Wednesday, July 2, 2014

...our first post...

Dearest Friends and Family – Greetings from Costa Rica!
This letter serves as both an update and a petition. First the update: For the last year and a half, Paola and I have been working as tour guides/missionaries with an organization called Joshua Expeditions. We pick high school teams up at the airport and lead them through various vacation activities and a short-term mission trip while they are here. Admittedly, the first few trips were a bit difficult for us as we transitioned from full-time ministry working with marginalized people in marginalized communities, to working with privileged teens from private schools. It was somewhat of a culture shock, and it took a solid couple of months to really grasp what God was showing us; that these privileged teens were now our mission. Many of them were coming to Costa Rica completely broken, with hardships in their home lives, addictions, body image issues, depression, and an overall need for a deeper understanding of the world and God. Since coming to that realization, it has been amazing to see how these teens are willing to open up to someone they hardly know; asking for prayer, accountability, and advice. At first, it was difficult to think of ourselves as much more than chaperones, but now there is no doubt in our mind that we are indeed missionaries in a much needed mission field.
As team season began to wind down (it only runs about 6 months of the year), we started praying for the next step in our journey. We are still waiting and praying for Paola’s residency and visa resolution to come from the embassy, the outcome of which could be affirmative or negative; meaning we may be allowed in the states as early as August; or we could be denied…again. For our overall health and well-being, we knew that we needed to have something to fall back on here in Costa Rica so that if the answer is “no”, we won’t find ourselves desperate for work. As we began to seek and pray, instead of finding something to fall back on, we found God affirming us to stay regardless of the embassy’s decision. In February, we led a team on a home build with a YWAM (Youth With A Mission) group called Homes of Hope. Since Paola had worked with YWAM for four and a half years, we contacted the leaders and asked them what help they needed. They expressed their need for a bilingual lead builder (someone to manage the building of 22 houses between now and January); a bilingual team coordinator (someone to manage the teams that come to assist with the builds); and someone to develop a furniture building program to be able to furnish the houses that are built. It really seems like an opportunity created just for us, and we have felt such a confirming peace regarding committing to work with them for the next six months.
Now for an unexpected bombshell: Through our time working with Joshua Expeditions we have spent numerous days volunteering at an orphanage with the teams that come down. We have fallen in love with nearly every child there, but one has completely stolen our hearts. Her name is Alanis, and she is almost one and a half years old. It all started when Paola said, “I want her!”, and to her surprise, I said, “Let’s think about it.” It wasn’t a “No!”, and over the next few months, both Paola and I began to dream about her; I dreamt about being her father, and Paola dreamt about Alanis asking her to be her mom. Needless to say, each time we visit the orphanage it gets harder and harder for us to leave her. The adoption process in Costa Rica isn’t very expensive (compared to the states), nor is it very difficult. The only downside is that the adoption agency will not let you choose a child; you must apply to be parents and then the agency decides which child you get based on the parameters you set (age, gender, etc.). Learning this information was discouraging and disheartening, but the dreams didn’t stop, nor did the visits. In the last few weeks we have been put into contact with the former director of the adoption agency, who is now a diplomat for the entire country, through two of her close friends. They are encouraging us to go through with the adoption process and see what happens. We have decided that we don’t want to miss out on the blessing of being able to be parents to this wonderful little girl simply because we didn’t try hard enough. Therefore, we have committed to trying with all our might and all our resources to bring Alanis home.
This brings us to the petition: Most letters like this tend to hide the financial request behind a prayer request; we figure it’s better to just come out and say it – “We need money!” While working with Joshua Expeditions is paid, working with YWAM is not. Therefore, we need to raise funds for everything from toothpaste, to food, to rent, to gas, to adoption fees. For the sake of transparency, we are trying to raise $12,000 for the next 6 months. This basically pays our salaries to be able to work building houses for those in need while still impacting the lives of teens that come from the states to assist with the home builds. It comes out to $1,000 per month for each of us, which may not seem like much, but as we budget, that is the amount we have proven to be able to live off of. We are in need of one time donations as well as monthly donations; all tax deductible through YWAM. And yes, we need prayer! Lots of prayer! Please be praying for our work, for job safety, for sensitivity to notice brokenness, for the wisdom to make good decisions, for connection with those coming from the states, and for Alanis – for God to open and close doors that He deems appropriate as we enter into the process of trying to bring this little girl into our family.
Lastly, thank you for being a part of our journey, a part of this mission, and a part of the body that is working together for His kingdom.
Sincerely yours,
Paola & Dustin

PS anyone that is interested in donating/helping us raise support by hosting an event/or interested in finding out more information, please feel free to contact us at  If anyone is interested in sending a check, please make it out to 
Dustin Woida, NOT Dustin and Paola (for banking reasons) and send it to:
2565 E. Stretch Rd.
Merced, CA 95340

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

to everything, there is a season.

