Costa Rica Here We Come

Date Posted: 5/25/2017

Over two dozen high-school-age youth will head to serve the people of Los Guido with West University UMC this July, knowing they will be blessed in the process.

For the last 12 summers, enthusiastic and energetic teens from West University UMC have headed to Costa Rica for mission work, and returned with a new sense of camaraderie and gratitude. Shelby Smolen, Director of Student Ministries, has been on 11 out of the last 12 trips and sees the life impact in her students. “Each of us sees poverty that we have never been exposed to,” she shares, “and it opens our eyes in a way that can’t ever be shut again. It is so powerful, our students and chaperones return home feeling called to continue helping others in need here in the Houston area, and return the following summer to do more for the people of San Isidro de Grecia and Los Guido.”

Each summer, the students do a variety of ministry projects in the area around the Strong Mission Center started by UMC missionary Charlie Strong. “The students take turns summarizing the day on our Facebook page blog for parents and friends to follow. Once we return, we compose a highlight video to show in church. We then have reunion gatherings to view the longer video as we enjoy Costa Rican cuisine.”

Recapping the 2016 trip, these students shared their experiences. “Los Guido is home to about 30,000 people and 13,000 kids,” says Emily Hawes, “and it is one of the oldest slums in the area. It is in a larger area known as el desperados, which translates to desperation, forsaken and forgotten – which is how many of the people feel describes their situation.” Emily’s bunkmate, Victoria, says she “made a connection with the family of a little girl named Xlanny. After talking to her and helping her with VBS crafts we ended up sharing many laughs and funny faces.” The students also helped with a feeding program providing the area children with at least one nutritious meal a day. Adds Victoria, “After lunch was devoured it was time to say our goodbyes, which was the hardest part for me. Even though I barely knew Xlanny and her family, I had developed a bond I will never forget.”

Nathan Edmondson, Graham Newick, Grayson McCarley and Andrew Donnell enjoyed the teamwork aspect of their work day to add on to the facility at Strong Mission Center. Some tackled rebar in the kitchen area and others did concrete work while a third group went into the jungle to clear a pathway to the property. “We needed to move several hundred pounds of leaves and branches so the four of us rose to the challenge,” the guys reported on the youth blog. “The Tarp, combined with our unmatched teamwork, brute strength, coordination, companionship, and team chemistry gave us the ability to maneuver the eight foot pile of leaves, making countless trips back and forth. The only thing that kept us going was our dedication to the cause.”

The 2017 trip countdown is underway, and 28 students and adults are ready, willing and able to get back to work – and swim amidst scenic beaches and waterfalls. “A lot of our group felt they sensed God while at the beautiful waterfalls,” shares Sadie Jensen. According to Shelby, this summer is extra special for two reasons. “This summer, a student from a church in Minnesota, will join us, and secondly, we will host our first-ever all-church mission trip to Costa Rica which will follow the student trip, and will be led by our senior pastor, Rev. Carol Bruse.”