We are WorldVenture missionaries to Costa Rica. Gary is professor of New Testament at Seminario ESEPA and is a blogger and author. Karen teaches at ESEPA and also specializes in sexual abuse and the church. They have four adult children who live in the USA.
I made myself a promise that, just to mix things up, this newsletter would not be about, “So, we are trying to adapt to COVID.”
Gary writes: The following observations come after 22 years on the field. They apply to us: your missionary mileage may differ.
- You are no longer one culture or the other, but a mixture of two. Rather than “home” we sometimes use the language, “What is your passport country?” And here is a book on sale for 99 cents about missionary children, Karen highly recommends it! Move quickly, not sure how long the sale will be on.
- Language is a constant journey. We went to a full year of language school when we started our work. Yet we still learn and look things up, daily. I would guess that my ability to express myself as a professor is only about 60% of my ability to do so in English. Imagine trying to run a race in knee-deep mud. Or perhaps this Ginger Rogers quote is more relevant to Karen’s work, in Spanish as opposed to English: “I did everything Fred Astaire did! But I did it backwards and in high heels!”
- The New Culture. Costa Rica is, in my opinion, one amazing country with a great culture. The people are wonderful – and very forgiving of my accent! But it’s not just a question of learning Spanish words, but local culture. For example, last week we had the Desfile de Faroles, Independence Day with a long parade of kids carrying lanterns, and all in traditional costume. Costa Ricans also greet every person in the room when they enter, and say farewell to each individual when they exist. They make a big deal of “despedidas” (farewell parties) and of course, the “quinceñera” (a formal party for a girl who turns 15, much more important than a Sweet Sixteen).
- Church is different! A two-hour service is considered on the short side. Salsa rhythms predominate in the music. I remember that, one of the first times I was preaching, a truck passed by and tooted its horn. To my surprise, half the congregation ran to the windows for a few minutes, to gaze at what was going on!
- Reverse culture shock (going home) is harder than living in the new culture. The philosopher said, “You cannot step into the same river twice, for other waters are continually flowing on.” And so, pretend to do this: look at a scene, then close your eyes for 10 months, and open your eyes; close them for a year, open your eyes, etc. It’s like one of those fast-motion films. To us, the US looks different every time we step back in, and so does the US church. A hint: ask your foreign missionaries how the church has changed over the past few years, you may be surprised.
- Living in the region, but outside the US. Living in Central America gives you a vastly different perspective on the US. The US is “that superpower to the north” and often appears on local news; by contrast, Costa Rica rarely appears on US news!
- The internet is a godsend. When we first went on the field, email was still only a few years old, and a phone call to the US was $1/minute. Now it’s free, and Karen talks to our kids almost daily. When I study, I can access many more resources online. And this year we have been giving regular international courses and conferences on Zoom.
- You miss the big things from America! Circumstances are unusual this year, but still: I haven’t seen my mother, siblings, cousins, or our own children, for over a year. Also, we miss our churches, or in fact, any church meeting in English.
- You miss the medium-sized things! Well, my personal “miss” is having a serious theological library nearby; when we are in Pennsylvania, there are two, within a half-hour. This makes any sort of research or writing I do – and it’s a lot – seriously more difficult as it should be. Occasionally I’ll post on Facebook, “Could someone find a copy of this book and take a picture of page 58 for me?”
- You miss the little things! People in Pennsylvania and NJ will understand why, every time we drive somewhere in the US, our first question is “Stop at Wawa?” (It’s a chain of wonderful gas-and-grocery stores, with running fresh coffee). No Wawas in CR!
- We thank God for letting us serve here; hardly a day goes by when I don’t think, “How blessed am I?”
Watch Karen Teach her International Course!
Three times a week, Karen boots up to teach over 100 people. CLICK HERE to catch a glimpse of her in her “studio” (if there are troubles with the “sound”, click the triangle on the upper right). She is saying, ‘So, we are not just saying that we must not abuse our power to abuse others; it is that we have to use our power to protect the vulnerable. As Jeremiah 23 says, Therefore this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says to the shepherds who tend my people: “Because you have scattered my flock and driven them away and have not bestowed care on them, I will bestow punishment on you for the evil you have done,” declares the LORD.’