The reality of where we work attempts to conceal itself in normality. or routine. or familiarity. or any number of facades. It does well for a time which only makes the fall more exaggerated as you crash back to reality. This crash assures you that you don't work in a safe place, nor a place where stability is the norm. And though I work here, I am reminded that I am not from here. Reminded that this is life for my students.
Yerman (refer to last blog) is gone. Over the weekend, he and his family moved. It is a gut check that I am not his savior nor his only hope. People come and people go and we never know how much time we have. We can only be an influence for a time and we must hope that the impact we have made on the lives around us is lasting.
Another is gone, but a different kind of gone. Isaac (another photography student) asked to leave towards the end of class today to go see his friend Douglas. He said that Douglas was about to pass by. Imagine the surprise as I opened the gate to a funeral procession crawling towards us. Isaac tells me that Douglas was 19 years old. Him and five others were gunned down over the weekend. The other five are in the hospital. Douglas was his friend, yet he tells me this in such a matter of fact way that it almost convinces me that they were barely acquaintances... that or that this is just a reality of life for Isaac. Although I want so badly to change their reality, I know that it isn't my job... my job is simply to influence the lives that I can for the time that I have been given to do so. My hope is that we are all on that path together, that we may encourage others that, "there is surely a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off." -prov. 23:18

I still don't know the roads we'll take, but it seems like we're heading in the right direction...

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Lives are changing. Yerman (one of the students who was arrested in the last blog) has had a problem with lying since day one. He was kicked out of the wood shop and photo studio the first few times he came due to behavioral issues. We came to a turning point in our relationship a few weeks ago when I caught him telling me he didn't do something that I had seen him do just moments before. I had seen him. He had seen me see him. Still, he would not back down from his lie. I had just finished telling him that he had to go home for the day when I thought to myself that it just might be worth trying to talk to him one more time. As we sat alone, I began to explain to him the importance of telling the truth. He started laughing. As my temperature began to rise, I told him that because of the lies he tells nobody knows whether or not to believe him when he says that he didn't do what the cops said he had done. He laughed once more, and it was only then that I noticed the tears in his eyes. I stopped. I put my hand on his knee. I said, "you know that I love you, right?" Tears streaming down his face, he buried his head in his knees and cried. I told him that I loved him. I told him that I was proud of him. I told him that I believed in him. I told him a lot of things... a lot of things that 16 year old boys should hear from their dad (or at least an older male) but unfortunately never do. He cried, then he hugged me, and then he came back for the second class session. If the entire purpose of my move to Costa Rica was to tell one troubled boy that he is loved, then I consider it well worth it. Lives are changing... if not anyone else's, I know mine is.

I still don't know the roads we'll take, but it seems like we're heading in the right direction...

Sunday, July 3, 2011

me oyes?

Five months into the start of the new studio site and it feels as though I have been here all along. What seemed to be a set back (in having to change locations only three months in to teaching in La Capri) has proven to be a blessing. More students, the majority boys without any role models to speak of. Some days we take pictures, some days we develop, some days we paint, some we play soccer,some we go for hikes, some we just hang out. Though what we do is photography, what is most important is just the time together. I am so proud of the pictures below, taken and/or printed by the students, but what I am more proud of are the moments I get to share with these boys. The need is evident in the fact that in the last two months two of my 6 students [Mono (who's real name is Elvis... I couldn't make this up people) and Yerman] have been arrested. Though it is discouraging and difficult, I am reminded that it is all worthwhile when I am in the darkroom with Mono and he puts his hand on my shoulder and says, "you know that you are one of my best friends right?" Moments like these are reminders that these relationships are life changing and life giving.

...more pictures to come....

I still don't know the roads we'll take, but it seems like we're heading in the right direction...

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

blobs of black with wisps of white

blobs of black with wisps of white. that is the best way to describe the first three pictures produced by students in the photography studio. but, alas, i can say, “there are students!” although i am sure that it is a precursor to annoyance, the constant chatter of “PROFE, PROFE (short for professor)” is music to my ears. the rise and fall of it’s melody serves only to remind me of the two months that i spent alone in the studio waiting for students to come. last week, like magic, two came. then four. then seven. they’ve all been back this week, and will hardly leave when class is over. i taught a class of 6 this morning at 9:30... and by the end of my lunch break, they were all lined up outside the door asking if we could have another class.

if i’m honest, the last few months have been difficult. it’s been rather hard not to lose hope, not to wonder if this whole photography studio was just a bad idea, not to think that success is out of the realm of possibility. two months of waiting doesn’t seem that long, but coupled with four months of planning and building, and six months of language school, i was beginning to think that the last year was measuring up to one big lackluster daydream. fortunately, some daydreams come through to fruition. sometimes answers come riding in on a white horse just in the knick of time to tell you that you aren’t crazy, that your dreams are worth dreaming, and that success isn’t always measured in numbers and tangible entities. sometimes it can be measured in feelings. emotions. even the sight of a child using a homemade shoebox pinhole camera.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said,

“To laugh often and love much; to win the respect of intelligent persons and the affection of children; to earn the approbation of honest citizens and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to give of one's self; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to have played and laughed with enthusiasm and sung with exultation; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived - this is to have succeeded.”

how remarkably different our world would be if we all measured success by this standard. as for me, i will succeed. as for you, the part that you’ve played in this work (whether prayerful, financial, or emotional) is success beyond that which can be put into words.

these pictures are hope. they are success.

