Below is a summary of our Costa Rica Mission Trip for 2017. If your congregation aided in our trip financially or through prayers, please feel free to print this letter out and share our sincere appreciation with everyone.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Our 2017 mission trip to Costa Rica was such a wonderful success! We are providing this report to all of you were involved in praying for and/or supporting our last two years of Costa Rican work. We want to keep you updated on how we worked to glorify God and how your aid did exactly that.
Bagaces Church of Christ
Last year, our evangelistic efforts were spent in the areas of Sarchi and Naranjo. This year, our efforts were focused on the town of Bagaces. Bagaces is located in northern Costa Rica. Its population is around 21,000. The congregation has a membership in the 20’s. The preacher in Bagaces is Heiner Montealto. He is a young man who has a wonderful work. He is a graduate of the Brown Trail School of Preaching, writes for Churchofchristarticles.com, and is dedicated to teaching the truth. The congregation of Bagaces is only about one year old. The members there are a wide span of ages from young to old. Our brothers and sisters there received us warmly and with exemplary hospitality. The building they meet in is very humble, with residences attached on two sides. 30 people easily fill the building, but more on that later.
The View from Bagaces Costa Rica
While Bagaces isn’t a major tourist attraction, there are aspects of it that are very memorable to someone who may not have been to that part of the world. Unlike our previous trip, this area presented some unique wild life. We were able to take pictures of “love birds” (yes, the kind you find in pet shops). They really were beautiful and let us know when we were too close to them by squawking loudly. We also saw iguanas. Not just a few, but many. During the day, they spent their time lazing around in the trees. Occasionally, they might even be spotted on the road. We nearly ran over one… but he kicked up onto his rear legs and ran for all he was worth. However, at night, we believe every iguana made its way to the roof or our hotel. By morning, all we could hear was their skittering on the tin roof. The most fascinating iguana we saw was in a tree behind the Bagaces Church building. We estimate it wieghed around 50 lbs and measured more than three feet long. Oddly enough, no one in Bagaces seemed to serve iguana at mealtime. Very disappointing! The landscape of Bagaces was relatively flat to gentle slopes, perhaps similar to areas seen in Florida. A wide variety of hardwood trees dotted the open fields. The Guanacaste tree stands as the most spectacular as far as trees go. Its width is what stands out. The shade provided by these trees is immense. Finally, of note as far as landscape and wildlife in the Bagaces area, there is a nice size waterfall just a few miles out of town. Some of our team were able to visit it, but if you also want to see it, there are many pictures of it online. Just look up “waterfall, Bagaces, Costa Rica”.
Hotel Living in Bagaces
Our hotel was small, but very clean. The room Sterling and I shared did not have hot water. Most of us did not have hot water, but others boasted of having some. Fortunately, with mid-70 to 80-degree weather, cold showers were kind of nice. The septic system of Bagaces is very weak. Thus, everyone in town puts their waste tissue in baskets. This took a little getting used to, though veterans of missionary work know we did not experience the worst of inconveniences.
Mealtime in Bagaces
Bagaces, like many Costa Rica towns is built with a Catholic place of worship on its center square. It was here that we also found a bank, the largest supermarket (think Aldi), and a couple of café/restaurants. Many meals were spent at the café on the square where we found fried eggs, omelettes, rice and beans, pastries, fruity breakfast drinks, and salchicon. Salchichon is my new Costa Rican favorite. Though some folks thought it was a combination of chicken and pork, salchichon is also made from horse. I have it on good authority that the salchichon in Bagaces was indeed made from horse. Whatever the ingredients, it was absolutely delicious and unlike any meat I have had in the States.
