Costa Rica Day 4: Capturing the Moment

Hello everyone! Madison and Abby here. A couple of us started our fourth day in Costa Rica by going on a run. This was an amazing experience to be able to see the scenery and the calm of the morning in Costa Rica. The rest of us woke up to a delicious breakfast of pancakes, hash browns, sausage, fresh fruit, bread, and orange juice. Breakfast was followed by a devotional led by Matt about having compassion and grace for one another as the week goes on.

Today’s agenda was a bit different. We traveled to a local public school where we were able to help beautify the school grounds. Although it was a Saturday and class was not in session, we were able to serve God and the community by pulling weeds, painting tables, and cleaning up around the outdoor area. This particular school is not given government funding, so it is difficult for them to keep up with the maintenance of the grounds. We found this more rewarding than we would have ever expected knowing that what we accomplished would bless so many people and help keep this school open.

Around noon we headed back to the AMCA house for another delicious meal. Today’s lunch consisted of fried fish, mashed potatoes, vegetables, brownies, and fruit punch. Shortly after, we headed out on the town to do some shopping at a local market. We spent time looking at all the trinkets and were able to purchase some souvenirs.

From the market, we traveled back to the public school and had the privilege of playing games and connecting with a local youth group. We started our time together with a competitive game of penny tag which is similar to flag football in the sense that each team is trying to grab each other’s pennies or “flags.” Next, we spread out around the school grounds full of different hallways and hiding spots perfect for a fun game of capture the flag. It was a close game but the orange team seized the victory.

Following our game of capture the flag, we all piled into the bus to travel to a local church. We had the opportunity to have great conversations with the youth group members over some delicious desserts. The youth group members shared with us a powerful message and blessed us with a gift to always remind us of God’s presence in our lives. We are looking forward to heading back to this church tomorrow to worship the Lord with some of our new friends.

We arrived back at the AMCA house to another amazing dinner of burritos with beef, black beans, and pico de gallo. Dinner was followed by testimonies from Jonas, Jennaka, and Hannah. We were able to further connect with God and one another through their stories. We continued our Bible study with a discussion of the third commandment. This fun day concluded with a continuation of our discussion of conspiracy theories. We are all excited for another fun and fulfilling day ahead of us tomorrow.

Costa Rica Day 3: Unexpected Friendships

By: Jennaka and Luke

               After a full night’s rest, we woke up to Luke and Jonas getting back from a sunrise run, and we headed downstairs for eggs, Costa Rican sausage, fresh pineapple and mangos, orange juice, and hashbrowns. Our breakfast conversation was led by Matt, and we talked about what life looks like to live with God versus without Him.

               We then headed to the UAI prison where we were greeted with open arms by the staff and inmates. All of the prisoners were in full uniform ready to compete with us in a game of basketball. We began by a scripture and a testimony by Marie who talked to the group about how she found fulfillment through her faith in God and sports. Deven led us in a warmup to dial us in for gametime. After two competitive halves, Hope won by 1 point! (thanks, Deven). After the conclusion of the game, we celebrated three birthdays of the inmates by eating cake and dulce de leche, singing in both Spanish and English. We realized throughout the morning how similar these people are to us and how genuine they were. Upon our departure, the inmates went out of their way to thank us for our time and for playing basketball.

               We left the UAI and arrived to the AMCA house where arroz y pollo (rice and chicken), mashed black beans, blackberry juice (YUM), and fresh watermelon was waiting for us… it’s safe to say we are obsessed with all the fresh fruit here! We had a little bit of downtime, so the group sat at a circle table and talked about our similarities in difficulties and adversities in our different sports.

               We thought we were heading straight to the Project Abraham school, but we had the pleasant surprise of going to Pop’s ice cream shop on the way there. We all indulged in ice cream, gelato, shakes, and crepes, and drove to the school where we winded through small towns, rugged cliffs, and jungle terrain. When we arrived to the gym, the children immediately started waving and cheering, and continued to grow more excited the more people they saw from our group. Abby and Deven shared a testimony for both groups of third graders we got the opportunity to play with. We played red light green light and dodgeball, and it was nothing short of pure joy from both the kids and us. When our time was up, the kids expressed so much love to us by hugging us and not wanting to let go.

