Kids in tough areas benefit from foreign missionaries

Florida resident Blanca Morales jumps rope with girls at the Escuela Cristiana Linda Vista de Rio Azul. She and her group from Brandon, Florida, are among the hundreds of foreigners who come here each year as missionaries to do good works.

In the middle of Linda Vista in Tres Rios, amid the gangs and crime infestation, is a safe house for youth called Escuela Cristiana Linda Vista de Rio Azul.

This Christian school is one of six in Costa Rica. The others are located in equally challenged neighborhoods in Los Guido, Torremolinos, Limón, Barranca and Los Cuadros.

All the schools are made possible through the Fundación PIEDAD and U.S. Latin America Childcare. The children who attend come from poverty. Many live in broken homes where the mother or father is absent due to death, drug abuse or incarceration, said representatives.

During chapel, one student described how his only family was his grandmother and that he is grateful for the support that comes from the school because it gives him hope.

School days are broken into two sessions, and approximately 500 children from preschool to sixth grade attend each day. Students learn regular subjects but also have Bible lessons. They sing and pray during chapel everyday. Everything, including a breakfast on Monday and a daily lunch, is free.

A.M. Costa Rica/Kayla Pearson
Brent Simpson, pastor of a Brandon, Florida, Assembly of
God congregation, passes out candy to students as they leave

For many children, this is the only meal they eat. The school used to only offer lunch, but the smaller children were coming in famished from not eating over the weekend, so the school began serving breakfast at the start of the week, said Josh Amoit from the Assembly of God’s mission organization.

To supplement the cost, the organization gets sponsorships from U. S. citizens. A person donates $32 a month to go towards education, food and medical care.

“We really believe in education and Christian values to change the lives of the children here,” said Mary Mahon, a missionary at the six schools.

The early childhood program is sponsored by the government through the Red de Cuido. It is a network of care for mothers who are in extreme poverty and are going back to school or back to work.

“We don’t babysit, we form lives,” said Ms. Mahon.

However, the credit for the atmosphere goes to the professionals who work everyday with these youth, said staff.

“The teacher and director are the real heros. They work hard, and they just do miracles with these kids. Some of their stories are incredible,” said Ms. Mahon.

According to Ms. Mohon, many of the young girls who attend have been abused and molested in their home. She described a day when the director of the school, Coralia Bonilla, told her of three students who confessed they had been molested in just one week. Only one of these students sought out help from the police, she said.

“Moms usually talk them out of reporting. A lot of times the mother has been through the same thing, and they think they got through it,” said Ms. Mahon.

“The mother feels powerless because the man is a financial contributer to the home,” she added.

The California native has been doing missionary work for 24 years. She started a school like Escuela Cristiana in El Pauji, Venezuela, called Unidad Educativa Arnoldo Gabaldon.

For two years, she has operated a girl empowerment club called Chicas de Promisa across the street from the school. It is a house that is open a few days out of the week, and close to 60 young ladies in fifth and sixth grades come to play games, study, and do crafts until their mothers come to pick them up, she said

“About 70 girls have gone through the program, and they are welcome to come back. My thought is as long as they stay in school, they can keep visiting. I want to help them stay in school and not get pregnant. Those are my two goals,” said Ms. Mahon.

So far the program has had a positive impact.

“It used to be twice a week that girls were coming and saying they had been molested, but now not as many. Something is helping them not be victims,” said Ms. Mahon.

She is working toward having the school open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. This way it will be a safe place available for girls before and after school, while their caregiver is at work.

“Right now we work with a lot of projects. My goal is to raise enough to hire staff full-time and buy our house,” she said.

Latin American Child Care has three concepts: compassion, education and transformation. It was founded in 1963 and is present in 21 countries, and the mission is to spread the gospel while providing life skills for the future.

Every year missionaries come through to help with projects. According to Amiot, his organization has had eight groups visit between May and August of this year. Most of the teams come from universities to help with a ministry at the Universidad de Costa Rica and other schools.

This last was a mixed adult and youth group from Brandon, Florida. It was the church’s second mission trip. They were lead by their pastor, Brent Simpson, and prepared skits, testimonies and a video drama to present to the children in Linda Vista.

“As a teacher, I was overwhelmed, but I was very happy to be with kids less fortunate than us,” said visitor Blanca Morales. It was a great experience and this afternoon it was awesome to minister to girls. They are trying their best to protect them from sex trafficking and other evils. We just wanted to bring energy and share our love for Christ. There are great things out there for them.”

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