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On a mission: Soccer teams travel to Costa Rica
By Annalise Venhuizen

When 13 members of the Calvin women's soccer team as well as 21 members of the Calvin men's soccer team got on a plane to Costa Rica this past August, they had no itinerary but knew there would be one experience for which they were well prepared. “We knew we'd play soccer,” junior Juliana Litts said. “Beyond soccer, we did not know what to expect.”

As they stepped off the plane, it became clear that the scene was something they couldn't have prepared for. “You always have those ideas of poverty that you see on TV, but you never think it's real. I had never experienced such poverty,” senior Leah Scholten said, who helped plan the trip through SCORE International, an organization that arranges mission trips for sports teams.

Women's soccer team in Costa Rica

“When we got there, I immediately saw how things were really different,” Litts said. “The first thing I noticed is that Costa Rica isn't as wealthy or safe as the United States. Everything was gated and locked.”

Besides the economic differences, the team members became aware of many cultural differences that they did not expect. “Culturally it was hard for me to adjust to the slow pace. The Costa Ricans don't have the same sense of communication and timeliness. We had to learn to be really flexible,” Scholten said.

Calvin women's soccer coach Mark Recker, who accompanied the soccer team for the 10-day trip, pointed out the importance of encountering other cultures. “Being on time is much different. We had to learn patience with how the other culture operated. Having such experiences allows us to temper our own judgments and our own personal rules.”

Another unexpected but appreciated aspect of the Costa Rican culture was the response of the citizens to the missionary work the team did in the cities and on the soccer field. “The people are so open to being shared with. They're just thirsty for whatever you have to offer,” Litts said.

Women's soccer team in Costa RicaThe team spent a day in San Jose distributing pamphlets about the gospel and local churches. The Costa Ricans were very receptive. “Most would come up to us and ask for the pamphlet, then stop, stand and read it. Then they would ask a question if they were interested,” Scholten said. “Some of them really were interested and talked to the missionaries that came with us for quite a while.”

Senior Jared Litty of the men's soccer team also recapped the experience of witnessing in San Jose.

“Our time in San Jose was very rewarding spiritually, as we were each given a large stack of tracts to hand out to passersby on the streets,” Litty said. “I approached them with the phrase, ‘un regalo para usted' — a gift for you. Most people just took them out of obligation, several didn't even acknowledge us, but a few people asked what the small pamphlets were about, which was encouraging because we were able to talk about el Dios [God] and Jésu Cristo [Jesus Christ] with them.

“Several came back asking for more to hand out to their friends. After about an hour, it was clear that our large group of close to 40 was effectively spreading the word of God, as it was harder to spot people without a pamphlet than those with one in hand. I have never done anything like that, so it was a new experience for me, a very rewarding one.”

Coming into the trip, the teams were not sure how many soccer games they would play or how much missionary work they should expect, but they soon saw that these endeavors went hand in hand. “Our first game was the most competitive. The rest of the teams were local city teams or a high school PE class that weren't much of a challenge,” Scholten said. “We learned that we didn't come to Costa Rica to play soccer — it was about the mission.”