A letter from Karla Koll in Costa Rica
Dear companions in mission,
Greetings to you in this new year. Yes, I know that the new year started several weeks ago now. I was on vacation at the beginning of the year. I'm working on focusing my vacation time on my family and keeping my work to a minimum, which is why I am only now writing my prayer letter. I hope and pray the new year has started well for each one of you.
Javier, my husband, came from Nicaragua to Costa Rica on December 23. We spent a very quiet Christmas here together. Colleagues recently retired from the Latin American Biblical University (UBL) hosted a lovely Christmas dinner for some faculty and students. Our daughter, Tamara, finally made it to Costa Rica on December 29. Her boyfriend, Eric Whittier, arrived the next day. Javier returned to Nicaragua on January 1. The rest of us followed by bus on January 4. Highlights of our visit included a day on our farm, a visit to the Masaya volcano, and spending a night on the beach watching olive ridge sea turtles hatch at the Chacocente Wildlife Refuge. The three of us returned to Costa Rica and explored the museums of San Jose while Javier stayed in Nicaragua. We also spent two nights in a cabin near Los Quetzales National Park, where we were treated to a sighting of quetzals. Hiking through the cloud forest and walking through the sand on the beach made me resolve to work on losing the extra pounds that I've put on from past and ongoing treatment as well as to strengthen my knees. I want to do a lot more hiking in forests and on beaches in the future.
Tamara and Eric returned to Reed College in Portland, Oregon, on Monday, January 20. The next day I flew off to Hannover, Germany, for three days of meetings at the offices of the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC). A committee of three met to select participants for the 2014 Global Institute of Theology (GIT), a three-week academic program of the WCRC that will be held here at the UBL in July. The theme of the 2014 GIT is "Transforming Community, Mission and Church." We read through 62 applications and chose 35 women and men from all over the world to come to Costa Rica to study together. Now begins the work of getting visas for those who need them to enter this country. We at the UBL are very excited to be receiving these theological students from 17 countries. I ask for your prayers for the participants and the planning team.
Here at the UBL things are slowly gearing up for the start of the academic year at the beginning of February. I will be teaching three distance courses for students in Peru, Honduras, Nicaragua, and the United States. This week I'm putting the final touches on my syllabi, hoping that I'll be able to get students excited about learning from Christian communities in the past. Most of my energy in February will be focused on getting these courses off the ground. Though Javier is taking advantage of the dry season to work on the farm, he'll spend some time here in Costa Rica in February.
This month I would like to introduce you to and invite your prayers for Ana Cecelia Rettes, the academic registrar at the UBL. Ana Cecelia has been working at the UBL for 10 years. She's often the first person with whom students interact as they begin their studies. Her smile and gentle ways make the bureaucratic processes unthreatening. At one point in her life she had studied cosmetology with the hope of opening her own beauty salon, but she loves office work. She's never studied theology, but she has learned from the faculty and the students who come from many different cultures. Her office is full of gifts that students have brought her from their countries. Ana Cecilia, a Roman Catholic, helps with our weekly worship services and works to create a healthy atmosphere at the UBL.
Ana Cecilia and her husband, Julio Sibaja, have two grown daughters and a son who is 22 years old. She asks your prayers at this time for her father, Jose Antonio Rettes. In recent years he has suffered from a plethora of medical problems that began when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He has been hospitalized since the middle of December. Ana Cecilia also requests prayers for herself and her siblings as they make decisions about her father's care and seek the best possible quality of life for him.
I went to Guatemala for the first time in 1987. I remember heavily armed soldiers in the capital city and along the highways. Fear hung in the air and people refused to meet my eyes when I walked down the sidewalk. Displaced indigenous families begged in the streets. The newspapers reported isolated events and didn't mention the war I knew was going on.
In The Risk of Returning authors Shirley and Rudy Nelson have captured well the mood of Guatemala in 1987. The protagonist of the novel, Ted Peterson, returns that year to the country he had left in 1954 as a 7-year-old child. Now he wants to find out how his missionary father died. When he arrives Ted has no idea what is happening in the countryside. Despite himself he gets drawn into the struggles of both old friends and new acquaintances in a fast-moving narrative that is hard to put down. I highly recommend this book. Shirley and Rudy had many long conversations with folks living in Guatemala, including myself, over the years they were working on this novel and their efforts have produced a rich text that leads the reader to discover many facets of the truth of Guatemala's recent history. You can order the book from www.tbmbooks.com or directly from the authors, firstname.lastname@example.org, as well as from Amazon.
February 1 marks two years since my cancer diagnosis. I'm glad to say that my checkup in December went well. I am thankful for each day and so glad to be serving here in Costa Rica. I still wish I had more physical and mental energy, but I am seeking the grace to celebrate what I do each day and the interactions I have with the people around me. I thank each one of you for being part of this journey with your letters, your prayers and your gifts.
The 2014 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 47
Read more about Karla Ann Koll's ministry