Costa Rica Review
I have never traveled out of the United States for longer than an afternoon. I have never been five miles from the Border of the United States before. These statements were true until I went to Costa Rica for my first foreign mission trip. It was an honor to go glorifying God, carrying the prayers of Christians with me, and having my son along by my side. We cannot express the depth of our gratitude for the opportunity that was granted to us and the outpouring of support that was provided.
I have listened to many lessons by missionaries and reviews of mission trips by stateside brethren before. Quite honestly, I have often dreaded these. I often felt like the lessons were meant to generate my feelings rather than my logic in order to get into my wallet. It seemed like a Sally Struthers infomercial. Honestly, after other reports, I felt like folks had been on a glorified vacation. I do not want to convey such an idea. To say that I had concerns and doubts before going to Costa Rica would be valid. My desire in going was to learn about how mission trips operate, share the gospel with as many people as I could, and come back to the United States with as truthful report as I could about what happened when we travel abroad to preach the gospel.
I went questioning the financial stewardship of a team of 11 or 12 people spending $2000 apiece to share the gospel only for a week. Why not simply provide $24,000 to a preacher to live abroad and preach all year? I wondered, “How can a person who cannot speak the language in a foreign country make a difference?”. Of utmost concern to me was the reality behind mass baptisms in a foreign country and what happens to the souls after the missionaries have gone home. I hope this review will shed some light on these issues. I also will say up front, that I believe I can only address these issues as far as they relate to the team with which I traveled and evangelized during my time in Costa Rica. In regard to those individuals, let me establish right now, I believe they are earnest, honest, effective, and hard working souls for Christ.
One final note of introduction, my objective in sharing information about the trip is multi-pronged. We want those who supported my son and I to know we were faithful to their trust. We want to provide an understanding about how evangelism was carried out so others might be better prepared to save souls. Finally, we want to encourage evangelism by everyone, but especially younger men and women upon whom the future health of the church greatly depends and who may have not considered such an undertaking in their life.
Costa Rica Economy
Costa Rica (a Spanish speaking country) is the richest of Central American countries. The average wage depending on skill and education runs between $400 and $1000 a month. The average wage earned is $6,000 a year (costarica.com). Many folks have normal jobs like we would in the states, but there are also a large number of folks who work on coffee and fruit plantations (sugar cane, plantains, pineapple, mango, banana, etc). It is not uncommon for their wage to be $40 a week. There is quite a lot of tourism in Costa Rica and rightly so. It is a beautiful place with a great climate. There are elegant homes and homes that are in very poor shape. Of course, this is true in the United States as well. It depends on what areas or parts of towns you visit. However, in comparison, Costa Rica does not enjoy worldly luxury in as large a degree as the United States. This in contrast to the fact the cost of many goods is not much different from the United States. This makes the budgets of Costa Rica much tighter. These realities have created a culture that is concerned with theft. Most homes had bars on the windows and doors and many had metal gates or fencing around the yard. Certainly, in some areas we visited drug use and the violence associated with it was a concern for the local families. Likewise, this is a very familiar concern with which families in the United States concern themselves.
Religion in Cost Rica
In Acts 17:22, “…Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, ‘Men of Athen, I observe that you are very religious.” This could also be said of Costa Rica. Only 11.3% of the people do not claim a religion (wickipedia). The state religion of Costa Rica is Catholicism (70%). On our trip we also encountered many Jehovah’s Witnesses (Christ is a god, eternal earth) and some evangelicals (Faith only, baptism as a statement of faith, premillenialism). In this religious environoment, it was very common to see statues and pictures of Mary and Jesus, as well as crosses, at the majority of homes.
Daily Schedule in Costa Rica
Our particular evangelistic efforts were spent in two locations: Sarchi and Naranjo. We arrived in Sarchi Thursday the 14th of January and immediately started an evening meeting. The meetings were held every evening through Sunday. The topics were: “The Characteristics of the Undenominational Church”, “Why We Observe the Lord’s Supper Every First Day of the Week”, “Why we Sing in Worship without Instrumental Music”, “Why We Preach Baptism for the Remission of Sins”, and “Why We Preach the Gospel and Only the Gospel”. These same topics were then repeated in Naranjo by different speakers Monday through Thursday the 21st. My particular lesson was in regard to baptism. Each morning, we met with the congregation around 9 am for prayer, singing, and a brief devotional. My son spoke on the importance of the Old Testament one morning and I spoke on Being Spiritually Successful on another morning. Following our morning devotional, we went out knocking doors in teams of typically 2-5 people for 2-3 hours. Afterward, we returned for lunch and then would go out for another 2-3 hours before Dinner and the evening meeting. On average, we would return to our hotels somewhere between 9 and 10 pm.
