On a mission: Locals complete projects on Costa Rican journey

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 20, 2016


A group of 28 people, primarily members of First United Methodist Church of Andalusia, recently returned from Costa Rica, where they completed five projects.

But organizer Laura Carpenter said the mission team was really the entire FUMC congregation.

“Our church here just was on fire for this,” she said. “It’s been a God thing.”

The mission trip was born of a previous mission trip in which she participated. It was on that first trip that she saw a great need at a school, and convinced educators at Auburn University at Montgomery, where Carpenter is a former department head and current part-time instructor, to partner with the Costa Rican school.

jenny-rogersWhen she and her husband, Jim, began looking at doing a project in Costa Rica, they hoped to get 10 people to go.

“People just kept signing up and wanting to go,” she said. “I told a group yesterday, ‘Our church is the team.’ Not all of them were on the ground, but they fully funded the whole trip.”

Participants bought their own airline tickets, one meal a day, and incidentals. Each travelled with two suitcases, and filled one with supplies needed for the projects.

Teachers passing out bags.

Teachers passing out bags.

For instance, long before the locals left Andalusia, members of the church had made tote bags for all of the kids. Those bags were later filled with school supplies and distributed at Our Lady of Fatima in Cartaga, Costa Rica.

The community is comprised primarily of immigrants seeking to escape Nicaragua or Honduras. Most live in small tin dwellings.

While the teachers there all have master’s degrees, they were working only with “what’s in their heads,” Carpenter said. “Some of them have white board, but they didn’t have markers.”

The 2016 trip was in partnership with AUM. One of the projects was to present a technology workshop, and an English workshop as professional development for the teachers in Costa Rica. Participants were provided hand-held devices, like tablets, which they were able to use thanks to the second project.

Another former AUM employee, John Fischer, led an effort to install the infrastructure for Internet access at the school. Fisher had visited the school on a previous trip.

“He caught on fire about this,” Carpenter said. “He carried all the routers and wiring he needed in his suitcase.”

Andalusia teen Sim Bowden also worked with Fischer, and by the end of the first day, the teachers had access in the classroom in which they were completing professional development.

Sim Bowden puts in some hard work.

Sim Bowden puts in some hard work.

Meanwhile, others on the trip – many of whom were retired teachers – work doing daily workshops with students, working with 30 different kids each morning and afternoon. They set up four stations designed to help the students learn English.

“One of the stations was music,” Carpenter said “Louisa Baker hauled a keyboard so that we could have music at the school. They loved it.”

The fourth project was to repair the ceilings in two of the classrooms. It rains six months of the year in Costa Rica, and metal roof rafters and panels were falling down.

“Our construction group tore out all of the ceiling replaced it, mudded it, sealed it and put in new lights,” she said.

Dale Pancake, who previously lived in Central America, and who heads Covington County’s Habitat for Humanity, led this team.

The construction crew.

The construction crew.

The group raised enough money to add a fifth project, also a construction project, to extend the roof of a metal building that is a church, so that the church wouldn’t be flooded during the rainy season.

“There were four or five men working up there,” Carpenter said. That crew included Brownie Woodall and Bob Carter.

“They worked with two men from the church who were welders to make the repairs.

“There are always unintended things that happen that you didn’t know, but God knows,” Carpenter said. “What they told us was, because that was being done, all the medical teams, Doctors without Borders, and the dental teams that come through, would have a dry place for services in that area. We just thought we were keeping water out, but we were really extending the mission.”

large-groupBoth Pancake and team member Mary Elizabeth Hobson speak fluent Spanish, but the group also hired an interpreter to assist them.

The trip and the projects were 18 months in the making, Carpenter said.

“Once people decided they were going, then I let them plan it, and run it,” she said. “The teachers planned each one of their stations. It really flowed once everyone understood what we were doing on the trip. Every project took on a life of its own.”


Participants were:

Heather Bailey

Louisa Baker

Sim Bowden

Brooke Burkes

Harold Burnham

Bob Bush

Jim Carpenter

Laura Carpenter

Mary Ann Gantt-Carter

Ob Carter

Jennifer Dinwiddy

Don English of Grove Hill

Jon Fish

Mary Elizabeth Hobson

Sharon Hobson

Amy Ingram

Carol Moore

Dale Pancake

Jenny Rogers

Paul Rogers


Liz Starr

April Thrower

Jason Thrower

Luke Thrower

Robert Williams

Sheila Williams

Brownie Woodall