Response: June 2016 Issue

One in the Spirit in Costa Rica

United Methodist Women members come together as one with indigenous women on an Ubuntu Journey to Costa Rica.

One in the Spirit in Costa Rica
A Bribri woman prepares chocolate in Costa Rica.

The Spirit of Ubuntu is the core of life: I am human because you are human. Being together as one was the theme for the Ubuntu Costa Rica adventure in August 2015. We came together as a team from different cities, cultures, languages and backgrounds. Together we were quiet, brash, energetic, reticent, lively and reserved — a taste of God's kin-dom on earth.

The first few days of the Ubuntu journey were spent team-building at the Universidad Biblica Latinoamericana and acclimating in the capital city of San José. There we visited with the children of la Isla, a community-based Sunday school ministry. This bought great joy to all, and the room was filled with life and laughter.

On the third day we traveled to the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica to work with groups of indigenous women from the Bribri tribe who own and run their own businesses. As we made our way southeast toward Limón the countryside emerged. We went through the rainforest and upon arrival were greeted by the beauty of the Caribbean sea, the vibrant colors, the great locals and some animals native to the area, such as sloths, tapirs, howler monkeys, coatis, white-faced capuchin as well as the most colorful butterflies any of us had ever seen.

The women from the Bribri tribe visited with us, telling us about their clans, businesses, lives and heritage on indigenous lands. They drew us into their world. Our first exercise was to take a ball of thread, state our name, hold on to a part of the thread, and toss the thread ball to someone else in the circle. This went on until each of us had shared our names and a little about who we were. We stopped and looked at what we had made — a crisscross of thread resembling a net, a women's network. It was a living visual that demonstrated how we are all connected, a physical representation of our goal of being together as one and as such improving quality of life for women, families and communities.

Relationship and listening

We were excited to meet together, eager to share and willing to play. Our hosts were hospitable, gracious and beautiful. We journeyed to the Bribri indigenous territory in Talamanca through remote, lush jungle to the women's homes and businesses, arriving by bus, boat, truck and foot.

Once there we listened to one another's stories, hearing the Bribri women's experiences and hopes and the struggle of being invisible. Their hope is that their worth and contribution to society be recognized, supported and acknowledged. Their dreams, to create independent income-generation that can support their households, send their children to school. They spoke of working for access to quality education and a place for their voices to be heard. The Internet and cell phones have helped make the world smaller and have also helped expose the injustices the Bribri have suffered.

The Bribri tribe is matriarchal. They live off the land, sharing crops, bartering and selling what they can. We learned about cocoa, coffee, baking bread, bananas, plantains and medicinal plants. We worked alongside women who used their spiritual, economic, educational and communal capital to strengthen their communities. The tenacity of these women was inspiring. They reminded us of the daughters of Zelophehad in Numbers 27:1-11 who joined efforts to be difference-makers.

Building partnerships

The Bribri women have started working with Red de Mujeres Rurales, an indigenous and rural women's network in Central America serving as a forum for women from rural areas to defend their rights and interests and help find work. As a community they realize the power of education for themselves and their children, ensuring that their children attend school and have tutors. Two of the women present had finished high school a few days before our arrival and presented their papers for enrollment at the university, the first of the Bribri to do so. The women engage in skill-building and take classes to improve business acumen. A gift from the Ubuntu team was used to produce packaging labels, improve the food production area, purchase a refrigerator and buy two cocoa grinding machines.

It was great to hear stories of Bribri history and the rightful pride the women felt. We marveled at their courage, determination, resilience and generosity. As we stood together in solidarity, we sadly bid them farewell in a moving closing ceremony, exchanging both gifts and tears.

Forever transformed

Our last day in Limón we walked along the beach and departed changed, different and forever transformed from the experience of doing what women all over the world do when we meet: share, talk and support one another. Our ride on the bus back to San José was quiet. We were processing, reflecting, praying, thanking God.

Our classroom time at Universidad Biblica Latinoamericana on the last day served to solidify everything we saw and give support to what we learned.

The Ubuntu Costa Rica Bible verse was 1 Corinthians 12:1-13. "For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ," reads 1 Corinthians 12:12. The spiritual gifts were many; we touched and we were touched. We came together to form a lovely, diverse group and departed with the woven thread of oneness — we are one in the spirit.


Rosie Guadarrama is a deaconess and certified lay minister with the California-Pacific Annual Conference, where she currently serves as a United Methodist Women district membership coordinator. She was team leader for the Ubuntu Journey to Costa Rica.

Posted or updated: 6/2/2016 11:00:00 PM
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