               We had some time before dinner, so we decided to explore the area around San Francisco de Dos Rios. We walked through beautiful parks and neighborhoods, and it was really interesting to see what life looks like for another culture. While we were walking, we realized that while we all met just a few days ago, our group has grown so close. We finished the evening by eating rice, Canelones, cinnamon rolls, and cas (a tart juice).

               After dinner, we had a time of devotion and dove into the first two of the 10 commandments. This discussion was followed by testimonies by Deven and Kerrigan. They both showed a lot of courage and had very moving stories of their life of faith. We ended the night with great conversation as well as group games such as Mafia and a plethora of card games.

Thanks for following along on our seed trip! We can’t wait for the rest of the week!

Costa Rica Day 2: Futbol is life

By: Daniel and Marie

After a restful 3-4 hours of sleep last night, we woke up to our first delicious meal in Costa Rica! The chefs made us rice and beans, eggs, toast, and fresh fruit (amazing mango and pineapple). On the bus ride to our first school, we got our first look at the beautiful mountains and valleys in daylight. When we arrived at Panama Republic school the students welcomed us with bright smiles and waves – they were so excited to see us! While at Panama Republic we worked with five different PE classes all around 4th grade. During each class period one of us had the opportunity to share a testimony with the students to explain why we were there. We told the kids about our love for Jesus and our love for sports and how we use sport to glorify God. It was so cool to connect with so many different kids through sport despite the language barrier. We were able to communicate through smiles and laughter! We especially had fun playing soccer and sharks and minnows with them. Cam, Hannah, and Marie even got to join the students during their traditional dance class!

After a beautiful morning with the elementary aged students, we headed back to the AMCA house for lunch. We were treated to another delicious meal. Soon after we finished eating, we left for Joven Prison, a juvenile Detention Center. We spent time with two different groups of about 10 young men for an hour each, playing sports, sharing laughs and giving testimonies. Any nerves we had going in were quickly resolved once we starting playing games with them.  It was such a cool opportunity to bring sports to a group of guys who don’t get to experience sports in the same ways that we do. Despite their difficult situations, we all were unified by sport. If you were watching from the outside, it would have been hard to tell who were the prisoners and who were not. After playing fútbol and basketball, we all sat together and had a snack and shared our gratitude. The young men wanted to make sure that we were enjoying ourselves in Costa Rica. It was surprising to a lot of us that they cared so much about our experience, especially considering their own circumstances.

Our first day in Costa Rica was so cool, and after dinner we had the chance to reflect with one another during team time. We shared the most meaningful parts of the day, listened to leader Ben share his testimony, and talked about the 10 commandments during bible study. We’re all looking forward to another day filled with new faces and smiles tomorrow!

Day 1: We’re In Costa Rica!

By: Hannah and Devin

Hi, hi, hi everyone! Sorry for the late post! We had a little bit of delay at the airport. A three hour set back had us getting in later than  anticipated into San Jose. Nevertheless, we wanted to catch you up to date! 

We left DeVos parking lot promptly at 7:30 yesterday morning, and were on our way to Grand Rapids airport. Euchre and donuts were popular on the bus ride there! Once at the airport we checked our bags, scanned our passports, and glided through security which was not busy at all on a Wednesday morning. Once through, we hit Starbucks and settled in at our gate. Conversations about books we planned on reading, songs downloaded, and games added to our phones to keep us busy on the plane were topics of conversations as we geared up to leave. On the plane we all had time to nap or talk to the people sitting next to us, (which some of us did simultaneously… Luke). 

