Carol Rittenhouse is a Nazarene missionary in Costa Rica, where she assists Dr. Ruben Fernandez, the Mesoamerica Regional Education Coordinator, at Seminario Nazareno de las Americas (SENDAS). She also assists Shelley Webb with the CALL program (Christian Academy for Language and Learning), and is preparing to teach theology courses online for the seminary as her Spanish fluency improves.
Previously, she was a volunteer in Bulgaria (4 weeks) and Russia (8 months). This is her first full-time assignment.
Here's more of her story.
Engage: How did you first recognize God’s call to be involved in missions?
Carol: For me, God’s call to missions was gradual. I always felt called to teach and though I never felt a specific call to missions, I always promised God I would never close the door to serving in a missionary assignment. God used my experiences of teaching in the public schools, mission volunteer assignments, and seminary experience to clarify that God wanted me to teach in the context of His church. Through my experience working at the Nazarene Global Ministry Center (Lenexa, Kansas, U.S.), God opened the door for me to come to SENDAS.
Engage: What is your favorite aspect of what you do in your present assignment?
Carol: I love the low-stress way of life. In Costa Rica they call it “Pura Vida” (pure life) I really enjoy helping host visitors, showing them the ropes of living in this community. Another common word here is “tranquila” where I am reminded often to “relax.” I enjoy working with the variety of people who cross my path here. Every day I walk across campus to my office and I see the natural beauty of the mountains all around me. And on my way home, I see some of the most gorgeous sunsets in God’s repertoire. They are constant reminders of enjoying the small things in life and taking time to breathe!
Engage: What are some of the challenges that you face in carrying out your work?
Carol: The pace of life is much slower here and much less direct. For example in an office setting, those of us from the U.S. are used to just “getting down to business.” We dive right into what we need to discuss. In Costa Rica, the people are accustomed to sharing warm greetings before addressing any business, problem or discussion. So I have had to learn to slow down and incorporate greetings into my communications.
Engage: Please share a story of a significant event or moment that has happened in your current assignment.
Carol: Moments with people have been the most significant. When I first arrived to Costa Rica, I began language study with three wonderful teachers as part of our CALL program. I remember significant conversations with each of them about sanctification, holiness, community, and the Holy Spirit. One afternoon I met one of the teachers at a coffee shop and I shared with her that the Holy Spirit gives us power to live in a way that pleases God – we are not left on our own to try to be “good enough.” Just seeing that look of awe and understanding in her eyes and on her face was so significant to me. She found a certain peace that day – the realization that she can rest in God’s strength.
Engage: How do you maintain a close relationship with God in the midst of the demands of missionary service?
Carol: I attend a local church each week and am involved in a small group there. At times, though, I just want to hear preaching in English. So I have certain pastors I listen to online. Of course the Scripture is always nearby as nothing is a substitute for reading God’s word. No matter the time we spend there, we can all agree it is never enough. I do have family and friends in the USA and keep in regular touch with them via texting, WhatsApp, Facebook, and FaceTime. I am grateful for technology!
Engage: What are the rewards of what you do?
Carol: The greatest reward I have in what I do is the assurance that I am right where God wants me to be. Of course, Costa Rica is a beautiful country! However, the beauty is like an added benefit. It would not mean anything if I were not where God wanted me. It is very fulfilling being able to draw on all of my past experiences (positive and negative) in this place. Serving here in Costa Rica has reminded me over and over how much God knows us, loves us, and walks with us. God cares about the big things, and the little things that will bring us enjoyment as we journey through this life.
Engage: What are some aspects of the culture where you live that you have come to love or embrace?
Carol: I love greeting each other with kisses and embraces. I also love the relaxed way of living in general. I never grew up riding buses or taking taxis, but I have come to rely on them here and have enjoyed some great conversations with taxi drivers.
Engage: What do you like to do for fun?
Carol: I like to travel when I can. I like to read and browse bookstores. I enjoy time just hanging out with friends when we can coordinate schedules, of course. I enjoy keeping up on my favorite sports teams.
Engage: What is something people would be surprised to learn about you?
Carol: I think most would be surprised to know I am an introvert and need time away from people. Most tend to see me as an extrovert. I love people! But I do need to reenergize alone.
Engage: What advice would you have for others exploring a possible call to missions, or embarking on their first missionary assignment?
Carol: I would advise them to hold the future lightly in your hands. Be careful of deciding in advance what God is or is not calling you to do. Keep an open heart, always seeking God’s guidance. Take advantage of every opportunity. Step across the boundaries of fear and take a leap of faith.