Had we been seated on the Jungle Cruise at Disneyland, a ride operator would have promised glimpses of lost civilizations, untouched jungles and fierce natives. However, we weren’t aboard a theme park ride listening to cheesy jokes from a riverboat “captain.” Instead we were precariously perched atop hand-made stools inside a hollowed out canoe hitching a ride into the Costa Rican jungle. How the canoe driver knew when and where to pick us up, I have no idea (but Uber drivers could learn a thing or two about prompt and professional service from this guy.) Not long after our river taxi ride began we stopped at a sandbar long enough for a woman with jet black hair and bare feet to climb aboard.
I didn’t know it at the time, but our new raven haired friend, Idana, was the daughter of a warrior, the warrior we were about to meet.
I’m sure warriors come in all shapes and sizes but I’m also sure the one waiting for us in the small clearing in the middle of the jungle was not typical. Having recently celebrated her 75th birthday, Engracia looked more like a kindly grandmother than a brave fighter. However, over the course of the next three days my daughter Ashley and I would catch glimpses of Engracia’s warrior spirit as we enjoyed her simple hospitality.
We spent most of our time in Engracia’s primitive kitchen watching her cook over an open fire and prepare plates filled with rice, beans and fried plantain. One morning she got up early and slaughtered an “open range” chicken which roasted in a cast iron pot all day. After each meal we sat on crude wooden benches and visited with our hostess. Since English is the only language I know, “visiting” is a relative term, but for hours on end I watched as Ashley used her Spanish fluency to engage a woman of another generation and another culture.
At times Engracia was eager to share her story. At other times she seemed content just to sit in silence. When she spoke, we practiced the art of listening and in her silence we learned the value of simply being present.
Over the next two days, we learned that our warrior hostess, a BriBri Indian, had spent her entire life in the lush Talamancan jungle of Southern Costa Rica. Despite being abandoned by every single man in her life, she raised eight children, as well as countless grandchildren, nieces, nephews and others who just needed someone to care. And, when there was no one to shepherd the small flock at the little church in the clearing in the jungle, Engracia stepped out in faith and stepped up.
Being welcomed into such intimate details of a person’s story is a humbling experience, but my greatest humbling came when Sister Engracia requested to sit in a pew while I delivered a message on perseverance in the face of difficult circumstances. The Holy Spirit must have a sense of humor. What do I, a middle-class American woman, have to teach a sister and saint who has endured so much?
The following morning Engracia, Idana and her sixteen year old niece, Lora, occupied the wooden benches in the church with concrete floors and a pulpit covered with a white, crocheted doily. There were actually four members in the audience if you count the six month old that nursed as Lora’s breast. That morning I did my best to speak strength and courage into these weary souls. Ashley did her best to translate meanings and concepts, spiritual things, that hadn’t been covered in her collegiate textbooks. Our only hope was the promise of God found in Isaiah 55:11 which promises that His Word never returns void and always accomplishes His purposes.
Surely another of God’s promises was fulfilled through this trip. It’s the one found in Ephesians 3:21 which reminds us that God is eager to do above and beyond what we could ever imagine. You see, Ashley and I had traveled 2,500 miles hoping to find a way to come alongside a woman who, despite all odds, had remained faithful to the call God had put on her life. By the time we waved goodbye we knew God had done more than we asked.
We asked for a connection - He gave us a spirit of sisterhood.
We hoped for a simple way to help - He laid the foundation for an enduring partnership.
We wanted to serve a sister in Christ - He allowed us to be served by her.
The Esther Movement is planning a return trip to Costa Rica in January 2017 to put on two Women’s Conferences and we’ll need a team to come with us. We’ll need everything from Bible teachers, worship leaders, craft helpers, VBS leaders, kitchen help, prayer warriors, activity helpers, set up and tear down crews, etc. We’d love to have you join us. (By the way, this makes a great Mother/Daughter Mission Trip!!!!!)