Day Three started out with a visit from our friend, Selene and her new daughter, Serene! Selene was one of our translators on my first visit to Costa Rica, two years prior, and we had stayed in touch and were so excited to connect again. We all enjoyed the visit, the giving of gifts and the sharing of love. It is always so special reconnecting with friends; family of the heart. That was what was so special about my first visit to Costa Rica, the connection of the heart. Even those who I could not communicate with verbally, were connected through the spirit; just amazing to me but yet, so God!
Our trips mission statement was from the scripture: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34,35)
Our desire was to share HIS EXTREME LOVE with everyone we encountered, and with each other. We spent a couple of hours that morning loving on Selene and her baby, such a special time! Everyone wanted to hold the baby, to spend time with this precious angel and her mama!
It is fun to do the easy things of life, playing with babies is one of the easiest, and we so enjoyed this, but sometimes God calls us to step out of our comfort box, to do the things that are not so easy, and that is where the rubber meets the road; how willing are you to do His Will? That was the question I encountered that afternoon.
We were to visit the Men’s Prison that afternoon, we had asked Pastor Wilmer to set us up with a prison visit, but we didn’t realize that the only prison in Puntarenas was a men’s facility. We were a group of 12 women; women and children seemed to be our focus and now, here we are scheduled to minister at a men’s prison. And all of a sudden, my heart did not feel so willing. Fear seemed to grip me. I really don’t know what I was afraid of, fear isn’t a normal part of my emotional make-up, but the idea of walking into a men’s prison in Costa Rica and giving them a Word just shook me to my core. I was really struggling and I wasn’t sure how to move forward.
I went up to my room to pray and while I was there, God gave Gaby a word of encouragement for me. She reminded me that every other Wednesday night, I give a message to thirty to forty men at The Tree. They are a part of a men’s program that St. Matthew’s House developed, and they spend each Wednesday night with us at church, during our Wednesday Worship and Word time.
These men receive the messages I give them, I have a good report with them and I enjoy these nights very much. The men that we will minister to in the prison in Costa Rica will be just like these fellows that I love so much. I do not have to fear them. I will see my Wednesday night friends in the faces of the men at the prison. And that word of encouragement brought peace into my heart. Thank you Jesus for reminding me of this!
We all put on our DTNRT (Do The Next Right Thing) T-Shirts and headed to the prison. DTNRT is a ministry from one of our Naples friends. His mission statement, his reminder of what the next step forward should be. And because his wife, Deanna, was with us on this trip, I thought it appropriate that she give a brief testimony to the guys as well.
It was a little intimidating going through the entrance process of the prison, and walking past the men in the courtyard, their stares seem to penetrate my mind and for just a brief period, the fear returned, but again, there was Gaby encouraging me, this is just like another Wednesday night.
We all piled into one small room, twelve prisoners, twelve women and Pastor Wilmer and a couple from Puntarenas who sponsored this ministry. As Pastor Wilmer led worship, I felt the Spirit of the Lord in that place. Amazing … just amazing. If I closed my eyes, I was in His presence, not in a dingy prison holding room.
Deanna gave a powerful testimony of God’s grace in her life, His gift to her and I could see the men were touched. Then Gaby and I gave the Word that God had for them, Don’t Let You Past Destroy Your Future, from the story of Abraham’s father, Terah, in Genesis 11: 26-32.
In verse 31, is says that Terah took Abraham, his wife, and his nephew and headed towards Canaan, which we know is The Promised Land. But along the way, he got sidetracked. He stopped in a town, that had the same name as one of his sons, who had passed away. And for whatever reason, he, Terah, couldn’t go any further. He never made it to The Promised Land.
Many times, we let the pain of our past waylay us. We get so entangled in it, we can never move past it and it destroys us.
Have you ever wondered why a car’s review mirror is about 1/100th the size of the front window? We use the rear view mirror to check occasionally, to make sure nothing is close to us that might cause us harm, but our focus is always looking to the front when we are driving. If we drove looking in that rear view mirror, we would crash very quickly.
