Making a Difference

Sometimes we forget that we haven’t been able to sit down with each of you over Costa Rican coffee and Kris’s cinnamon rolls to flesh out the details of what the Lord is doing with our family.  In the absence of a cozy setting and some homemade deliciousness, we would still love to take a moment to share the impact of our ministry here in Costa Rica.

In this country where the average person earns $12,800 a year—compared to $50,700 in the U.S.— poverty, substance abuse, broken relationships, and harmful behavior patterns can separate children from their families of origin.  Hogar de Vida (the Home of Life) is there to receive them.  

Laughing KissesLittle hearts learn to feel safe again as they are cared for in family settings with the love of Jesus.  Mission teams come from the States to serve there and experience the Lord in life-changing ways.  Our calling is two-fold: to lighten some of the substantial burden of 24/7 care for 35 children and to host the teams that bless the Home of Life physically and spiritually.

Everyone knows that raising children costs money.  The funding to provide for this family of 35 little ones comes from three sources.  The government of Costa Rica pays for approximately 1/3 of the expenses incurred for the level of care that they require Hogar de Vida to provide.  This leaves a considerable gap that must be bridged by charitable contributions. It also explains the shortage in places of refuge for at-risk children.  1/2 of this gap is met through child sponsorships administrated through Children of Promise International.

Water Balloon FightThe other 1/2 is met through receiving mission teams from the States.  Teams spend their days doing much-needed work around the campus and investing into the lives of the children through bible teaching, hands-on activities, and playtime together.  The funds for team room and board also help to feed and care for the bright-eyed youngsters who love to give hugs and share laps during morning devotions.  Everyone has a lot of fun in the process.

From September 2013 to June 2014 we are flooring the accelerator in language school.  To serve at the home fully and host teams well, we have to be able to communicate in the heart language of Hogar de Vida.  Pray for us as we take on all 14 verb tenses and the tapestry of connections that weave new vocabulary together.  We enjoy the challenge and the hard work, but can use all the divine grace that we can get.  There is a big difference between grammar worksheets and fluid conversation.   We want to excel at both.

Come June, our responsibilities will include scheduling incoming teams, pre-trip communication and groundwork, coordinating the team’s work projects–getting dirty alongside them, too,  translating for teaching and prayer ministry, culture shock smoothing, meal planning and preparation, as well as stepping into the flow of what the Lord wants to do with each team in a spiritual capacity.

Kid Piling

Receiving teams is hard work as well as hard play. Hogar de Vida has only had the manpower to host a limited number each year. Our family’s help will make a huge difference as we take on much of the effort involved with hosting teams. We will serve the entire Hogar de Vida family in this capacity, and sow into new connections with the awesome folks who come down to serve with us. When people experience for themselves what the Lord is doing in the lives of children and grownups at the Home of Life, they are more likely to become a part of supporting it in a long-term way.

We hope to grow the number of teams that can visit each year. God uses short-term trips to change lives on both sides of the border. We are living proof.

When we aren’t busy with teams, we will be serving in a multitude of other ways.  Matt will be able to use his Physical Therapy background to help with the developmental delays of incoming children and to assist in the medical care and charting required for each child.  Frequently, the lifting and physical demands of the job leave the house-moms in need of therapy also.  Kris has a heart to improve the communication sent to child sponsors so that they feel connected with the impact of their giving and sustain a long-term relationship with their special little one.  And with 35 little ones, the laundry alone is a full-time job.

Barrel RidingWe will do life there, pitching in and working shoulder to shoulder as part of the Home of Life family.  And, of course, the 3-E’s will be by our sides, loving, playing, and serving along with us.  One of the best parts about this calling is that we all get to do it together.

This the work that the Lord has called our family to do.  But we cannot do it alone.

We are the hands and feet of a large team of incredible people who want to invest in the “least of these” in Costa Rica and to pour into divine intersections with North Americans.  We would love for you to be a part of it.  We are currently 75% funded for our ongoing monthly expenses.  That means that we are trusting the Lord for another $1,250 of partnership each month.  Your friendship and prayer support are an amazing blessing to our ministry.  If you aren’t already on-board, would you please pray about joining our journey through your financial support?  You can help us change lives in two nations.

Financial support can be made out to Shelter of Light and mailed to:

Shelter of Light

15555 West Dodge Road

 Omaha, NE  68154

Please write “Gnuse Family” on the memo line to designate the funds.

