The 11 high school students from Brandon who spent the first part of a sweltering July in Costa Rica weren’t at a fancy resort along the coast, snorkeling, sunbathing and playing beach volleyball in the tropical breeze.
They were inland, holed up in a cramped hotel that had no air conditioning “and lots of smells.”
But they were doing God’s work, and that’s what mattered.
The Thrive Student Ministry with St. Andrew’s United Methodist Church in Brandon brought gifts and craft-making materials and their own testimonies to the young residents of San Ramón, a city more than a half-mile above sea level with a population of about 11,000.
San Ramón serves as a link between the agricultural communities to the north and the central cities of the Central American country.
Kyle Aycock, director of student ministry at St. Andrew’s, led the group of students and five adult chaperones. They left on July 3 and returned seven days later.
In between, a lot was accomplished.
The group brought gifts like soccer balls and basketballs and materials for crafts to ease interaction with local children, Aycock said. “There was a lot of soccer,” he said.
“Everyone took two suitcases,” he said. “One suitcase was for personal things, the other just for supplies.”
The Brandon teens met the local youths and then accompanied them to Bible school where crafts were made and snacks were served.
“Students would lead with student testimony, with a translator helping us out with the Spanish,” Aycock said. “We had Bible lessons and crafts. We also had a gifted student with a ukulele.”
The young missionaries split into two groups and ministered to Costa Rica youths in separate locations, he said, both under the auspices of Pura Vida Missions of Costa Rica, which is a travel agency that matches church mission teams with local opportunities, and provides training and bookings. The organization’s information states that it provides “cross cultural adventure of sharing Jesus Christ.”
The locals appreciated the visit, said Aycock, who took a group last year and is planning on taking one next year as well. “We were loved very much by the end of the week, though, there were some people, just like everywhere else, who were not accepting us yet.”
He recounted one local boy in particular who benefited from the mission work.
“One child, he was a little rough around the edges and he actually was giving us some challenges in the beginning,” Aycock said. “But by the end of the week, he was traveling across town to another site, where another church was. He would show up in the morning for us, and then go to the afternoon site. That’s a lot of traveling.”
Sojourning to Costa Rica with 16 people and staying for a week, even if it’s in the less touristy interior of the country, isn’t cheap.
“It was expensive,” Aycock said. “We raised money with a pumpkin patch and we also did stock-sale fundraising,” he said. “That is where people take stock in the students’ mission trip experience. We hand (prospective donors) a card and invite them to stock-sale dinner to show them what the investment looks like. At the dinner we served food from Costa Rica. Basically; it was rice and beans.”
Students planning to go on the mission spoke to the invitees and convinced them to invest in their stock.
“We also had a talent show,” Aycock said. “That was not that big, but it was something. We just wanted to do something to get the whole church involved.”
Costa Rica is a safe country, for the most part, and there was not much of a concern about safety, he said.
“We had all good trained adults with us,” Aycock said, and Pura Vida Missions “has good relations with the communities.”
While Central Florida suffered under the oppressive July heat, the Costa Rican altitude offered a bit of a relief, at least over the first part of the trip.
“The first couple of days, it was cloudy and it seemed like a Florida winter,” Aycock said, “not really cold, but just cold enough for long sleeves for us Floridians.
“After those first couple of days, it turned into (summer) Florida,” he said. “It rained and then got hot and then it rained again and got hot again. “We were thankful for the breeze.”
The accommodations weren’t exactly deluxe. “We stayed in the mission’s renovated old hotel,” Aycock said. “But, it’s not like what you would consider a hotel. It looked like an old apartment building; two stories, not a lot of rooms. The buildings there are right next to each other. There’s little lawn space and it was pretty tight.
“There was no air conditioning,” he said, “and lots of smells.”
This was the second mission to Costa Rica undertaken by the students, he said. Another group will go again next year and after that, every other year.
The work paid off, he said, for the children of Costa Rica and for the students in Brandon.
“One reward was seeing a group of students who really didn’t know each other very well come together in a very positive way and interact and really go out of their comfort zone,” Aycock said. “I love seeing people get out of their comfort zone to do God’s work and these students really did that.”
Keith Morelli is a freelance writer based in Tampa.