From Around the World
“Dare to do the Unexpected”
Three short staccato rings reverberated throughout the small apartment before I could pick up the phone. I stood, beach towel in one hand and the receiver in the other. I stuffed the towel in my backpack, and threw in some lotion along with a baseball cap and a book. I was headed on a beach holiday early the next morning. Three-day weekends were plentiful in Costa Rica.–especially for teachers!
“Hullo, dear. This is Joyce. Sorry to ring you up so late. ”
I imagined her tough, weather-wrinkled face wreathed in smiles. Her tall frame would be bent over the phone table. She likely had news to share about one of the widows in our congregation where she served as a missionary. She loved the widows, especially and took them under wing. She taught several classes on how to create goods to sell so the widows could become self-supporting.
“Dear, I’m in a bit of a pickle. You see I’ve had a heart attack—nothing major, mind you—” she tried to reassure me, “but I’m stuck in the hospital, and I had planned to travel to Golfito to talk to the women there—-”
“Joyce! What hospital?”
“Now, dear. Don’t you worry. I’m a strong old lady. I’ll weather this thing just fine. Martín and Roberto are here with me. But that trip to Golfito—”
“Joyce, I’ll go for you. I’ll let them know what’s happened.” I offered. “Are you okay?”
“I am. That will be such a help to me. They’ll worry as it is. I know you were planning to travel in the other direction but—”
“No way. I’m happy to change my plans. I’ll take a bus. Can you give me a contact name?”
The journey took me eight hours. By the time I arrived, I was cramped, perspiring heavily and ready for a break. Golfito—a small coastal town known for its rustic banana plantations—lies on the South Pacific side of Costa Rica about 350 kilometers from San José.
A strong, overly-sweet-violet stench hit me right when I got off the bus. I covered my mouth and nose. Big leafy banana and palm trees lined the streets—actually, everywhere. The water at the port looked so clear you could the reflection of the palm trees, blue sky and feather-fine wisps of clouds inside it. Long, small wooden boats were tied to the port.
The extreme humidity hit me hard. It felt like someone suddenly blew hot air in my face and never stopped. My sleeveless blouse stuck like glue to my back. I threw my backpack over a shoulder and pushed up my sticky glasses to see my surroundings better. As I walked, the water disappeared.
The dirt road where I walked was lined with houses that had seen grander days. Some had cracked bricks, broken windows but all had large, upraised porches , much like those you would see in antebellum southern houses in the US.
Dull, peeling paint covered the wood now but I could imagine how they once looked, freshly-painted. The green grass has grown into weeds in the large fields. Except for the palm trees I could have been walking down the road in the Alabama countryside.
It suddenly began to rain. Steam rose from the ground all around me. Little children who wore poorly-fitting clothing passed by in bare feet, splattering mud on their legs. One little dark-haired girl pulled a stick through every mud puddle she saw. I waved to them and they giggled.
“Time to search for Joyce’s contacts.”
I found them easily enough in a town as small as Golfito. I knocked on the door to a simple home made with bare boards, and asked for Josué and his wife, Patricia.
“I am Josué,” the man who answered the door said as he pumped my arm up and down in an enthusiastic handshake. “Oh sister Amy, we are so happy to meet you! And where is our loving sister, Joyce? We are missing her greatly.”
I greeted Josue and his wife in Spanish, and kissed Patricia on each cheek. “And who do we have here?” Three dark-skinned children under five years old hung onto Patricia’s legs. They peeked out at me.
“I’m afraid I have some bad news for you, Josué. Joyce is in the hospital now recovering from some heart problems.” I avoided using the word, “heart attack” as a favor to Joyce.
He called out into the street, “Come here, brother. This is sweet sister Amy who live in San José. She come from America!”
Word spread quickly that I was in town. Soon everyone came to see the gringa jovencita, the young American woman. I felt like a movie star.
I had brought calamitous news. I explained over and over again to a growing number of people what had happened to Joyce. They knocked on doors and in urgent whispers, gathered shocked people together to begin a prayer vigil. The men prayed, and the women gathered around me, hanging onto every detail of the sketchy story.
“Josué, tell me about Golfito,” I prompted during a lull in the conversation.
“I’ll give you a tour.”
