Monday, April 24, 2006

Iguana hunting

Iguana hunting isn’t the most common way to build a youth group, but down here, you never know what will bring people together. Last week as I was working at home, I heard a crowd of guys in front of our house. I went out to see who it was and recognized a couple of them kids I knew from town. I asked them what they were up to and they told me that they were hunting iguanas (illegal but a traditional source of food in the Afro-Caribbean diet). The showed me what they were hunting them with…sling-shots made from tree branches and rubber straps. These guys had pretty good aim, too. They had already bagged one and were on the hunt for a second one. We figured that all the hunting would give them quite an appetite so Amy suggested that I invite them back to the house when they were done to help us finish off a giant pot of soup (iguana free) that she had cooked the night before. I followed them down the road towards the river and gave them the invitation to come eat lunch whenever they finished hunting. Teenagers are teenagers no matter the culture or the part of the world, so they all accepted, decided they were done hunting and came to the house right away. We spent the next two hours hanging out with five, then six teenagers as they downed every bit of soup, bread and cookies that came their way. We had a blast getting to know them a little better and they really seemed to enjoy hanging with the gringos.

These kinds of times are essential to what we’re trying to do down here. One thing that I have come to understand is how much effort and time it takes to gain the trust of these guys. I think that many of the people in the Afro-Caribbean culture, while seeming to be very outgoing and at times, “in your face”, are actually pretty shy when it comes to interactions that are outside of their control. For example, some of the guys can be pretty boisterous and rowdy out in the water or wandering around town in a pack, but get them in a different situation, say in front of a visiting mission group, and they will either run (literally) or try to fade into the background. I think they feel like they’re on display…like a curio in a museum. I can’t say I blame them for wanting to get out of situations that are uncomfortable…I often want to do the same. I just hope that as we do small things, like feed the troops while they’re hunting iguana, we gain their trust and friendship as individuals and eventually as a team. I know these guys are going to be spending quite a bit of time at the skate-park but for now, these small times are what builds relationships and gives us opportunities to tell them about Jesus and show the that he cares about them. You won’t find it mentioned in “The Purpose Driven Youth Group”, but iguana hunting may just be the world’s most over-looked strategy for getting a group of teenagers together.

Hanging Out

Hanging out…just plain old hanging out usually isn’t too productive…by most definitions of productive. It’s interesting then that many of the best and most productive times we’ve had here in Puerto Viejo involve “hanging out”. For example, this past Sunday evening we invited almost 20 people over to our house for Easter. For much of the time, we just hung out, ate and enjoyed each other’s company. I have found that sharing a meal is one of the best ways to get to know people and, for me the other is by going surfing with them.

Anyway, Easter Sunday night we spent a lot of time hanging out and getting to know each other better. It was a very mixed crowd, representing four different cultures and a wide variety of religious backgrounds. One of the guys that came is named Patrick. Patrick is the subject of a book entitled “In Search of Captain Zero” which was written by one of Patrick’s friends that went looking for him several years after Patrick had moved away from Long Island. It’s an interesting book…pretty rough reading in parts due to the language, etc… but I found it really interesting and in some ways, I felt like I knew Patrick before we even met him. Throughout the book, the author recounts various details of his life as he and his buddy Patrick, traveled around the world surfing, running drugs (crazy stories) and avoiding death on numerous occasions. These flashbacks are interspersed with accounts of things that take place along the way as Alan searches for his old friend.

It’s pretty interesting that Patrick is now living in a tent pretty much right in front of our house. This has given us an opportunity to really get to know him. He’s pretty solitary, but he loves kids and dogs and we have both. He also comes by to fill up his water bottles regularly. Well, one day last week, Amy invited him to spend Easter with us and he accepted. That night, he enjoyed the warmth of a family, a good potluck dinner and he also heard the gospel presented in a very straightforward, simple manner. Patrick listened, made some comments from time to time, and really seemed to enjoy himself. I know he’s not a Christian (he’ll happily tell you that himself) but I also know that God loves him very much and wants to change him from the inside out. Figuratively, God’s calling Patrick out of the tent in the woods and into the warmth of a house, with a family that cares about him.

Please pray that we’ll have more opportunities to hang out with Patrick…really getting to know him. Pray that God will work in his life and that he will one day experience everything that God has in store for him…forgiveness, new life, restoration. There’s lots of “Patricks” down here. God willing, we’ll continue to meet them and show them that there is a God who cares for each of them personally.