Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas from Costa Rica!

We attempted to have a traditional family Christmas, but that is pretty difficult. I never realized how much your traditions are tied to your culture and your location! For example, I brought all of my family recipes with me so I could make our traditional Christmas meal, but some critical ingredients are not available here (like cornmeal, or pumpkin pie filling, or Velveeta, or ham, etc.). We attempted to recreate our family Christmas dinner and substitute ingredients, but it just wasn't the same. Trust me, no one ate seconds or wanted leftovers for dinner!

We went to our church on Christmas Eve. It was a lot of fun to sing traditional Christmas carols in Spanish with a very latin beat and musical rendition to them! No one would ever dream of dimming the lights and lighting candles during a Costa Rican singing of "Silent Night"! It was rockin'!!! All of the Sunday School classes did something - sang a song or did a dance or acted out a part of the nativity story. Sarah's class sang a song and did a ribbon dance, then they led the congregation in singing Feliz Cumpleanos to Jesus (Happy Birthday) and they opened a big gift box and let helium balloons out. The whole service was very upbeat and celebratory and fun.

Last night was like living in a war zone... the fireworks in our neighborhood rivaled any war in the Middle East, I'm sure! The house actually shook during a lot of it! The most action was at midnight - the traditional "time" to celebrate Christmas here. It is traditional here to wait until midnight to eat Christmas dinner and open gifts with family. Also, the baby Jesus doesn't appear in your nativity scene until midnight on Christmas Eve. All of the nativity scenes in town have been "waiting" on their centerpiece - the baby Jesus! I love that!

So we survived our first Christmas totally away from Texas and family and friends. It was different, that's for sure. We miss everyone and we miss our traditions, but we survived. Good news... Jesus is still Jesus, no matter where we are or what culture we are learning or what language we are speaking. That will NEVER change - Hallelujah! Feliz Navidad!

Monday, December 17, 2007

The end of the Trimester... What did we learn?

We have been here for 4 months and are at the end of our first trimester. We have learned A LOT in those short months…
Vocabulary words learned: 700+
Verbs learned: 350+
Keep in mind that these are words that we were given to learn. These don't include the hundreds and hundreds of other words we have learned along the way - after the 4th time your teacher says, "por ejemplo", you figure out she is saying "for example" - this is an example of vocabulary we weren't given to learn, we learned from immersion por supuesto (of course).

Stop reading if you are already bored, or could care less…

We have learned:
  • Conjugation of verbs in present tense - both regular and irregular verbs

  • Conjugation of verbs in two forms of past tense (past perfect and imperfect)

  • We learned the intricacies of when to use “por” and “para”

  • We learned that words are either masculine or feminine, and each has an article that goes in front of it: la casa (as an example), or una casa, or unas casas, las casas (the house/es)
    Then of course your adjective has to agree with the masculine or feminine tense as well. Do you live in a red house (rojo)? Then of course it's not rojo - it's roja - because it must match casa - Yo vivo en una casa roja.
    Boring you yet?

  • We learned about Estar and Ser - both "to be" verbs - and the 20+ different reasons you have to know to determine if you use either Estar or Ser… by the way, they CHANGE in both past tenses and in future tense. I think there might be about a hundred ways to use estar and ser!

  • Then we learned about "perifrasis" - phrases linking verbs together – and the many different rules involved in using them

  • Then came direct objects - easy you may say - well, that's in English - Spanish is entirely a different thing!

  • Indirect objects, of course, came next.
    Is this starting to sound a lot like the nightmare of diagramming sentences that you remember from high school English!!!???

  • Then substitutions of both the direct and indirect objects (Ellen went to the store....changes to "she went to it"...oh so easy you may say? Even third trimester students confuse when/how to use these)

  • How to phrase a question - different format than regular sentences

  • Reflexive verbs-- used when something directly affects you - such as you look at yourself in the mirror. The sentence structure is different. A VERY different way of thinking about things.

  • Intransitives - You think you like the cookie, but in Spanish, the cookie is pleasing to you. In English, "You" is the subject of the sentence, but in these type of set-ups, the "cookie" is the subject of the sentence.

  • By the way, you can “Me gusta” pizza (I like pizza.), but you can’t “Me gusta” Francisco (I like Francisco.) because that would be a romantic advance… careful!!!

All of the above is JUST what we learned in our grammar class. We have two other classes...
In our phonetics class - we spent the whole trimester trying to sound like a Spanish speaker, not a gringo - learning diphthongs, accents, syllables, intonation, etc.
In our conversation class we try to pull it all together! Each week we have a different topic we discuss. House, family, foods, animals, occupations, money, business, etc. We learn words and verbs and common phrases about each topic, then discuss them in class. Oh, and don't forget, we are also learning to witness to people and explain the Bible in Spanish, give our testimony, tell Bibile stories, and apply all of it to daily life... IN SPANISH!

AAAHHHH!!!!! These are just the highlights of our trimester and what has been shoved into our heads. We really need this break! However, we can’t let down our guard and stop studying… We are working with Lizbeth on things that we know we are weak on. She is a tough tutor! Billy is meeting with a Costa Rican guy who wants to help him with conversation in exchange for Billy helping him with English conversation. We are lining up other language helpers for next trimester, as well as reviewing our books and flashcards and working with on-line tutorials and reviews. Pray that "the little men in the warehouses of our brains" are working overtime filing all of this stuff in the correct places so we can go back to school with organized information and can recall it all and use it in conversation.

By the way... we managed to finish the trimester with all A's and B's - Woo Hoo!

Sunday, December 9, 2007

La Carpio Christmas party

Have you ever tried to throw a party for 200 children? Complete with a carnival of games, a full dinner, and Christmas gifts for all??? Our La Carpio ministry team (15 missionaries from the language institute) did just that Saturday. Actually, I have to give God all of the credit because I was in charge and I REALLY had my doubts about being able to pull this off.

Special thanks to my Beth Moore Bible Study group back home in Texas… they collected money and sponsored all of the food for the fiesta. This alone was an awesome ministry – a group of ladies from Texas partnered with the ladies of the La Carpio community to provide a full meal for 225 children (more than we planned for)… arroz con pollo, ensalada, tostadas, hot chocolate, and ice cream. The La Carpio ladies cooked all of the food and served the 225 plates, cups, and ice cream cones.

Also, special thanks to our supporters – this is one of the ways in which your support money is being used. You helped to provide gift bags for 200 children in the La Carpio community. You partnered with missionaries from other organizations who also provided goodies for the gift bags.

It is apparent to me that THIS is the church at work – supporters and missionaries and people of all walks of life, all denominations, coming together to provide for the children of this community. Thank you! Thank you for answering God’s call and giving from you heart so that we can go forth and share the love of Christ with these precious children!

To learn / see more of La Carpio, please check out our latest video at

Love to you all!!! Feliz Navidad!