Colleague Close-up: The Hunters


J&M Hunter
There’s no question why Jonathan and Maggie Hunter are smiling these days. After waiting more than two and a half years between applying to ReachGlobal and landing in San Jose, Costa Rica, they’re glad to finally have reached their goal.

Jonathan and Maggie, who have been married for almost four years, have a toddler son, Patrick, and a baby girl on the way in January. Jonathan, 25, who grew up as a missionary kid (MK) in Ecuador, serves as the director of the AMCA youth ministry in San Jose. AMCA ministers to about 75 expat and Costa Rican (Tico) teenagers in the San Jose metro area. While Jonathan takes over the reins of the youth ministry, Maggie is attending full-time Spanish language school at The Spanish Language Institute in San Jose.

The couple took some time recently to talk about their journey and what they’ve seen God doing as they dive into full-time youth ministry.

Their call to youth ministry:

J: During the application process, we spent a lot of time in prayer. There was something inside us – we knew this is where the Lord was bringing us.

 

M: Both of us have known we wanted to do something with youth ministry. The Lord led us to missions, and we didn’t necessarily see youth ministry in missions. [But] this position is just a perfect fit, because we’re able to serve students, and with Jonathan himself being a missionary kid, a third culture kid, he’s able to be a resource for the students and the parents in our youth group.

Value of Jonathan knowing Spanish:

J: It’s really been invaluable. It helps you relate to students, because there is a little bit of a clique, in one sense, when you have the long-term MK’s who already speak Spanish and have integrated with the Tico students and youth group. So knowing Spanish and being an MK gives me an instant credibility that otherwise wouldn’t necessarily have been there.

It also helps me communicate with a lot of the parents of the students who won’t speak English or can’t speak English. Just being able to speak the language breaks down a lot of barriers that you might otherwise have when you’re trying to work with parents.

Nice surprises

J: Some people come into a new field, and they’re kind of overwhelmed and entirely lost. We’re familiar with Latin cultures and Latin cities, but we for sure didn’t know where to go to buy groceries. We had no idea how to put chips in our cell phones – we didn’t know you had to have your passport with you.

Our ReachGlobal team was really spot-on. When we got here, our team leader [Jim Wilson] met us at the airport and drove us to the apartment that [Jim’s wife] Melanie helped find. We had people to show us around the first day.

M: We had our Internet installed within 24 hours of making our first phone call, and in the states it took two weeks for that to happen. Other people where have had longer experiences, having to wait a week or two as well. Melanie Wilson laughed – she said, “What are we going to do to make this more of a missionary experience?” I responded, “Good luck. We’ve had people praying for two and a half years about this transition.” The Lord definitely has had a huge part in how smooth it’s been.

Primary goals

J: Our first [goal] in the ministry is to make the transitional into the director role, and that means not changing too much at one and getting a lot of feedback from people.

Another immediate goal that I have is really helping the people that I get to work with in Bible study and whenever we do the big group teachings to, even at a young age, develop a good hermeneutic Bible study methods and to help form an expectation with how people are going to be approaching the Bible.

Long-term team goals – we have three of them:

First would be just discipling students and helping them mature in Christ and in their walk with the Lord.

Number two, supporting families: A lot of them are missionaries, and one of the main reasons that missionaries leave the field is problems with children. If we can help provide stability and discipleship by being there, if we can help support the families in their everyday ministry life, hopefully we’ll be able to see them remain in the field. If we can in any way strengthen the family unit through youth ministry, that’s a huge plus.

Finally, helping the students in their transitions …

M: We have many people in the youth group who are here from anywhere form just three months to a year while their parents learn Spanish. A huge part of our ministry is to help people through the transition, as they transfer into Costa Rica and prepare to transfer out to where their parents do ministry or to go to college.

The whole thing about the youth group is that it’s the place that you’re not alone in that emotion or in that frustration. Also having Ticos there, you can’t just reject the culture that you’re a part of. You can learn to incorporate and adjust in this transition. Going through that process is something that’s completely normal.

Investing in Students’ Futures

AMCA gives kids place to belong

AMCA GirlsSAN 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.”

Cross-cultural haven

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.”

Mission Beyond Borders

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.”

The journey

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.”

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CONNECT

latinamerica@efca.org

PRAY
  • 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.
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Making Ministry Look like Child’s Play

Los Olivos Church uses playground to reach community

Watching kids whirl around a tire swing at the new playground in Sumpango Sacatepequez, Guatemala, you’d think they had done this a thousand times.

Truth is, the brightly colored slides and tubes make up the first playground of its kind in this agricultural town of 35,000 people.

The playground was installed in August by a team of 26 people organized by Kids Around the World, a children’s ministry that builds playgrounds, and Lake Wisconsin Evangelical Free Church, Lodi, WI. It overlooks a hillside lot owned by Los Olivos Church, one of the largest churches in Sumpango and the first Evangelical Free church in Guatemala.

Giving kids a place to laugh and tumble around might seem like a low spiritual priority to some; but leaders at Los Olivos see it as a grand opportunity.

The big idea? Reach the kids with the good news of Jesus, and their families will follow.

[Check out the related video: Playground in Sumpango.]

“In order to reach the children and youth, our church needed to have something attractive to them,” says missionary Oscar Chiquitó, who is also project direct at Los Olivos. “That’s why we came up to the congregation and said, ‘OK, we need to build a playground for the children, because we know if we have the playground, children will come.’

