GREENFIELD — Olivia Halcomb saw the busy traffic on the streets of Costa Rica and found it scattered, with motorcycles or scooters zipping in and out.
“There’s no rules or laws to driving,” she said, or at least it appeared that way sometimes.
When Olivia and her youth group from Bethel Baptist Church in Greenfield visited Costa Rica earlier this month, there was also potential for scatteredness in the youth rally they were helping organize there. Though they were speaking English and the Costa Rican youth speaking Spanish, they still found ways to enjoy each other’s company and encourage each other.
“It was just crazy how we could still have all of that fun together,” said Olivia, an incoming junior at Eastern Hancock High School.
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Interpreters smoothed the interactions as teens gathered for lunch and light-hearted games at the rally, followed by preaching by Tommy Hensley, associate pastor at Bethel Baptist.
Hensley has been to Costa Rica many times with Randall Parker, senior pastor of the church (Olivia’s grandfather). Years ago, Parker became friends with Larry Neff of Lighthouse Children’s Home, which has seven children’s homes in six countries. The home in Costa Rica houses 22 children, ranging in age from 3 to 19. They are raised as one big family with the house parents as Mom and Dad. Matt Sweet, who was part of Bethel but felt called by God in 2008 to work in Costa Rica, is a father figure. His wife, Lorna, is from Costa Rica and is also among those working with the children.
Hensley said the children’s home receives monthly support from Bethel, which supports 57 missionaries. Though he and Parker have traveled there many times over the years, this year church leaders decided to forego teen church camp for a summer and take a group of teens to Costa Rica. Twenty-two teens and chaperones made the journey.
“We just thought this year would be a great trip for the teens to be able to see that and experience it,” Hensley said.
The Bethel youth spent time with the children at the Lighthouse home, playing soccer and sharing devotional time together in the evenings. The rally gathered about 175 youths from the surrounding area in the gymnasium at the children’s home.
Jacob Harvey, a 2016 graduate of Mt. Vernon High School, made several observations on the trip. He noticed that the news there included many stories about events in the United States and that the Costa Rican youths really love their football.
“They play soccer seriously, like 24/7 — that’s all they want to do,” he said.
He also noticed that, though typically not owning as much stuff as the average American teen, “they’re probably three times as happy as the average American.” He said a lesson of the trip for him was simply to be more grateful for what he has.
Olivia’s estimate was higher; she said they’re 10 times happier.
“They have so much joy because they’re focused on the right things,” she said. Along with gratitude, she said the trip underscored to her the importance of giving.
Hensley knew the trip was eye-opening for the teens. He’s hoping it’s a formative trip for those who will be tomorrow’s church leaders.
“We wanted to try to show the kids what we do and what we believe in at the church,” he said. “To be Christ, not just here at home … but around the world.”