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Week two is wrapping up for me at this mission in Costa Rica, and here are my latest observations, presented in a very particular order, not random at all, no, of course not, that would be lazy:

* For the first time, I just saw two people here get mad at each other. Voices were raised! I knew they weren’t perfect!

* Time flies when you’re having fun.

* Just because people don’t necessarily look that organized, doesn’t mean they’re wasting time or moving slow. They might be getting a heck of a lot done. A heck of a lot more than ME, in fact.

* You don’t get as hungry when it’s hot all the time. Or perhaps it’s the regular meal times— whatever the reason, I don’t get hungry until the meal time, and then I really do. Not that that has stopped me from snacking on peanuts in the meanwhile.

* On that note: It’s really nice to eat at a regular time.

* Standing in line (like for food) or sitting next to people at dinner, you learn a lot about them and what they’re doing. It’s a casual social lubricant and glue. Except when no one sits next to you. Then it’s much worse than sitting on your awesome couch watching your favorite show. But mostly that hasn’t happened, especially thanks to Nina, who seems to take a certain pleasure in making sure no one sits alone.

* I don’t look as old as I am.  In fact, some people here simply don’t believe me when I tell them. That’s probably because the bulk of volunteers here are from 18-21, with the standard deviation range probably 17-24, and the staff from mid 20s to mid 30s.  I’m the old guy, and I’m really glad I don’t stand out more.

* I feel like an anthropologist, or how I imagine one would feel. And I love it. I am experiencing such different behaviors, beliefs, vocabulary, actions, attitudes, living structures, social norms, conversations, relationships, and hearing people’s life stories… Fantastic. And such a learning time. New ideas. New visions. New possibilities. Yeah, I’m kind of rambling here and being vague… I’d give more detail if I could see it, but I can’t yet.

* Costa Rica has a store called PriceSmart that is a clone, as direct clone as a stormtrooper, of Costco. From the huge warehouse down to the cheap hot dogs at the front, the air tubes that take the cash from the registers, the guy at the door who checks receipts, the free samples,... it’s surreal.

* (U.S. President) Obama came to town Friday, and the capital SHUT DOWN for the visit. Kids got the day off school, government workers had the day off, huge parts of downtown were pedestrian-only. He was meeting with the Costa Rican prez and the heads of many other Latin American countries. Ticos (Costa Ricans call themselves Ticos) cleaned the highway and cleared it of traffic for his trip into town, and shut down all air traffic over the country for an hour before and after Air Force One’s arrival. Pretty cool, and a bit overblown, and shows you how people treat the importance of the U.S. down here.

* Costa Rican coins are STUPID. Every denomination is just about exactly the same size and the same color and the same design. Like, were you THAT pressed for time and low on creativity? Gosh. Jeez. I have twice tried to pay for things and ended up in a bit of a suspicious confrontation with a vendor because I short-changed them, and both times I’d been really careful beforehand to have my money ready but I’d ended up with the wrong coin—and once, I got given back the wrong change and I’m positive it was an accident again caused by the coinage.

* This base has a small store called El Chinamo, or what I’d call a tuck store. The store sells chocolate bars, microwave popcorn, raisins, ice cream, and the staff is trilingual, English, Spanish and German. You also get change here for the laundry; the washing machine takes only U.S. quarters, which are hard to come by otherwise. I thought the store’s name was a corruption of the Chinaman, which is what corner stores were called in Western Canada but apparently that’s not the case.

* Meals here look like this:

Things you get: beans, and rice, and a bit of meat (chunks of chicken or pork with extra mushrooms thrown in as decoys), and a salad of lettuce and tomatoes, some pasta or a legume like a boiled-then-fried potato or a weird South American gourd like an albino pumpkin or something.  Things you don’t get: cheese. dessert. bacon. beer. berries. beef. seconds if you’re slow.

* I’ve been working on the Web site here, but the internet connection is spotty. It’s fine for email, and if you’re not in critical need of a connection, a little outage here and there isn’t bad.  But if you need to FTP files or backup a database, and you don’t want to have it fail in the middle.. or if you want to get into a good groove of editing, testing, modifying, reloading, reading docs, trying code… you have to stop and pause all the time like you’re hitting speed bumps—or a wall.. it’s tough. Quite tough.