My guide pointed out points of interest as we strolled through Golfito. Half the town trailed behind us.
He reminded me that this port city once revolved around bananas. First, four small companies existed. In its heyday, these companies merged together to form the United Fruit Company. Ninety percent of the country’s banana exports came from Golfito.
“In 1938, this place very good. But in the 1970s begin to have problem. Now, Golfito change crop to rubber and palm oil. You smell? That palm oil.” Josué wrinkled his nose. “No so bad. You used to it.”
He pulled my arm as we came upon a nearby tree, “Sister Amy, look this.” He showed me a tree in which they tapped sap to make chewing gum.
When he pointed out the tap, I noticed his fraying, short-sleeved shirt and slacks, much too short. He wore flip-flops on his feet.
His clothing looked similar to what I’d seen most of the town wear, yet he looked different. Finally, I realized what it was that made me see him differently–He constantly smiled.
So many others appeared to have permanent drooping mouths, and walked hunched over, as if they didn’t have the energy to make it down the street.
And yet, Josué, like other members of the church I had encountered, all smiled and seemed upbeat. These Christians lived their faith out.
With the tour over, we went back to Josue’s home and met with the others once more.
“Sister Amy, are you leading the meeting?” a woman asked.
I realized that I was expected to carry out the women’s meeting in Joyce’s place. Oh no! I was a teacher but that didn’t mean that I could lead women. I hadn’t even prepared anything! I prayed and asked for God to guide me in this unexpected undertaking. Could I do it?
“We’ll start later this evening.” I spoke with more authority than I felt.
These simple and loving women took me into their fold. A woman on each side linked arms with me and the rest of the women huddled around me under cheap sun umbrellas. The smell of the palm oil made me nauseous and I longed to free myself from their grasp but filled with the knowledge that God had planned for me to teach these special women, I stayed rooted.
I don’t remember what all we talked about during that ladies retreat. I remember mentioning that God dares us to step up to His plans and to let go of our fears.
“God has an adventure for each of us, ladies, and whatever that consists of is what we need to trust Him to do through us. Who can share a favorite confidence-building scripture with the group?”
I recall sitting under a banana tree—me, a young, third-grade teacher, surrounded by twenty olive-skinned women of various ages. The stifling air was broken only by hands grasping folded papers as the women fanned themselves.
I feel certain, looking back, that God used the experience to move me out of my comfort zone—both spiritually and literally. I had chosen an elevated hill to seat myself so everyone could see me. It turned out that hill contained a dozen or so red ants that stung my unprotected legs.
Now when I think of my shrieks and the tiny red-hot welts that formed from the bites, I find the humor God intended.
At my shriek, the women all jumped up and had to examine my legs for themselves. They clucked and soothed, shared remedies and told their own stories of the tiny but ferocious red ants.
Although miserable at that time, I realize that God used those ants to cement our friendship together.
I dared to speak His word and not even ants could stop those precious words from flowing out of me and for those women to share back.
Leaving the next afternoon, the brethren in Golfito showered me with love. “Child, take this.” One woman placed a traditional purse made from varnished wooden slats of wood on my shoulder. Another gave me a small bag of painted fruit carved out of pauche, a very light wood similar to Styrofoam. “Here, take some chiclé.” Of course, they had many words of comfort to pass along to Joyce.
Along with the precious gifts, I left Golfito with one final unforgettable memory.
“We have a surprise,” church leaders told me in Spanish. “Come here.” I followed them to a small sunny field on the outskirts of town. They gazed at the sky and so did I. Shielding my eyes, I had no idea what we were looking at or for.
As dirt kicked up around me and a hot wind blew grit over my uncovered arms, I realized I would be boarding a plane home to San José.
The small plane circled over the area and came to a standstill. Not a bus. Not a boat. Instead, a plane. In the middle of nowhere. I marveled. Something in my heart lifted as I dared myself to take the first step up. “Mija” the pastor said, “Qué te vayas con Dios.” My daughter, go with God.
When you’re traveling with God, He always brings about the unexpected, and it’s always a step up from what you thought you’d ever do.
You have just read, “Dare to do the Unexpected, by Amy L. Bovaird. © Copyright February 26, 2015. If you enjoyed this story and gained insights, please Comment, Like and Share!