Costa Rica 2018
This year was my third trip to Costa Rica. The first two years my son Sterling went with me. Currently, he is attending the Memphis School of Preaching and was unable to travel on this trip. In lieu of his absence, my wife April went with me and the other seven members of our evangelism team. To be clear, our purpose in going each year is strictly for the purpose of evangelism. While there may be an hour or so free here and there, our trip is not a vacation or site seeing tour. Every member (5 men 4 women – Myself and my wife April, Phil Grear and His Wife Darlene, their daughter Katie Gilchrist, Jonathan McAnulty and His Wife Sandra, Tim Gainer, and Clinton Rowand) is expected to utilize their time for the kingdom of God. We believe our efforts were successful and a good representation of Christ’s Church.
Changes at the Bagaces Church of Christ
Last year was the first year our team worked in Bagaces, Costa Rica. The congregation was meeting in a small home adjoining other homes on the right and left. With 40 people inside, there was hardly room to move. The located preacher at the time was Heiner Montealto. Since that time, Heiner has moved on to work with a Church plant in San Jose, Costa Rica. The Bagaces congregation has moved approximately ¾ mile to the west of the town to a new building which they financed themselves. There appears to be much room for Bagaces to grow in that direction. Luis Diego Mejias Zamora is currently taking the majority of the preaching responsibilities in Bagaces. He is a nice man who speaks Spanish, but only a little English at this point. The congregation has a Sunday attendance of approximately 45 people at this time. The congregation is composed of a wide variety of ages, but predominantly of those in their 20’s to 30’s. I believe the congregation has a great potential for growth within a community of approximately 7000 and surrounding areas which may be twice that number. During our time in Bagaces, the evening lessons saw 50-60 people each evening. The Sunday morning lesson was counted at 78 and the evening at 46. The number of different visitors to the services during the week was said to be 20.
The Work Schedule in Bagaces for 2018
This year, for the most part, we revisited our 2017 schedule. We grabbed breakfast in town around 6:30-7:00. There was a congregational devotion in the morning at 8:30, followed by visitation. Congregational lunch was served around noon to as late as 2 o’clock, followed by visitation. Dinner was taken around 5-5:30 (typically in town), then followed by evening classes 7-8 o’clock. A number of evenings, the group would gather in town for a snack before retiring to our rooms for the day around 9:30-10:00 p.m. Sunday was open (except I spoke both in the morning and night that day). Tuesday afternoon, I taught an afternoon class and participated in a second, so our group also did not go out at that time. Thursday afternoon was also open, though most of us had studies at that time.
The Work in Bagaces
Personally, I taught three lessons. The lessons were requested and planned by the congregation. The first was entitled “What is man”. The second: “What is Faith”. The final lesson was a class format to the men and was entitled “Godly Husbands”. This was done in conjunction with Clinton Rowand (another team member) who taught on “Godly fathers”. Following our lessons, we engaged in a good group discussion. Other lessons our evangelism team taught were: “What is the Bible”, “What is the Gospel”, “What is the Church”, “What is Repentance”, “What is Confession”, “What is Baptism”, “What is Judgment”, “When God Says Marriage”, “Keys to a Successful Marriage”, and “Helping Your Family Go to Heaven”. Additionally, the women taught ladies classes on: “Godly Wives” and “Godly Mothers”.