Once in Newark, we grabbed lunch and headed back to our gate, when we were notified that the plane we were supposed to be taking was delayed with bad weather. So our 4:45 boarding time turned into an 8:08 boarding time. No problem for us though! A group of 12 college students will find a way to entertain themselves in one of the largest airports in the US. An article I had time to read states, “Newark Airport, along with JFK Airport and LaGuardia Airport, combine to create the largest airport system in the United States, the second largest in the world in terms of passenger traffic, and largest in the world in terms of total flight operations.” To say the least, we did not have trouble finding things to do. From various restaurants, to stores, to long walks down the terminal we all had fun in our unexpectedly long layover. For dinner we all gathered in separate areas. My group went to the Ramen restaurant where Daniel and myself (Hannah) raced to see who could drink their soup the fastest. We headed back to our gate and loaded the plane to San Jose. 

Once we landed in San Jose, we waited in line to get through the security checkpoint. Ben our Push the Rock leader, helped us get our passports stamped and then we were on our way. We grabbed our checked bags and headed to the bus. A quick 20 minute drive brought us to the AMCA house where we will be staying until Sunday! Then it was time to crash! For a quick blink of sleep. Thanks for reading!!

Safari Send-Off | 6.2 Uganda SEED

Greetings! Zoe & Dave here!

This morning was one to remember. We woke up bright and early at 5:30 am in anticipation of an everlasting excursion… A SAFARI. We packed the safari vans full with our group and headed off into the largest National Park in Uganda.

            We were greeted with the most beautiful sunrise our group had ever seen, as well as the occasional Giraffe popping his head out to say hi. The goal for this trip was to spot some big “cats” and it took roughly an hour to get to our prime areas. The “boy’s” van was able to spot a leopard hunting on the way there and then eventually spotted two more in a tree down the line. The “girls” van struck gold when their guide took them off-roading. They were able to find a “pride” of Lions and were able to get within close proximity of these beautiful creatures. Other animals that were spotted between the two groups were elephants, hyenas, water buffalos, mongoose, antelope, gazelles, monkeys, and many more. Afterward, we headed back to the resort to munch down one last meal before we hit the road back to Kampala. We enjoyed an amazing meal overlooking the Nile River and shared great laughs.

            After a long two weeks, the ride back was of decent length, but we made the most of the quality time with our team. Some of our members indulged in Uganda’s finest gas station snacks such as, “Crunchy Daddies, Plantain Chips, Bon Bons, and top-of-the-line energy drinks. Also, a large majority of the bus caught up on some sleep after the early start of the day.

            We made it back to our humble abode, “Namirembe Guest House”, where we shared a team dinner and our last debrief ;(. We are so grateful for this opportunity and the amazing people we’ve met along the way. Not to mention, our wonderful team from Hope. It still seems a bit surreal, but we will always be thankful for every memory made along the way.

Tomorrow, we will venture off into the Markets of Kampala before starting our journey back.

Paradise in Paraa | 6.1 Uganda SEED

Macey and Owen here!

We had our last breakfast this morning at Sports Outreach Gulu and sadly said our goodbyes to the wonderful people! We are so thankful to Richard, Jennifer, Millie, Titus, Moses, the kitchen staff, and everyone else for our fantastic time. The warm welcomes, excellent hospitality, and experiences we were afforded were a blessing. (To the people of Gulu, afoyo!!) We then departed to head to the Paraa Safari Lodge.

Within the last 45 minutes of the ride, we saw some giraffes, elephants, antelopes, and possibly lions (if you weren’t looking too hard and got creative)! After a bumpy ride, we made it to the lodge and were greeted by the excellent staff and were offered juice that was so yummy and fresh. We still don’t know what it was, but it tasted great! We then headed straight to lunch, where some of us had Nile River perch, and others chose steak. (We both had the Nile River perch, which was DELICIOUS; anyone who chose stake took the L to be honest). After enjoying our lunch for maybe a little too long, we had to rush to the dock to catch our Nile River boat tour ride! We had an incredible ride down the Nile River and were lucky to see so much wildlife. We saw over 100 hippos (according to Joel’s count), a crocodile, many elephants, water buffaloes, African fish eagles, and a beautiful waterfall. As we approached the waterfall, it started to pour, so we all got a bit wet, but it was such a beautiful scene. It made us appreciate the beauty of God’s creation.

