Have you ever felt overwhelmed trying to figure out who to help and how? We definitely have!! In a world tainted by corruption and scandal, it can be challenging to differentiate between those with real needs and those scheming for personal gain. Soon after we arrived in Costa Rica people began petitioning us for help with various programs aimed at serving the underprivileged. Despite our love for the poor, we felt unqualified to determine which of these initiatives were legit. When we went to the parish priest for help he informed us of a well-established church program which provides people who have extra resources with the opportunity to share what they have with those in need. When the program leader becomes aware of someone who is struggling, that person's name is put on a list. Then, a pair of volunteers visit the home to learn more about the situation and talk about how the church might be of assistance. In most cases folks need food and basic hygiene items, so donors assemble a "diario" and arrange for its delivery. A "diaro" is a specific list of items: rice, wheat flour, rice flour, beans, tuna fish, oatmeal, oil, salt, sugar, coffee, laundry soap, dish soap and body soap, as well as toothpaste and toilet paper. The standardization of this process makes it easy for folks to donate and eliminates the problems that could arise if each family were to receive different items in varying quantities and such. This program gives people a dignified way to seek help, and allows them to experience the love of Christ through the members of their community. My favorite thing about this ministry is its ecumenical nature. Although organized through the Catholic Church, this program includes people of many religious affiliations. When we told Father that we wanted to participate he gladly gave us a list of families who had been waiting for help.
Chris and I visited the various supermarkets in town to discuss the discount that each was willing to offer if we agreed to buy a specified quantity of food staples from their particular store each month. The manager of the little family-owned general store, who happens to be the owner's son, gave us the best deal so we agreed to give him our business. Later on, we learned that he is a known atheist. It's so interesting to see how the Holy Spirit guides us to those in need, not just materially, but spiritually as well. Here are some photos of our shopping spree and of the items we were able to buy for the families in our area:
|...and a bag full of basic hygiene items.|
|Each family received a|
large sack of food....
We went to several houses on Christmas Eve to deliver the "diarios". At each home, we read the story of Jesus' birth, sang Latin American Christmas carols, and prayed for their particular needs. In between visits we talked about what else we could do for the families with large numbers of kids. Everyone knows that kids like getting presents at Christmas time, and we're certainly not against buying gifts, but for some reason it seemed like we were supposed to do something different. As we prayed, we felt inspired to make birthday cakes for baby Jesus. On Christmas morning we returned to three of the houses that we had visited the previous day. We reminded them of Jesus' birthday, sang "Happy Birthday" to honor Our King, and then left them with a sweet treat to enjoy sometime later that day. It really blessed me to see that all three of these families were cooking the rice and beans that we had previously delivered.
As we went from one house to the next I realized that I wasn't taking any pictures. I suppose it's because I felt uncomfortable. Not only were we meeting these folks for the first time, but many of them are Nicaraguan immigrants who may or may not have permission to be living where they are. I decided to take my camera out at one of the houses where we stayed to visit for almost two hours. Before we left I asked what they thought about me taking pictures when we deliver the diarios. The man assured me that most people wouldn't care, but felt like it would be respectful to ask. Anyhow, I was able to snap some photos at the subsequent houses to give you a feel for what our first shot at this ministry looked like.
Each family that we visited had a uniquely devastating story. In this photo, you can see Marco sitting in the rocking chair on the right. For decades he supported his family as a woodworker. Although he was never too proud to take any job that came along, his specialty was finely crafted pieces of artwork. 2020 was difficult because of the pandemic, but they managed. In 2021 everything came to a grinding halt when Marco suffered a debilitating stroke. After months of hard work, he's now able to move his right arm and leg, but has little strength. He's trying to learn how to hold the woodworking tools in his left hand but has little hope that he'll ever be able to support his family again. In addition to his wife and two children, Marco also has grandchildren that depend on him. Below is a photo of Chris teaching his grandson how to pluck the guitar. There's also a photo of the image of Jesus that one of our mission partners painted that we've been giving away to people as gifts. Marco's wife loves the image so much that she immediately propped it up on the top shelf of the console which holds all of their most valuable possessions.
At another home, we met a wonderful woman who had little kids running in and out of the doors and all around the yard. The older ones were busy doing chores. When we asked which ones are hers she just smiled. She was joyful and kind, even when the kids did things that might have caused others to be annoyed or embarrassed. As we were praying for this family we asked the Lord to provide them with all they need and to help each one of them grow in their faith. When we were done praying for her family she politely pointed out that she is blessed beyond measure and asked if we could pray for those who are really poor. "Look at everything I have to be grateful for," she said with a huge smile hugging one of the little kids by her side, "there are so many people who are really suffering, but we're doing good. We have each other and we all know that Jesus loves us." As I watched smiles come over the kids' faces my eyes welled up with tears. "You're right," was all I could say, "you're really blessed!" When we sang The Little Drummer Boy
the kid in the middle, who was wearing the white t-shirt, accompanied Chris with his drum, which was perfect! When we returned on Christmas morning with a yummy homemade cake covered in green frosting and sprinkles the kids yelped with excitement. The joy I felt seeing their precious smiles was greater than anything I have ever felt opening a wrapped gift from underneath the Christmas tree! On the left is a picture of Anna and Katelyn in front of their house. On the right is the woman and the kids that were willing to pose for a picture.
This family would be classified as the working poor. Dad earns what he can in the sugarcane fields, and Mom is a seamstress. They have four teenage kids and hardly have enough to get by. When we arrived the mom came out to greet us, but the others chose to enjoy our impromptu Christmas show from inside. We have found that teenagers are often embarrassed to receive help, which we totally understand. It will definitely be the case that our kids will be in class with the folks we're asked to serve, which can be uncomfortable for both parties.
|The two girls sat behind the couch to listen as|
Anna read the story of Jesus' birth.
The woman in the blue shirt lives in a rough part of town, but thankfully the police were able to escort us to her home. As she explained her situation she just kept crying and asking for prayers. She said that she has struggled to survive these last few years because she's slowly losing her vision and can no longer work; however, she was managing to get by until her adult daughter left her two granddaughters with her and disappeared. "I can barely take care of myself," she kept repeating, "how am I supposed to take care of them too?" While we were there she called her daughter, but nobody answered. "I was hoping she'd come back for Christmas," she said weeping.
After singing, reading the nativity story, and praying for the reunification of this broken family, the grandmother quietly asked if we might be able to bring a little gift for each of her granddaughters so that Christmas wasn't quite so terrible for them. All praise be to God, we were able to get the older girl an adult coloring book and a set of colored pencils, and a pony playset for the younger girl. I felt awkward asking if I could take their picture. I guess I just wanted you to see some of the people that we were able to help because of Team Carmody's generosity. Hopefully it didn't make them feel bad in any way.
Another family that we visited (shown in the photo below) was desperately in need of Christmas cheer as they're actively grieving the loss of their dad who recently died of covid at the age of 36.
Although it was heartbreaking to step into each of these families' situations, we were grateful for the opportunity to share Jesus' love with them at such an important time of year. We plan on returning to some of these homes and look forward to all the others we'll meet through this outreach program.
I hope you had a wonderfully blessed Christmas!
Lots of love, Karen
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