Saturday, February 13, 2016

San Jose, Safe or Not?

Day 7 (continued): There was, as usual, more fellowship after the service.  And, after the service, the rest of the day was free...kind of.  But I was with two pastors who hadn't cut their ties to American sports and, particularly, New England Football.  So, there I was, eating Latino style food and watching the Patriots game at Pastor Mike's home.  Surrounded by some of the church team. It was definitely a fun time.  But this seems like as good a time as any to talk a bit about the realities of Costa Rica.

Costa Rica is touted as a good place for Americans to retire.  And it is.  But, like anything earthly, there are contrasting realities.  Remember when I mentioned that gates were the norm for homes?  As you can see from the picture to the right, that's true.  There's a double or triple contrast in Costa Rican society.
  1. While the people are helpful and loving outside, they're also fighting off poverty.  That makes theft an easy option.  Therefore, the gates. And, where there are walls that could be climbed, lots of razor wire at the top.
  2. Drugs and alcohol aren't unknown.  In fact, there are areas where one doesn't walk or drive at night.
  3. There are immigrants who are basically refugees from drug gangs in other Latin countries.  The reality? There's one park where we evangelize weekly that "houses" homeless Nicaraguans, many taking drugs and alcohol.
  4. The increase of Americans has prodded merchants to raise prices.  While that helps the economy, it makes the locals deal with even higher than normal prices.
  5. There are sections of Costa Rica where you're not very popular if you're American.  The change in cost of living, women being attracted to American "wealth", etc.  And "the ugly American" isn't always a fictional concept.
We mentioned in a previous post that San Jose was founded in 1738.  If you spend any amount of time there, you get a sense that the city grew in stages, with little thought to future expansion.  Almost as if they expected each expansion to be the last.

The results of that are like the picture to the left.  It's taken through the windshield of the church van.  Just out of the picture is a left hand street that we all would turn into, from two opposing one way streets.  There are streets that diagonally double back on each other. In other words, urban planning was minimal compared to some other places.

The urban planning thing isn't really a big deal.  Life in Costa Rica is at a slower pace, So, the possibility of indirect routing doesn't phase much of anyone, except newly arrived Americans.  But let's deal with the elephant in the room -- my earlier, numbered list.

Those five points still leave San Jose friendlier and safer than Baltimore or New York City.  And think of John 15:13.

John 15:13 (NKJV)  Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends.

Latino courtesy is often an outward display with no real meaning behind it.  But  it's there.  It's almost like losing face if the courtesy is let go. It's a safety factor that isn't found in urban America. Bring in the church Body and it's taken to the level of spiritual family, giving meaning to the connections within the Body of Christ.  There seems to be a natural ability to live our faith for the Latino that the first world reserve gets in the way of.

I understand that there has to be a strong intellectual component to our faith.  Emotions can be shaken.  But live with the Latinos for even a short time and you begin to realize that it's just as wrong to defuse much of the emotional part, leaving mostly the intellectual.  The best kind of faith marries the two together in a very special way.  And that's a specialty of the Latino Christian.

There's a balance to those last two of the five points.  You may recall my mentioning in the first of this series that I got a very pleasant and positive response from the woman in the immigration booth.  She actually smiled and conversed with me, despite my terrible Spanish.  I had tried and I had apologized for mangling her language.  She knew I was really trying.  And that's the key.

The name for a native Costa Rican is a "tico".  Americans have, for decades, been known as being snobbish about other countries not speaking English or living the American lifestyle.  And we weren't very well liked.  But my own experience with the immigration lady highlights a reality. People love it when you try to communicate on a mutual level.  And I've read stories of retirees finding a good deal on a home in a neighborhood where they were the only English speaker.  The retiree would communicate as best he could in Spanish.  And relationships were built.  They'd all laugh about his broken Spanish, but it'd be as much laughing with him as at him.

It's just like evangelism.  Building relationships instead of maintaining an us/them adversarial context will always tear down barriers.  That barrier always disappears when people see you're working at real relationship.  Sure, some are going to push the limits far before they'll open up.  And, when I say that, there are neighborhoods I wouldn't suggest many of my friends visit often or live in. But that's true of any urban area, whether it's San Jose, Baltimore, LA, New York, etc.

There's more to this story.  We'll continue on Monday.

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