Hello from San José, Costa Rica! I am so glad for the opportunity to update you on my ministry. Please forgive the length of this – I think a bit of background will help you comprehend the significance of all the new information!
You may remember that December 2015 Continue reading
Karen shares this month:
To see Karen’s online class, search out “Training Churches to Speak Up” on YouTube.
I love the old doxology: “Praise God from whom all blessings flow, praise him all creatures here below, praise him above ye heavenly hosts. Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen.” Every time I hear it I have beautiful memories of singing it in church as a child accompanied by organ and piano, 50 of us singing it in 4-part harmony before meals while on Chorale tour in college, and singing it a cappella with Grace Bible Fellowship Church short term missions team up in the mountains as the fog cleared to uncover the beautiful Central Valley of Costa Rica as the city lights came on at dusk.
Lately the song has been repeating itself in my mind as I watch God work around me here in San José. After years of work and preparation, in February I began teaching my new course The Church Confronting Sexual Violence. We had 17 adults in our first English cohort, a mix of US missionaries and Costa Ricans, and met here in our home. Just about the time I started to get the hang of everything, exactly half-way through the 8-week course, quarantine changed everybody’s world. Within a couple of weeks, we had figured out Plan B: we were back at it, studying together via live video conference. “Praise God from whom all blessings flow!”
Even while we were finishing up those last 4 weeks, it dawned on me that switching to an online format had truly opened up new possibilities. There were fellow missionaries around the world who wanted to take the course, plus some workers in the US, and some of them had extra free time while they were waiting for quarantine to lift. We opened cohort #2 to start immediately after the first one and have now gotten through the first 5 weeks. Taking the course are adults who work in Russia, Spain, Mozambique, Brazil, Colombia, Honduras, Costa Rica, Ecuador and the USA. “Praise him all creatures here below!”
One of my students shared with us recently about her experience in Honduras. She is fairly new there, so asked someone whether their large church had any type of child safety policy. The question got to the pastor, who replied that they did not have one, and was so troubled by it that he couldn’t sleep. The next morning, he got in touch with their denomination’s leaders to ask if any of their churches had such a policy. They did not, and the denomination’s leaders were so convicted about it that they asked us to please help ALL of them set up a child safety policy as soon as possible! I am still stunned and in awe of how God is clearly moving in the hearts of church leaders here in Central America! “Praise him above ye heavenly host!”
Needless to say, I am already making connections with people who can help translate everything so we can train those church leaders, plus anyone else who will listen! And now while I work, that familiar song of praise is in my heart, tying the old to the new, and my strength is renewed with gratitude that God has finally let me see the first true fruit of years of hard work and uncertainty! “Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost!”
ANNIVERSARY! We praise God too as we celebrate a personal milestone: our 40th wedding anniversary! We were having trouble deciding how to celebrate in quarantine, so our dear missionary friends Nancy and Paul Mauger treated us to a delicious breakfast!
Many blessings this month! Gary and Karen
Karen shares this month:
Gary’s commentary on Thessalonians was published in Spanish! And he is happy to be back teaching at ESEPA Seminary in San José, Costa Rica after the holiday break, and working on a new book.
He’s still working with Wycliffe Associates, helping to edit a new Greek-English dictionary for Bible translations. He loves what he does, so it is a double blessing to be able to serve the Lord doing what he enjoys most! (And from the perspective of a proud wife, I, Karen, think he is exceptionally gifted in this area!).
We have had a lot of family adjustments lately, the most recent one is that Sammy (our 12-year-old “foster son”) and his grandmother Rosi have moved out and are living with her sister and extended family about 3 hours away. They have been with us for 13 years, and we all love each other dearly, so it is a terribly difficult adjustment for everyone. But it was clearly God’s will, so we know it is what is best for all 4 of us. So that leaves the two of us alone, true empty-nesters for the first time since Steve was born 34 years ago. All of you who have been faced with an empty nest know what a huge adjustment THAT is on its own, so we are actually adjusting to 2 major changes at once. Not for the faint of heart! We are putting a lot of effort into how to re-arrange the household and divvy up the chores to keep us both free for the work God has given us to do. It has been a huge challenge but also we are finding unexpected fun in it.
