Costa Rica

By Luis Rubio

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Luis Rubio Montalban, M.A., now pursuing a doctoral degree in pastoral ministry (Inter-American Adventist Theological Seminary, campus of Adventist University of Central America, Alajuela, Costa Rica), has served the Church for 28 years as a district pastor, high school principal, chaplain, university professor, and administrator of South-Central Costa Rica Conference.

Country Description

Costa Rica is a country in Central America. It has a land area of 51,100 square kilometers. It shares borders with Nicaragua to the north, the Caribbean Sea to the east, Panama to the southeast, and the Pacific Ocean to the west. “It has a diversity of animal and plant species characteristic of the intertropical zone…. Costa Rica, due to its isthmic position, [resembles] a biological and cultural bridge that allows the meeting of forest species and animals as well as cultures from the north and south of the continent.”1

The first settlers of the region arrived from Spain in 1492. Therefore, the greatest cultural influence has been European. This is demonstrated in aspects of the country such as Spanish being the official language, the colón being the official currency, and Roman Apostolic Catholic being the official religion. Different groups that migrated to Costa Rica over the years coexist mostly for economic reasons. Migrants have been German, Belgian, French, North American, Polish, Jamaican, Italian, Chinese, Cuban, Nicaraguan, Venezuelan, Colombian, and others. All the migrants to Costa Rica find it easy to intertwine with the social knit of the “Tico” (cultural name adopted by Costa Ricans).2

Costa Rica is a country with open doors to migrants since the conditions of peace and social harmony have favored the flow of people from different countries in search of better conditions for their families. This results in a growing cultural mix between Costa Rica’s people. A 2020 estimate states the population to be at 5,094,118 with a density of 220 per square mile.3 Costa Rica is a presidential, representative democratic republic with a legislative, executive, and judicial branch.4 Catholic is the official religion, but freedom of worship is guaranteed. According to a recent survey, only 52 percent of the population surveyed declared themselves Catholic.5

Arrival of Seventh-day Adventists and Growth of Church in Country

The first Adventist pastor to arrive in Costa Rica was Frank Hutchins. He was the first resident worker who pastored the coast of the Central American Caribbean in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. With the support of his wife, Cora, Frank worked as a dentist, colporteur, and pastor.6 At that time, the most effective means of transport through the region was by boat. He rented his first boat for his trips around the Central American countries until he was able to buy a missionary schooner for his work, which was named the “Herald.”

In Costa Rica, the Hutchinses served as true missionaries by attending to the physical, mental, and spiritual needs of the inhabitants of the territory. As colporteurs, they shared spiritual literature. The books they sold included Christ’s Object Lessons and the “Bible Readings for the Home Circle” series.

The first group of people that demonstrated interest in the Adventist faith began to meet near Puerto Limón. Pastor Hutchins preached and baptized the first converts to the Adventist message. One of the first converts that was baptized (possibly in the sea) was an artisan whose last name was Wright.

Pastor Frank Hutchins worked tirelessly for 11 consecutive years with his wife without taking vacations. These were very difficult years because the conditions were precarious. However, they were persistent in their missionary efforts. Years later, Pastor Hutchins fell ill in Bocas del Toro, Panama, and died on August 4, 1902, at the age of 33. His last words were: “…may His will be done.”7

“About 1902 H. Louie Mignott, C. N. Moulton, and two other colporteurs named Horton and Brooks worked [in Limón]. In 1903 I. G. Knight, who succeeded Hutchins, reported in the Review and Herald…10 baptisms and the organization of a church of 26, presumably at Pacuarito, some distance from Limón.”8

According to the official documents of the Adventist Church, two congregations already existed in Costa Rica in 1904. One met in Pacuarito, and the other met in Puerto Limón.9

