Monday, August 22, 2011

Heaven Under Our Feet

This past week I had the opportunity to travel with a church group to Costa Rica and visit the Lighthouse Children's Home. Its founder is Larry Neff, who was an orphan himself at age three. Larry felt the call early in his Christian life to build Christian orphanages to help homeless and needy children. The first home he built was in Mississippi in 1978. The second home he opened was in Costa Rica and he has since opened additional homes in Panama, Mexico, and India.

I have to admit that I was nervous and anxious on the flight down as I wondered about the living conditions and how the children would react to bunch of “gringos” invading their home.

A tour guide described the area where the orphanage is located as the armpit of Costa Rica with broken down squatter homes, guard dogs, and lots of bars to keep the thieves out. As we arrived, I would say that was a pretty apt description of the outside, but what lay on the inside contained the jewels and treasures of heaven. For you see, the Lighthouse home is comprised of 23 children who are there for a myriad of reasons. Most are there because their parents have either abandoned them or could not afford to care for them. Tragic, I know, but when you meet these children you would never guess that their backgrounds were so broken. Larry and his wife Paula, and Sally the “house mother” and her husband Terry have literally poured the love of God into these children.

Mother Teresa used to say that a person’s greatest need is not food and water but to be loved. These children are well fed, well clothed, and have a Christian school on the premises, but you quickly realize that it is not these things that enable them to exude such peace and happiness. It is the love and acceptance they receive every day. It is not hyperbole when I say that our church group had the privilege of being in the presence of living epistles.

These children with such difficult and tragic beginnings welcomed all of us with open arms, smiling faces, and a sense of love that I have never felt before anywhere. The language barrier (the primary language is Spanish) soon faded as we gathered every night to share testimonies, Bible devotions, and songs. During the day we dug holes, poured cement, mowed lawns, washed and painted school walls, cooked meals, and helped teach the school-aged children. Each day we marveled at how each child had his/her role in the home and did his/her chores without complaining.

On the plane ride home, I sat next to a man from Miami who had traveled to Costa Rica on business. When I shared with him that we were there on a mission’s trip, he asked if my husband used his vacation time to go on the trip. When I replied yes, he remarked, “Really? He used his own time to live in a place like that and dig holes and mow lawns every day?” I suppose that is a fair assessment as on the surface it seems ludicrous to spend your vacation time in the armpit of Costa Rica digging ditches and washing walls but, in reality, God gave us a taste of heaven.

In so many ways the whole experience reminds me of all the paradoxes that are contained in Christianity – you have to die to live, lose your life to find it, have faith the size of a mustard seed to move a mountain, go to a Costa Rican orphanage to find the Sermon on the Mount being lived out every day.

A woman named Patricia who can only be described as a woman completely in love with the Lord, was our tour guide for a day as we visited the Rain Forest. At one point during dinner she commented that Jesus never taught His disciples how to preach, but rather how to pray. As I reflect on the trip, I realize perhaps more than ever that the gospel is not contained in great orators but in great hearts that seek to obey the Lord at any cost. What a privilege to have seen the gospel up close at the Lighthouse Children’s home. I am already planning my return visit.
"Our life of poverty is as necessary as the work itself. Only in heaven will we see how much we owe to the poor for helping us to love God better because of them." - Mother Teresa

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