I (Karen) am finally ready to start my new program training church leaders how to combat sexual abuse! It is very exciting and overwhelming! The first cohort will begin Feb 13, 1-4pm US Central time, every Thursday for 8 weeks. It will be a pilot program in English for missionaries here in San José, so that we can work out the kinks before translating everything into Spanish, and so that they can help recruit local churches to take the course beginning mid-year. We know that we are heading deep into enemy territory and he won’t take it lying down. The last 2 years working on this have been filled with obstacles, crises, and other types of spiritual warfare. It is obvious that God has been directing this project from the beginning, so we are trusting his timetable and his provision, and it seems as though God has finally cleared the deck to make way for the project to begin!
We are so deeply grateful for your faithful prayers, encouragement, and financial support! We cannot do this without you, and are very proud to serve God here on your behalf. We praise God for his generous provision through you: we received a number of generous year-end gifts in December and January, which pushed us into the black for the end of the year and allowed us to claim some past expenses. THAT gave us cause for much rejoicing, and means we will have the money for upcoming ministry expenses over the next few months. To God be the glory, GREAT things he has done!
PRAISE AND PRAYER
- Protection from spiritual warfare (health, time, distractions, protection)
- That God would send the right people to attend Karen’s pilot program, and use them to provide critical feedback for final adjustments
- That God would provide someone who is willing to translate a lot of material free of charge
- That Karen will have clarity of thought in these last days of writing the course
- If you think of it, please pray during each lesson, that God will give Karen clear mental focus, that God’s compassion and love for the helpless will flow freely, that his Spirit will change our hearts, and prepare us and lead us forward in this ministry
- That Gary and Karen would persevere in pursuit of new and healthy household routines, that we would keep our sense of humor through any rough patches of adjustment, that we would become an even stronger team in God’s service
At the moment I have all I need—and more! I am generously supplied with the gifts you sent me with Epaphroditus. They are a sweet-smelling sacrifice that is acceptable and pleasing to God. And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus. Now all glory to God our Father forever and ever! Amen. (Philippians 4:18-20, NLT)
With just a few small changes his words are still applicable today for the Shogren family: “We too have all we need – and more! We have been generously supplied with the gifts many of you have sent online or through the mail. They are a sweet-smelling sacrifice that is acceptable and pleasing to God. And this same God who takes care of us will supply all YOUR needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus. Now ALL GLORY TO GOD our Father forever and ever!”
Every day there are unlimited reminders of your generous faithfulness: every time we go food shopping or pay our electric bill, it is a testament to God’s faithfulness through you. Thank you, from the bottom of our hearts! Without you we would not be able to focus on our ministries in Costa Rica and elsewhere, training church leaders and missionaries through teaching, mentoring, and writing.
Now there is a new reminder of God’s generous provision at our house – in the garage! Thank you, Rose family, for your over-the-top generous gift of a 2011 Nissan Murano with only 43,000 miles logged on it!
WE LIVE IN 100 HOUSES!
“I assure you that everyone who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or property, for my sake and for the Good News, will receive now in return a hundred times as many houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and property – along with persecution.” Mark 10:29-30
9pm on a recent summer evening, I (Karen) found myself making an unexpected call to my friend Cel: “Um, so, I’m on a plane which will arrive in Philly in about 4 hours, and, uh, I need a place to sleep tonight. If Nancy picks me up at the airport, can she drop me off at your house so I can sleep on your couch?” The logistics of delayed flights and missing car keys had shattered my original well-laid plan, and I was in the middle of a string of urgent phone calls and texts hoping to come up with a new one before my flight took off. In spite of sounding understandably confused, Cel replied without hesitation: “Of course! But not on the couch, the guest room is empty, so you’ll be up there.”
