Late one night, just a few days into our Costa Rican mission trip, just as I was happening to fall asleep, my bed and the room around me began to shake. At first, I was confused, unsure of what was going on. Half awake I was also, I admit, scared. It was only when I noticed the water glasses on the dresser hitting and clanging against each other that I noticed the whole room was shaking. Yes, it was an earthquake. The next day it was confirmed when the news outlets reported that a 6.4 magnitude earthquake had hit the border between Panama and Costa Rica. With as much as I had traveled to other countries and to the west coast of the USA, this was a first for me. What a strange and unsettling experience it was. And yet, I left that experience wiser and more knowledgeable because of it. Interestingly, many in our group slept right through the tremor, unaware of what had happened until they were told or saw the news the next morning. Some were even adamant that it hadn’t happened until shown proof.
I see this earthquake experience as a metaphor for the experience we all had in Costa Rica. Our worlds were shaken both physically and metaphorically. Our eyes and hearts were opened in incredible ways that ultimately led to lives that were changed forever.
Many of us had been on youth mission trips both domestic and abroad and for some this experience was entirely new. For some, it was the first time outside of the U.S. and even their first time on an airplane. Trust me when I say, their worlds were shaken. In a world where many are increasingly fearful of “the other”, the “stranger”, in which the world is increasingly divisive – these youth got to see the truth. And the truth is that our youth, these young men and women, physically tore down walls of a church and building so that more room could be made for others like them, to see and do the work that is needed, to do the work of building bridges, to do the work of welcoming more strangers and to ultimately build God’s kingdom. Many of us, had our blinders removed and realized that these children of God, the men and women in Central America, who have so much less then us, welcomed and loved us like their own. They fed us, danced with us, worshiped with us, laughed with us and they ultimately changed us. Because of this experience, these missioners are no longer sleeping through the small earthquakes around them. Their eyes and hearts are open to see Christ in “the other” and in the “stranger”.
You have heard that Costa Rican’s use the phrase “Pura Vida” indiscriminately. As way to say hello or to just brush away the negative. Yes, these young men and women experienced, more life, more joy, more Christ on this mission trip. They experienced that “pure life” that the Costa Rican’s speak of, because they were not afraid to have their lives shaken up a bit. They are better and wiser Christians because of it.
Welcoming and working with “the stranger” can be hard work. It is scary to embrace those whose customs, language, skin and lives differ from ours. But, here is where mission work, worship and spiritual practices help us. When we have our lives “shaken up” in practice, by going outside our comfort zones, by doing God’s work, we remember that we are all Christ’s people. We are all God’s children. For when we welcome “others”, through them, we also welcome Christ.
Blessings and peace to you all.
Rector, St. Thomas Episcopal Church
College Station, TX