Friday, January 30, 2009

School House Rock doesn't translate

Does anyone remember School House Rock? It was an educational cartoon dedicated to teaching young children all sorts of subjects through song and animation. For example:
"Conjunction junction what's your function?" was a train-themed English lesson, or, "Bill, bill, on capitol hill" was a lesson on how bills became laws. It was an amazing tool because the songs were so catchy and it definitely helped with learning certain concepts. I can still remember the preamble of the constitution because of the School House Rock song I learned in grade school.

I'm learning the unfortunate reality that School House Rock doesn't translate here. We've been spending the last few days going over pronouns in my grammar class. It's been tricky to re-learn things that I learned wrong in college, and to stay consistent when we practice. Its irritating because we all feel like 5 year-olds trying to remember where the place the correct pronoun in relation to the subject. I'm actually getting an English language review with all of the Spanish grammar I'm learning. I know that my classmates and I will pick it up with a little more practice, but I can't help but wish we had a couple of Spanish episodes of School House Rock :)

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Attempted break-in

So I got home from school today, and my Tico mom comes out of the kitchen trying to tell me something about robbers. It took me a minute to catch on and realize that she was trying to explain how some robbers tried to break into the house last night. She then showed me the front gate, where the thieves had bent the bars in order to enter the courtyard. The gate and courtyard are right outside my bedroom window, and my mom and I were both amazed that I didn't hear a thing! I've gotten so used to the noise on the street, that I must have slept right through it. They didn't actually get in the house, but they did get into the house next door. My Tico dad came home from work a day early to try and fix the gate, and my mom informed me that tomorrow they would be putting bars up outside of my window. It's comforting to know that they are concerned not only for their safety and property, but for mine as well. I do feel well taken care of. Check out this video of my dad bending the bars back into place with a car jack.

I'm thankful for God's protection and provision last night. Things could have easily been worse. Its unfortunate that people here have to go to such extreme measures to protect their home and belongings. I suppose its like this in much of the world, but the US is so far from this kind of lifestyle, at least the mid-west is. People steal here because they can, and because they are desperate. The average educated person makes the equivalent to $100 a month here, so when something expensive makes itself available, people will take advantage of it.

Rice and Beans

Rice and beans, the staples for every Tico diet, now are the staples of my own diet. When I first arrived here, my host mom would make me all kinds of food, with plenty of variety. Spaghetti and roasted chicken, Tai noodles and pancakes! She is an amazing cook. Now, it's rice and beans with every meal. Not sure what changed, but for the last 6 days straight I've eaten rice and beans either with platanos, or some form of beef for lunch and dinner. I get the feeling she was trying to help ease me into living in Costa Rica with the delicious and home-like variety, but alas, I've now been here long enough to acclimate to the rice and beans culture. Bienvenidos a Costa Rica!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Memoirs of our gay dance instructor

It was Monday night.
The sun had begun to set, and women were filing into the dance studio of the local gym for the weekly dance/aerobics class. I was there with two friends from the school and we had no idea what to expect. In walks Marco, our dance instructor, wearing black athletic shorts and a neon orange muscle shirt. He is short, bald and extremely flamboyant. Pretty soon the sounds of Madonna are ringing through the stereo system, and Marcos shouts out with a slightly feminine tone, "Vamos chicas, estan listas?". Oh boy. I will admit that I've never seen a guy shake it like Shakira before, and man, was he shaking it! We moved through 60 minutes of Latin Reggae, 90's pop music and oldies. Finally, after a graceful cool-down to Mariah Carey's "Hero" (sung in Spanish of course), we were done. Sweaty, tired, yet satisfied. After screaming his praises to us all for a job well done, with the light reflecting off of his wet, bald head, Marco came around to give his goodbyes until the following week.
We began our 15 minute walk home, laughing over our Latino Richard Simmons dance instructor. Maybe someday, I will post a picture . . .

Friday, January 23, 2009

More from my home

Now that I'm back in San Jose, I thought I would show you all a little bit more of my Tico home. The backyard area is probably the best part of the house, and its the place I spend most of my time, apart from my room. Enjoy!

(Copy and paste this address in your browser to see the video)

Thursday, January 22, 2009


Everytime I go and visit another culture for an extended period of time, I find that each has its own daily norms that I fall in love with. In Costa Rica, its cafecitos. Everyday during late afternoon (approx. 5:00ish) my host mom will knock on my bedroom door, or come find me in the backyard to offer me the most amazing and savory cup of coffee. Delish. Yum. If only you could smell the delightful fragrance under my nose at this very moment. Yes, I do believe this is the daily practice of choice to add to my collection of "Things I appreciate about varying Latin Cultures", as well as my collection of "Things I appreciate about varying Latin Cultures that I hope to bring home and instate in my own home and daily life".