Once the tour concluded, we returned to the lodge and hung out at the swimming pool. We then had dinner, where we had the option of having lamb or chicken, a salad bar, (excellent) green bean soup, and dessert. Some guys tried the unlabeled pepper dressing for the salad and immediately began dying from how spicy it was. Carlee was just fine. Overall, we enjoyed our wonderful meal and the conversations we had with our tables.

After dinner, we had our regular nightly group time. Instead of having deep conversations and sharing our testimonies, we played an icebreaker to switch things up! The game involved every person in the group pretending to be the person to their left in the circle. Shomari was assigned the role of “the therapist” and had to figure out what “condition” the group had based on how we acted and answered his questions. We had lots of belly laughs from Maddie imitating Zoe’s fear of bugs, David laughing at everything just as Macey does, Owen pretending to be Tina (a middle-aged woman with 4 children), and Macey rattling off the colossal collection of Joel quotes from the trip, etc. After a bit of a struggle and a couple of attempts to legitimately diagnose the group, Shomari finally figured out what was going on. This game showed us how close we all have gotten this past week and a half!

Today was quite a bit different than our other days here in Uganda. It showed us how fortunate we are that we’ve gotten to experience a “normal vacation” in contrast with the extreme poverty of the people in Kampala and Gulu, where we went. We have loved our time here in Uganda and can’t believe we only have a couple more nights left!! ): The only thing left tonight is to get some rest for our early morning safari!!

Last Day in Gulu | 5.31 Uganda SEED

What’s up from Uganda, Maddie and Ryan here.

Today we started with breakfast and devotions. We were then allowed to work on the farm at the Gulu Sports Outreach Complex. We were divided into three groups; one fed the cows, another fed and herded the pigs, and a final group delivered water to the animals.

After lunch, our group was divided into men and women. The women visited Christine’s House, which cares for young girls going through hardships and in need of support. They made pastries with the girls at the house, learned a new dance, and played yard games with them. The girls were given the chance to encourage each other by sharing their stories and journeys through faith with each other.

While that was transpiring, the boys embarked on a different mission. They were shown around the complex and undertook mango hunting. They used excessively long sticks to smack mangos down, and the boys tried to catch them before they hit the ground and split open. Afterward, they spent some leisure time playing chess against one another.

As the end of the trip nears, many of us run out of clean laundry. The women of Sports Outreach were kind enough to show us how to wash our clothes in the proper Uganda fashion. We could also go to the vocational school and purchase some items they were making. Many people bought gifts for their parents, so I won’t spoil the surprise with specifics.

In the evening, the group returned to play soccer once more. While the soccer game was going on, many of us decided to start a volleyball game and showed many kids a new game they hadn’t seen before.

Our stay in Gulu has been amazing and eye-opening. We need to rest up as we leave early tomorrow morning for Para.

God’s Grace in GULU | 5.30 Uganda SEED

Gulu Greetings from Griffin and Grace

We started the day at 7 am sharp, as the master chef requested. We had a delicious breakfast with freshly picked mangos from the farm. The day opened with devotions with the residents who board here. A tour of the grounds followed this up; luckily, we did not have to hike across all 47 acres. We were introduced to the teachers and children of the school, aged 3-6, who taught us nursery rhymes about “Big Fat Mangos”. We then continued by visiting the clinic, where they treat students and community members who cannot travel to downtown Gulu. At the next stop, we were introduced to a trade school where young women learn to either tailor clothes or hair dress to develop skills to help support their families. We then toured the rest of the farm, where we saw pigs, cows, chickens, goats, and many crops. This climaxed with the head farmer climbing a mango tree for us, providing us with a delicious snack. The tour finished by visiting two dormitories where the girls from the trade school live and counsel and provide for young women with trauma.

After lunch, the group visited a village where we distributed the remainder of our water filters. We were again welcomed with open arms through a traditional greeting. The moment the people of Uganda see clean water for the first time is indescribable. The sparkle in their eyes makes you truly appreciate something we take for granted daily. The village leader thanked us and prayed that we could help spread the importance of clean water worldwide.