You can also make one-time or ongoing contributions online by creating an account with MyLifegate and entering your gift next to our names “Gnuse – Matthew & Kristine” under the General Giving > Global Workers drop down list.  Click  <here> to get started.

All support is tax deductible and gratefully received.

Thank you so much for helping us to make a difference to so many of God’s children, little and grown!

God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another.  1 Peter 4:10

Costa Rica by way of Guatemala–Part 1

Learning the Windows 8 operating system has reminded me of some of my as-yet-unredeemed character traits.  When things don’t work the way I expect them to–or don’t work at all–I can get my grumble on.   It’s easy to assume that if something isn’t doing what it’s supposed to, it’s a Windows 8 glitch (of which there are many).  I spent days irritated at the lack of sound on my laptop’s video application before Matt discovered that the volume default was set to mute.

Similarly, back in 2006, my spiritual ear was set on mute with regard to global missions.  Matt went a gentle nine rounds with my “no” when the Lord spoke to him about the two of us serving in Guatemala that summer.  Who would take care of our kids for 10 days?  How would it feel to leave them for so long?  Where would the funds come from?  Would we need shots?  It was all just too messy to pursue.  Grumble.  Exasperated with the direction I couldn’t hear, I eventually went to the source and huffed out a “Lord!”  His still, small voice asked me, “Do you want My way or your way?”  My heart squinched up it’s little face, balled it’s fists, and proclaimed, “I want MY way!”  Then, knowing where that rebellion would lead in the end, my self-righteousness deflated.  I repented.  That moment I became close friends with a prayer that has changed my life over the years since, and will surely serve me well the rest of my days: “Lord, help me to want what You want.  Help me to want Your way.

We signed on for the trip and I emotionally muscled my way through the first meeting.  Over nachos with the leaders after the second gathering, I enjoyed a revelation with my queso:  this was going to be a lot of fun.  So I put my shoulder to the yoke, and we got busy.  Letters written, Psalm 91 prayed, skirts scored via Goodwill, vaccinations updated, culture-adjustment book read, and a lot of laughter shared.  The Lord overwhelmed us with encouragement and provision–enough to pay all of our expenses and another team member’s as well.  As we lingered over goodbyes at their grandparents’ house, our children were eager to begin the special time with people they loved.  Our then 4-year old daughter gently took my hand and interrupted the conversation with a loving, “I want you to go now.”  All cleared for takeoff.

We set off on the trip that opened our lives to serve beyond the box of our language,  culture, and comfort.  Many lessons were learned: how to brush your teeth with bottled water, how to pace yourself during days filled with activity, how to tailor four formal dresses with a few needles and a lot of God-inspired creativity, how to look around for the hot water knob in the shower <shiver>, how to be content with your assignment and not covet your husband’s, how to NEVER AGAIN drink a large shake before a 3-hour restroom-less drive up the mountain.

We could see the impact of our love and effort.  Four young ladies were celebrated at a beautiful coming of age quinceañera (fifteenth birthday fiesta).  A developmentally delayed baby girl made so much progress than Matt had to credit the Lord’s goodness rather than his own physical therapy skills.  The local women were treated to an afternoon tea complete with spa treatments, gifts, and a time of worship where the Lord spoke to them about uniting in spirit despite their different congregations.  The courtyard wall shared with the town’s prosperous witch doctor was fortified with prayer.

And perhaps most important of all, my heart grew.  It occurred to me for the first time that English might not be God’s favorite language.  I fell in love with the brilliant colors and stoic expressions of people who lived in a simplicity I had never considered before, with the beauty of mountains and cultures that I had yet to ascend.

Three Down, One to Go

Matt was giving the message at devotions this morning, and we were both choked up as he summarized that we have been at Hogar de Vida for three weeks now and only have one left before we return to the States. It struck me as far too soon to be leaving. We are only just opening up the potential of our relationships here and the Spanish language. We have begun to share more, understand more, and laugh more in our conversations with the people here. They are amazing. We litterally just opened up the Jenga game that we brought to play here with the kids on Wednesday night. Matt and I executed the moves of the game as Eliana and Elijah rolled the colored die for us, and told us to hurry up. After two games, one of which I toppled after building the tower to 26 full levels (which is 10 higher than the starting setup), our nerves were shot. So Matt made the kids their own small towers to pull pieces from. Here are some pictures of them at work. Elijah has my signature sign of intense concentration–sticking out the tip of his tongue. Unfortunately, it seemed to be camera shy.

