I have participated in service trips in the U.S. and Canada for the last 23 years of my life, and I finally went on my first international mission trip to Costa Rica a few weeks ago. I have always supported the idea of serving abroad but never felt like it was necessary for me as I am such a strong believer in serving locally. I fundamentally believe that God calls us to serve right where we are, so why fly thousands of miles to participate? Going on this trip renewed my perspective.
Beauty and poverty in a neighboring country
Costa Rica is a known tourist destination filled with breathtaking views, amazing beaches and vibrant landscapes. It is the second wealthiest country in Central America next to Panama with coffee and tourism fueling its economy. Thousands of visitors flock to Costa Rica each year to enjoy the elaborate park systems and hike the volcanoes, unaware that more than 1.1 million Costa Ricans live in extreme poverty.
There is an organization in Alajuela, Costa Rica named Rice and Beans that is taking literally the call to share the gospel in more than just words. Young adults from Costa Rica, the hand-on servants in the organization, are working to address the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of their community by distributing food, repairing homes and teaching school-aged children about the love of Jesus.
Rice and Beans has invited YouthWorks to partner alongside their ministry. A few of us at YouthWorks went to experience a mission trip in Alajuela for ourselves, so we could see the impact of this organization first-hand. It was really important for me to experience what a site in Costa Rica could look like for Youthworks, and I wanted to be able to explain why we would expand to global service.
While we were in Alajuela, we participated in children’s ministry at a local school where I bonded with kids over stickers and giggles—and practiced my terrible Spanish. In the afternoon we returned to the local neighborhood to deliver food to the kids and their families. Each reusable grocery bag we distributed was filled with rice, beans, powdered milk, corn meal and crackers to feed a family of four for four days. Many of the homes we visited had more than one family, multiple children and dirt floors. I delivered food to the family of a little girl that I met at the school earlier that day, and the smile on her face is forever etched in my heart.
Making a difference through service and an international lens
I struggled to see how the food and prayers we offered would make any difference for the families in Alajuela, but at the core of this food delivery ministry is the belief that this food is meeting a physical need in their bodies as well as a spiritual need in their souls. Costa Rica was such an important experience for me and has expanded my context for service.
Growing YouthWorks to more international sites opens the opportunity for teenagers to broaden their perspectives, ignite passions, expose possibilities and inspire pursuits through an international lens. Sometimes it is good for us to leave our own context to gain an understanding about what poverty is like in other countries.
I hope that many teenagers will gain a deeper connection to God and the world through serving overseas with us in Costa Rica.