Costa Rica STM Day 8-11 - Restoration

As mentioned in my previous entry, our team headed to Guapiles for the weekend. Saturday morning, Gary took us on a small hike in the forest, just as a little treat. It was really nice to take a break and just enjoy nature and scenery of Costa Rica's forest, not to mention the humidity. OH THE HUMIDITY! The hike was really nice, and I'm pretty sure the group enjoyed the break.

Janessa feeling the humidity!

Janessa feeling the humidity!

After our mini adventure, we headed to our main destination: the rehabilitation center. Gary explained to us that this was an all-male program for those are struggling with addictions, specifically drugs and alcohol. Because our team was the very first group to visit the center, we all did not know what to expect. But our intention was to be there to serve and a source of encouragement.

Upon arrival, I noticed that 90% of the facility was outdoors. We received a tour, and there are four buildings: office, kitchen, dorm, and bathrooms; there are also an outdoor "gym" (which is simply weights and benches laid out), a hole for a pool, grass field, chicken pen, and the Zoe Store (which is a gazebo covering tables filled with donated men's, women's, and children's clothing, accessories, and furniture that are sold to the general public). And all the money earned from the store goes to the rehabilitation center.

There are about 25 men at the rehabilitation center; the ages of the patients vary from early 20's to 50's. Each person has a job, whether within the facility such as gardening, cleaning, cooking, running the store, or for-hire such as construction or mechanic.

Henry explained that each patient has either been brought in by family members or friends, or the patients themselves voluntarily admitted into the rehabilitation program. And once completely enrolled, the patient is to stay in the center for 6 months; once they are out in the general public, they must then begin the process of readapting to society, which includes surrounding themselves with family and friends who will not encourage their addiction to relapse.  

Most importantly, this is a rehabilitation center focused on restoring broken lives through teaching the Gospel and Christ. Because patients are not allowed to leave the facility unless with permission, they hold church services every Sunday there. In addition, the center offers spiritual and emotional/mental counseling. Henry strongly believes that these needs must be met in order for true progress and transformation to begin; they strongly emphasize the internal progress and transformation then follow through with the external. 

We played a balloon game with them

We played a balloon game with them

Our first day there, we pretty much spent our time familiarizing ourselves with how the facility runs and introduced ourselves to the men through icebreakers and games; we played soccer, a balloon game (which requires players to tie a balloon to their ankle, and they must pop other players' balloons by stepping on their balloons), and a maze game (which players must walk through a 8x8 maze each square at a time while being aware which squares are valid and which aren't). At the end of the night, we gathered in a circle, and Janessa shared her testimony followed by some of the men sharing their thoughts on her testimony.   

On Sunday, we helped with worship by playing three worship videos, and Gary spoke a message on Matthew 11:28-30 and seeking Christ for our troubles. It was really encouraging to see Gary speak on choosing the wild life or choosing Christ, since the message was relatable to the men in the rehabilitation center. All of these men have suffered through consuming numerous kinds of drugs as well as alcohol and basically losing everything they have: family and home. 

Worship during Sunday service

Worship during Sunday service

After service, our team spent some time in the Zoe Store organizing some of the clothes since all the tables are just unorganized piles. Unfortunately, we were unable to completely organize all the tables and sections, and we did do enough to establish men's, women's, and children's sections. 

After lunch, we basically can free time, so we spent our day getting to know some of the men at the center. We decided it was best to split into pairs at sit at different tables to converse with them. It was really encouraging to see them smile and be so transparent with us, especially since we're not Costa Rican locals. In fact, one of the men is a professional butcher, so Nathan and I wanted to see how he kills chicken there. Our experience led to Nathan having the opportunity to kill a chicken. He failed to kill the chicken in one slash in the first attempt, but he successfully beheaded the next chicken in his second attempt. Oh, the things we learn and do.

Later, Nathan and I shared testimonies in hopes of encouraging the men that God uses broken lives to encourage other broken lives. One of the men said that God is willing to love the worst of the worst, no matter what. That is our hope: every person whom we interact with knows that he or she is loved by Christ. Because most, if not all, these men have had their childhood taken away from them due to circumstances, many times they remain closed and unwilling to be transparent or honest. So, it was definitely an honor to be able to talk to them and share laughter with each other. This was perhaps one of the most humanizing events they have had in a long time. 

After dinner, we hung out with them for a bit longer before saying goodbye since we headed back to San Jose in the morning.

Reflection: Overall, I believe our time in Guapiles was definitely well spent despite being the first group to visit the facility. However, there are some details about our weekend that is rather important to note. Because there are women in our group, our leaders ensured that we stayed in pairs and established a dress code, such as longer-lengthed shorts and no tanks tops. We also had to be cautious in our conversations and interactions with them. For example, I realized that some of the men were getting a bit too comfortable around us, and one even asked us for our Facebook information, which we did not provide. I'm sure that spending time with them was a real encouragement. I am aware that their lives in the facility are heavy on routine, so I'm hoping our presence was a highlight of their week.

As for me, perhaps the most powering thought was this experience was that even though the men are required to stay there for six months, they have the option of leaving whenever they feel like. Did you catch that? These mens choose to stay. How great is our God?! It is my prayer that they continue to be strong in their growth, and I hope they continue to seek and follow the Lord above everything else.

The road in front of the rehabilitation center leading to the city

The road in front of the rehabilitation center leading to the city

Monday night, we rejoined Pastor Christian and his church to feed the homeless. Fewer came this time because it was raining; however, there was a Korean-American group that joined us, so our servant team was rather large that night. It went pretty well, our team's interactions with the locals has grown significantly in comparison to last week.

As for today, we spent the majority of our day in Pavas finishing up our painting job as well as the remodeling of the feeding center. Things are looking great, and we're pretty sure we'll finish everything tomorrow.

May God continue to use us for His will, and may we continue to give Him praise!

Prayer Request(s):

  1. Constant reminder of our purpose in Costa Rica
  2. Continued focus on ministry
  3. Mental, emotional, and physical rest
  4. Healthy recovery (bug bites all over our bodies)

In Him,

Oscar Tsai

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