Pioneers

In 1903, Pastor I. G. Knight and his wife, who continued the work that Pastor and Mrs. Hutchins started, visited towns along the railroads between Limón and San José and started selling English literature and offering Bible studies. The language barrier was one of the first challenges they faced since the majority of San José’s population did not speak or read English. Other workers sent by the Church came to this area to help in the evangelistic effort. “The reports in the Review and Herald indicated that by 1906 there were several churches in the country [of Costa Rica] and that a worker, T. M. Brown, was doing evangelistic work in San José, the capital city.”10

In the early 1920s, Brother Juan Holder, a colporteur, arrived from the Panama Canal area with his wife and two children. The Holders settled in a small house in the Aranjuez neighborhood of San José. Every Saturday, the Holders met as a family to study the Bible in their home. They invited neighbors and acquaintances to participate in the study of the Bible and sing praises to God. Their effort to share God’s word was not in vain since, a short time later, the Friddel family joined them.

Juan Holder worked for several years going door to door and selling Christian books and literature. One day, he invited Brother Friddel to accompany him. Thanks to his example, Brother Friddel also became a colporteur.

In 1924, Mrs. Holder met Anita Mais de Rodríguez, who was interested in knowing more about the Bible. Mrs. Holder offered to study the Bible with Anita. Months later, she joined a new group of believers and began observing the Sabbath that Adventists also observe. Around this time, Pastor Polly was sent to visit the new believers and performed a ceremony during which members of the Mais de Rodríguez family were baptized.11

Spread of the Message

The first Adventist congregations mainly formed along the Caribbean coast. Also, countless small congregations grew near train stops along the railroad, including that of Cairo of Siquirres. The brethren met on Saturdays in the house of Brother John Barr, a former Methodist pastor. In 1916, a small church was built in Cairo of Siquirres. Years later, a two-story building was constructed. The first floor was a school, and the second floor was used for church services.12

In the capital, San José, in 1931, Pastor N. W. Dunn held an evangelistic campaign and baptized eight people. Membership there grew to 52. Costa Rica had five churches and 214 members by that time.13 By 1979, there were 16 pastoral districts.14 By 1999, Costa Rica Mission had 83 churches and 25,332 members.15

Educational Institutions

Universidad Adventista de Centro América: First known as Academia Adventista Hispanoamericana in 1927, it was located in San José on the south side of La Sabana. In 1932, it moved to Dulce Nombre de Tres Ríos. In 1945, it changed its name to Colegio Vocacional de América Central. In 1950, it moved to La Ceiba, Alajuela. In 1970, it was recognized as Centro Adventista de Estudios Superiores. In 1986, the Costa Rica government recognized it as Universidad Adventista de Centro América.16

Centro Educativo Adventista Bilingüe de Costa Rica: First known as Hatillo School, they received authorization for its construction on February 12, 1974, and to start courses in 1975. On October 14, 1982, the construction of a secondary school began.17 In 1982, it changed its name to Centro Educativo Adventista de Costa Rica. Due to the English-teaching emphasis, its name changed years later to Centro Educativo Adventista Bilingüe de Costa Rica.18

Centro Educativo Adventista de Limón: First known as Escuela Adventista de Limón, it began teaching in English in the 1920s in the classrooms of the English-speaking Adventist Church. In 1975, Escuela Adventista de Puerto Limón was inaugurated. In 1983, Brother Marvin McColpin donated nine hectares of land to construct a school. In 1984, the school was established under the name Centro Educativo Adventista de Limón.19

Centro Educativo Adventista de Paso Canoas: First known as Escuela Adventista de Paso Canoas, it is located in the southern part of Costa Rica and borders Panama. It began offering classes in 1984 as the Iglesia Adventista de Paso Canoas. Years later, it changed its name to Centro Educativo Adventista de Paso Canoas. In 2002, volunteers from the Maranatha ministry constructed six classrooms, two offices, a gym, and bathrooms.20 In 2012, volunteer students from Newbury Park Adventist Academy in California built a new classroom section.21