It is amazing that we have managed to exist for three weeks with only a few coloring supplies, a handful of toys, two games, some craft projects, and NO TELEVISION! It has been terrific! Although I admit that it takes a major effort to coerce Eliana and Elijah to exit one of the kid’s homes while the television is on. Spanish or no, they are mesmerized when they see a tv on after their three week fast. We’ll be seriously re-thinking the kid’s screen time when we go back to the states. Oscar told Matt and I that there is a tv in one of the other cabins that we could use, and we both said “no gracias” without even looking at each other.
Elijah’s favorite activity has to be pushing a small tricycle or infant push toy, most often shorter than his knee is above the ground when standing, to the top of the maze of sidewalks here. He then rides down the hill at top speed with a delighted and slightly scared look on his face. The look on my face is totally scared and yet also proud as I watch and pray for the Lord’s protection over my boy that he wouldn’t wipe out. . .again. All wounds to this point have been superficial and non-emotionally scarring. I hope to capture it on camera soon.
Eliana loves to color with the older girls here at the home. They will sit for an hour working on pictures, with an occasional request for a cookie. She has been flourishing in her time off of school and has devoted herself to writing small reports about animals in a journal that we bought her, complete with a drawing of each animal. She calls it spending time with God, and thought it up all by herself. We are often answering questions about how to spell new words, mostly by asking her what sounds she hears in them.
I spent another afternoon baking yesterday and taking plates of Chocolate Chip Scones to each of the homes. Today I received one of the ultimate compliments one woman can give another: I was asked how to make them. Full of joy, I quickly volunteered to translate the recipe. Then I picked up my Spanish-English dictionary, and with frequent references to the packages in the pantry, not-so-quickly wrote out what I hope will make sense to a Central American woman in the kitchen. I had to carry my cookie sheet out to another lady and ask her what to call it in Spanish. It was a good exercise for me, but I need to run the resulting “receta” by Dena first to see if I’m anywhere near the mark. Here as well as in the states, nothing warms a woman’s heart quite like being told her cooking is “muy rica.”
Matt had another day of therapy today, and is trying to teach a lady tia here about therapeutic massage. Many people are saying that they feel better. Perhaps worse at first, but then better. Olga joked that the first few hours after the session on her shoulder, Noemy asked her how she felt. She hitched one shoulder up to her ear and lowered the other towards the floor and deadpanned “Mas o menos.” That translates to “Okay.” We roared with laughter. She said the next day she felt much better and would like to do another session. More people are asking him to work on their shoulders, backs, etc. The Lord has done one clear healing already. A wonderful matriarch here that we call Ma hurt her foot many years ago. Matt worked on her foot a little bit but mostly prayed over it because he wasn’t sure what the problem was. Her Spanish is a bit harder for us to understand than some of the others here. She was telling Tim the other day that she needed to tell the Lord she was sorry because He had healed her foot, and she had forgotten to thank Him. Tim passed the good news to Matt, and we are thanking the Lord as well. In our least spiritual moments, his power can work miracles.

Hugs in Christ, with a warm Costa Rican kiss to the side of your cheek!

A Second PT Clinic!

I previously sent pictures of the infant stimulation room I use for physical therapy with the children here at the home. I am blessed to have such a great space to be able to work with the children. There are several toys and a floor mat so I can play with the kids. The only problem is it didn’t really work as a place for me work if I was going to help the staff at the home.

As I was praying the other morning I really wanted to be able to bless the staff as a physical therapist. So many of them have back, neck, shoulder and other problems. Since the infant stimulation room wouldn’t work, I needed a place I could work with them. I have tried using a bed before but it is really too soft and too low to be of much help for a PT session without creating my own back problem.

As I prayed about the situation I thought of the first cabin. If you remember from my previous posts, we are staying in the second of two cabins that are conected by an open air seating area. They are used by short term teams that come to work at the home. Since we are currently the only team here the first cabin was entirely open. Saturday morning I spent some time working around the first cabin to create a place to work with the staff. I cleaned it up and then stacked a couple of the bed frames on top of each other to create a makeshift plinth. I then set up some chairs, found a few pillows and towels and I had a PT clinic for the staff. The bed was a little wobbly but it was secure and looked like it would work. All ready for my first patients on Monday afternoon!

