A letter from Karla Koll serving in Costa Rica
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Greetings from Costa Rica.
Every afternoon the air is filled with the sounds of the marching band practice from the nearby school. September must have arrived! On September 15, 1821, Central America declared independence from Spain. Here in Costa Rica, September is celebrated as the “Month of the Fatherland” and September 15 is a national holiday complete with parades through the neighborhoods.
This year it seems unlikely that those marching in the parades will have to worry about rain. As the El Niño phenomenon in the eastern Pacific Ocean deepens, the drought is intensifying on the Pacific side of Central America. In a normal year it would be raining every afternoon here in San Jose. Now we are lucky if it rains once a week. Meanwhile, areas of the Caribbean coast are experiencing flooding. In Nicaragua my husband, Javier, reports that after a strong start to the rainy season, the rains have now stopped on our farm. The daily struggle to feed the cattle is keeping Javier in Nicaragua. He is hoping to hire someone to help care for the cows so that he can come and spend some time with me here in Costa Rica soon.
In El Niño years the Atlantic hurricane season is usually less intense. And yet, tropical storm Erika left a trail of death and destruction as it passed through the Caribbean. The island of Dominica is reporting 20 fatalities. Friends in Haiti and the Dominican Republic wrote of heavy rains and wind. The Atlantic hurricane season lasts until the end of November. Please pray for those in harm’s way.
At the Latin American Biblical University (UBL) our new semester started on Monday, August 31. We are receiving 10 more students from Bolivia, Colombia, Peru, Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, and the United States who are joining students already in Costa Rica. Though I won’t be teaching a class this semester, my administrative duties as interim director of the School of Theological Sciences is keeping me busy.
The UBL received good news recently. CONESUP, the government office that supervises private universities, has approved the modifications we submitted for our bachelor’s programs. This gives us a green light to present the on-line version of these programs for approval by the end of the year. Faculty members are continuing to receive training on use of the on-line platform as we work out the final details of our courses. At the same time we are working on a proposal for a new master’s program in theology that will be taught exclusively on-line. We hope to have it ready to submit for approval by the end of the year as well.
As I write I am watching very carefully what is happening in Guatemala. An investigation into a corruption ring that operated in the customs service has resulted in the arrest of the former vice president, Roxana Baldetti, and accusations against the current president, Otto Perez Molina. Large crowds have gathered in cities around Guatemala to pressure the president to resign. On August 27 hundreds of thousands, including many of my former students and colleagues, took to the streets in Guatemala City. The congress voted to remove the president’s immunity from prosecution. Late on September 2 Perez Molina resigned from the presidency after an order was issued for his arrest. It’s heartening to see people in Guatemala standing up to their government and demanding an end to corruption. The first round of presidential elections is scheduled to be held on September 6. I ask your prayers for Guatemala, that peaceful steps may be taken toward a more just society.
As we think about how to work for positive changes in Guatemala or wherever we are, I would invite you to read Worldchanging 101: Challenging the Myth of Powerlessness by David LaMotte, a songwriter and peace activist based in North Carolina. I am so glad to have David’s friendship as part of my story. We spent hours in Guatemala talking about the project David started to provide grants to schools in indigenous areas. David and his wife, Deanna, were also part of the community of care that supported me through cancer treatment in North Carolina. In the book David encourages readers to examine internalized social narratives, the stories we tell ourselves, about the world and about how change happens. If we can critically examine our assumptions as well as look to examples of how people have worked for change, we can see new possibilities for our own actions. If you find that you feel overwhelmed when you look around the world, this book has some helpful suggestions about how to discern where you might start to make changes. Though the book is not written from a specific faith perspective, David and his father, retired Presbyterian pastor John LaMotte, are working on a study guide for the book from a Christian perspective. You can find out more at worldchanging101.com. You can also check out David’s music.
Every institution needs to have a person you can call to fix whatever might be broken or not working. At the UBL that person is Silvestre Cortés. Since I live in a house owned by the UBL, I often have reason to be thankful for Silvestre’s many skills. He tells stories about growing up near Quepos on the Pacific coast as one of 13 children. His mother died of leukemia just as Silvestre was finishing grade school. As a young person he was very active in the Assemblies of God church, where he met his wife, Isabel Quesada. They have now been married for 34 years. Silvestre occasionally plays his guitar for our chapel services. In the past he was part of a musical group called Trio Maravilla. The group played music in evangelical churches and recorded two CDs, but he eventually had to give up the trio in order to work full time. He started doing odd jobs for the Latin American Biblical Seminary in its old building in downtown San Jose at the end of 1994. By 1997, just as the UBL was preparing to move to new buildings, he was working full time for the institution. One morning last year on his way to work Silvestre fell off his motorcycle as he swerved to avoid a car that stopped in front of him. He did some damage to one of his shoulders. His recovery has been slow, but we are grateful that he is now mostly pain-free and able to do the work we need him to do. He told me that he gives thanks to God every day for his life and all the blessings he enjoys. His prayer request is for continuing health for himself and his family.
I am glad to be back in Costa Rica. I am very grateful for the prayers and gifts that make it possible for me to serve in this part of God’s world. Thank you for being part of my journey in mission.
The 2015 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 66, 67
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