The Daily Schedule of Evangelism
Each morning, Sterling and I awoke around 6-6:30. Speaking for myself, I would then go to the café to get coffee and study. Sometimes, others from our team were there doing the same. Around 7-7:30 the remainder of the team would arrive for breakfast. By 8:30, we typically broke up and went to meet the congregation at their building. The Bagaces Church of Christ worships about two blocks off of the main square in Bagaces. By 9:00, the team was gathered to start a morning devotional and about 10-15 minutes later, the Costa Ricans were ready. That is a bit of humor, but based in reality too. Time is viewed a little more laxly in Costa Rica. The morning devotional consisted of prayer, a few hymns, and a short lesson. One morning Sterling provided a lesson on “Singing” and on one of the last days I gave a short lesson entitled “Are You Ready?” After our devotional, we knocked doors or followed up on previous Bible Studies until 12:30-1:00 pm. We then returned for lunch until around 2 pm. Then again, we would go out from about 2:00-4:30 pm. Most days, half the team would be late for meals due to ongoing Bible studies. The dedication of this team was fantastic! We spent5:00-7:00 eating dinner and prepping for evening Worship. At the evening worship the congregation prayed, sang, and listened to a primary lesson brought by a member of the team from the United States. I was honored to bring two lessons this year, “The doctrine of the Church” and “Descriptions of the Church”.
On the first evening about 35-40 people were present. By the final two nights, we had 82 and 72 people present! In total, there were 8 nights of meetings. By midweek, 30-45 minutes before the meeting started, there was a lot of scrambling to go pick people up. Many Costa Ricans walk or bike for travel. Sterling was actually quite impacted by the number of people who did not have cars. What is additionally impressive about the attendance each night of the meetings was that all of our evangelism was done outside of Bagaces in the country. It is very likely that if our work had been done in the city, we would have outgrown the building.Actually, toward the end of the meeting, a number of people had to listen from another room or from outside. Each night the meetings wrapped up between 8:30 and 9:00. Afterward, we ran people home and dashed to find and open restaurant. For the most part, Bagaces closes up after 9 pm.
Evangelism Team Composition
Each team consisted of between 3-4 people. Sterling, a member of the local congregation named Carlos (provided great contacts), our interpreter, friend, and outstanding student of the Word of God, Noel, and I went together as one team. We cannot say enough about how much joy we have working with Noel. Noel and I have similar mentalities and it feels natural when we evangelize together. Ithas gotten to the point where we know the direction the other is going and that really helps.
Atmosphere for Evanglism
Speaking from our observation (I believe the experience may have been the same for the other groups), the thirst to hear the Word of God is very high in Bagaces. Now… that is all prefaced with the fact that the majority of our work was in the countryside and not in the city. It is quite likely there are some factors that affect the reception of the gospel between the two locations. That aside, we found most of our studies ran between 1 1/2 – 3 hours in duration. This means that most days, we would get only conduct 2-4 studies. This is quite a departure from last year, where we conducted many shorter studies from 20 minutes to an hour and a half. The Bible studies this time around were much more rewarding because we felt like we were able to get very deep into Biblical issues that were affecting those with whom we studied. Very few folks were not interested in discussing the gospel. In fact, after the first 2 days, I cannot recall an instance where someone declined to study the Bible.
Approach to Evangelism
Our team’s approach to sharing the gospel was relatively simple. First, break the ice. When you approach any person, do so with as minimal a menacing presence as possible. The truth is, I am a bit taller than the average Costa Rican. Noel is a bit broader than the average Costa Rican. We both sport facial hair and neither of us are going to win an award for looking handsome. Thus, we try to make certain we dress in clean fashion (button ups or polo shirts). We smile. We look for opportunities to relate or make brief small talk from the beginning.
Second, don’t immediately give up when someone says “no” or lets you know they are part of another religion. The truth in Costa Rica and even in the United States, is that most people are either affiliated with or have experience with other religions. This is actually an open door, not a closed door. Much of the time we would ask about their beliefs or religious activity. This is, in part, an ice breaker, an opportunity to discover spiritual needs, and an olive branch showing you are interested what they have to say, not just your agenda.
Third, if you have literature, invitations, etc. keep them in your bag until the end. You want the attention of the person you are visiting with. Many visits end quickly because paperwork is given at the beginning and the person you are visiting sees it as a good time to say, “thanks I will read these later, have a nice day”.
