In August of 2014 I traveled to Alajuela, Costa Rica, with a missions team from my church. Our team’s purpose was to aid the Rice and Beans Ministry. The director of RABMin, Fred Curry, warned us that not everyone that we would encounter would accept us with open arms. Fred knew that some locals would embrace us and dote on their American visitors, on the other hand, he knew people that would not. He conveniently failed to mention that some days we might return to base camp with our tail tucked between our legs and our feelings hurt. Those are the days that count.
Those are the days that made us question why we packed around two hundred food bags a day to deliver to people who might not welcome us. The worst area we reached out to was called “La Herradura”, meaning the horseshoe. La Herradura is a U shaped staircase with houses littered every couple of steps. These homes were single rooms with maybe one mattress and a stove or microwave. This was a massive change from the suburban neighborhood I grew up in. We broke up into smaller groups and went door-to-door asking the people to please accept our food bags and allow us to pray with them.
We had been warned about the different ways people would react to us, but it had in no way prepared me for what happened. A docile looking elderly man who, after seeing our food bags and t-shirts, spat at us in rapid angry Spanish opened one of the doors we knocked on. I am not fluent in the language, but I knew enough. He wanted nothing to do with our “handouts” or our God. Even after we offered him the food (sans prayer) he refused to take part in anything that could be given to him by “gringos”(rich white people) and “en el nombre de Dios” (in the name of God).
This man had hurt my feelings. He would not accept anything from us because of what we looked like and what we believed in. I do not understand, to this day, how someone with empty cupboards, an empty belly, and a family to feed, could refuse a week’s worth of food just because they do not share beliefs with the person on the other side of the bag. On one of our last stops a child welcomed us into a small home. He grabbed our guide’s finger to lead us to his mother. The woman refused our food bag at first because she assumed that, as Christians, we would only give a bag to a fellow Christian.
After explaining to her that we were not here to push our faith onto her, only to help as we had felt called by our God to do so. She realized that she could feed her family for another week with the bag we offered. She asked if any of us (besides our guide from RABMin) could speak well enough to converse with her and I was the only person available. Maria could not comprehend why we would leave our comfortable lifestyle in America for Alajuela. I told her that I came here for people like her. I came to share love and a little food with wonderful people whom I hope never to forget.
Maria couldn’t understand why others had refused the food we offered. She said that she could not believe in a God who watched her babies sleep without full bellies every night but she was not stupid enough to pass up enough food to feed them for a week. She accepted that we believed differently from her. She did not penalize us for it. Maria could not find it in herself to believe, however she did ask us to pray blessings over her house and her children before we left. Maria accepted us and what we had to offer even when it was different from what she believed. When our journey began, I never considered that anyone would turn us down.
We were offering free food to people who needed it, nevertheless there are people who think that our differences do have to divide us. Everyone on Earth is more alike than we presume. We each think we are right in our choices and beliefs. In order for the world to co-exist we must embrace and respect our similarities and differences alike. One of my favorite authors, C. JoyBell C. , once said, “We are all equal in the fact that we are all different. We are all the same in the fact that we will never be the same. We are united by the reality that all colours and all cultures are distinct & individual. “