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Oct14WedOur Salvation Army mission trip to Costa Rica was an experience that will stay with us forever. October 14, 2020 by Kirstin Dolby
As the youth ministry director for The Salvation Army’s Comox Valley Ministries in British Columbia for the past four years, I've always been an advocate of mission trips. They were a part of my upbringing, and I've wanted the youth I work with to venture beyond their own borders, too, to experience other cultures and have them reflect on their faith in relation to that.
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This sparked the idea for our church to launch a mission trip of our own, so I started getting the paperwork in motion. Our young team decided on Costa Rica.
It took two years of planning and fundraising, but eight of us—four adults and four youth—headed by Captain Michelle Elsasser, finally arrived in Costa Rica in early March, just before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Our days were very long and gruelling. Most of the work we did was with two Army daycare centres in Costa Rica.
We assisted the teachers, doing everything from helping in the classrooms and at naptime to playing with the kids at recess. One of the fun projects we got to do was create a new outdoor play area for the children that had been on the director’s to-do list for months.
Another project we participated in was a feeding program in San Jose, where we helped prepare and hand out meals to some of the people experiencing homelessness there.
We were also privileged to attend two Salvation Army church services in Concepción and San Jose, where we shared our own stories.
A Forever Experience
Our young team members thrived there. Being exposed to kids their own age, leaving the comforts of home and stepping into a culture that does not have the same comforts and luxuries they are used to and, most importantly, seeing the joy Costa Rican youth have in their day-to-day life, challenged the assumptions of their own faith.
It was heartwarming to see the kids chat non-stop on the van ride back to our quarters about all they had accomplished in spite of language barriers, where they used the skills they had to such great effect.
This was an experience that will stay with them—and me—forever.
Next Year in Costa Rica? Some might wonder whether mission trips are worth the preparation and fundraising.
It’s easy enough to say, “Just send the money.” But what this experience showed me was that while Costa Rican Salvation Army members care passionately and are hard-working, there are not enough of them.
For two weeks, we were able to give the staff there breaks they would not have had, to do the things they needed to do but normally could not.
Tasks such as creating an office space for their visiting psychologist by clearing out a storage area might have seemed demeaning, and the Salvation Army daycare director was embarrassed to ask us if we could do this.
“Put us where you need us,” we replied.
Those moments were the reason we went, as well as for the connections that were made. You can’t get that by just sending a cheque.
When we were at the airport preparing to embark on our flight home, we were asked if we could come back next year. I don’t know if that will be possible due to the pandemic, but now that we’ve built up these relationships and our youth have seen what can be done, my hope is that we will return, and soon.