By Daniel Wyatt
In August 2010, my family and I went to Costa Rica for a vacation we went to have fun but the trip also opened my eyes to a world that I had not yet seen. Since we only had five days in Costa Rica, we had to make the most of them. To be honest, I really questioned if I would even enjoy this trip to a place I had never been before.
After our arrival in Costa Rica, the plan was to stay and travel with a family that we were introduced to through a friend the Padillas. The father, William, was a local pastor of the Vuelo de Aguila church. He was a very welcoming person. The rest of the Padilla family consisted of his wife, Anais, and the children, LeeAnn, Willy, Isabela, Daniela, and Isaac. When I first met the entire family in their quaint house near San Jose, I was immediately struck by their kindness and candidness.
After arriving at their house, we ate our first dinner there. They had made some delicious chicken with a creamy white alfredo sauce, crispy green salad, and buttery mashed potatoes. We had just met these people a few minutes ago, and they welcomed us whole-heartedly into their house, cooked for us, and even served us. The Padillas came from a humble place but they were willing to share whatever they had with a family they had just met.
During the next four days, we traveled all over Costa Rica with the Padillas, from the mountains to a small beach town on the coast, and back to San Jose. We drove in a rented van, crammed with almost 15 people. The first four days that we spent together were extremely fun-filled. However, we had gone to Costa Rica for more than just a good time; we went there to see a side of the world that we had not seen before.
The last day of the trip was when I saw things that changed my perspective. We woke up early in the morning, and gauging by the dark bags under our eyes, anyone could tell we were tired. However, we had some very important things to do, and we all shook our tiredness off. Before leaving for our vacation, we had packed six large luggage cases with toys, clothes, and other things we had planned to donate to less fortunate people (everyone at the airport in San Jose thought that we were permanently relocating to Costa Rica when they saw our luggage). We placed our luggage in the van and were off to an unknown destination. As we were driving, Pastor Padilla said, "Where we are going now, is a place that you would not be able to go to if you were without me." It took me a while to process what he said, but when I did, it struck me that we were on our way to a pretty rough place, not just a small village that I had in mind. We were going to a carrio, one of the poorest slums in all of Costa Rica.
As we drove through the streets, we saw many things. We saw people sitting on the sides of the roads staring off into the distance as if there was nothing to do. We saw children running around in clothes that were tattered and torn they just looked like rags on their legs and backs. We also saw people standing in groups on the side of the road and cooking things in pots. The pots were medium sized and probably meant to feed 10 to 15 people. We also saw shanty houses. I could not even imagine how people could survive in those conditions.
We pulled up to a small building with paint blotches on the outside and a small opening for an entrance. It turned out to be the Vuelo de Aguila church in the carrio. The building barely looked suitable for anything, let alone a church. We got out of the car and carried out our luggage into the building. We met the second pastor of the church and gave him and some of his people the clothes we brought. We had given them just some old shirts and pairs of pants, but these people could not have been more grateful! Instead of complaining about everything in their lives, they looked at the positive side of life and were grateful. Their actions humbled me, and showed me what real gratitude was. After we talked to them, we gave toys to the little girls and boys of the church. They were just as grateful as the adults. We would soon find out however, that not everybody was nice and kind in this place.
Once we had distributed all the gifts and clothing, Pastor Padilla took us to his main church. As we were driving, I was thinking to myself that the grounds of the main church must be huge. We pulled up to the front of a building with a huge steel door that looked like it could be the front door of a car mechanic's business, and I thought to myself, "How could they possibly use this place as a church, let alone the main church?" It was then that I realized that these people were not about huge cathedrals with intricate stain glass windows; they were about coming together and worshiping with Pastor Padilla.
After that we took another drive in our van. We exited the car and entered Pastor Padilla's mom's (Abuelita's) house. My family was introduced to everyone from the grandmother to the second cousins. As with the Padilla family, all of them were kind and nice to us.
It was then that someone knocked on the door. I saw a man about five foot five who had wrinkles all over his face, with only half of his right ear intact, and with eyes that must have seen more than anyone should see in a lifetime. He looked so weak that he might have just fallen over on the ground and passed out. He introduced himself as Jorge, and told us in Spanish that Pastor Padilla had told him to come over and pick some clothes up. Then he explained that he attended one of Pastor Padilla's churches. What he said next literally blew me away he told us that he used to be a big drug dealer in San Jose. He then told us stories of his life. He once had his house burned down so he went looking for revenge. He was only going to burn the feet of the person who burned his house, but since the person had some gasoline on him, the man caught on fire and burned to death. Jorge was never caught, and he told us that he believed it was for a reason. Once he was dealing drugs when a group of people came with a machete to take revenge. They cut his head in half and that is why most of his right ear was missing. Jorge was rushed to the hospital, and he thought he was going to die, but he had an epiphany in the hospital. He told us that God came down and told him that he had some work for Jorge, and that it was not the end. Jorge survived and went on to join Pastor Padilla's church, and now lives in the name of Jesus. He saves people who are like he used to be. This experience taught me many things: it is never too late to make things right and doing good things for others will somehow lead to the ultimate betterment of my life. I learned these things from Jorge and Pastor Padilla.
The whole trip to Costa Rica was an eye-opener that I will never forget. The true significance of the trip came from meeting people like Jorge and Pastor Padilla. Seeing the world through their eyes, opened mine as well.