This afternoon was my first PT clinic for the staff. I was able to help a few of the staff when God had another surprise for me. The last person I worked with today mentioned that there was a massage therapist that has come down several times and she had a table here at the home. We located that table so now I have a really nice plinth to use! No more wobbly bed. The clinic may be basic but it has what I need to be able to bless the staff. So now my 3 days a week of physical therapy can benefit the staff and the kids! See a picture of the “second” clinic below.


Catching Up…

Here are the happenings around the home…

Kris finished up her final day with the preschool kids today. Barb, the missionary that teaches the preschool returned from her time at home in the states and will be back at the school on Monday. Kris will now be spending some time pouring into another group of children at the home. There are a few children who are not infants but are not yet old enough to be in the preschool. At times that age group gets a little less attention because they aren’t in school and they aren’t one of the babies crying for attention. Kris is praying into how God would use her with those kids in our remaining time here at the home. She is also looking forward to doing more baking so she can share cookies and scones with the people here at the home.

I am continuing to split my time between physical therapy and working with the men around the home. The physical therapy with the children has focused on the infants that have delays so I work with them in the infant stimulation room next to the school. I have also been trying to help the staff around the home. Many of them have orthopedic problems, often related to the very physical jobs they do here. This has been a hit and miss thing as I have a moment here or there. I joked that I need to set up a table and just line up the staff so I can really get a chance to work on each of them as well. Hopefully the Lord will create opportunities for that in the rest of my time here.

Earlier this week Yorleni (one of the tias) asked me to come help Denia (another tia) with her back problems. Yorleni would like to go to school to be either a nurse or a therapist so she sat beside us the whole time I was working with Denia asking questions and trying to take notes on what I was doing. After a few minutes she ran to our cabin to get the English-Spanish dictionary because we were running into too many words we couldn’t understand. After about an hour and a half working with the two of them I asked Denia how she felt. Denia said she was better but I could tell in her voice it was really only a little better. I said she should blame Yorleni because I ended up doing more talking about therapy than I did actually working on her back problem!

On the days I work with the men our main project has been to put in a gray water septic system for a washing machine and sink in one of the homes. They used the backhoe to put in the water tank and we then dug a trench (by hand, with a shovel and pick) for the water to drain from the tank. After digging the trench it was filled with large rocks and gravel then covered back over with dirt. All that remains are a few connections with the pipes leading to the tank and maybe putting in some grass over the dirt. When I see the kids after working with the men I tell them I played with rocks and dirt all day! Aside from that project there is a lot of time spent mowing around the home. Hot, humid, weather with lots of sun and lots of rain makes the grass grow quickly.

This afternoon we were blessed by Debbie Bastian and her kids. Debbie and her husband Tom work as missionaries here in Atenas. Tom is an engineer and his group helps missionaries throughout Central America design, plan and build homes, offices, etc that they need for their work. We met them when we were here last year at Hogar de Vida. Tom is away in Mexico working on a project so Debbie offered to watch Eliana and Elijah for a while so Kris and I could go out and have some time for ourselves. She even loaned us their car so we could get around town. The kids played while Kris and I did some shopping. (I know everyone will be shocked to hear that I bought three soccer jerseys!) We stopped at a bakery for some fresh pastries and walked around a few of the small shops in Atenas. After shopping we went out for dinner at a small restaurant (they call it a soda).

If you have never been to Central America it is hard to describe the differences walking around the downtown here compared to America. I can say it seems haphazard because things seem so disorganized. It is like a mix of a larger town and a small town together. There are few chains, most of the stores are like small family places and if you are not from the area it can be hard to tell what exactly are stores and what are not. If you can determine that it really is a store you never exactly know what they will be selling until you go inside. We walked past a store and I asked Kris what they were selling. She replied that they had a selection of fabrics for sale along with toiletries. So if you were looking to buy supplies for a quilt while picking up some deodorant and hairspray that was your place! The name super mercado (supermarket) also has an entirely different meaning here. The actual large supermarket is maybe the size of a small town grocery store but overall it is probably smaller. Of course there are a lot of little places that call themselves a supermarket that might be 300 square feet at best.

This weekend we hope to rest, pray and go to worship. I want to spend some time reading and Kris wants to spend some time making cookies, scones and bread. Thank you all for being with us on this trip in your thoughts and prayers.