My team and I met Javier Brenes during our first year running WinShape Camps International in Costa Rica. He was intentional, capable and reliable. He was a distinct leader while serving with us as a volunteer, and clearly had a tender heart for children and families.
Little did we know how many lives he and his wife would change in his home community after we left—and with time, how far the work of his team would travel.
Javier took the skills he had learned at our international camp experience and used them to continue investing in the children and families where he lived. He faithfully continued to serve the Lord, and we were overjoyed upon returning to his community to hear how the Lord worked through him. But Javier didn’t stop there.
He created a modified camp experience to reach children who’d never had a camp experience before, as they lived in areas accessible only by foot. He developed a community of volunteers who loved and served children with the same joy and insight as he did.
Javier is a tremendous gift to us, to his community and to the children he’s reached. He, his wife and the other leaders in his community ran camp on their own this year. They’ve been bringing camp—and the message of Jesus Christ—to Costa Rican children outside of the reach of most people and organizations. To us, this is the best possible outcome for cross-cultural ministry.
The core of cross-cultural ministry is, of course, sharing the gospel with others. But the key that we sometimes can miss, despite our best intentions, is empowering local communities. Rather than entering already-established communities to show them how we do things, we must listen, learn, and then steward shared resources, tools and partnerships to serve the church well.
That’s because an essential part of Javier’s success is that he knows his community like we never could. Over the past four years leading WinShape Camps International, I’ve seen over and over again that locally-led summer camps can empower communities all over the world, in an honoring and unique way.
We work alongside our partners at ThriveWorx and Lifeshape Brasil, for instance, to execute fun day camp experiences in Brazil and Costa Rica during the spring and summer. However, that isn’t our final goal—though the joy of summer camp is undeniably a benefit of the work.
Our long-term focus is to come alongside local leaders and volunteers like Javier to model, partner, coach and equip them with the skills necessary to run transformative camps. After three years of training, these leaders are equipped to plan and execute locally-led camps in their communities on their own.
Then they go out and they impact the world. In Javier’s case, they hike into remote reaches of Costa Rica and bring the delight of play and hope of the Gospel to children who’ve never been to camp before.
This work is our shared joy. But it’s also a serious task, one with wide-reaching implications for the local church.
Ephesians 4:12 says, “Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ.”