Reflecting on Costa Rica

This past spring the Global Mission Team and Community Bible’s spiritual leaders (elders, pastoral staff) committed to a five-year partnership (requiring two trips by CBC teams per year) to train pastors and local church leaders through IBAC (Central American Biblical Institute) in Costa Rica. The primary goals of IBAC are to produce servant leaders who: (1) handle God’s Word accurately; (2) embody authentic spirituality; and (3) foster healthy churches.

Over the next five years, each local pastor and church leader who attends IBAC will receive approximately twenty hours of training for each course, giving them practical tools for reading and studying the Bible, exploring the doctrines of God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit, using the Bible in counseling, the developing a healthy ecclesiology of the local church. Someone who attends all fourteen weeks of training will receive over 280 hours of biblical training!

This past week Pastor Josh Sands, Mike Wagner (Elder Chair), Todd Phelps (providing trip documentation) and I spent our first week of training with local Christian leaders in San Jose. I wanted to share some random thoughts about our trip.

  1. Costa Rica is a beautiful country. As a resource-rich country, there is an abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables (I had the best pineapple I’ve ever eaten last week), stunning scenery, and outstanding coffee. But Costa Rica’s best quality is her people. Generally speaking, Costa Rican’s care more about people and the quality of personal interaction than they do completing the next task on their “to-do” list. They aren’t slaves to the tyranny of time and production, at least not in the way we are as North Americans, and the fruit of this quality is a depth and intimacy in personal interaction that is often lacking in North American culture.
  2. The Christians we met and worked with really care about God’s Word and the Gospel. We met Monday through Friday from 3:30 pm to 9:00 pm. Each session had one ten-minute break for coffee and a thirty-minute break for dinner (we shared meals together). The rest of the time was spent in training. Most of these individuals came straight from work to each session, and I would say that 75% of those in attendance came every night. They made a tremendous sacrifice to pursue growth in their understanding of Jesus, His Gospel, and His Word. And they are committed to this training three times a year for the next five years (side note: we have a partner church in Ohio that will do one of the trainings each summer, with our teams traveling in February and October each year). One of the men in attendance, Jose, worked third shift at his job. He worked from 12 am – 8 am, got home around 9 am (where he slept for four hours), got up at 1 pm, spent some time with his family, and then came for training. I was humbled and deeply encouraged by their commitment to growing in their relationship with Jesus.
  3. North American Christians could learn a lot from our brothers and sisters in Christ in Central and South America. Far too often, Western missionaries go on the field thinking they primarily are going to the nations because they have something to offer. And it is true that we go on mission because we want to share the Gospel. But if we go thinking primarily that we have something to offer and not to learn, we risk ministering from a posture of arrogance. Generally, what happens when Western missionaries arrive on the field – whether it’s a short-term or long-term trip – is we expect people to sit down and listen to us while we stand and speak. We bring the Gospel, the Bibles, and the hymn books. We bring the medicine, the Bible school, the discipleship. We want a say in choosing the leaders. We build the orphanages and the schools. We come as the teachers and experts.

And these things are not necessarily bad. These can be wonderful things. But it would be wiser for us to come as brothers, friends, and peers. It would be better to partner with indigenous people in ministry, to give them opportunities to serve and teach, to allow them to lead in the light while we stand in the shadows. It would be better for us to model Jesus in service, the same Jesus who wrapped his cloak around his waist, the very cloak that identified him as Rabbi and Master, in order to become a servant to all as he washed his disciples’ feet. It would be better if we came asking questions instead of assuming we have all the answers, if we gave those we’ve come to serve opportunities to use their gifts and even give of their resources to the cause of the Kingdom of Christ, even if they must give out of their poverty, rather than doing everything for them.

Christian believers around the world do not need our pity. In many cases, they don’t even need our resources. They need our prayers, our friendship, our humble service, and our willingness to help them grow in dependence upon the Spirit and understanding of God’s Word.

  1. The Costa Rican cuisine is “muy bien”. I’m pretty sure we ate about 5-6 times per day. If you ever visit Costa Rica, you must try the patacones. Patacones are green plantains that are deep-fried twice. The end-product is a lot like a delicious cracker. Top it with some pureed Frijoles Negro, cheese, pulled chicken, and Pico de Gallo, and you’re tasting just a little bit of heaven.
  2. Gordon and Debbie Crandell are selfless saints of God. Many of you may not know Gordon and Debbie, but they are long-time members of Community Bible who are serving as missionaries at the English Language Institute in San Jose, Costa Rica. More than 17,000 missionaries have been trained to speak Spanish through the English Language Institute since the mid-1940’s. Gordon and Debbie provide support, spiritual encouragement and leadership, and counsel to many of the students. They served as our host, concierge, and companions throughout the week.

As I’ve reflected on their service, I was reminded of what Paul said about Timothy, “For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare” (Philippians 2:20). Paul goes on to say that many who serve Jesus “seek their own interests” (2:21), but Timothy pursued the interests of Jesus Christ with single-minded devotion (2:21). I sensed this in Gordon and Debbie. They seem genuinely concerned and motivated by what Jesus wants to do in them and through others, and nothing else. They are concerned for the welfare of others more than their own. But on that note, their financial support to stay on the field is currently at lower levels than is sustainable long-term. If you are interested in learning more about how we support them as a church, or how you might be able to bless them with a one-time gift or by regular monthly support, please contact Kim Lehmann, Missions Director at (kim.lehmann@cbchurch.org).

I want to say “thanks” to those of you who prayed for us last week. It was a really encouraging week. I’m looking forward to what God is going to do through this partnership. You may not be a teacher, but you can stay invested in what God is doing in Costa Rica in several ways. First, you can pray. Pray for Jim Wilson, the creator of IBAC. Pray for the local believers who are being trained. Pray for Gordon and Debbie Crandell. Amazingly, we got connected to IBAC through Gordon and Debbie, who more than five years ago thought God was leading them to China, only to have Him plant them in Central America. You can also be involved by giving regularly to ministry at Community Bible. Twenty percent of your tithes and offerings go to support local and global missions. Twenty cents of every dollar you give goes to advance the mission of God among all people. God is on the move among the nations, and I want to be a part of what He is doing. Do you?