Painting the apartment
Crafts with seniors
Casa de Dios
I have been traveling through the Midwest for the past month, visiting many churches. Some are involved in creative transforming ministries, and others are struggling to find how God wants to use them to love their communities. In that context, I would like to share with you the circumstances of a new ministry at my church in San José, Costa Rica, with the prayer that it will serve as an inspiration. I’ll let the folks that God touched tell the story.
“Casa de Dios (House of God) is a ministry that the Lord began by sensitizing our hearts with the children in a condominium where we arrived to visit Diana, a member of our church. In front of this deteriorated building, a group of men, surrounded by children, were consuming alcohol and drugs, and this scene jolted us.
After much prayer and conversation, we began a children’s club one Saturday a month in the yard behind the condominium. Then the rainy season arrived and we couldn’t continue outside. What should we do? That’s when God put into our hearts the daring idea of renting an apartment in the building. We didn’t have a penny. When we saw the apartment, our hearts sank: it was uninhabitable, dirty, the wood deteriorated, the bathroom unusable, the walls unpainted. But we began to work and we transformed it into an attractive and welcoming place. We baptized it “Casa de Dios” (House of God).
Once that was done, it was time to present the project to the church. We had begun in a spontaneous, informal way, responding to the needs as we encountered them and little by little inviting people in the congregation to participate. When we proposed that the church formally take on the project as a mission, the enthusiasm was overwhelming.
As we began work at the Casa de Dios, we didn’t want to impose specific activities but respond to the felt needs. With a survey in hand, we went door to door meeting our new neighbors. We discovered a painful reality: there were more than 300 people crowded into very few apartments, many single mothers, many people unemployed or working in the informal sector as gardeners or housekeepers, some without even a primary school education, abundant drugs and alcohol, domestic violence, prostitution, and above all, hopelessness.
We agreed that education was the tool that would break the curse of four generations of poverty and misery. We began a tutoring program and a high school equivalency program. There was a 17 year old boy, son of a prostitute, who had never been to school and didn’t know how to read or write. What opportunity would he have in life without this skill? So we began a literacy course. A member of the church trained in educational psychology evaluated the children with learning problems and advocated for them with the Ministry of Education so that they would be placed in educational programs that would meet their needs.
The community asked us for a time for prayer and Bible study. At the first meeting, 30 people attended. During the survey, we had become aware of a family in which the mother, father and adult son were all without work and had nothing to eat. We took them a basket of food and this made a big impression on them, and at the first meeting, the mother arrived to ask for prayer for a job. The following Tuesday, she returned to give thanks to God because she had found the job that she needed so desperately. Each week there was another answer to prayer and a deep sharing in the group.
This mission has given new life to our congregation. People who had never been active members began to get involved in the Casa de Dios. A man and a woman who were unemployed at that time dedicated themselves to paint the apartment we had rented. Another woman offered to give a sewing class. Others participated in tutoring, Bible studies, discipleship courses, and prayer.
Currently, leaders are rising up among the residents of the condominium. When some computers were donated to the project by a university professor, member of our church, and his students, some of the residents offered to give computer classes. Others are forming a committee to request services and improvements from the the city for the condominium.
What made this ministry possible? Some important aspects are:
- Diana, a respected leader in the condominium, opened doors for us and built trust so the neighbors could receive us.
- From the first visit, we greeted everyone warmly, without exception. We had not arrived to judge or denounce anyone but to help them.
- A holistic vision of God’s new Community: We arrived to serve and respond to the felt needs—spiritual, physical, educational, relational and material—of the people.
- We didn’t arrive with the idea of getting new members for our church, or with preconceived ideas of what should be done.
- We involved the community from the beginning in the process and in each one of the decisions.”
I pray that this story will serve as a blessing and inspiration to you.
Together in ministry,