The little known side of Costa Rica: Cabécar life

28 May

I’m not a fan of travelogue blogs as a general rule.  I prefer to blog on just one thing and keep it short.  But I am privileged to be able to visit so many cultures and churches throughout this hemisphere and don’t often share more of the details behind the travel. So this time I’m bending a bit to give readers a little more in-depth glimpse at some of my experiences as well as a little known part of Costa Rica.

The Cabécar are one of the six distinct indigenous groups native to Costa Rica.  They live scattered in very remote mountainous regions that are protected reservations.  There have been several missions groups that have reached out to the Cabécar but probably the most effective have been those of Costa Rican origin.  Starting yesterday morning I traveled with some of our local partners who have a regular ministry with the Cabécar.  After almost 24 uninterrupted hours in travel and ministry I came away with a much greater idea of what it means when these brothers faithfully serve, as well as some very sore muscles.

After two hours on paved roads heading out into the bush and two or so on gravel we arrived at our next transportation mode:

We were on the side of a steep slope with the rain picking up. Our destination was an hour away down a muddy track, through two small rivers and up another steep and muddy climb.  My horse definitely earned his keep as he had to carry my weight plus bags of food I was carrying for the evening’s events.

The Cabécar live simple lives growing bananas, creating baskets and hammocks, or doing day labor outside the reserve.  This is a church they built for their monthly meetings.  They live so scattered that it may take a day’s hike to visit their neighbors.  So church is not a weekly event.  Instead, it is an all-night vigil where they sing, pray, preach, dance and eat, then hike back to their homes the next morning.

I have been blessed with a face that simply makes kids laugh, no matter what their culture.  The Cabécar children are happy, well fed, and for the most part seemed healthy.  Dental issues and worms are evident problems but the the riches of the land ensure that they have enough to eat though perhaps not nutritionally balanced.

The land is also ideal for coffee and I enjoyed several cups of the rich brew.  It is boiled in a large pot on a wood fire inside the building.  Then it is poured through a filter nailed to the wall and sugar (not too much) is added.  Though they are poor in economic terms, I can guarantee there is not a Starbucks drink that can touch the coffee the Cabécar enjoy every day.

Singing and dancing for hours is part of the culture of the Cabécar.  When they follow Christ they don’t reject their culture but instead create their own worship songs in their native tongue.  They are quiet in conversation but incredibly loud in prayer and singing.  Their expression of passion and praise involves whole families taking turns leading.  It’s not always clear whether they are singing or praying which seems to me to be a very honest way of worship.

I am usually asked to speak or preach when I visit churches.  In this case I kept it short and targeted.  The Cabécar often feel culturally inferior to other Costa Ricans.  They have little in the way of education or economic potential.  Their church is a small building with dirt floors and planks for pews.  Even in the way they relate to outsiders with downcast eyes is an indicator of how they perceive themselves.  Because I have been in so many churches of all kinds throughout Latin America and the Caribbean I can encourage them with a simple truth….we are all one family and equal before the cross.  I bring them greetings from sister churches who are similar in many ways.  Though geographically distant, with different languages and cultures, the understanding that they have brothers and sisters in Christ who are worshipping along with them is a great source of encouragement.

This vigil was shorter than normal and ended around two in the morning.  We hiked two hours to get to our car since the horses could not negotiate the track in the dark.  For that matter, I didn’t do a great job myself.  Cathi is still working on getting the mud out of my clothes.

Just before collapsing in my own bed early this morning for a few hours sleep before my own church’s service I remembered this last picture and thought about the Cabécar believers.  They have learned to live the Gospel in the context of their own culture. It is not an imported worship but a heartfelt and natural expression of the grace we have received.  Thanks to the provision of our supporters I have been honored to be able to visit, encourage, and share with churches all over this region of the world how they are God’s choice for the growth of his kingdom.

One Response to “The little known side of Costa Rica: Cabécar life”

  1. Rachel Huber May 28, 2012 at 2:01 am #

    Wow. So neat to hear about that experience. Thanks for posting.

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