Fourth, if the individual with whom you are talking is interested in certain topics, follow that lead. If not, begin by asking if they have read about the Church of Christ in the Bible. This is a great time to start with Matthew 16:18, Romans, 16:16, Acts 2… etc. If you don’t think this is a good starting point, another good place to start is Matthew 28:18-20. In this passage you have the authority of Christ, teaching all nations, and baptism. When you start with the authority of Christ and the authority of scripture (2 timothy 3:16-17, Jude 3, James 1:21), you are on a good track. Most of our studies did not end in an immediate conversion, however, all of the studies focused on scripture. We heard many times that we were the only people to come to the home and not share our words, but only those of the scriptures. Everything we said was taken from the Word of God and those in the study were impressed with that. Evangelism isn’t about the words of the minister; it is about the Word of God.
Women of the Team
Most of the Bible studies we conducted were with women. While we were able to make this a comfortable process, the reality is that a woman who comes along with the team can increase the comfort level. I believe the ideal evangelism team is 2–3 people. A second person, male or female, will always help think of things you cannot remember or did consider. A woman as part of the team allows for a less menacing interaction and provides some additional benefits often not considered. A woman in the team helps better relate to another woman. She will be far more comfortable sitting next to a female subject aiding her in finding Bible passages and even reading with her. A woman can also be very helpful when there are children about. On more than one occasion, the female members of our teams have sat with the children, sang songs, or shared Biblical history while the others engaged in a Bible study with the adults. A woman can be a very valuable part of a team of evangelists. Having a female contact may even result in future Bible studies between the women without the men present.
Limited knowledge of Spanish?
Sterling is 17 years old. His presence last year was one of learning and discovering the opportunity of missionary work. Though he also presented a devotional last year, his presence was largely observational. This year, Sterling not only provided a devotional lesson, he led singing a number of times in the congregational worship. Additionally, his scriptural knowledge was helpful in Bible Study. At nearly every Bible study we referred to Acts 2. Generally, when we study with someone, Noel will begin in Spanish or I will speak and Noel interpreted. As the study progresses, went back and forth in that manner. There were even times when I was able to teach in Spanish only. Sterling taught by giving an overview of Acts 2. This would, of course, set up an examination of Acts 2:37-38 and 47. Sterling does not speak Spanish, but he was very helpful in sharing the Word. If you are considering missionary work, you can have a role, even if you do not speak Spanish fluently, awkwardly, or at all – Remember there is an interpreter! Additionally, many people in and around Bagaces do not read well. This provides a great missionary opportunity. Though I am not able to speak Spanish fluently, I was able to read Spanish better than many of those with whom we studied. If you can learn to read Spanish properly and you know your Bible, the scriptures themselves can speak the all the Spanish you need save a soul.
Sharing the Gospel
Overall, we had a team of 12 who came from the United States to share the Gospel with Bagaces: Three women and nine men. Our team conducted 94 Bible studies and we were fortunate enough to see six new births into Christ. Our team offered only the gospel. Those being baptized did not expect financial assistance or gifts. When they were baptized, it was because we spent a significant amount of time sharing the gospel of Christ with them. The reality of this is: even when we had people come forward during our invitations, we did not immediately baptize them. In some cases, they were not baptized at all. Our concern was not to report large numbers of people being put into water, but the fact, that with the assistance of brothers and sisters from the states, the Gospel truth was spread in earnest and the seed of the Word of God was planted in many hearts. The trip was not a vacation nor a site-seeing event. It was not spent engaging in benevolent activities. The trip was completely evangelistic and focused on sharing spiritual food with the people of Bagaces and strengthening our brothers and sisters there. When baptisms occurred, we encouraged the local brothers to perform them. It was not our desire to have baptism selfies. Our efforts as an evangelist team focused on the importance of the work of evangelism.
Costa Rica 2018
This next year, our plan is to return to Costa Rica. We plan to return to Bagaces. There is much work to be done there. The congregation has purchased land to build a place of worship outside of town. They are growing with their own funds and the fruit of their own labor. There is much to be optimistic about in Bagaces. Sterling will likely not be going as he plans to attend either the Memphis School of Preaching or the Southwest School of Bible Studies next year (That decision will be made in February). My wife who has some past experience speaking Spanish (now very rusty) will likely join the team and provide an additional asset to the work. Next year will definitely bring changes and challenges. However, I look forward to it with great anticipation. Sterling and I are grateful for all the brothers and sisters who have supported us (in many ways) in sharing the gospel with Costa Rica and welcome any future aid you may be able to provide spiritually or financially.
Travis and Sterling Main