Melissa Wharton is a student at UMKC and a leader in C&YA. She is involved in Temple Worship, our worship team, and leads a girls bible study in Waldo. Melissa recently returned from a missions trip in Costa Rica and reflects on that trip here.
Psalm 10:8 [The wicked] sitteth in the lurking places of the villages: in the secret places doth he murder the innocent: his eyes are privily set against the poor. 9 He lieth in wait secretly as a lion in his den: he lieth in wait to catch the poor: he doth catch the poor, when he draweth him into his net. 12 Arise, O LORD; O God, lift up thine hand: forget not the humble. 14 Thou hast seen it; for thou beholdest mischief and spite, to requite it with thy hand: the poor committeth himself unto thee; thou art the helper of the fatherless. 16 The LORD is King for ever and ever: the heathen are perished out of his land. 17 LORD, thou hast heard the desire of the humble: thou wilt prepare their heart, thou wilt cause thine ear to hear:
These verses from Psalm 10 were on my heart all week while I was in Pijije, Costa Rica for a missions trip with some other folks from MBT. The church we were with is called Iglesia del Norte (IDN). Its pastor is Carlos Salazar, and his wife Hazel is the sister of Will Mata, the pastor over MBT’s Hispanic ministry.
Walking through the dirt roads of the villages near IDN feels like walking through the depths of some notoriously poor country, even though Costa Rica as a whole is considerably economically successful. The two villages — La Granja and Cucui— have probably a few hundred families living in them, and a lot of those people don’t know when their next meal will be. Most are illiterate. Some kids are in school, but the majority are not. There is a high number of young moms (I’m talking as young as 12, though more usually 14) for various reasons — ranging from sexual abuse to the idea that having a baby is fun, like having a doll.
Not only are these people oppressed economically and physically, but they are being oppressed spiritually as well. Over the years there have been people coming in preaching a prosperity gospel, only to take what little money the people have and run off. The area is steeped in Catholicism, resulting in a community mindset of works-based salvation. There is also a smattering of self-proclaimed “Christian” prophets and pagan practices.
Not only are these people oppressed economically and physically, but they are being oppressed spiritually as well.
What does this mean for IDN and its team? Well, they have around 80 people on any given Sunday, the majority of those being kids. Because of the nature of life in Pijije, there is a lot of disinterest in hearing the Word and applying it to their circumstances. After all, it’s hard to focus on what the pastor is saying when you’re worried about what your kids are going to eat tomorrow. Thankfully, the team is able to provide lunch for the church on Sundays.
A lot of the kids are also difficult to organize because they’ve never been taught the culture of obedience. They also aren’t used to sitting under the teaching of the Word, so it doesn’t always make sense to them to do that.
Caring for all of these people with all of these problems is a little difficult at IDN. There are five people in the Salazar family: Carlos, Hazel, and their three teenagers. Also on the team is a young married couple, Natanael and Maria José Castro. That’s seven people in total, and three are teens.
As you might imagine, the work of the ministry at IDN can feel exhausting. That was the main reason our team was there last week: to refresh the Salazars and the Castros, and to help them have a little bit of a break for a weekend.
...the main reason our team was there last week: to refresh the Salazars and the Castros
On Saturday and Sunday we had a special kids program focused on the life of Joseph. The grown-up women on the trip had sessions with the ladies and the men had the same with the guys. These times were beneficial to get the people of the church to open up and recognize areas where they need growth.
All of the above sounds very difficult, but I do want to make sure you know that there are some very sweet times, with the kids especially. Because many of them don’t get the right kinds of love at home, they’re very hungry for it and it allows for opportunity to show the love of Christ to them. Most are also very joyful despite their circumstances. It’s a picture of how we need to remain childlike in our dependency on the Lord; we have joy through him when, like children, we aren’t concerned by our circumstances.
We were also able to have a lot of down-time with the leadership at IDN, getting to hear their struggles and burdens, encourage and pray for them, and of course just to have fun with them. This included seeing some of God’s beautiful creation, like a waterfall, some volcanic hot springs, and different beaches.
The main thing I saw this trip was the difference prayer makes in a ministry. I went on last year’s trip too, and while the kids are still kind of hectic they were much more well-behaved this year. The women are now more willing to take initiative in things like cleaning and helping with the kids ministry. The leaders are more encouraged and aren’t feeling anywhere near as helpless as they were last July. All of this is because God answers prayer.
All of this is because God answers prayer.
So I’m going to keep praying that God would provide laborers for the harvest at IDN, whether that’s people being sent or the people their rising up to do the work. I’m praying for continued encouragement for the leaders. I’m praying that the Wicked One would be bound in Pijije and that the Lord would be King in the lives of its people. Pray with me and see what God does at Iglesia del Norte over the course of this next year.