But I have found, that is how we go through life sometimes. Focusing on what is behind us, instead of what is ahead. And we CRASH. BOOM!
I shared with the men my past, how I spent 20 years of my life, focused on all the bad things of my past, instead of looking ahead to the promises that God had for me. And I crashed. Down I went into a spiral of negative emotions; shame, guilt and despair. And those emotions almost destroyed me.
But one day, I turned my focus around. Instead of the past, I looked forward, towards Jesus. And His great love changed everything. I saw myself the way He saw me and everything changed. I no longer listened to the lies of the enemy, but believed the voice of truth. And I encouraged them to do the same.
And as I gave this message to these men, I didn’t see hardened criminals, but men who had made mistakes, but were there to move forward, to not let their past destroy them.
One fellow actually gave his life to the Lord during the ministry time at the end and when they filed out and headed back to their reality, I felt so encouraged, that I was able to make a difference in their day, bring them a message of hope, through JESUS!
We headed back to the house, everyone thinking about what we had just experienced; thoughtful and contemplative, thankful for another opportunity to share His Extreme Love and to encourage these men to do the next right thing!
We then spent some time playing on the beach. I hadn’t had the opportunity to check it out before, but we had a couple of ours break before our next service, so this was a great time to do a bit of frolicky in the sand and surf.
The beach is Costa Rica was on the Pacific Ocean and quite a bit different that the beach we are used to in Naples. But the beach is the beach and we were happy to be there, thankful for such a beautiful place to stay, for such favor poured upon us!
Gaby was enjoying the surf. It was fun to put the cares of the prison behind us and allow the peace of the Lord to flow through us in this special place. There is always something special for me when I am at the beach. As I listen to the waves pound the sand, my heart always finds comfort and peace in this place, Gulf of Mexico, Atlantic or Pacific Ocean, it does not matter. God controls all the oceans and for me, He uses them to bring me a sense of renewal and refreshing.
Nothing better than to just get your feet dirty in the sand and allow the surf to soak your pants! Nothing better!
Thursday evening we headed out to a very special church in Puntarenas, El Roble, with Pastor Octavio. This is the church that Selene and our friend, Michelle, our cook Ana, and several others attended. I had met Pastor Octavio and his wife on my earlier visit to Puntarenas, and was excited to see them again.
Pastor Octavio has a heart for Israel and you can see it throughout the church, that the focus is JESUS THE MESSIAH for the Jews and the Gentiles alike. I love that!
We so enjoyed the dancing, there is something so special about watching these young people flow in His Spirit. It truly does connect us on another level. There were a couple of little girls in the midst, it was so special watching them, watch the older ones to make sure their moves were correct. I know our hearts were touched and I am sure Jesus was well pleased. It was truly a beautiful presentation to Him!
Shirley did a wonderful job of praying for the offering, it truly was a night of blessings!
Everyone was enjoying the evening, young and old. Old friends and new ones, everyone was receiving the blessing of the evening.
Gaby and I shared a message, Better Days Are Ahead, looking at the faithfulness of God, even when things are not looking so bright on the outside. I Peter 5:10 gives us this encouragement, “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen. “
There will be trials and struggles and we will suffer, but after a little while, GOD himself will restore us. I don’t know about you, but that promise brings me such hope!
After the message, there was a special time of ministry and then everyone wanted pictures with all our new friends. I so love this part of the mission, making new friends. God connecting hearts where there may be location and physical barriers, but His Extreme Love covers all. The promise of Ephesians is saturated in my heart and what encourages me to keep moving forward on this mission of love that He has set before us!
I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. 17 Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. 18 And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is.19 May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. (Ephesians 3: 16-19 NLT)
That is what we hoped to bring to this city, His Extreme Love. That was our desire, that they would see His love through us, and that through us, they would encounter Him, on another level. That hearts would be healed and lives changed by Jesus.
When that is your focus, it is easy to do whatever God asks. We don’t have to spend a lot of time wondering if we are doing the next right thing. When our eyes are on Him, when He is our focus, everything falls into place. From the welcome we received at El Roble that evening, we knew we were doing the next right thing!