The group I evangelized with this year consisted of myself, my wife, our fellow brother in Christ from Bagaces, Carlos Araya, and our interpreter (brother, comedic fill-in, menu reader, cultural guide, and top-notch preacher from Nicaragua) Noel Masis. With April in place of my son, this was the same group I worked with last year. Depending on the individual(s) with whom we were studying, Noel or I typically took the lead in teaching. However, when necessary we all took part in providing assistance in the study. Approximately a third of our studies this year were follow up studies from previous contacts made by the Christians in Bagaces or from our visits last year. Overall, we had approximately 16 studies, as well as some shorter visitations. Most of our studies lasted 2 or more hours. Consequently, 3 to 4 studies each day was normal for our group. Most studies were with single or married women at home, alone or with children. Our group was told “no” in regard to sharing the gospel by only two people. However, our group chose to work predominantly outside of the city. The Costa Ricans were very, very willing to discuss God’s Word. Nearly all the individuals were catholic. A couple of people were evangelicals and a couple others were members of the Lord’s Church. The two members of the Lord’s Church with whom we visited had not been to services for some time. Both returned to the congregation acknowledging the need to attend and asked for prayers and further interaction with the brothers and sisters of Bagaces.
While I have covered our team’s approach to evangelism in past reports, I will give a brief summary of it for this one. In general, our approach to sharing the gospel begins with the greeting. Our greeting involves noting that we are out inquiring if the individual(s) would like to study the scriptures. As in America, this is met with “I am XXXX religion” a good deal of the time. This is not a door closer, but an opener! We often then ask the location they attend. If they were Catholic or Evangelical, Noel, who once was a member of both these religions, attempted to build some common ground. This led us into discussions about why he became a member of the Lord’s Church. It all comes down to authority. What does the Bible say? We emphasized from the beginning that our visit would focus on the words of scripture, not ours. Thus, we often got a Bible into the hands of those we studied with as soon as possible. We encouraged them to read the passages we mentioned as we went. In examining the authority of the scriptures, we looked at the name of the Church and its practices of worship. Every single time, this allowed the individual(s) to see what the Bible said, vs. their religious body’s practices. Depending on the study and individual(s), we then discussed doctrine as it pertained to their situation. Without fail, when our studies were done, it was obvious to the individual(s) that their religious body was not practicing what the Bible commanded. It was obvious also what was needed to be saved. Without fail, every person understood it was not our words which had been shared, but those of scripture. Most visits resulted in exclamations such as “No one has ever shown this to me before” or “You only teach using the Bible”. We watched the Jehovah’s Witnesses visit a home. After they left (5 minutes), we approached the house and had a two hour Bible study. The woman told us that the Jehovah’s Witnesses only gave her their “Watchtower” publication and she asked them if they were afraid to evangelize to her.
One might ask why our efforts to evangelize did not result in baptisms if they understood the problems with their current religious bodies. Certainly, there are a number of factors. Most often, the residents of Costa Rica were essentially born Catholic. It is the state religion. Every square has a Catholic worship building at its center. Generations of their family likely was and is Catholic. Making a break from this tradition is not, nor should be done lightly. In a number of other situations, the situation was one of an unauthorized marriage or shacking up issues. While this is similar to the United States, in Costa Rica there is an impediment to getting married – expense. Consequently, shacking up is very common. Even those who identify as Catholic realize this is not acceptable. However, even in their shame, they struggle with correcting the sin. Add children to the mix of this dilemma and the stress grows. I have no doubt with further study and care for these individuals that they can come to Christ. However, this leads me to the next aspect of this report.
Follow up as I am defining it here is as follows: THE EFFORTS OF A CHURCH TO PROVIDE CONTINUAL SUPPORT AND ENCOURAGEMENT TO OTHERS WITH WHOM THEY KNOW. This definition purposely is not limited to teaching, home visits, or reaching out to Christians only. Whether it is a brother or sister or someone outside of the Church, we need to make efforts to be a part of their life. Certainly, different people have different needs. Some need study help. Others need transportation to worship or study. Others need to talk with someone who will listen and care. Getting by with little is common in Costa Rica, but a hand willing to provide a bit of physical work can be welcome as well.
