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In late June and early July 2015, our youth returned to Pura Vida Mission in San Ramon, Costa Rica, for their 5th year.

Emily Edwards, Director of Youth and Education Ministries, worked with the Youth Group for the preceding year raising funds for this trip with activities as varied as the annual Pumpkin Patch to raking leaves and doing other chores for church members. The large group of 24 youth and 6 adults spent a week working with chil-dren in Vacation Bible School, conducting a soccer camp, and building chairs for a local kindergarten class. The youth also brought back 72 bags of coffee, grown and processed in San Ramon, and sold them at church to raise money for the support of a child (and the child’s family) during the next year. Thanks to your overwhelming support, they were able sell all 72 bags after the 9:30 service where they presented their testimonies.

Here are accounts of their experiences from three of the teens:

“Every morning on our youth mission project to San Ramon, Costa Rica, we would wake up early and get a good cup of Costa Rican coffee with breakfast and start our TAG time, which stands for time alone with God. We would leave for our first vacation Bible school site for around three hours each morning. At the sites, which resembled a playground that would be condemned in the US, both of our church’s teams would start off playing with the children to build a relationship. We played soccer, football, baseball, painted nails, blew bubbles and more. Once everyone is tired and has plenty of bug bites then we move into songs where you try your best to sing in Spanish and be energetic and goofy with hand motions. After song, we would act out the Bible story and ask follow-up questions to apply the Bible story. Lastly we provide a craft that connected to the Bible story for the kids to work on. The kids have so much fun and don’t want us to leave at lunch time, but we have to go back to the mis-sion to eat our second helping of beans and rice for the day.

After lunch each team from our church goes to our second site for another three hours. In addition to VBS, my team held a soccer camp at an indoor soccer arena for ages 7 to 22. This is a humbling experience be-cause most of our team plays on the high school soccer team so we thought we were pretty good, but almost every day the Ticos beat us.

At half time during the games, our team’s members took turns sharing our testimonies about what God is doing in our lives. Then we would play again and get whooped some more. A new project our team took on this year at the mission’s request was four people stayed back at the mission daily to build 54 kindergarten chairs from scratch for a local school. This fulfilled a need for the school and taught us some valuable life skills of cutting, sanding, and staining wood.

When we return to the mission after our second site, we have some free time. I chose to take a daily trip to the local store to get a Trit, which is a delicious ice cream treat, and then play intense card games with everyone else. The mission staff eventually sounds the bell for the third rice and beans meal of the day, and then, after dinner, we take a cultural outing like playing more soccer, going downtown to explore to city, or hiking to a beautiful waterfall. Every night we end with worship, which towards the end of the week became very emo-tional as we processed our experience. Then we hang out and fellowship until Emily makes us go to bed and get our much needed sleep to get up and do it all over again the next day. By Friday we were exhausted and had some much needed group bonding time at the volcano Arenal to process our experience from the week.“

– Jared Smith, sophomore, NSBHS 

“Although I was a new team member, I was ready to jump in and do whatever I could to connect with the people we met. I was also on the soccer camp team, and we were planning who would share on the first day. I found myself volunteering to be the very first person on our team to share a testimony about the things that God has done in my life. Being the first to share was intimi-dating, especially to the Costa Ricans who were older than me and with my friends there listening; but once I worked up the courage to share, it just came out. I was surprised how good it felt to share how God has worked in my life. Everyone around me and God heard my story, and I am pretty sure they won’t forget it.

A specific child that I connected with was at our first VBS site. At this site there was a girl named Angelica, who was a bit of a challenge to work with because she was bossy and emotional. A lot of our team had a hard time connecting with her. One day she brought her puppy with her, and I was trying to get her to treat it better because she would just throw it up in the air or spin it around. So after a long period of time, I called one of the translators, Diego, over to ask her to play tag if she let the puppy go and would stop torturing it. She finally came and played with us and left the puppy alone. I think she liked having the individual attention.

All the kids I worked with showed me how lucky we are to have better opportunities in life like quality education, supportive family, and general safety. It gave me a new perspective on how easy we have a good life and the challenges kids face in third world countries.”

– Kaiden Busch, sophomore, NSBHS 

“As my second time going to Costa Rica with the youth mission team, I was expecting the same experience that I had last year. I expected to go to different sites and play around with all the kids, bond with them and then cry at the end because of how much I would miss them. But this trip had so much more to it than just playing with the kids and getting to know God and my-self better. Once we arrived we saw a similar sight as last year of little shack like houses, stray dogs walking the streets everywhere you look, and cars going super-fast. At first I thought again about how it must be so rough to live there, and I felt bad for the kids; but once I got to my first site, it was so amazing to watch the kids show us tricks or paint their nails. Soon all I notice is their precious, huge, smiles and all of the laughter that surrounds us. It truly does warm my heart watching them play and that they can be happy knowing that they don’t have everything they want.

Yes, I did bond very well with the kids; and yes I’m going to miss every single one of their little faces very much. But most importantly, I am so beyond impressed with everyone in my youth group. By the third day our whole team was sitting in a big circle in the mission lounge talking about how everyone’s trip was going and how it had impacted our lives in so many ways.

I am always amazed that while on the trip none of us think twice about not having our cell phones or about what our friends are doing at home because in that moment we know that what we are doing is so much more important and so much more fun even though we may just be hanging out at the mission, playing cards with one another, or out playing soccer.

I never realized how much we bonded as a group until we all sat down in one circle and talked about how the trip was going and realized that we all felt the exact same way. I thought this trip was just to bond with the Costa Rican kids and have fun in another country with all of my closest friends, but it is became so much more than that. It really became about connecting to God by our group’s shared experience that deeply changed us all on a spiritual level. I have no words that can accurate-ly explain how much this trip has taught me and how thankful it has made me for all that I have here at home. I am more than excited to get to go back and make new memories and grow deeper next year.

Thank you so much for supporting our youth mission team by your prayers and financial support in this life changing experience.”

Kendall Galloway, junior, NSB HS