* Once a week, this YWAM base has Intercession, in which everyone on base gathers and prays for certain things. This week, it was for a few things: it was for success for the teams that were out on missions, it was for skilled staff to come to fill certain needs of the base, and it was for wisdom for the leadership team to be able to lead the base in the direction that God wanted.

Intercession was a new concept for me—or rather, a new word and a clarity of understanding for something I hadn’t really understood before. There are different types of prayer, and intercession, alongside adoration, confession and thanksgiving, is a type of prayer for ‘others’, however that’s defined by the group. Wikipedia says “In so doing, [intercession prayer] both appeals to, and seeks to embody, God’s own love for the world.” Cool stuff.

* Another concept that’s been made clearer to me by being here is about good works and being good. It turns out, that being a good person, and doing good things, is not critical for being saved or getting into heaven. Christians don’t do (or perhaps I should say “shouldn’t do”) good things in order to get into heaven. Rather, if you are filled with Holy Spirit, you are naturally inclined to want to do good things, and you help others because you are moved to do so, not because you HAVE to do so—or so goes Christian theory. Meanwhile, you don’t do bad things either, because you stop wanting to, not because you’re afraid of the consequences..

I find this pretty interesting because it explains to me the muddling of why Christians have a hard time believing that atheists would or could do good or avoid evil without believing in a religion. For Christians, good behavior comes from a wellspring within powered by God; I can see why, if you had a belief in that source of all energy for goodness, you wouldn’t believe that there could be other methods to power good behavior—it’s like a gasoline-based society having a hard time believing that electric car engines will ever work. 

At the same time, atheists (some atheists, but it’s just be polemic for efficiency’s sake) see Christians as being rule makers and followers—“do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the signs”—and then criticize them for not following all the rules of the Bible, but seem not to understand that Christians take it on faith (natch) that…

if the first step of accepting Jesus into one’s heart is done well and properly, the behaviors that stem from that will (with guidance and well-meaning and correctable error) be naturally good, and that studying the bible simply helps you hear what your (heart, God, conscience) is telling you is right. Righteousness and activism, selflessness and smugness, facets of the same internal jewel of Christians.

Which I think is too bad and disappointing, because I was planning to rob about three liquor stores when I got back on all the goodwill I stored up on this trip, but apparently it doesn’t work that way. Alas.

* Watching people try to lead, and try to follow here, is so educational. Ways that you can get people motivated. Ways that you can help people to achieve their own goals, or bring them together for common goals. Ways to minimize interpersonal conflict when you have tons of people living in a communal space, sharing limited resources. It’s so interesting.

One thing I love is the way the occasional outages bring the base together—water off for an hour and suddenly you have shared hardship and support. The almost-completely trouble-free nature of North American living means that we don’t turn to each other as often, we don’t commiserate as much, we don’t share limited resources in a supportive sense, and I think we are the poorer for it, at all levels.

Yes, it’s nice that the power in my office in Gastown is stable as helium and doesn’t flickr on and off every few days. But when it does that here, we all look around and go “we’re all in this together, aren’t we” and that creates a different kind of wondrous energy that can then be used to bring people into sync and give progress in other ways.

* I have too much stuff. It’s clear that, if I can bring one backpack full of things to this place and think to myself that I have too many pairs of socks.. that I don’t need the additional 15 pairs I have back in Vancouver smile And let’s not even get started on my crepe maker.

* A regular bedtime is nice, and it’s good for me, and I like it… but there is absolutely no way I’m going to be able to keep that up when I go back. smile For instance, I stayed up blogging this… heh.

See you all soon!

Overheard

“The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.”

...who said it?

“Almost every American I know does trade large portions of his life for entertainment, hour by weeknight hour, binge by Saturday binge, Facebook check by Facebook check. I’m one of them. In the course of writing this I’ve watched all 13 episodes of House of Cards and who knows how many more West Wing episodes, and I’ve spent any number of blurred hours falling down internet rabbit holes. All instead of reading, or writing, or working, or spending real time with people I love.”

...who said it?

“Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.”

...who said it?

“I play with variables constantly.”

...who said it?

“Only the person who has learned Continual Love coming from a heart of Gratitude/Worship can effectively deal with the problem of loneliness.”

...who said it?

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