The Area conference ended well yesterday, and all of the missionaries preceded to return to their countries of service. I am thankful to be back in San Jose and have the peaceful solitude my room allows. There was so much information and spiritual meat during the week, and I will be spending the coming days chewing on it, as well as playing catch-up for the week of school I missed. I am thankful that I was given the opportunity to attend the conference, and to finally meet my future team. (The above picture is of the Church Planting Team.) I am looking forward to being in communication with them and learning more about the coming ministry in Tarma.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Happy Birthday to Me

So I've just spent my very first birthday away from home. The first in 23 years! I was very blessed to have had the Lincoln team here in Costa Rica with me this week, for they brought many birthday cards, gifts and wishes from home. All of which made me feel far from alone on my birthday. Thank you all who sent such wonderful encouragement to me. (This photo is of myself and Meredith McAllister, the woman I will be working with in Tara, Peru.)

Today is the 5th day of the Latin American Area Conference, and I finally feel like I'm "making friends" here with the career missionaries. I confessed earlier in the week that I felt very much like the little girl in the adult sunday school class, and watching all of these seasoned and experienced missionaries cast vision has been both incredible and intimidating. Last night was the first time that we were given to get together as a team - so it was the first time that I was able to sit down and converse with the people on my team: Church Planting. Mike and Linda Gunderson, who are currently in Brazil are taking the position as Church planting leaders for Latin America, and Mike will soon become my "boss". ReachGlobal is continuing to make positive changes and transitions as they focus more and more on their mission to Develop, Empower and Release national Christians into their own cultures. It is neat to now be part of the process.

(I thought I would include a little jungle culture for you all to enjoy: Lesson one, Don't feed the monkeys!)

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Inspiration '09

The Latin American Area Conference 2009 is designed to provide a time for all of the ReachGlobal missionaries of Latin America to be inspired in their hearts, challenged in their minds and refreshed in their spirit as they continue to faithfully serve God in their host countries. This year's conference, Inspiration '09, officially began at 7:30pm last night in Punta Leona, Costa Rica. My official kick-off of the conference began at 6:30am when I took my very first taxi ride through downtown San Jose to meet up with the Lincoln E-Free team at their hotel: Best Western Irazu. I will admit that even though I had only been in Costa Rica approximately 10 days, it was wonderful to see some familiar faces. The conference had provided an early bus at the hotel to take us to the resort at Punta Leona - about a 2.5 hour drive. We were told to sit at the front of the bus and have our water bottles ready because the road to Punta is mountainous and curvy and motion sickness is apparently quite common. No joke. We made one stop along the way: Puente cocodrillo. It was a random bridge that overlooks the third most populated river of crocodiles. How cool. I did make friends with one of the smaller crocs (see above photo!).

Punta Leona Hotel and Resort covers over 750 acres of private lush tropical rainforest, pristine white and gold sand beaches, the blue waters of the Pacific Ocean and breath-taking sunsets. (I stole that description from their brochure!) There are over 330 exotic bird species (Steve, I'm going to try to get pictures of all 330 for you!), hundreds of fascinating plants and giant tropical trees. The resort is also full of entertaining white faced monkeys, iguanas, short nosed coatis (not quite sure what they are), and many species of butterflies, toucans and brilliant scarlet macaws. And the best part is that we can drink the water! But seriously, the area is beautiful, although extremely HUMID - welcome to the rainforest.

Today was the first full day of the conference, and there was a lot of information shared about the state of Latin American missions within ReachGlobal. It was incredible to experience first hand the process of casting vision within a ministry that I am now able to call my own. I will share more specifics on this in a later blog. The rest of our sessions were on the topic of Prophesy and hearing/recognizing God's voice. This was such a fascinating session because the gift of prophesy is not a gift that is taught much in the Evangelical circle. Nothing crazy weird, I promise. The focus was on building a biblical foundation for understanding that hearing God's "voice" is truly the birthright of every believer. It was a wonderfully done workshop, but now I have quite a bit to process through, and new questions to ask.

Prayers? Yes Please.
I have really been struggling these past couple of days with my ability to focus. I am distracted during prayers, lectures and even my language classes. My mind seem to be always wandering - which is producing quite a bit of frustration. Pray for God to put my mind at rest, for a peace greater than myself, for my mind to be open for God to speak to me and mold me this week. I am so blessed to be able to begin my ministry by attending this conference, and I want to be able to glean as much as possible. Thank you for your prayers.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Grammar, personal trainers, bananas and peanutbutter

