By Malinda Nichols, Director of Communications for United Methodist Volunteers In Mission, Southeast Jurisdiction (UMVIM – SEJ).
When my husband became the director of our church’s youth ministry in 2009, we had some big plans. (I say “we” because anyone married to someone in ministry knows that when your spouse is the pastor of anything, you’re right there with ‘em.) We wanted to have an awesome back-to-school outreach event each September. We wanted to play the “dumb youth group games” that we loved so much from our high school days. We wanted to create a safe place for the 7th-12th graders in our community to hear the Gospel and know they are cared about and prayed for. But one thing that was particularly strong in our hearts was to give our students the opportunity to go on mission journeys. We came up with a structure of rotating through local, regional, and international service so every student had the chance to engage in each type of mission at least twice while in the ministry, our prayer being that it will help them understand the community, country, and world where they live and spark a desire to be. To go. (Why do we say “journey” and not “trip” by the way? Because a trip is one week. A journey encompasses the process before, during, and after you travel.)
Years before joining the UMVIM staff, I went through UMVIM team leader training and started to learn the difference between a “service project” and true, sustainable missions. We had some growing pains in those early years, engaging a couple of times in projects that didn’t seem to have the healthy mission model we wanted our students to see and understand. It’s not about parachuting in with Chacos sandals on our feet and fixing other people’s problems, then kicking back in the Eno hammock and congratulating ourselves on a job well done. Not even kinda. I’ll never forget the mission where we worked all week on a house while the homeowners sat there and watched us and never took any action to be part of the repairs themselves, though they were perfectly able to do so.
We decided our youth’s first international mission journey (and our church’s first international mission journey at that) would be to Costa Rica to serve with Wil Bailey and Costa Rica Mission Projects, and it was a game-changer for the way we saw and understood Christian mission.
As you know, Wil and his wife Yolanda have been serving communities in the Zona Sur for more than a decade, building whatever these congregations need to thrive, and helping meet the needs the people convey they have. Furthermore, they make sure that the congregations are part of these building projects, giving them pride and ownership over them. My team from Church at Cahaba Bend, and the hundreds of teams before and after us, are brought in to be the church right alongside them and give a helping hand to see these projects to completion. There is this misconception sometimes that we are “bringing Jesus” to these other parts of the world. Do I even have to say this?…Jesus is THERE already.
Additionally, Wil and the Costa Rica Mission Projects (CRMP) employees raise funds and hop on a plane every chance they get to come Stateside and serve here in America. In fact, the first time I met Wil, Hugo, Hugito, Catalina, Pedro, and Pastor William, they were here in Alabama after a series of tornadoes left more damage than a single community could manage alone. Healthy mission model? They’re doing it right.
Our most recent trip to the Zona Sur, in June of this year, had us working at the CRMP Missions & Ministry Center, a walled complex that serves a variety of needs. It’s the home base for visiting UMVIM teams, and I’ll tell you from personal experience that the food is great, the beds are comfy, and the showers are hot. Does the local pastor’s wife make fresh donuts for you? Yeah, she does. Did I gain 4 pounds while we were there? Yeah, I did.
But the Mission & Ministry Center is providing so much more: we spent the week pouring concrete in apartments where missionaries can live while going through cultural training. We water-sealed doors on a house where women from more remote parts of Costa Rica can stay while they find employment and provide for their families. A childcare center is being built where sweet kiddos can be in a safe, nurturing environment while their parents work. Additionally, and even more importantly, we had the opportunity to break bread with the people around us, go to church with them, pray with them, sing with their children, eat meals with them, and take communion with our brothers and sisters. CRMP emphasizes relationship-building, and being in a covenant partnership with them means that we are working on relationships with the people of the Zona Sur alongside Wil and the CRMP staff. They are always on our hearts and in our prayers, and our commitment is there beyond the weeks when we have a team physically in Costa Rica.
A church trip in the 9th grade is what made me love mission service, but serving in Costa Rica is what sparked my passion for effective Christian service.
(FUMC will have two opportunities in 2016 to work with Costa Rica Mission Projects! Check out the timeline on the previous page!)
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