I personally like to ponder things. It takes me awhile to make decisions, because I like to consider what has been said. If someone came to teach me and I never saw them again, questions may never get answered. In America, many preachers will say, “I am not the congregational visitor”. This doesn’t mean they don’t like to visit. Rather, it is a short way of saying, “God demands that all Christians help, show kindness, encourage, comfort, teach, and come to know one another, as well as, reach out with the Gospel to the lost.” A single person (who often must be accompanied by another) cannot provide the necessary outreach for any congregation. Effective follow up requires an active body of Christians stepping up (James 1:22). It requires individual and collective effort. If there is not proper follow up to the studies that were conducted in Bagaces, it is likely new-converts will slip back into unfaithfulness and contacts will stop questioning the unauthorized practices they are following and simply wander further into darkness.
A Plan is Needed
Disorganization is one of the quickest ways to turn productivity to futility. Bagaces made the effort to print out invitations, schedules, and provide tracts for visits. These are items which were definitely helpful. Yet, there are even more ways all community evangelistic events could be improved. If you are having a meeting, get notices out to your community weeks in advance. Get the congregation out, not to do bible study knocking, but to hand out flyers. Let the community know you are coming. If you will be targeting an area for study during the meeting, provide information ahead of time that the community members will likely be visited. This is a great time to carry tracks about who the church is, if that question is asked. But these efforts are about covering area, not going in depth.
During the evangelistic efforts of a meeting or when the focus is Bible Study the pace needs to be slow. The one being visited needs to feel as if all your time is for them. Do not rush. Don’t try to hurry them into the water. Simply plant the seed of God’s Word and answer questions from God’s Word. The more of the congregation involved with these efforts the better growth and understanding for all. Young people certainly should be involved, so they too might learn by example and through hearing.
A plan needs to be in place for greeting visitors during the meeting. Sitting in your pew or chair is not acceptable before the speaking starts. Get up! Show your hospitality. Show interest. This could be your future brother or sister and they need your attention. Make certain they have a song book and a Bible. Don’t just leave seats up front for them where they may feel uncomfortable. If the place is packed, give them your seat. A visitor should not leave a meeting without material about the topic that was preached. They should also not leave without being approached again, asked if they have questions, and told how nice it was to see them. Visiting with members can come later… visit the guests first! I highly suggest making certain they sign a guest book or address book so that the congregation can contact them afterward.
A email, digital communication of some sort, letter, call, or visit should be made with the visitors soon after the meeting. For those who were added to the Church the same should occur. However, much more is needed. There should be a plan of Bible study in place. Topics such as Bible Authority, Christian Responsibility, and other foundations should be taught. Many congregations have manuals with 13-14 weeks of study prepared for new Christians. This should be something a sound member of the congregation is studying with the new convert. Often larger congregations provide an ongoing study of the book of Acts to educate the new brother or sister. Regardless of the method, attention needs to be provided for spiritual growth. Visitors or new members should be asked if they have transportation to services. If they don’t, then make arrangements! Make a plan! Follow it. Community members that did not attend, but studies in their home should not be forgotten after the meeting. These need to be looked after and continued where possible.
There are some aspects I have mentioned that Bagaces could engage in to help its congregation. There are certainly aspects that all congregations could improve upon themselves. I bring them up in this report so that if future trips are planned by my group or others to Bagaces, ample communication can be engaged in to ensure the success of the spreading of the gospel.
Woman’s Role in Evangelizing
As mentioned previously, the nature of visiting in Costa Rica is that there are many women alone or with children. Entering a woman’s home without a sister in Christ is not acceptable. The reputation of the woman and the men would be questioned. My wife was very uncertain about her role in Costa Rica. This was one of the most valuable components. Being able to sit in the comfort of one’s own home when being visited, if desired, rather than standing out in the sun, likely means a longer visit.