“At first it was really hard, because they thought, ‘Why are we doing this?’ In their minds, they always think that the church needs to care only for the spiritual life of people. But at the end, God was able to convince the people that this project would really attract the children and youth.”

City on a hill

The playground is just the start. Reaching older kids also means hosting sports. And in Guatemala, that means building a soccer field.

So on the terrace above the playground, the church is constructing an artificial-turf-over-concrete field. Built to withstand weather and negate the cost of maintaining natural grass, the field is one of only two outdoor soccer facilities in all of Sumpango. The other one is only hard-packed dirt.

Los Olivos is hoping to raise $20,000 for the turf from American partners soon. The church plans to use the field without turf until then.

That the soccer field exists at all testifies to the collective vision of the church, which has about 800 attenders. While the playground and the retaining wall separating it from the soccer field were funded through donations from Kids Around the World and U.S. churches, Los Olivos funded the field entirely on its own — $8,000 for 800 bags of concrete. This, in a town where people typically live on about $300 a month.

All it took to raise the money was for the skeptics to see the joy in the mob of laughing kids at the playground’s opening ceremony in August.

“When they saw that the children were having fun, when they saw that the children were enjoying this place, they got really excited,” Chiquitó says. “So they really bought it. And we really praise God, because we don’t have rich people in our church – we have poor people. But they were giving sacrificial offerings.”

Playing with priorities

Los Olivos’ original plan was to build a new worship facility on the land first, then do other projects – the field, the playground, a proposed school and perhaps a health clinic – later. However, Los Olivos favored the playground over the worship center as an extension of its outward focus on Sumpango and the surrounding area.

“They really felt like that’s what the community needed versus what the church needed,” says Paul Haan, a youth pastor from Hope Free Church in Manitowoc, WI, who has led several youth teams on trips to Sumpango. Haan’s latest team helped build the facility’s retaining wall.

“That’s a real testament to sharing the gospel,” Haan says. “It’s much more of a gift, and a gift is a pretty good demonstration of the gospel message.”

Playgrounds can play a key role in boosting a church’s impact in a community, says Kids Around the World Regional Vice President Chris Marshall. The $10,000 playground erected in Sumpango is a good example.

“What they are saying to that city is, ‘We believe in children, we love children, and we’re committed to your children,’” Marshall says. “It’s a disarming tool to get into a community in an even more powerful way.”

Brian Erickson, senior pastor at Lake Wisconsin Evangelical Free Church, says he values the vision of Los Olivos because of the church’s heavy emphasis on evangelism.

“There is such a felt need down there,” says Erickson, whose church has sent six short-term teams to work in Sumpango. “They don’t have money. They don’t have clean water. There’s a lot of illness. When you go down there and you meet felt needs in the name of Christ, it just sets you up for being able to then build off that and share Christ with people who are very needy and in a good position to receive Christ.”

Chiquitó sees the playground/field project as a lesson in how vision trumps dire circumstance in God’s work.

“One of my goals as a leader of the church is to bring the vision to them,” he says. “The Bible says, ‘Without vision, the people perish [Proverbs 29:18].’ Even though we don’t have the means, if we have vision, we know for sure that God will provide the means so we can really reach the vision that, as a church, we have for this place.”

Story by Lincoln, EFCA ReachGlobal Missionary Journalist

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Discipleship questions

  1. Per capita income in America is almost $40,000, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. Per capita income in Sumpango is about $3,500. What can Los Olivos’ generosity toward the work of Christ teach us about giving?
  2. Read Mark 10:13-16. Talk about or consider yourself the value Jesus placed on children and how the vision that Los Olivos has for ministry to children fits in with that.
  3. How can ministry to children reach entire households with the gospel?
  4. Oscar likes to quote Proverbs 29:18. Read that verse and talk about the vision your church has for ministry. What are the strong points of your church’s vision? What might be lacking right now?
  5. Name some ways you and your church could impact your community with the gospel without having all the funds to do everything right away.

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CONNECT

latinamerica@efca.org

SERVE

If you are interested in sending a team to work in Sumpango, write to Oscar Chiquitó at chsoscar@hotmail.com.

PRAY
  • That God will continue to provide means for Los Olivos to fulfill the vision God has given them for Sumpango and the surrounding villages.
  • That children would accept Jesus as savior and Lord through Los Olivos, and that their families would, too.
  • That Los Olivos would be able to replicate the ministries it has begun in Sumpango throughout the villages in the surrounding area.
GIVE

Partner financially with Los Olivos by helping the church meet its goal of $20,000 for turf on the new soccer field.

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1000 Words: Smiling in Sumpango

A boy enjoys one of the slides at Los Olivos Church’s new playground in Sumpango, Guatemala, recently. The playground, built by a team from Lake Wisconsin Evangelical Free Church and Kids Around the World, is the only playground in a city of about 35,000 people. Los Olivos, the first Evangelical Free Church in the country, wants to use the playground to reach the entire community.

“As a church, we decided that the best thing for reaching out to this community is reaching the children and the youth,” says Oscar Chiquito, a missionary to the community sent out by Los Olivos. “The goal is to attract the youth and children and then connect them to the church.”

Photo credit: Lincoln B., EFCA ReachGlobal Missionary Journalist

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1000 Words is a column dedicated to photos from the field — photos that capture more than words can say alone. See archives.