Door Knocking in Costa Rica
In the United States, the fastest growing religion is said to be Islam. This is misleading. The numbers are based on the growth of Muslim families. I.E. every time a Muslim family has a child it causes the religion to grow. The two largest growing religions in the United States by conversion are the Jehovah Witnesses and the Mormons. Why? It is safe to say that their growth is largely influenced by going door to door spreading the gospel. The Church of Christ did this successfully in the United States during the 1950’s and they too grew at a rate faster than any other religious group. Our team of evangelists in Costa Rica held 132 Bible Studies and the number of meeting invitations and houses visited exceeded that number by a large amount. Each team had different approaches to door knocking. There are many ways to be successful. The key is to give oneself a chance to be successful by simply being there and seeking (Matthew 7:7) for the opportunity.
As mentioned previously, most of our evangelistic teams were 2-5 people. Each group had an interpreter, for none of us spoke Spanish well enough to operate effectively on our own. The interpreters were members of the Church who had also traveled in to be part of the work. My particular partner was named Noel. He is a fantastic interpreter and preacher of the gospel. It is my honor to call him friend and brother. For the most part, he and I worked as a team of two, however, we were joined a few days by the wife of the preacher in Sarchi. My son went out with me the first morning, but then spent the remainder of the trip working with the different team members and examining their approaches and methods of sharing the gospel. While I cannot speak for the other teams in Costa Rica and their approach, I will be glad to share what worked well for me and Noel.
First off, I would suggest that in sharing the gospel, the example of Luke 10:1 is a good idea. Going out in teams of two has great advantages. You are able to prop up one another’s mental capacities because we all forget things. Going in two’s is also safer than being alone, especially when not familiar with the area. Operating in groups of twos in the same area is a very good idea so the group as a whole knows where you are at. When you start to get a team larger than two it can be a bit intimidating for those you are visiting. However, a third female party (or mature young person) along with two males can certainly tone down any intimidation factor. For Noel and myself, not only did having a female with us on occasion help in sharing the scriptures with other females, but in situations where there were many children at the home our female group member sat with the children and told them Bible stories or taught them songs. This greatly aided our ability to speak with the adults with few distractions.
Second, approaching a door in Costa Rica is pretty much how you would do it in the United States – one foot after another. When Jesus instructed the disciples to makes scholars of all nations in Matthew 28:19, command included the word “Go”. To have new birth in the Church we must “Go”. Yes, you are going to have natural fear. Yes, you may have a bit of an adrenalin rush. Yes, you may not have all the answers for what is coming.
Third, in Costa Rica as in the United States, when you are out door knocking, it is often a grab bag as to what type of person you are going to meet. Let me summarize a few of the interactions that Noel and I made.
People of Costa Rica
1 – We met a man who absolutely refused to listen to us because he was Catholic and did not want to talk to us. Christians must demonstrate the fruit of the spirit in such an interaction (Galatians 5:22-23) and be the best example of Christ you can be (I Peter 2:21). This is going to happen in the USA and it happened in Costa Rica.
2 – One of our early visits was to another Catholic Man named Charlie. He said his mother was Catholic. His father was Catholic. His grandparents were Catholic. He was a good Catholic man. He was kind to all, had many friends, and lived a good life. He was not going to change his religion. Now, when encountered with something like this, many folks would accept defeat and walk away. Even in our first similar encounter, we looked for other openings. Sometimes, they don’t happen. Often they do appear. To Charlie, I said, “Hey, I am from America. This is my first trip to Costa Rica. Can I get a picture with you?” Because we seized that moment, we were able to talk with Charlie for over an hour and a half (Matthew 10:16). He scheduled appointments with us to visit his sons and his daughters. Though the sons ultimately were not able to meet, his daughters were. LOOK FOR OPPORTUNITES TO CONNECT. This is true both in Costa Rica and the United States.
3 – We encountered a Jehovah Witness woman who said that she had much knowledge of the Bible and was not interested in the Church of Christ. Seizing the opportunity, we asked her if she would be willing to share her knowledge with us. We had Bible study with her for over an hour. This particular woman was in her 70’s – 80’s. As she was talking to us, she began to pass out. We sat her down and got her help. ALWAYS BE PREPARED FOR EMERGENCIES (Luke 10:29ff). This was not the only health related event we ran across in our travels. You will find the same in the United States.
4 – A young Costa Rican woman readily spoke to us for over an hour about the Gospel. She was Catholic. We talked to her about the Church (Matthew 16:16ff, Romans 16:16). We talked to her about baptism (Acts 2:38, Mark 16:16). We talked to her about the purpose of baptism being the forgiveness of sins and the requirement of belief. We asked her about her baptism. She was baptized as an infant. She realized that infants are innocent and cannot be baptized for forgiveness of sin. She understood infants cannot believe. She realized she needed to be baptized. We offered to take her then and there to be baptized. She hesitated. We asked why. She said she had a big decision. What was that big decision? She had planned to move in with her boyfriend. She knew this would be sin in God’s eyes. Sin Tempts Man Everywhere (I Corinthians 10:13). Similar temptations of sin in Costa Rica can be found in the United States as well.