Today was the first day of school. I kind of felt like I did the first day of kindergarten. My Tico mom had breakfast all ready for me, which I ate quickly so I would not be late. One shouldn't be late to the first day of school you know! And it looks like I'm going to love school. I spend the first two hours in Lenguaje/Fonetica which is a class that consists of myself, the teacher and three other students! The point is to practice lenguaje, or the language. For example today, we introduced ourselves in Spanish, and started with classroom vocabulary review. Basically this class is designed to learn vocabulary, and then use it! I have a wonderfully kind teacher named Eugenia, and I anticipate to become great friends with my classmates as well. I am grateful for the small and intimate setting of the class here at the Institue, it makes me feel less intimidated to take a chance with a response I am not sure of. Lenguaje is followed by a break, and then chapel hour. Chapel is only going to meet Tuesdays and Thursdays, which means that on the other three days, I will have a two hour break in between classes. The following two hours are spent in Gramatica - yuck. Gramatica is hard because I have to concentrate completely for the entire class, and think before each response. My brain was so tired by the end of the class, but I'm grateful for the teaching because this is the area where my Spanish needs the most work. And I already have homework to do tonight!

News from the weekend, I joined a gym! There is a new gym that opened not far from the school, so a few other girls and I decided to join and see if we could stay in shape after eating all of this rich Tico food. Before we could workout, we had to set up a time with the Personal Trainer to properly learn how to use the equipment. So I set off this afternoon thinking that the guy would briefly show me all of the machines and give me the dos and donts, and then let me on my workout way. Oh, no. I was personally trained today! The first thing was to take my height, weight, and muscle measurements. Then he asked me all sorts of questions (in Spanish mind you) about whether I wanted to tone, lose weight, build muscle mass etc. Pretty soon I'm following the guy (never did catch his name) upstairs where he puts me on a treadmill for 20min. So I think, okay, no biggie, this is about what I do to workout at home. By the end of the 20 min. I'm sweating like no girl should ever sweat (mainly because no Costa Rican buildings have air conditioning), and thinking that I had a great workout. I make my way back downstairs, where personal trainer Edwardo (that's what I've decided to call him) begins to take me through a weight lifting routine to work the chest, arms, thighs and gluts. Oh boy oh boy oh boy . . . By the time I've completed all these exercises I've been at the gym for about an hour, and feeling pretty good about myself. So I walk over to Edwardo to check in. Pretty soon he's taking me back upstairs and putting me on the stationary bike for another 20 min. At this point, I was secretly praying no one would walk into the room and have to bike next to this sweaty, smelly, obviously American girl who's huffing and puffing her way through the 20min "bike ride". When I finished Edwardo asked me how I felt, and even though I was wet and tired, I had to admit that I felt pretty good. He then preceded to tell me that my workout routine would be ready to begin tomorrow. Apparently I had just signed myself up for a program. Oh well, it won't hurt me!

All in all the day was pretty great. Class, a good workout, my second shower for the day, and one of my favorite snacks: bananas and peanut butter. Joy, you are a saint for introducing me to such a treat. I plan to spend a chunk of the evening reviewing what I learned today, and finishing my homework. I am ready to get into the swing of school, and I'm thankful that God showed me grace on my first day (I found all of my classrooms and didn't get lost!).

Already the Lord is showing me things, and teaching me life lessons. Last night was the most homesick I've been since getting here, and most of me wished I could get a plane and come home. I know that I've only begun my time here in Costa Rica, and my time as a missionary - but when you're sad and lonely, there is truly no place like home. I am thankful, though, to have a heavenly Father who watches out for me, who gives me strength each day to do what He has called me to do. I hope to share more with you on this subject in the future, as God continues to grow and change me into the missionary He intends me to be.


Friday, January 9, 2009

Food for Thought

A Guide to Culture
1Corinthians 13

If I speak with the tongue of a national, but have not love,
I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.

If I wear the national dress and understand the culture and all forms of etiquette, and I copy all mannerisms so that I could pass for a national but have not love, I am nothing.

If I give all I possess to the poor, and if I spend my energy without reserve, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love endures long hours of language study, and is kind to those who mock his accent; love does not envy those who stayed home; love does not exalt his home culture; is not proud of his national superiority.

Does not boast about the way we do it back at home; does not seek his own ways; is not easily provoked into telling about the beauty of his home country; does not think evil about this culture.

Love bears all criticism about his home culture; believes all good things about this new culture; confidently anticipates being at home in this place; endures all inconveniences.

Love never fails; but where there is cultural anthropology, it will fail; where there is contextualization, it will lead to syncretism; where there is linguistics, it will change.

For we know only part of the culture, and we only minister to part. But when Christ is reproduced in this culture, then our inadequacies will be insignificant.

When I was in America, I spoke as an American; I understood as an American; I thought as an American; but when I left America, I put away American things.

Now we adapt to this culture awkwardly, but He will live in it intimately; now I speak with a strange accent, but He will speak to the heart.

And now these three remain: cultural adaptation, language study, and love.