A woman also provides a valuable role in teaching. A third mind provides another aid in remember scripture two minds may not. Additionally, it is much easier for her to sit next to a sister and offer a Bible or assistance in finding a passage if needed. A man sitting close by may not only be uncomfortable, but viewed as inappropriate. In our group, there were times when April was also able to provide information from her personal, applicable Christian walk, that aided the study. Though not teaching per se, these moments provided an attachment which aided the teaching being given. Connections when possible should be recognized and developed. As April observed, Noel and I were often book, chapter, verse… all facts. This is important, but there must be a recognition that there is emotion involved. That is, a desire that a soul comes to know God. Showing you care for one who does not know God is paramount in the spreading of the Gospel. If not, then we fail to walk in the “spirit and Truth” which God has always commanded in worship and service. We are to love our neighbor and we must remember to show it. Evangelism isn’t about numbers, it is about people and God. Honestly, women are often better at demonstrating that side of our relationship with God than men.
A woman is also a valuable part of the evangelism team in providing a less distracted atmosphere when children are present. April brought matchbox cars, crayons and color pads, and small containers of PlayDoh to Costa Rica. When we visited, she would give the children one of these to keep them occupied. It was very effective. If needed, the woman is there to sit and play with the children or even read them stories. Yes, it is certainly helpful to have a Spanish speaking woman present to do this. Yes, a local sister could do this. However, it must be taken into consideration that she may have other duties with that congregation at that time in meal preparation and cleaning, or she simply may have family duties for which to tend. Additionally, when it comes to the teaching, she may not be able add anything, but actually, if not strong in scripture, harm the study. Noel and I had one instance in prior years where a local sister attempted to lead the study and that was certainly not acceptable. The accompaniment of a spouse or sound female member to the visiting evangelistic team is very helpful. If she knows Spanish, she can be even more helpful.
Things to expect
Before closing this report, I would like to mention a few things which you may see or experience in Costa Rica.
Immodesty: Both in the community and within the Church it is likely you will see knees, thighs, cleavage, and shoulders and a variety of improper outfits. It is quite possible a woman may decide to breast feed in your presence, uncovered, in the middle of a Bible study.
Sewage: It is very likely the water you see in gutters along the street is directly from sewage drained into the street. Don’t walk in it! You may actually see kids playing in it. Don’t! Nuff said.
Cold water: If you have warm water in your shower congratulations. This does not occur often or for very long. If you have an attachment to the shower head… think twice before touching it. It is most likely providing an electrical current to heat the water. Zap!
Heat and Sun: If you burn easily, wear a hat and bring sun block. The weather in January has typically been mid to high 70’s with a breeze. However, this time it was in the upper 80s for a couple of days. You may or may not have A/C in your housing accommodations as well.
Bugs and creatures: It is likely you will see an iguana. Don’t mess with him, he won’t mess with you. There are a normal variety of spiders, flies, etc. The number of them is not out of the ordinary. However, they have a little bit better access in most places due to the open air construction of most buildings. I have only seen a couple of spiders bigger than a dinner plate (heh… just kidding). Let common sense prevail, don’t go running out into the grass in a place with which you aren’t familiar. A bug spray is recommended due to instances of dengue fever and potential of Zika.
Current Needs in Bagaces: Song Books, Bibles, and sound modern tracts for the Church. Bibles are also needed to hand out during Bible Studies. Many Costa Ricans do not have Bibles. Costa Ricans at large do not have cars. A larger vehicle of some sort for the congregation would be helpful in transporting others to Church.
Thank you to everyone who provided support through prayer, well wishes, and financing of this year’s trip to Costa Rica. The work was energizing, rewarding, and inspires me to want to do more. The Costa Ricans are wonderful people. They want to hear the gospel. They need sound teaching in the scriptures. There are other religious bodies on the ground. They are working hard and using means outside of scripture to draw a following. The only way to combat this is to spread the true seed of God. Your participation in this effort did exactly that. If you desire to help more or aid me in future trips to Costa Rica please let me know. If you would like me to come to your congregation and speak about this trip or hold a meeting on other topics, I can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or at Travis Main; PO Box 12; Sparta, Ohio. May God continue to bless our work.
Past Reports and Bible Articles can be found at http://www.churchofchristarticles.com