We reached the spot where, if it were clear, we could see for miles into the Carribo reserve. The clouds obscured our view. At an altitude of almost 7000 feet we were quite literally in the clouds. I whispered a prayer, just a wish really, that the clouds would clear. And they did. Slowly they dissipated and revealed the beauty, astounding beauty, of the reserve lands of quite possibly the most unknown indigenous people of Costa Rica, if not the world. The Carribo Reserve stretches 200 miles from the middle of Costa Rica to the Panama border. The further in you go the more primitive the lives of the people.
If a tree falls in the woods and no one is there does it make a sound? This is a question I pondered about the Cabecar people, the women especially. If they don’t see their lives as tragically unjust, should we? If nobody sees and they think it’s just the way of life is teenage pregnancy, polygamy, wearing skirts without underwear to be easily accessible to men who choose to violate you, high infant mortality, disease, and malnutrition wrong? Someone saw and heard, recognized the wrong, and is doing something.
We came with The Lov Foundation to come along side the women living at St. Francis Emmaus Center to teach them a skill that will empower them with earning power. The centers Mercy Goods division is already providing opportunities for the women through the Fair Trade Friday initiative. Now The Lov Foundation with ViBella Jewelry has partnered with St. Francis Emmaus to bring more earning power to these beautiful, hardworking women.
We made jewelry the first three days then spent some time sight seeing and touring the country side. Al l through the week we learned about the Cabecar people and the Costa Ricans (I will tell of the Costa Rican women I met another day). I did woefully little research before I boarded the plane with Nicol Epple, founder of The Lov Foundation, her sister, mother and daughter, Kim Hyland, and my daughter Anna. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. Thankfully there are people who do know, and know that we don’t know.
The Cabecar have a voice in Greg and Colleen Mitchell of St. Francis Emmaus Pregnancy Hostel(a part of St. Bryce Mission) in Turrialba, Costa Rica. Colleen was our hostess for many meals, our tour guide and translator for the week. Colleen Mitchell is a woman with a love for God that spills out in joy to those around her. She locks eyes with whoever she is talking to and captivates with what sometimes sound like tall tales so incredulous they sound to my Northern Virginia ears. She is a story teller who speaks with humor and warmth and respect for those she speaks of. She knows it is a sacred responsibility. She and Greg don’t seem to tire of relaying all they’ve seen and all they hope to do. It was a lot to absorb in a week.
The Mitchell’s have humble hearts and hands that love as Jesus loved; sacrificially in light of eternity, with the foremost mission to spread the gospel of Jesus.
As I listened with my western ears imagining the trials, with womanhood the only common strand, I cringed and cried and internalized the struggle of the Cabecar women who know nothing else. They walk hours out of the reserve to Grano de Oro, a small town on the outskirts of the jungle, to catch a bus into Turrialba to receive medical care for themselves or their children. Before the Mitchell’s started their ministry, the infant and maternal mortality rate of the Cabecar was 5 times higher than the rest of Costa Rica. Six years after opening their doors to the Cabecar they have reduced the mortality rate by 50% and have served over 700 women.
One story I will never forget is of the woman who began her trek out of the reserve when she was in labor with her second child to get to the hospital. She went alone traveling hours on foot. She bled, contracted and eventually could not go on. She stepped into the woods, pushed her baby out, cut the umbilical cord with a banana leaf, birthed the placenta wrapped her baby in her clothes, and went back home, naked and bleeding all the way. Why didn’t she just stay home? Why is there not a culture of midwifery in the villages? If there was midwifery at some point it’s been long lost and now they rely on the social services available to all who live in Costa Rica. The Mitchell’s have become a liaison between the Cabecar and the local hospital and health care providers.
We went to Mass the Sunday we were there. I contemplated the cross above the alter of Jesus hanging naked and alone dying from thirst, physical beatings, nails in hands and feet, pierced by the sword and saw his suffering in a new light. While he was pierced for our transgressions, the sins that require just retribution, he also suffered for our humanity in humanity.
He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.
Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.
I looked over the precipice straining to see into the reserve and soaked in the utopian landscape and imagined the darkness and poverty within. I’m so very thankful for this opportunity to see the world through a new lens. But even this lens is clouded there are still questions. But, love remains.
12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13:12