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Five Loaves and Two Fish

By Susan Fikse, Mar 1, 2014
Most children in Costa de Pajaros, Costa Rica, go to school hungry. The community has been oppressed by hopelessness. The Church has seemed irrelevant. But that’s all beginning to change.

A village in need of hope Families in the fishing villages of Costa de Pajaros, along the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, subsist on less than $10 per month, often caring for four to six kids. Men go out to sea at 4:00 p.m. and return at 7:00 a.m., but the unpredictability of fishing—and the rise in multi-national fishing operations— results in empty boats some days. And empty boats mean empty stomachs.

“The limitations of this area have been very challenging to tackle—not only in the spiritual realm, but also the physical. We were so overwhelmed!” said Rodney Davila, MTW missionary to Costa Rica. The MTW team had been working in the area for more than three years with few encouraging developments. “The situation was very disheartening and discouraging for the ministry,” explained Davila. “We thought, ‘How can we do this?’”

On the suggestion of a visiting pastor, Davila contacted MTW missionary Lois Ooms, a pioneer in community development ministry. Ooms’ seminar, Transformational Development, helps people to recognize their strengths and equips them to bring change to their own communities. Although this was a new concept to Davila, he quickly agreed with Ooms that the region was ideal for this approach. “She said that people need to understand what poverty really is,” explained Davila.

“The people in this community assume they are poor. But all of us are poor, biblically speaking.” In the fall of 2013, Ooms directed the Transformational Development seminar in Costa de Pajaros and God began to turn seemingly impossible limitations into opportunities for Him to shine.

Who cares about church when there are no fish?
“It’s an incredibly poor place from our standards. There’s a sense of hopelessness. The local fisherman can’t make a living,” Ooms said, remembering her visit to Costa de Pajaros. “They look at the church and say, ‘What good is that?’” Ooms created the Transformational Development seminar to address that question. At the heart of her teaching is the dignity of all people as God’s image bearers who reflect His character. “As people understand this, they begin to see healing in their whole self-concept,” Ooms explained. “They understand that they are oppressed because of sin, but there is hope because of who they are. They begin to see opportunities to use what God has given them.”

Instead of focusing on what a community lacks, Transformational Development recognizes the God-given gifts and strengths of communities and individuals. As the church adopts this approach and serves its community in tangible ways, skeptics notice. Ooms described the process: “People see that God is concerned about their need to live, eat, and the fact that they can’t make a living off of fishing anymore. They begin to see dignity restored and say, ‘This is the kind of church I want to be part of.’ So, the church grows.”

Let’s start with breakfast
The churches in Costa de Pajaros embraced the message of Transformational Development, said Davila. “The teaching is that you are important for God and the community,” he explained. “Everyone has something to do and offer in collaboration. It is transforming. It is beginning to happen here.”

For instance, New Life Church in Costa de Pajaros decided one way they could serve the community was to feed children breakfast before school. Davila explained that public schools provide lunch, and families usually have enough money for supper, but children often go to school hungry. So, the vision of the church—of those who don’t have money to give—is to give what they do have. “They are volunteering their time to cook. Someone will bring a little rice. Someone will bring a plantain,” explained Davila. “They don’t have money, but they find ways to provide. They are coming together and joining what they have to help the community.”

Encouraged to dream
Since the seminar, the focus of the local churches and ministry is completely different than before, Davila said. In the past each family struggled alone and protected what they had for themselves; now they are beginning to focus on the community and what they have to offer. That hope is leading to creative dreams. This summer, short-term teams will help the congregation build a community center with a kitchen so the church can begin its breakfast ministry. The center will include a multi-sport court for children since there are no parks or safe places for children to play. And during their activities for children, the church hopes parents will stay for coffee, an English class, or even Bible study.

“Lois [Ooms] told us, ‘Don’t wait until you feel you have total understanding, because you never will,’ Davila said. “The Lord can show us more application—we’re just beginning.” As God has provided an answer for “How do we do this?” the MTW missionaries now tackle a different challenge than they faced for three years. Instead of feeling overwhelmed by the limitations of Costa de Pajaros, with their transformational development approach, they’re feeling invigorated by its array of opportunities—and the church has taken on a relevancy it never had.

______

Interns, Join Us! Costa Rica holds tremendous opportunity for summer and longer-term interns who speak Spanish and want to dive into ministry alongside MTW missionaries and Costa Rican nationals. Interns can serve by helping with construction, instructing English classes, leading youth Bible studies, or teaching sports and craft skills. Consider investing your time in the struggling communities of Costa Rica. Email [email protected]


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