I still don’t know the roads we’ll take, but it seems like we’re heading in the right direction...

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Class is in session.

With the darkroom complete, and my photography/developing skills mastered (okay, maybe not “mastered”) the photography studio opened it’s doors to the general public of La Capri two weeks ago. The dark room is functioning splendidly. Thanks to Roger (a photography professor from Fresno City College, who was kind enough to spend a week here in Costa Rica teaching me how to teach photography) I feel confident that the prints being made in the studio are of good quality. I feel confident that the darkroom is ready for students. I feel confident (or at least that is what I tell myself) that I CAN teach photography. That I CAN help these kids find interest, talent, and passion. That WE CAN help others better themselves. That WE CAN help others find their true identity.

Heiner (14) showed up the very first day. He seemed excited to learn about photography and developing. We just chatted for a bit, and then he left promising to come back the next day. But before he left, he asked for money. I told him that thats not what we’re here for, but that I am more than happy to teach him about photography and teach him how to use that as a means to earn money... Heiner hasn’t been back since. This seems to be the sad side effects of some short term mission groups that go into an area of poverty, give out things, and then leave. I get the overwhelming sensation that this is what is expected of me. I am a gringo, therefore I have money, therefore I should give it to them, and then I should leave... This is going to take time. It will take time for people of this community to trust me. It will take time for people of this community to know that I’m not going away tomorrow. It will take time for people of this community to want to invest their time. It will take time for students to come.

For now, I am waiting. I’m practicing patience, something I don’t have a lot of. I am trusting that the kids that need the most help will come. I am trusting, hoping, and praying that the studio can be a place for the broken and needy. I am praying that Heiner comes back.

I still don’t know the roads we’ll take, but it seems like we’re heading in the right direction...

Saturday, September 4, 2010


“The prayer of the poor in spirit can simply be a single word: Abba. Yet that word can signify dynamic interaction. Imagine a little boy trying to help his father with some household work, or making his mother a gift. The help may be nothing more than getting in the way, and the gift may be totally useless, but the love behind it is simple and pure, and the loving response it evokes is virtually uncontrollable. I am sure it is this way between our Abba and us. At the deepest, simplest levels, we just want each other to be happy, to be pleased. Our sincere desire counts far more than any specific success or failure. Thus when we try to pray and cannot, or when we fail in a sincere attempt to be compassionate, God touches us tenderly in return.”

-Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel.

When I feel like I can’t bring myself to pray, can’t bring myself to read the bible, can’t bring myself to love, I feel like I am bad. That there is something wrong with me. That I am doing things wrong. That I am not who I was made to be. That I am far from God. That I am not pleasing to Him. That I am not worthy.

I remember being in the third grade. It was nearing Christmas break. The school had a gift store set up in the library so that we could buy gifts for parents/siblings/friends. Being an only child, and probably not having many friends (due in part to my completely stylish mullet) I bought presents for my parents (with their money of course). Couldn’t tell you what I bought my mom. Couldn’t figure out what to buy my dad. An eternity of stressful decision making (which was more likely 35 seconds of stressful decision making) yielded me with an owl figurine that was standing on a small block of wood. I don’t really think my dad likes owls. In fact, I’m pretty sure he has never had anything to do with owls. I can also be sure that he thought it was about the most useless piece of junk he had ever seen. I can be sure of this because as an 8 year old I thought it was about the most useless piece of junk I had ever seen. I can remember where he sat as I gave him the gift. I can remember feeling ashamed that it was all I had to offer him. I had nothing else to offer. I had nothing left to offer. Nothing.

Point being, I have nothing to offer now. It isn’t the owl that is important to a father-like God. The importance is the 35 seconds. The time that I desired to find the perfect gift, to bring the perfect gift, to be the perfect gift giver. Whether I find that gift, whether I give that gift, whether or not there even is a gift is irrelevant. The desire is what touches a heart. The desire to want to want God. To want to be able to pray. To want to be able to serve. To want to be able to know Him. Whether you can or not is meaningless when God is already holding you firmly in his arms, adoring you for the simple desire stirring inside of you.

That owl sat on the stereo in our house for years... I think I was finally the one to throw it away. I don’t think anyone noticed. It wouldn’t matter if anyone had... the owl isn’t the point.

“...and the loving response it evokes is virtually uncontrollable.”

I still don’t know the roads we’ll take, but it seems like we’re heading in the right direction...