I personally believe that a church congregation represents the ones who lead and shepherd over it, and Casa Vida paints a beautiful mosaic of this truth and God’s redemptive power. What stood out to me the most when I stepped onto the property of Casa Vida is the church itself. It’s simple–no stained glass windows, no doors, no walls; literally just a roof. A church without walls symbolizes to me the mindset and heart behind the church as a whole.
Tamarindo is a hot spot for tourism in Costa Rica, and sadly as a result has become a hot spot for drugs, alcohol, prostitution, and homelssness. Bumping shoulders with people on the streets, you can’t be for sure who the locals are or who is visiting. Oftentimes in coastal tourist towns, the locals are lost in the hype of it all and those struggling are many times overlooked and ignored. Casa Vida aims to change that–to really see the unlovable and the avoidable. They don’t do outreaches for show or to impress state-side teams who might come down for a few days out of their year. They reach out to their community consistently in an effort to be an active part of where they live, not just as a shiny decoration for entertainment.
Contrary to the majority of traditional churches in Costa Rica, Casa Vida creates a space for the sinner to be wrapped in grace and love.
They seek out the lost so that they may be found–at all costs. From my first of many trips to Costa Rica, I remember huddling around a table full of hot pizzas in a dilapidated skatepark, rain pouring down all around us, and Pastor Alex delivering a message of hope in Christ for anyone who was there to listen or just needed a meal. He closed the message with an invitation to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, but to also remind all who were listening that they would always have a place at Casa Vida. There were no preliminaries that needed to be handled before they could enter; just a welcoming “come as you are” invitation.
As a member of Ride Nature, every time I left Tamarindo I left encouraged. That is the goal for overseas missions. Not to serve in an effort that is hinged on a team, leaving a void once the group returns home. It’s not meant to be another stamp in a passport, a check on a humanitarian box, or an adventurous story told to friends at a party. To enter into a world where ministry is already taking place, to be able to lift the hands of the leaders as Aaron lifted the hands of Moses during battle–this is what short term trips should look like. Standing, serving, and equipping the work that is currently taking place lifts up a community and allows others a place to return and familiar faces to seek out.
As outsiders, it's our job to fully humble ourselves and turn all the attention to the beacon of life that is already in the unbeliever’s proximity.
I vividly remember something Abner, a leader from Casa Vida, said, “We don’t need people who can paint the fence again, we need people who are willing to open their mouths and share the Gospel.” Most of the pastors leading the church were at the end of their ropes; they had hit rock bottom. In listening to their stories, there was a resounding “but God” turnaround point in each of their lives. The body of believers in Casa Vida is diverse; it isn’t cookie-cutter, and I pray it never will be. The unique salvation stories of each leader gives them a new vantage point of the sinner. When they see them in their sin, they see their own past and their continued fierce need for God.
The men and women who lead Casa Vida are God’s mouthpiece; His very hands and feet. They don’t take the call of God lightly. They’ve been chosen to bring their own neighbors to the foot of the cross and to share with them an unexplainable love.
I’m reminded of how fearless and brave these men are as they walk the same streets in righteousness that they once wandered around in sin. To be called to shine your light in the same community where you once lived in darkness is a big ask. To accept it, I can only imagine how terrifying it could be. More often than not, the people who watch you stumble in the streets are the harshest critics when you decide to turn your life around; yet these same critics are the ones that are being fought for, because with every opportunity there is an urgency to share the hope that transformed the life being judged.
We have seen first hand the leaders of Casa Vida living out the Great Commission, the call from Christ to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” These men, whom many were known for fist fighting in the streets, are fighting once again, but this time for their community, rather than against it. My prayer is that we will all be inspired to do the same.