Featured Image: Tim Staiger taking the kids for a spin!
The surprising nature of a mission trip is that you leave thinking you are the giver of blessings, only to find in the end that you are a recipient of blessings. This was true for John Stachowski, a first-time mission team member in Costa Rica. He describes an experience on the last day of the trip, when he noticed a boy who had not gone to the altar for prayer. John sat down next to him and asked, “Can I pray for you?” The boy raised his hands like a steeple and placed them in front of his face. John did the same and they moved together so their hands were touching. When they had finished praying, the boy opened his arms and wrapped John in a big hug. John was in tears: “I thought it was what he needed, but I soon knew that’s what I needed.”
John was on one of two Woodland Hills teams sent to serve kids at Camp Penuel in Costa Rica. Camp Penuel offers a safe place for children, ages 7 to 11, with challenging family situations to get away from the inner city and experience what it means to just be a kid. Camp Penuel sees themselves as una familia en Dios y nos amamos…“one family in God, loving one another.”
Activities at Camp Penuel include crafts, songs, games, meals, and encountering Jesus through creative means. For example, team member Judy Peterson creatively used a “magic” Bible coloring book to share her testimony. She explained that as a child, she learned about Jesus and his story written in the Bible, but it seemed empty to her because she couldn’t understand it. At this point, she showed the coloring pages that were blank. After she asked Jesus into her heart, the words began to have meaning. When she showed the coloring pages a second time, they contained black and white drawings. The more she studied and listened to her pastor and teachers, the more the Bible came alive and filled with meaning. The final time she showed the children the book it was full of color. They loved this special “trick.”
As the team prayed for their trip, they asked that God would help them overcome the language barrier and openly express their emotions. He generously provided in both areas. Stuart Craver said, “Even though there was a language barrier for many of us, the Holy Spirit helped us the entire week and we were never lost. We were always able to communicate, and we didn’t need to understand every word to experience how God was moving.” Lisa Beste recalls, “There were team members in tears as children from the camp thanked them for helping them with a craft … Many were worried about showing emotion, but throughout the trip recognized the beauty of God breaking our hearts for what breaks his.” They were extremely grateful for answered prayers.
The staff at Camp Penuel were also a God-send. They made it possible for volunteers to connect with the children. Gary Beste described them as a “lifeline” creating a bridge of trust. They set an excellent example of service and love for the Woodland team. One day, on a two mile walk back from a swim in the river, one of the smallest kids broke the strap on his flipflop. The road was full of sharp rocks, and everyone was at a loss as to what to do. Then one of the youth leaders, Jasmin, gave her sandal to the child. She walked the rest of the way barefoot. Gary was blown away by this example of sacrifice and kindness.
When Jeff Knutson closes his eyes and thinks back on the trip, he remembers the face of a young girl. Like most of the children, she came from a part of town that was full of crime and drugs. She had lost her mother and didn’t have a father. She spoke very little English and Jeff spoke very little Spanish, but they managed to communicate in other ways. On the last day when it was time to say goodbye, she hugged Jeff and said in English, “I love you.” Recalling that moment, Jeff said, “Of course, my heart melted, and I got misty eyed. Though I will never understand the full story, at least I was able to play a part in it.”
Woodland’s two teams were able to play a part in the stories of 296 children, and they discovered the joy of both giving and receiving blessing.