Union UMC returns to international mission work with back-to-back trips to Costa Rica

By Allison Trussell

Union United Methodist Church, Irmo, was looking to return to international mission trips when God said, “Aquí” (here) and pointed to Costa Rica. The Rev. Stephen Taylor and Chris Conley, youth director, knew it was the right place and time.

“I had worked with Wil Bailey before,” Taylor said. Bailey, a United Methodist missionary from the North Carolina Conference, runs Costa Rica Mission Projects, a mission that coordinates mission teams and local church needs in the Zona Sur.

“Union regularly sent members out on international and national mission trips and then there was a lag of several years,” Conley said. “We wanted to get back out there, and take some of the youth with us.”

Originally billed as a mostly youth team of 30 going for a one-week trip, the overwhelming response of the church both monetarily and with volunteers made Taylor and Conley rethink their plan. The two ended up each leading a team of 20 during consecutive weeks July 1-15.

Union sends many of its youth to Salkehatchie each summer, but few of the team members had been outside the country, much less on an international mission trip.

Despite some hiccups—Team 1 was stuck in immigration for several hours because of a multi-country-wide blackout, Team 2 arrived at the wrong church for Sunday worship, frogs and bats in the cabins, afternoon rain and heat—the work continued and the teams thrived.

Both teams were sent to Sierpe, a small river village on the Pacific side of the country, to work on the sanctuary of a church. Team 1, led by Conley, arrived to find the bare bones of a sanctuary. The skeleton of an altar was in place, but concrete was needed to finish it, and the ceiling was incomplete. When Team 2 left, the altar was finished, a framework for ceiling tiles and the tiles themselves were in place, a drainage trough had been extended to prevent flooding at the front of the church and bathrooms were completed, as was a sidewalk and back patio-type area.

Pastor Yemnire Ledezma told Taylor he was happy to have the new large sanctuary completed. “It will be used for worship, of course, but we can do more activities with the children and youth.” Like many small towns around the world, there are few jobs in the area and it bothers Ledezma that the young people have nothing to do, Taylor said

The two teams also held vacation Bible school several afternoons during their week. With games, balloon animals and small toys, relationships were formed and grins adorned faces of children and adults alike.

Language was a barrier for some, but more than one person said their God moment was communicating with sign language, smiles and Spanglish.

“Even though we didn’t speak the same language, we still understood each other almost perfectly,” one missioner said. “That was mind-blowing for me.”

While preparing for the first day of VBS, Michelle Woods fretted that the group wouldn’t be able to communicate with the children well enough to get their instructions and lessons across, “And then Carolina walked in and began translating for us.”

Carolina couldn’t come the following day, and those on the team who spoke limited Spanish were on call. However, God was at work again, Woods said, as another college student walked in just as VBS was beginning and translated for them.

“For me being able to work alongside fellow believers who did not speak the language and still get so much done still amazes me,” Woods said. “And it was all done in love, laughter and one mindset—to get the job done for God’s glory and to serve His people in Costa Rica.”

The impact was visible and physical for the church, but the work had just as great an impact on the youth and adults sent by Union.

Victoria Woods, 15 and a student at Chapin High School, called the trip a life-changing event. “I got to meet so many new people and I also got the chance to get close to my friends on the trip. Having the opportunity to build a church, go to the beach, zip line, eat wonderful Costa Rican food and build a better relationship with God was amazing!”

“We were walking back from the second day of work,” Josh Keller, 18, recalled. “And my friends were talking about things they missed like AC and reliable WiFi. That’s when I realized I didn’t miss anything. I was content. I loved being there and it was awesome. I was serving God, making new friends and I knew we were bettering the community there. I didn’t want to be anywhere else than right there. I truly felt like I had a servant’s heart.”

Many agreed that the church’s partnership with CRMP is a good one. Because Bailey and CRMP coordinate everything, it’s a good first international mission trip especially with youth, said Nan Gray. Plans are being made to return to Costa Rica next year, and many of this year’s missioners said they are ready to return.

Team 1 comprised Allee Cobb, Chris Conley, Halie Hunt, Taylor Jones, Josh Keller, Robin Landers, Jessica McKinney, Lora McKinney, Debra Prosser, Katherine Prosser, Jon Rychener, Shannon Rychener, Thad Southworth, Jason Thompson, Meghan Thompson, Allison Trussell, Lexie Vandervelde, Stacie Vandervelde, Michelle Woods and Victoria Woods.

Team 2 comprised Bill Gray, Nan Gray, Stuart Hope, Bethany Lindler, Renee Lindler, Elizabeth Morton, Rob Morton, Kacie Samson, Gracie Sandidge, Jen Sandidge, Matt Sheldon, Doug Smith, Johnny Springfield, Linda Steadman, Sam Strait, Carter Taylor, Rev. Stephen Taylor, Andy Underwood, Debbie Underwood and Isaac Wolff.

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