The first Resurrection spiritual weekend in Costa Rica was in its final hour when the people who worked hard to make it happen could no longer hold back their emotions. They cried and embraced as they watched hundreds of young people go to the altar.
When the electric guitars finally fell silent and the worshippers were on their way home, emotions were on hold again as the organizers broke down, packed and cleaned up the worship space they helped create.
“I’m so excited. I have so many feelings inside. I want to cry, but I can’t because I have to work,” said Yadir Santiago Soto, a youth pastor and leader of the Costa Rica organizing team. “Next year, we want to have double the number of people.”
In its inaugural year, Resurrection in Costa Rica was attended by 750 youth and young adults from throughout the nation, most from congregations in the Evangelical Methodist Church of Costa Rica.
Held Oct. 11-13 in La Fortuna, Costa Rica, the spiritual gathering in a tourist town was inspired by Holston Conference’s 34-year-old Resurrection youth ministry, which reaches as many as 10,000 in the Great Smoky Mountains of east Tennessee every January.
“There are not enough words to describe what happened,” said Reagan Kelly, a member of the mission team that traveled from Tennessee to support the Costa Rican design team. “We pulled it off. It was one of the most transparent moments I’ve ever had, of being able to see God’s love so clearly.”
On the first and second nights of the event, 246 made first-time commitments to relationships with Jesus Christ. On the last day, about 400 committed to full-time Christian service.
As a wall of people moved to the front of the church during final worship, gospel singer Harold Guerra asked them to turn and look toward the doors at the back of the sanctuary.
“You’re not looking inside the church. You’re looking outside the church,” Guerra said in Spanish. “You are saying, ‘I’m taking this Gospel to the nations, to the generations.’ You’re accepting the call to go ‘over there.'”
Resurrection in Costa Rica was organized by a leadership team including the Evangelical Methodist Church of Costa Rica; Samaritan Hands; and Holston Conference’s Resurrection Design Team.
The three-day event featured Latino preachers, worship leaders and musicians. Guerra sang praise music along with his wife and recording-artist partner, Elena Witt, daughter of Latin Grammy Award winner Marcos Witt.
The praise band, Save Our Souls, led most of the music. The band’s front man, Lester Guevara, wrote a theme song which was quickly captured by worshippers. Throughout the weekend, participants sang and danced to the chorus of Dios de Amor:
“Quiero adorarte por los siglos. Resucitaste, eres Dios de amor.” / “I want to worship you forever. You are resurrected, you are God of love.”
Other worship leaders included Job Gonzalez, pastor and recording artist from McAllen, Texas; and the Rev. Roberto Blanco, associate pastor at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Houston, Texas.
Blanco, a native of Cuba, played his trumpet and testified to answering God’s call to serve in Brazil and the U.S.
“Do you want to stay with the fish or do you want to go with Jesus?” Blanco asked in Spanish. “There are a lot of people today who want to stay with the fish, but the fishes aren’t forever.”
Organizers from the U.S. were called on stage and celebrated for their roles in bringing Resurrection to Costa Rica, including the Rev. Jerry Russell, director of Samaritan Hands; the Rev. Jason Roe, leader of the U.S. Resurrection Design Team; Roger Murphy of Samaritan Hands and Fairview United Methodist Church; and the Rev. Hugh Kilgore, one of three youth pastors who founded Resurrection in 1985.
“God is doing a new thing, and you are part of it,” Kilgore told the Resurrection crowd.
Bishop Mary Virginia “Dindy” Taylor, resident bishop of Holston Conference, was also present with her husband, the Rev. Rusty Taylor; her assistant, Lori Sluder; and Holston director of connectional ministries, the Rev. Mike Sluder.
A mission team including about 40 Holston Conference youth, clergy, and other church members spent a week in Costa Rica, leading five vacation Bible schools in different neighborhoods before arriving in La Fortuna to help staff the three-day spiritual event. A team of about 45 from the Evangelical Church of Costa Rica led in planning and hosting the event, Russell said.
Team members from the U.S. not only prepared registration materials and moved equipment (among other tasks) to get ready for Resurrection worshippers in Iglesia Rompiendo Limites, the church where the sessions were held. The mission team also helped serve meals to Resurrection youth in a nearby Catholic dining hall and organized games and recreation at a nearby school.
Each $40 admission ticket covered the music and message sessions as well as meals and hotels, Roe explained. Costa Rican congregations were encouraged to sponsor their youth to attend, but contributions from the U.S. largely supported the event.
“The biggest contributors to this are the Resurrection youth, and the majority of those are Holston Conference kids,” said Roe, referring to a $30,000 offering taken during Resurrection last January in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. “We seeded this ministry so that it would take root. We hope it will spread and become self-sustaining.”
Other financial supporters included Samaritan Hands, Fairview United Methodist Church (Maryville, Tennessee), the Holston Foundation, and Holston Conference Hispanic/ Latino Ministries. The event was funded – including hotels, food, and scholarships – with $45,000 total, Russell said.
Participants in the Oct. 11-13 weekend said Christian concerts and camps are common in their communities, but Resurrection offered something more.
Kobe Gutierrez, 18, from Grecia, Alajuela, Costa Rica, said he liked worshipping with people from other parts of his nation and gathering for a weekend experience. “It’s more open and more relaxing,” he said. “The food was good, too.”
Kendall Barrantes, 16, from San Jose, Costa Rica, said he cherished the friends he made with youth on the U.S. mission team. Barrantes showed off rubber bracelets and a cross necklace his new friends had given him.
“Coming here was such a different experience,” Barrantes said. “This connects us with different cultures, different countries, people I have never seen before. I enjoyed every single part of it.”
Guevera said that in his band’s 10 years of playing Christian concerts, Resurrection was “one of the biggest I’ve ever seen. Not just because of the numbers, but because of what God is doing. What I have never seen before is that everyone stood up [in response to altar calls].”
In order to participate on the U.S. mission team, Jacob Goodman said he missed a week of classes at Mountain Empire Community College in Big Stone Gap, Virginia. “I’m so glad I did. I love it here. In that church, I couldn’t understand a thing. But you could feel the presence of God.”
Russell said he will meet with the Costa Rican leadership team in early November, as they hope to organize a second Resurrection in 2020 or 2021. Another goal is to begin a Resurrection event in Zimbabwe, where Samaritan Hands and Holston Conference already have mission partners.
Russell is a retired Holston pastor who has worked for decades in developing United Methodist missions throughout the world. On the Resurrection stage, he held a large globe and spoke in Spanish to the crowd about the enormity of God’s good news “for all the languages, for all the people of the world.” When they returned home from Resurrection, he told his listeners, they will be changed.
“People will ask, ‘Where have you been?’” Russell said. “And we will say, ‘We have been with God and with our brothers and sisters in Christ. We have been at Resurrection and with the Resurrected One.’”
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