But the greatest of these is LOVE!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Because my blog is dumb

Well, because my blog is dumb, it will only allow me to upload very small sized videos which probably aren't worth watching in the first place. So I've come up with an alternative . . . YouTube. I'm going to post my videos on YouTube, then place the links in my blog. Hope you will all be interested enough to check them out!

My Tico Home: Part One

Click ling to view video (if that doesn't work, copy and paste to your browser)

. . .take three . . .

Pictures . . . take two

Here we go one more time - pictures of my school. This one is of the administration building. The pictures in the above post are of the class room buildings and a small commons area.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Earthquakes and Mailboxes

Well, I tried to upload some pictures of the language school, but for some reason, it was having problems. But hopefully I can get that fixed because the campus is beautiful, and there is a lot of green, trees and flowers. Here at the school, I have a mailbox, which is where I will get mail from home. I know several people have been asking for my address so here it is:

Bethany Kerr
Instituto de Lengua Espanola
Apartado 100-2350
San Jose, Costa Rica
America Central

It is best that you send mail to this address because the streets aren't named here, and giving someone an address is something like this: "my house is by where the big palm tree used to be, 5 blocks south of the Jumbo, and across the street from where Emily's grandmother lives".

Apparently, San Jose is used to experiencing regular earthquakes. We experienced our first today during an orientation session on safety :) I have to say, it was a cool sensation to feel the floor vibrating beneath my feet, and seeing the building sway as though a giant wind had just blown in! (But don't tell my mom I said that!) I guess it was really only a tremor, but it was still cool to experience.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Orientation: Day 1

Today was our first day of language school orientation, and I have to say that it went well. I walked to school this morning to register at 7:45, and remembered how much I enjoyed walking everywhere when I was in Argentina. I anticipate enjoying that here as well. The morning was spent orienting us to the school, the staff and each other. I am joined this trimester by 65 other students ranging in age from 21 to 65. There are quite a few young women among them, and I am glad to anticipate new friendships. After a session on living with a Tico (term for Costa Rican) family, I walked back home where Josefa (host mom) had a large steaming plate of Spaghetti all ready for me for lunch! In the afternoon I had meetings with the school's director, counseler, and took my oral language assessment. I was surprised by how relaxed and natural I felt during my assessment, which wasn't more than a pleasant conversation with one of the school's professors. She asked me all sorts of questions about why I wanted to learn Spanish, and how my parent's felt about me being here, and what nebraska is like. I was pleased that the Spanish flowed easily and somewhat smoothly from my lips, and Laura (the professor) seemed to be pleased as well. Although I do need to work on ser/estar - which if any of you have tried to master the concept, you might be able to feel my pain in this area :)
When I was done, I made my first trip to el banco costa rica, to change dollors into colones. Right now the exchange rate is about 560 colones to the dollor, and most things are fairly cheap except food. Already the social circles are buzzing as previous students return from their Christmas Break, and I was invited to hang out with a group of the single women students. I arrived and they were playing a strange game called Forkel? Not sure, it had to do with dice and numbers and I sat there confused for most of the game.
Tomorrow and the rest of the week will be more of the same, as orientation lasts through Friday. The great thing is that there is still so much to do in the mean time, like explore, go for a run, and figure out where to buy a can of hairspray!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Bienvenidos a Costa Rica

I have officially arrived in San Jose, after a somewhat bumpy start (due to an overweight suitcase and a 50lb embargo limit :), and have settled into my new host home. I am living in a beautiful Tico home with my host parents, Josefa and Alfredo, and am only a 5min. walk from the school. The window in my bedroom overlooks a park full of trees, but the street that separates the park from my house is a busy one, and I am constantly serenaded bu the sounds of car horns, exhaust pipes backfiring, and barking dogs! I am blessed to be living with a Christian family, and have the added bonus of having internet in my bedroom.
I haven't had to do too much on my own yet, as Brian and Cathi Duggan (the ReachGlobal area leaders for all of Latin America) have welcomed me as a surrogate daughter and have taken time to show me the ropes. After the Duggan's picked me up from the airport, they took me for my first Costa Rican meal. According to the menu I ordered ensalada de fruta (fruit salad), but what came out looked more like a bananna split! And it was delicious.
Not to rub it in, but the weather is gorgeous! I arrived just in time for the best weather of the year, and was fortunate enough to miss the rainy season. 70degrees and Sunny is the normal day, and today I am comfortably writing you in jeans, a tank top, and flip flops :) I hope to post a video of the scenery and surrounding areas soon, so be on the lookout.
I begin my first day of orientation tomorrow at 7:45 am, and am not quite certain what to expect. I would love your prayers as I continue to get to know the area and neighborhood in which I am living, and learn how to used the money here. I am so thankful for all of your prayers and support, and know that God has shown me an abundance of grace because of them. I'll be updating again soon!