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Members from local church take mission trip to Costa Rica

NATCHEZ — Ten Jefferson Street United Methodist Church members completed an eight-day expedition in Costa Rica last month, said the Rev. Bill Barksdale.

“It’s a very powerful experience,” Barksdale said. “We learned about their culture and interacted with elementary-age children in school.”

Barksdale said their group joined the Rice and Beans Ministries, a non-denominational organization that invites religious groups to Costa Rican neighborhoods to distribute food bags to families, build and make repairs on houses and work with children.

Church member, Mary Lou Laird, organized the trip after a Rice and Beans director, Fred Curry, visited and explained what the ministry was about in December 2017.

“It took us a couple of years to get it together, but we finally did,” Laird said. “It was a very humbling and wonderful experience. It makes you appreciate the very small things in life, like warm water. The people we saw were very grateful, thankful Christian people. Not once did they ever ask for anything. They were just thankful that we came and prayed with them.”

Jefferson Street members departed June 15 and returned June 22 after a week of fun, fellowship and hard work, Barksdale said.

Church members were split into teams that hosted Vacation Bible School activities and helped with construction on dormitories and a cafeteria for the Rice and Beans Campus, located in Poas, Costa Rica, near San Rafael.

Each member also ventured into eight-to-10 different neighborhoods to pass out bags of food, little girls’ dresses that were handmade by other church members and footballs — or soccer balls as Americans call them — to the young boys.

“We handed out approximately 50 bags of food each day around town that were large enough to feed a family of four for a week,” Barksdale said. “We also had worship at night with other church groups that were there.”

Though many couldn’t communicate with the school children in Spanish, Rice and Beans provided a translator and Natchez music director Kathleen Mackey-King taught music to the school children using color-coded hand bells and cards.

“Music is a universal language,” Barksdale said, “and these kids were able to receive and resonate with the message through it.”

While some materials were provided for them, Barksdale said his team brought arts and crafts materials and gifts that they left behind for the children when returning to the United States.

However, the group did leave with more blessings and memories than they arrived with, Barksdale said.

“We certainly were very blessed with the opportunity to be there and our church was very responsive to it,” Barksdale said. “We sent back emails with pictures every day.”

Laird said she would never forget seeing so many people who were satisfied with so little.

“I saw how happy people can be that have nothing — just the bare basics in life,” Laird said. “Everyone we saw seemed to be happy, and didn’t expect anything. They were satisfied with what we brought them, just rice, beans, powdered milk and some flour.

“We asked them if there was anything special they wanted us to pray with them about and more times than not, they asked us to pray for ourselves and our ministry. Not once did they ask for anything material, just health, family and jobs. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen anything like it.”