Our 2016 Costa Rica Mission Team just returned from serving for our 11th consecutive year, and every year our trips are more amazing and transformative. Following a four-hour, direct flight to San Jose, we stayed the first night in the Methodist Center (a former seminary and now a hospitality site for missionary teams, annual conferences, and leaders throughout Central America) just outside the airport. On the second day, we visited the new Methodist Children’s Home north of San Jose, an orphanage for street and abandoned children, taking medicine, shoes, towels, blankets, toys, and other needed items donated by our congregation (THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT!!).
From there, we went on a rainforest train ride on the edge of the national forest to view plants and animals that we had never seen before in the vast beauty of God’s creation. We then arrived that evening in Puerto Viejo, near the Nicaraguan border, where we worked all week.
This year we poured concrete floors, built frames, tied rebar, and laid block walls for Sunday School classes at a rural church site with half of our group, while the other half worked on the parsonage at the main site where we have previously helped build the new regional sanctuary and medical clinic. Our friends from Bridgeport UMC brought $1,444 with them that they had raised from cookie sales to give to an undesignated project that might emerge. We discovered while working on the classrooms that it might be several years before the church could use the classrooms because they did not have enough money to finish the project. They needed approximately $1,450 to finish the work!!! We went to the lumber/hardware store, placed the money in the account, and the supplies were arriving before we left to finish the classrooms for the children within a month! GOD IS GOOD AND THIS WAS JUST ONE OF SEVERAL AMAZING, UNEXPECTED, GOD-INSPIRED EVENTS THAT HAPPENED ON OUR TRIP!
At 3:00 pm, we would stop work daily to leave for rural churches near the pineapple and banana fields to lead our VBS sessions. This year our theme was “Let the Children Come Unto Me,” and the children were thrilled to have us share songs, a play based upon Jesus welcoming the children (I got to play Jesus this year, and the children followed me around after my part — I guess that I was a giant Jesus to them?), extremely creative crafts in small groups, and gifts for the children and families (including dental supplies that were donated). A large number of the children invited by pastors to our VBS had never been in the churches before, and perhaps never heard this Bible story. Thanks to our fantastic VBS team for your creative work for months!!
We also worshipped with the local congregation on Sunday morning and Thursday evening, and I had the opportunity to preach again this year on Thursday. Our group made balloon animals for the children at the worship services, and the children were thrilled to receive them at VBS and when we made various bus stops blessing other children.
Our Costa Rica Ministry (thanks to your prayers and support) is blessed to be part of a larger movement of Christianity and Methodism that is spreading across Central America. The congregation and building projects that we support are now empowering this local congregation to reach out to others beyond themselves. They have housed flood victims and are starting a new satellite church in a small, impoverished rural area near Puerto Viejo where they are reaching out to families (especially ministry with children) with food, hygiene classes, and worship. They are also traveling into Nicaragua during the year to take sack lunches to children, to provide ministry with families still dealing with leprosy and other diseases, to help families living in a large city garbage dump by teaching the men to make shoes to sell and the women to sew items to sell to have an income, and other outreach by faith.
Now that we have finished our work with the regional sanctuary and Sunday School classes, the medical clinic, and the parsonage, our work has just begun!! Many rural churches are in need of work on classrooms for growing children’s ministries. Our relationships with the people (which our groups says is an extremely important part of our reason for serving) continue to grow, and we need for our congregation the spiritual and personal experiences and friendships that we share in this transformative partnership.
God continues to open new doors for us, and it looks like we will be ready for our medical team to begin in Costa Rica next spring or summer. We will work at the clinic we have helped build, and possibly in rural villages. We need all kinds of medical personnel, including dentists, vision specialists, nurses, doctors, ob-gyn specialists, pediatricians, and others (all are welcome). I will be recruiting and leading this new team, while Rev. Phyllis Barren (who has now served with us for three years), will lead the construction/VBS team next summer. Dates for these trips will be set in the near future, and so please watch for information, or better yet please contact Rev. Barren or me to share your interest and for more details.
We go to Costa Rica to serve and to give of ourselves as disciples of Jesus Christ, yet we are blessed many times over through the gifts we receive from God and the wonderful, loving, compassionate, welcoming people of Costa Rica and the churches we love. Please join us next year!!
Pastor Chuck Graff