In September, we went with a couple of our CAC children to Costa Rica, where we stayed with Jimmy Downing and his family. Jimmy is a member of the Christian fighters network in Latin America, Guerreroed de la Paz (Warriors for Peace), and he was baptized on our first trip to Senegal when he accompanied us. He also went to East Africa to work with athletes from 15 different countries traveling across Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda. Our kids will follow up in these countries in March this year!
While in Costa Rica, we worked with two churches, two jiu jitsu gyms affiliated with Guerreros de la Paz, went deep sea fishing, worked with a faith-based refugee center for Nicaraguans fleeing the violence of their homeland, met with Andrea (who had been a missionary to North Africa), and visited a school where the kids can go as foreign exchange students in two years. It was very productive! To speak further to the last part, we were approached by the Quest Foundation to partner to begin sending East St. Louis youth abroad as foreign exchange students for up to one year!! This came about as we are the only people in the city actually sending kids abroad while linguistically preparing them. Quest is willing to pay for at least 50% of all costs to send the kids, and they like our faith-based approach. This is a huge step forward towards sending our first long-term missionaries. God is good, and He is faithful!!
We stayed with Jimmy’s family who are entrepreneurs. We went to their burger restaurant, and they took us out on their fishing boat. Markeithion was close to catching a large needle fish for dinner, and we saw sea turtles, manta rays and marlins off the Pacific coast before pulling up to a private beach on a tropical island. We also got to hike through the jungle in the Cataratas de Cortez park where we saw monkeys, iguanas, and even a tarantula. Oddly enough, the kids were learning about tropical climates at school, so they got to learn from experience!
Monteesha was able to do her praise dance from the Ignited 4 Christ dance group here at the CAC for a church in Spanish! She coordinated her movements perfectly to the lyrics in Spanish, and it really moved the people in attendance. This attests to how our kids can have a global impact for Christ using the talents and gifts God gave them!
We also had a unique cultural and social experience everywhere we went as Costa Rican citizens had taken to march in anti-corruption protests in long, extravagant parades. There was no violence, rather the protestors wore elegant costumes, dance traditional folklore dances, sang, and even rode down in elaborate floats. It was entertaining and very educational to say the least.
Before leaving we toured La Paz, which is a Montessori-based school with a foreign exchange program that our kids can enroll in in 10th grade. We have three of our students who are working towards doing this together: Monteesha, Markeithion, and Dior. The school includes a family stay, bilingual classes, international students in the classroom, business management, running a local farmers market amongst many other opportunities! We were even able to learn some educational techniques that we could take back to the CAC!
As previously mentioned we are taking two kids to East Africa this year to follow up on Jimmy’s work amongst another plethora of cultural and natural learning opportunities from safaris to African dance troupes. We will work with a number of schools and ministries out there while exploring other future study-abroad opportunities. In July, we will take a small group of students to study French for a week at an international school in France. After that we will continue on to Brussels to see where the European Union is headed before moving on to Amsterdam where we will help organize an international event with a partner out of the LionHeart Initiative. As with our trips to Africa and Latin America, we want our kids to learn about other cultures, the global economy and how to participate in international markets, build on their linguistic skills, and most importantly how they can use these resources to share the Gospel and build up our community!