Costa Rican urban church team prepares to take compassion to New Orleans
Obstacle. The word is all too familiar to youth pastor Edgar Brenes and the members of his low-income Costa Rican church. Serving others around the world wouldn’t seem a high priority.
Edgar attends the Centro International de Avivamiento Church, which is just outside San Jose. It is filled with first-generation Christians from broken homes. Edgar and the rest of the 500-member congregation have not seen much outside of their own barrios (neighborhoods).
On June 30, all of that will change.
For the first time in the church’s ten-year history, seven youth members and two adults plan to take a trip to the United States. They’re going to New Orleans, where they will spend mornings attending Challenge, the bi-annual EFCA youth conference, and afternoons participating in outreach to a city continuing to recover from the 2005 Hurricane Katrina.
Youth member Rebecca Gonzalez, 20, says the team is excited to serve in a different country. “We can learn a lot from you [North Americans] and you can learn a lot from us. We would like to serve… We are not going just to travel.”
Setting this journey into motion has not been easy. In order for the team to go, members have had to apply for their passports and receive approval for tourist visas to the United States. Although the team is being sponsored by a partnering EFCA church, Church at Charlotte, members still have had to raise about $500 each. For the youth living in this underprivileged area of San Diego de Tres Rios, $500 is a seemingly impossible task.
Team member Ronald Chavarria, 20, says many team members are still in school, so they knew that paying for the trip would not be easy. Nevertheless, the team has been diligently holding car washes, garage sales, and selling lunches after church. Other church members have donated clothing to be sold at a rummage sale, with the funds going into the common pool for the trip.
Not only has preparing for this trip to the States been a financial challenge, but for many team members it also has been a mental challenge. Ronald notes that numerous people from the community, and even some from his own church family, have discouraged the trip out of jealousy. He can recall countless times that someone has said the team would not make it—that it is too expensive; too far; too unrealistic. But Ronald’s smile is contagious when he confirms that all those who doubted have been proved wrong.
“Since it’s the first time the youth from this church are traveling, it is a gift that is not coming from the church or the church in Charlotte, but from God,” says Ronald. The team believes that because this trip is a gift from God, no amount of jealousy inside or outside of the church can stand in the way.
Edgar says the team is ready. The youth have gone through a long process of hard work and they have prepared for the trip through prayer, Bible study and meditation.
“A personal expectation is to be able to convey what God has given us here — to transmit it there,” says Edgar, 37. “A passion for God; a love for people that need Christ. And my heart’s desire is multiplication… and to put into practice here all the things that we learn over there. I have high hopes for this group to learn and share with youth from other churches and countries.”
This passion for God and love for others is evident in the team and its church. Each new individual is welcomed in as a family member; no matter what their circumstances, their background, or their previous beliefs. This love and compassion is now being exported to New Orleans—literally.
“I think as children of God, when someone goes through something worse than us, God puts His words in our mouth, mainly in our heart, and makes us able to make other people see,” says team member Ana Guillen, 19. “Maybe we’ll feel the pain that they feel. Although we’re not going through the same pain, we might still be able to help.”
How can you help?
“The most important thing that this team needs right now is prayer,” says Melissa, a ReachGlobal missionary in Costa Rica who will be traveling with the group. “We’re trusting God to do much more than we can ask or imagine – like it says in Ephesians 3:20. We pray for safe travel and team unity, but we are praying for bigger things, too. That God would change the lives of our team members, stretching them and their faith. That they would see just how big the God they serve is. That He would help us cross cultural barriers to minister to those in need of His love in New Orleans. That this would be the first of many opportunities for Latinos to cross borders as missionaries to the world.”
* * * * *
- For the Costa Rican team as they travel to the United States — that God would use them to touch the lives of the people in New Orleans and that their own lives would be changed through the experience.
- That the impact of this trip resounds well beyond the ten days of travel and service.