I confess it is possible I might have learned these lessons in other ways, in other environments, in other situations, and that it is not that I had not learned these lessons yet at all. God had already been teaching me these things, in varying degrees.
But it is here in Costa Rica where God has been solidifying these lessons and making them clear in my mind, lessons learned experientially, as I have put one foot forward in front of the other and said, "Today, Lord, I choose to trust in You."
1) Our willingness to follow the Lord wherever He leads us will take us farther than we imagined and will allow for experiences we never thought we'd have.
Now, lest this seem cliche and "so obvious," let me assert here. It's not so obvious. Actually, I never would have predicted....
The story for me is still not completed yet, so I don't know for how long I will be here in Costa Rica or when (if) exactly I will return to pursue medical school, but for now I am in Costa Rica working with AIDS patients and speaking Spanish.
Four years ago, I didn't even know Spanish, and if you told me a two years ago that God would allow for a 501(c)(3) hospital organization public charity to be put in place so that I could work with AIDS patients and have teams come out to serve, I would not have believed you.
If you told me that I would be the one writing the 501(c)(3) application and that indeed we would be awarded the rigorous hospital organization public charity status, I wouldn't have believed you.
If you told me that a faithful team of financial supporters and prayer partners would gather around me so we could work together to be the hands and feet of Christ to the AIDS patients we are serving, I would not have believed you.
If you told me that this organization would be receiving teams of trained professionals in the field in Costa Rica so we could get even more done, I would not have believed you.
But I here I am, being the hands and feet of Christ, and living a very different life from what I had foreseen even two years ago, and these things are happening.
2) Walking in obedience is harder than it looks.
When Paul wrote, "I have become all things to all people...by all possible means...," what he wrote about isn't easy.
When I come to the AIDS facility and spend 10 to 20 percent of my daily time with certain half of my patients just trying to track them down (because of behavioral reasons that I can not list here,) this "job" is not always fun.
If I want to be effective, I will put my focus on leading by influence, even as I try to track these patients down, which consumes energy, because Costa Rican communication patterns are far more indirect than the direct style [we] U.S. Americans take so much for granted.
How many times have I had to catch myself and say, "No, pull back, Anne. That's not the way to do it"?
Sometimes, I find myself feeling incredibly incompetent.
Or, switching to another example, would I be able to count how many times I have been treated as unintelligent or unintellectual because I didn't conjugate a [Spanish] verb correctly? Being treated as "unintelligent" doesn't feel very flattering, and after months and months of receiving this [very unoriginal] response (grrrr,) I can say, it's not my favorite part of the "job"....
But that's when I am reminded again of what Paul says -- what does Paul say?
"For the love of Christ compels us...." (2 Cor. 5:14.)
It's not our love of other things that compels us (those who choose to do international work) to do what we do,
To eat humble pie,
To cross cultural communication barriers in ways that are not convenient for us and often leave us feeling incompetent....
But real love is never convenient....
3) The very thing we dread is often the thing that is the best for us.
Let me reassure you, I didn't learn this the easy way....
The atttrition rate for expatriots is 50% within TWO years.
Now, in case when you read that number you think I must be mistaken, let me reassure you: I'm not.
It's true: half of all expatriots, including international ministry workers, leave Costa Rica within two years.
Costa Rica is not exactly an easy place to live.
While many Costa Ricans like U.S. Americans, many, MANY other Costa Ricans do NOT like U.S. Americans for a wide variety of reasons too involved to list here.
Many, many Costa Ricans are exceedlingly friendly and hospitable for tourist and business reasons, but when it comes to making a real Costa Rican friend, it can take years.
In the meanwhile, the walk through the desert can feel very, very long and extremely dry.
And, having a twin sister and having grown up with an automatic best friend, this "desert" was and is still not exactly my definition of a good time.
However, God knows it is in the solitude, often in the forced solitude, that we learn to hear clearly from Him. Or learn to hear more clearly from Him.
And what a gift it has turned into.
There are other areas where I have learned that the thing that I have dreaded is the best thing for me.
Jesus said, "Whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it." (Mark 8:35)
Well, I have walked with Jesus for quite a few years now,
But my human nature still is not attracted to this idea of "losing" my life.
Do I think Jesus was not saying the truth?
Why is it so often that I treat Jesus as if He was lying? Is it not in being dead to our flesh and walking with the Spirit that we overcome this world?
Yet so often, I have thought that if I die to myself, to my agenda, to my goals, in a situation, that I will cease to exist, metaphorically speaking.
Yet every day, in waking up and choosing to serve, choosing to give of myself, choosing to be the hands and feet of Christ by giving a part of my life, time, energy, heart,
I have found that the essence of who I am has not shriveled and ceased to exist,
But that the essence of who I am is thriving, at rest, upheld by joy, upheld by a divine peace that is far greater than our human minds can understand,
Upheld by a divine love that is so wide and long and high and deep that it surpasses human knowledge, including mine.
4) There is a fourth lesson I have been learning here in Costa Rica, more tangibly, experientially, as I walk moment by moment into the future, as the future is becoming the present and then becomes the past, which shows itself in this passage:
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
Neither are your ways my ways,”declares the LORD.
As the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are my ways higher than your ways
And my thoughts than your thoughts." (Isaiah 55:8-9)
Sometimes I am confused, and I want to feel I have a sense of control over my daily situation here in Costa Rica. It can be easy to feel bewildered living and working in another country.
Things can go wrong, and they often do during the day and week -- miscommunication across cultures, institutional corruption across structures which manifests itself differently here than in the United States, other things.... And then, sometimes, being a very goal-oriented person, I just wonder, wonder about my future. I want to make specific, concrete long-term decisions and goals, and I want to make them now.
It has been good for me to remember to not be frustrated by what I see with my eyes at given moments, as I seek to move forward in obedience. It has also been good for me to remember, it is much better - and life-giving - for me to seek to walk step by step with His Spirit, listening for moment by moment guidance, than to absorb myself in making long-term goals through my own human efforts, using just my own human wisdom....
And God, who does know what He is doing and planning to do, behaves in ways and brings things to pass in ways which are completely different from my human nature would have planned or done.
Oh, what comfort to sit in a place of humility and rest on this! And what do we read in the same passage, just a couple verses earlier?
“Come, all you who are thirsty,
Come to the waters;
And you who have no money,
Come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
Without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
And your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
And you will delight in the richest of fare." (Isaiah 55:1-2)
God wants to give us that which is good, that which is better than we would give ourselves using our own guidance.
In the "strangeness" of Costa Rica, in a culture that is completely different from that which I have been used to,
In situations that are somewhat unpredictable and sometimes frustrating,
And as the founder of a tiny, very young organization for which I carry legal responsibility in front of our United States government,
Sometimes fearing "where the funds will come from" to enable me to continue doing my work as I hear the Lord saying He will provide,
And still being a young adult with plans and visions and further dreams,
I have learned it is okay for me to come to the waters and drink, to eat what is good, to trust in a God whose ways are not like my ways.
I have learned it is okay to rest and trust God.
And how about you, my friend, you who have taken the time, lovingly, to read this? How about you?
Ingrid Anne Stavrica
LoveAIDS would like to remind our partners & public that we are limited in both the stories and photos we can share do to needing to protect patient confidentiality, complying with patient privacy laws originating within both the U.S and the countries we work with.