Buenas, ADE blog-reader! My name is Ivy, and I’m a Junior at Covenant College. Earlier this summer, I came with 9 other students from across the States and Canada (eh!) to Vara Blanca to take a course on tropical agriculture and missions. The TAM course, as we called it, was provided by the Au Sable Institute of Environment Studies and operated in conjunction with ADE.When we first arrived, I think most of us expected to take a simple ecology class, see a few ecosystems, learn a little Spanish, and drink some awesome Costa Rican coffee. That is to say, we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into.
The day after we arrived, Tomás took the TAM group on a hike up the mountain to a sanctuary that overlooked the surrounding region. While we sat on the wet grass, Tomás explained how ADE’s philosophy of missions was based on Jesus’ example in Luke 10. Here Jesus tells his missionaries to enter into a reciprocal relationship with the families they were ministering to. This approach bridges many gaps by highlighting the gifts of the locals, and putting missionaries in a needy, learner’s posture. As students, ADE’s philosophy meant that we would be students not just of our Professor, Dr. Unander. Instead, everyone we met would be our professors. We couldn’t have imagined at the time how that approach would enrich our time there.
Sure enough, we quickly discovered a sea of teachers able to unveil Costa Rica’s treasure trove of mysteries. During the first week, local students from the ADE international school taught our class about the local flora and fauna in their rich ecosystem. Later, the older students gave us a lecture on Costa Rican culture, Spanish, and survival lingo. On hikes with the high school students, we learned what plants we should and shouldn’t eat, how to climb mud mountains, and how to use a machete. Meal time prep was spent under the instruction of Rosalena, a phenomenal cook, dairy farmer, and entrepreneur. She is the hardest worker I’ve ever met, and patiently guided us despite our poor Spanish. On Sundays, the local church challenged our souls to be salt and light where ever we are, and taught us about God’s welcoming, global church. During lectures, walks, and meals, Dr. U indoctrinated us on dozens of tropical plant families, sustainable agriculture practices, and missiology. Tomás also occasionally guest starred as our professor, lecturing our class on geology. We also roamed away from Vara Blanca to visit seven ecosystems in all! These field trips enabled us to learn from extraordinary farmers about progressive techniques for caring for the earth and utilizing DIY alternative energy sources. By the end of the three weeks, we had had the opportunity to talk with experts at Earth University and CATIE, members of several cooperatives, and locals all over the country. Our group also managed to squeeze our fair share of adventures in here and there. We learned and visited so much more, but you get the picture. The trip was one glorious whirlwind for the eager learner.
By the third week, our close-knit TAM class had learned enough to return to the international high school and teach about various tropical plant families. The cycle was complete. Our minds and our hearts were full. I don’t think I’ve ever learned so much so fast in my life. The hands-on approach of the class enriched the material and left a lasting imprint on me and on all of my classmates. (I think my little brother is going to kill me the next time I tell him that the pineapple he’s eating is the only edible fruit from the bromeliad family, and that he shouldn’t eat too much of it, because it saps the nutrients from the Costa Rican soil.)
But in all seriousness, I am so grateful for the three weeks I spent learning with the ADE staff and Dr. U. I think everyone in our class is. My time in Vara Blanca filled my heart with wonder at the Creator’s works in Costa Rica. That is a gift. I highly recommend the class to all interested students and disciples of Christ. But, be ready to glue your learning caps on; everyone you meet is your professor.