AMCA gives kids place to belong
SAN JOSE, Costa Rica — Though it’s Costa Rica, the evening begins like any typical Christian youth group in the U.S.: socializing, worship music, message. The two-story house in San Jose’s San Francisco neighborhood swells with sounds of teens laughing and the student worship band tuning their guitars. For many visitors, the sound of English being spoken also provides a welcome to the AMCA youth group. As Costa Rican and North American teens gather in the brightly lit meeting room, they are welcomed by leaders and encouraged to take a seat. Kids begin to pull out their Bibles. Jay Fast, a volunteer leader, asks if anyone is willing to do the Bible chant. The hand of a teenage boy shoots up. He walks to the front, raises his Bible above his head, and leads his peers in the chant: “This is my Bible! I am what it says I am! I will do what it says to do! And I will go where it says to go! Now open it up and read it!” After the message and near the end of the evening, Chris and Cynthia Gault, AMCA house directors, invite the three North American students who won’t be returning after the summer to come forward. The rest of the youth group surrounds them with their hands extended, and students begin to pray. The next tear-filled 30 minutes of impassioned prayer suggest this group is anything but typical.
Reaching missionary kids
Asociación de Ministerios Cristianos (AMCA) international youth group is a ministry in Costa Rica targeted toward English speakers ages 13 to 18. The ministry was started in 1970 and at that time included the international youth group and English Bible studies. One of the key goals of the international youth group is to reach missionary kids. About four blocks from the AMCA house is the Spanish Language Institute;,an intensive Spanish language school attended by many missionaries learning the language skills needed to minister in Latin America. “About half of the students at AMCA are North Americans, who are kind of transient,” Fast says. “Maybe they’re here for six months or a year while their parents are doing language school or that type of thing. So it gives them a place to connect and speak and English and not feel like they’re totally out of their element.” Melissa Putney, a missionary with ReachGlobal, began working with the AMCA youth group about 2 ½ years ago after being asked to lead a Bible study for the high school girls. Since then she has taken on more roles, including helping with the Saturday night big group of 70 kids and discipling some of the girls who attend her Bible study. “For the missionary kids involved in the group, it provides a spiritual community for them,” Putney says. “It recognizes that just because their parents are missionaries doesn’t mean that they have it all together or that they’re definitely already Christians. They need people to invest in them as well.”
In addition to ministering to English-speaking North Americans, the ministry also targets Ticos (Costa Ricans). “For the Costa Rican national students that are here, the Ticos, I think it’s a great place for them to connect on a regular ongoing basis,” Fast says. “They have a solid youth ministry in the area where they can be plugged into for four, five or six years — all through middle school and high school.” Andrea Duarte, a 16-year-old Tica student, says her favorite aspect of the AMCA youth group is that it is cross-cultural. “It doesn’t matter that some people only speak Spanish or some people only speak English, you find ways to break that barrier and join together in love and worship for God,” Duarte says. “It’s not about the language, it’s not about the culture. We all share the same God and that’s the greatest thing.” In this group marked by transition, Putney says that the recent influx of Ticos provides stability. “Most of the Costa Ricans aren’t going to leave until they graduate so they’re there for longer periods of time,” Putney says. “So then there’s more of a base now than there used to be of longer-term students. Ale Castro, a 15-year-old Tica student in Melissa’s Bible study, says her involvement in AMCA has helped her mature in her faith. “It has been a really good experience because I’ve learned a lot of the Bible and I’ve been growing a lot in Christ,” Castro says. Putney says that the enthusiasm and spiritual growth she’s seen in student’s like Castro motivates her to continue being involved in the AMCA. “It’s been really exciting to see their growth and what the youth group means to the students,” Putney says. “They don’t want to miss out. They don’t miss a Saturday night big group or camp-out or anything. They always go.”