to expect. Puerto Viejo is such a mystery to me in the fact that you can get people so excited about something, remind them everyday that it is coming up, and even have them verbally tell you they will be there and then when the day comes no one shows. People come if it works that day, and no amount of planning can change that. Our event started at 6:30pm with games for the younger kids and at 6 we had families starting to walk in. We had enough people in the beginning that food got pushed up from 8pm to 6:15 and it was an exciting predicament to be in. TJ, Phil and I decided to go crazy with the amount of cookies and cake we would offer that night since usually our policy is not to hand out anything. I was blown away with the amount of Thank You’s I got not just in the beginning but throughout the evening. Some of the regulars of our youth knew that this was an evening for them and they showed their appreciation more than I have ever seen before. The amount of people that showed up and the overall feel of the evening has been something that I have been thinking about since it happened. There are certain people that come to skate that I have watched over the months and have seen them interact and improve in their skating, and as much as some of them have grown important to me, I am still very much so being tested. They want to see how long I am going to stick around and what I am about. I can learn their names, pay attention to what skate board and helmet they use when I am working at the ramps, but being accepted is something that is on their timing and I cannot rush that. Sunday night I saw it for the second time since Phil and I got back from our trip home in December, that they are learning me as much as I have been learning them and they are just as undecided as to how to be friends with me as I am with them. Running the food and coffee table I was in a cool position of being able to interact with a large mix of people, and had so many great conversations with kids and adults as I was able to pour them coffee and give them cake. What impressed me the most though was that some of our regulars, the cool local kids who can intimidate me to no end, were coming up to the table and talking to me and not wanting coffee or cake. As much as I was trying to shove food down their throats it was a new feeling to have them just want to be around for a second. They were talking to me about how they were feeling about skating in front of all the people there, and who they thought would win the first and second prizes of new skate boards, and I couldn’t help but think that no amount of trying to “learn” them could compete with how I felt in that moment. It was amazing for me to realize how much I am cheerleading for them in all that they do, not just skating. Downer, one of our older boys corrected a younger kid, Jason, when he tried to take 6 pieces of cake instead of just one, and I just watched in silence as Jason respected him and walked off. Two Sundays ago at our Christmas Eve party, it was Downer being corrected by Topo, a local dad who he respects. I saw the cycle continue through Downer and I was excited that it was never once me who had to initiate it. That is a big part of what we are doing here, to get locals involved but also to put behavioral changes in affect simply by showing that they is valued.
Our team recognizes that God was the only one that could have caused that evening to be a success, and while we planned it out, so much was left out of our control simply because of the nature of this place and this culture. Honestly and not to sound spiritual, the evening in a large way was left up to God and He came through in a way that I still have not been able to shake. So many moments left me so thankful that I was allowed to be there. To be a part of the moment and really just see what it feels like to be in God's favor leaves you with such a strong feeling of unworthiness and gratitude. I hope that I do not forget how that feels; to know that all that I am seeing is because God chose to show His grace and His mercy on all our plans and that in my own way I knew He was proud of Alternative Mission’s heart for this community. Every person on our staff has bought in to this place, the people, and I believe that God continues to give us wisdom and insight into how to reach and serve them. The same reasons that this place confuses and frustrates me are the reasons that I recognize are needed for us to be continually seeking God to help us make a dent in things. God brought people there that night. I watched it. God allowed us to have an amazing evening without having to worry about people causing trouble or bringing things to the property they shouldn't have. On New Years Eve when everyone in the community is getting high and drinking we had no one bring beer or have to be asked to leave. At one point there were 100 people from the community there.
God allowed me to be a part of certain conversations with the youth that up to this point have not happened. I got to see what it looked like for some of our coolest kids to be nervous and excited to skate in front of everyone in what was for some of them their first experience with competition. I heard Raul and Davis tell me how their knees were skating and how all they could think about was just wanting their minute and a half to be over without falling in front of everyone. They were telling me how they felt about it all and I saw them be 16 year olds instead of the adults they try so often to be. Those kind of moments you cannot make happen. There were so many times that in my head I could do nothing more than be aware of the fact that I was priviledged to be there and that it was by the grace of God that I am allowed to be a part of what is happening in this place. I am overwhelmed with gratitude for what God did on Sunday. I have never felt so appreciative, and so aware of the fact that God is going to move in His own way in this place and all I can hope for is to be around in those moments to see it, to witness to what He is causing happen, and to turn around and give thanks for all that I have had the opportunity to be a part of. I have never felt more aware of the fact that I have done nothing to deserve it. To Him alone be the glory.