As I smiled gratefully, the above verses came to mind. I thought back to 21 years ago when I clung to those verses while we were trying to sell our beloved Quakertown farmhouse before moving to Costa Rica. They had comforted me then even though it didn’t make sense. A hundred times as many houses now? In a few weeks I wasn’t even going to own ONE house. But now, many nights in many guest rooms later I could guess that Jesus probably was talking about something we now describe using the phrase “mi casa es su casa” (Spanish for “my house is your house”). I started counting in my head: Cel’s, Steve’s, Karen’s, Sharon’s, Betty’s, Geni’s, Vikky’s… Yes, there probably ARE literally a hundred homes where I know I would be welcomed on short notice and treated like family! Where I already HAVE spent many wonderful nights sharing old memories and making new ones.
I think this is a prime example of how God’s beautiful promises to his children are fulfilled in wonderful ways, going way beyond mere provision: also bringing love and joy and community. Don’t wait for your plans to go awry to take some time to look at your own life and identify the extraordinary ways God has fulfilled his promises to you and your family. Thank him for what he has already done, and trust that he will continue to do more than you can ask or think.
To all the hundreds of you who have housed us and fed us and loved on us over the years, there are no words to adequately express our gratitude. We love to accept your generous hospitality and to return it whenever we can mostly because we love you and love to be with you! And when you have days where you feel as though you are not making a difference in the world, please remember that to us (and surely many others) you have been and continue to be the hands of God. Karen
FAMILY NEWS: Vikky married Chris Pierdomenico on June 29!
Chris and Vikky got married in a beautiful June wedding! Karen and friends handled the details of the wedding and reception, Gary gave away the bride and performed the wedding! We had a large group, that included many old friends, people who flew in from all over, family, including Tim from Albuquerque. All the kids together again!
A super special thank you to friends and family who went WAY out of their way to help prepare, serve, and clean up the wedding celebration: Sharon and Cassie, Juli, Laura & Michael, Joann & Vince, Steph, Tim, Cel and Karen. We could not have done it without your help!
A church burns: in Paris? No, in Costa Rica
One of the first things we learned about missionaries, is that Missionaries are concerned with other Christian workers and try to support them practically and in prayer! So, this month we speak on behalf of others.
FIRST – Two days before the Notre Dame fire, there was a shocking tragedy here: a fire that destroyed homes and partly ruined the church Dios Proveerá (God will Provide) in La Carpio, a large nearby precario (shantytown).
ESEPA Seminary’s director says: “All the nine people who lived there died because of this fire. Two of them were members of the Dios Proveerá church, which is pastored by one of our students and her husband. The church facilities were also damaged. You can see more in the following video [subtitled in English]: http://youtube.com/watch?v=IVl6bgcbV7o&yt:cc=on. The damage is so great that it is not possible for the church to cover all the costs. As a seminary we would like to ask you for your collaboration and to encourage you to organize an offering in your local church for this sister church. Individual donations are also very welcome. You can deposit your donation using the following link: ESEPA Agape Fund. In the comment section you should mention “ESEPA/La Carpio”.
If you want to donate using a check you should use project number 65420, description “ESEPA/La Carpio” and the following address:
United World Mission
PO Box 602002
Charlotte, NC 28260-2002
SECOND Two of our dear missionary friends are preparing to move north to Honduras; like us, they will be involved in pastoral training. They just posted: “Please be in prayer for Honduras. There is a lot of rioting going on and it’s not civil. We’ve seen numerous videos and heard from missionaries there about burning buildings, including a fire at the US Embassy, gas bombs being released in the streets (not by the police), roads being shut down, the airport was shut down yesterday.”
PLEASE PRAY FOR OUR FRIENDS, and consider donating to Dios Proveerá.
Karen just flew up to Pennsylvania, to help Vikky prepare for the big wedding! The date is June 29 and we hope to share some pictures of Vik and Chris shortly!
Gary turned in his book, Iceberg Ahead! When God’s Servants Crash into Cold, Hard Reality to his translator. Kerigma Publications in Mexico plans to publish it! If you want to read a copy, let us know!
Thanks so much for putting us on the field! Blessings, Gary and Karen