When we returned to the property, we had to rush out to the fields because all the children left school at 5, and we were late for warm-ups. Like last night, we played soccer, volleyball, and other games with over 100 kids from all over Gulu. Some of us played duck, duck, goose and ran races with the younger kids who weren’t old enough to play in the soccer games, and their laughs warmed our hearts like nothing else. Once the sun goes down, Coach Richard calls all the kids in for prayer and testimonies before going home because if he doesn’t, he said they would keep playing until it is so dark, they can no longer see the soccer ball.

After finishing the water filter demonstration Shomari and myself (Griffin) began that night’s adventure. Over the past year, I have been blessed to become a world traveler. This has been the fourth country I have visited, and my necessities for traveling are as follows: trying the traditional food, buying a soccer jersey, and getting a haircut. This country’s hairdo consisted of a buzz cut with a fade into my facial hair. While in the barbershop, the smile across my face was quite comprehensive as my hair has been the shortest since middle school.

After dinner, we had group time, where we continued to bond. The Sports Outreach leaders were flabbergasted to learn that we had only met one week prior. After this time, the power in the property shut off momentarily. The silence and stars soothed our minds after the exhausting day. We still take in every moment and cannot believe we are actually in Uganda. As we enter our final day of ministry, we ask for your continued thoughts and prayers. This trip has taught us many invaluable lessons we are eager to share with you when we return home.

Going to Gulu | 5.29 Uganda SEED

Carlee and Joel here.

We started out our day watching the sunrise over Kampala, followed by breakfast, before loading our bags onto the bus and setting off for Gulu, Uganda! We played many games on the way, stopped for snacks at a gas station, and crossed the Nile River! Before, during, and after crossing the Nile, we encountered some new friends (Baboons: picture below!). This is our first encounter with wildlife on the trip! The water was moving so fast, and there were many rapids; genuinely fantastic.

At the end of our six-and-a-half-hour bus ride, we finally arrived at the Sports Outreach facility in Gulu. We were welcomed with cultural chants and emphatic hugs. We were told these gestures are the most significant way to be welcomed in Gulu. After getting settled in our rooms, we had a snack. Waiting for us was an array of fresh fruits. For many of us, this was our first time trying passion fruit! It was delicious!!!! We then took about an hour’s break before joining the children in a workout and a very competitive soccer match. A few of the young ladies played volleyball with us as well. Although most of us still need to improve at soccer, we tried our best to contribute and had a blast. To end our games, we got the opportunity to introduce ourselves to the group. Shomari then closed with a prayer for both the SEED team and the children of Sports Outreach. To end our night, we gathered again for a traditional Ugandan dinner and debriefed the day as a group.

We are so thankful to be welcomed in Gulu with open arms, and we can’t wait to see what the rest of our trip has in store!!!       

Dancing, Singing, and Praising | 5.28 Uganda SEED

HAPPPPYYY SUNDAYYYY!!!!!!!!!!!!

Coming at you live from Kampala, Uganda. This is Katie and Zoe!

Today was our last full day in Kampala before we head out to Gulu for four days. We started the day strong, with a few of us getting up for sunrise. We gathered for our regular breakfast and shipped off to Sports Outreach at 8:30 for church service.

The service here in Uganda was something none of us had ever experienced before in worship, and you could tell that the people here worship from the heart. We danced and sang and worshiped for nearly three hours, but it didn’t feel nearly that long. We led the congregation in two of our own songs and killed it with our dance moves, special shoutout to Zoe for creating a new iconic dance move. Three of our team members shared parts of their testimony before the congregation (David, Griffin, and Zoe), and Shomari preached a sermon for everybody. After the sermon from Shomari and the local pastor, we took part in a very altar call/prayer, and you could see the Lord moving throughout everyone in the room.

After service, we ate our last delicious local meal at sports outreach and returned to the hotel. We had our first bit of free time when we returned to the hotel. Some people participated in card games, some napped, and others had great conversations that made the hours seem like minutes. We ended the night with our last dinner here and a team circle that lasted hours and only continues to bring us closer to one another. We still can’t get over how blessed we are to have this group.