5 – One afternoon we came upon a man who really enjoyed listening to the gospel. We sat on a bench and shared the gospel with him. We read and demonstrated verses to him for over an hour and a half. He was very attentive. He did not attend a church because his wife did not like Religion. In Costa Rica as the United States people prioritize God second to Family (Matthew 19:29).
6 – In a very modest dwelling in Costa Rica we met a woman who was concerned over her children in the environment that they were in. She was concerned over the neighborhood environment her family lived. Earlier we had seen her 6 year old son hanging out with some local boys trying to look tough. We must all be careful with the company we keep (I Corinthians 15:33). This woman and her children came to visit our meeting that evening. Costa Ricans and Americans struggle with bad company and influences in their lives.
7 – On one particular visit we encountered a woman who had a bright pink couch in a sitting area outside of her home. I broke the ice by asking her if I could take a picture of it for my wife to see back home. She obliged, we talked for well over an hour. She had no religious affiliation at all. She was amazed at how everything we said we backed up with a Bible verse. She was not the only person to notice this. In Costa Rica or in the United States the Word of God is the power of Salvation (Romans 1:16).
8 – Our team saw one person baptized the entire time we were there. His family was either Catholic or Jehovah Witness. Yet, upon hearing the gospel, he knew he needed to be baptized. He was a young man who had some serious health problems. He knew his life would be short. Who could save him from the sin in his life (Romans 7:24)? Men and women in Costa Rica and the United States need a savior.
9 – We spoke to an Evangelical Woman who wanted instruments because they made her feel as if the Spirit was in her. We talked about the kind of music the Lord desired. We explained the only examples we have in the Church and under the new covenant in Christ is the fruit of the lips (Hebrews 13:15). Feelings do not determine our worship to God (John 4:24, John 17:17). In Costa Rica and in America we cannot be driven by our feelings (Proverbs 14:12).
There are an infinite number of combinations of interactions that can occur when sharing the gospel. None of them can occur unless we teach (2 Timothy 2:24). There is nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9). There is essentially no difference between sharing the gospel in Costa Rica and the United States. We simply must be willing to “Go”.
I Peter 3:15-16 – Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.
The Cost of Evangelism in Costa Rica
It is a legitimate concern to contemplate the cost of approximately $2000 per person to travel to Costa Rica and share the gospel. Christians are to be good stewards (Luke 12:42-48, Matthew 25:14ff). What validates such an expense in Costa Rica (I cannot vouch for any other place or group due to my lack of knowledge)? The team that I was with in Costa Rica first and foremost brought encouragement (I Thessalonians 5:14). Many preachers like myself travel and hold meetings in the United States. Quite often for a week of lessons the cost will approach or exceed that of a trip to Costa Rica. Is the cost worth it? Most congregations would conclude, “Yes!” Why? Because a body which was feeling faint, that needed a shot in the arm, is uplifted. The congregations we visited and worked with in Costa Rica were 20-25 members apiece. Each evening meeting typically had 50-75 people present. The congregations were left with numerous leads and contacts. It is quite possible over time they could have done as many studies and made as many contacts as our group did, but the truth is, like Americans, Costa Ricans work hard all day, have families, and struggle with time. Preachers such as our group, come to the area with years of study and knowledge in the Word of God, have the entire week to only focus on evangelism, and do so with enthusiasm. This lifts everyone. It gives them hope. It gives them work to do when we are gone in the follow ups. The men of the group came to the area not just to teach an hour long lesson each day, but to work from morning to night. In this, the group was faithful. To the congregations that provided support to me and my son we were faithful. I strongly believe the trip was justified and the funds were faithfully used.
It must be noted that there was only 1 baptism and only 2 restorations. To some this may seem like a failure. Are there not teams and groups that travel and seem to report 20-50 baptisms a day? This has always been a concern of mine. I cannot speak for any other team or group of preachers anywhere in the world. I know that even with the single baptism we had, I personally, separate from the team that helped in the young man’s conversion, sat and discussed the Bible with him. I made certain he understood the commitment. That he wouldn’t be receiving gifts from us, that it was going to require a change in his life, and that he would constantly be tempted. Praise God for one soul saved in baptism vs. 50 baths. If 50 are truly converted, again praise God! However, we only scatter seed. At times we see the fruit, at times we do not, but to God be the glory in all (I Corinthians 3:4-7), and amen for the future harvest.
There is so much more I could share. However, I will close up my thoughts now. The trip was truly inspiring. It is a blessing to be doing work for the Lord. I highly encourage young and old to engage in “mission trips”. Travel abroad and focus on building through evangelism – The foolishness of preaching (I Corinthians 1:21). Travel within our own country and focus on building through evangelism. This world needs the gospel locally and internationally. Do your social events outweigh your spiritual events? Have you seen more movies and bowling alleys than you have doorsteps? This is the equivelant of a bath instead of a baptism. Let the Word of God draw man. Let the gospel convert. Evangelism in Costa Rica and evangelism in the United States are not that difficult. You just need to “go” and trust in God.
May God continue to bless us in all our work to Glorify Him,
Thank you from the depths of our hearts,
Travis and Sterling Main