Centro Educativo Adventista de Cartago: First known as Escuela Adventista de Cartago in 1988, its name was changed years later to Centro Educativo Adventista de Cartago.22

Other Institutions

Esperanza TV Costa Rica: First known as TV Advent, it began operations in February 2012. In March 2013, its name changed to Esperanza TV Costa Rica. In August 2013, it became part of the Hope Channel network and was registered as TV Producciones Costarricenses Sociedad Anónima. It is based in South-Central Costa Rica Conference in Barrio Escalante, San José. It is the first 24-hour online channel in Costa Rica. Its programming is retransmitted from the Nuevo Tiempo channel in South America. Up to 2019, its programming was retransmitted to 72 cable operators in eight Spanish-speaking countries.23

El Farolito Centro Médico Sociedad Anónima: First known as Consultorio Médico ADRA and inaugurated in June 2007, it is based in South-Central Costa Rica Conference. It was the first Adventist health institution duly recognized by the Costa Rican Ministry of Health.24 Years later, it changed its name to El Farolito Centro Médico Sociedad Anónima.25

Radio Lira: It first aired on the 1540 KHz AM frequency. The first program aired on September 19, 1983. In 1990, the 88.7 FM frequency was acquired.26 By 2019, the radio program covered all of Costa Rica except the southern part.

Administrative Units

In 1928, Costa Rica-Nicaragua Mission was established with four churches and 152 members.27 In 1954, a property on Avenida 10 in San José was bought, and a two-level building was built there. The first floor was used as the mission’s offices, and the second floor was used for church meetings.28

Costa Rica Mission had 130 churches and 44,912 members in 2004.29 Due to such church growth, cultural differences, and the need for better pastoral care, three administrative units were established in 2005: Caribbean Costa Rica Mission with 44 churches and 10,214 members, Central-South Costa Rica Mission with 57 churches and 17,692 members, and North Costa Rica Mission with 53 churches and 16,196 members.30

Church and Community

The Adventist Church has maintained good relations with the government of Costa Rica. On May 7, 1993, the president of Costa Rica, Rafael Ángel Calderón Fournier, visited Universidad Adventista de Centro América to strengthen ties with the Adventist community.31

Through the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA), the Adventist Church participates in assisting people who are affected by natural disasters that reach the country. In 1996, the Costa Rican government recognized ADRA for its assistance and support in mitigating the effects of Hurricane Cesar in the south part of the country.32 In general, the community has a positive image of the Adventist Church.

Challenges

The Seventh-day Adventist Church in Costa Rica faces the following challenges:

  • Increase the territory covered by the means of communication that the church has access to through the Inter-American Division. The industrial revolution that we currently live in provides the means to utilize many communication platforms to spread the message and fulfill the mission.

  • Encourage church members to fulfill the mission of becoming disciples as commissioned by the Lord Jesus Christ in Matthew 28:18-20.

Sources

“Costa Rica.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Accessed June 3, 2021. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Costa_Rica.

González, Daniel. “Migración e identidad cultural en Costa Rica.” Revista de Ciencias Sociales de la Universidad de Costa Rica (1840-1940). Author’s personal collection.

Greenleaf, Floyd. The Seventh-day Adventist Church in Latin America and the Caribbean. Vol. 1. Berrien Springs, Michigan: Andrews University Press, 1992.

Murillo, Álvaro. “Ahora solo la mitad de los ticos se declara católica.” Seminario Universidad. March 6, 2018. Accessed June 3, 2021. https://semanariouniversidad.com/destacadas/ahora-solo-la-mitad-los-ticos-se-declara-catolica/.

Parrilla, Jewell. El Rey de la Tormenta. Miami, Florida: Inter-American Division Publishing Association, 1998.

“Politics of Costa Rica.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Accessed June 3, 2021. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Politics_of_Costa_Rica.

Rubio Montalbán, Luis. Los adventistas en Costa Rica…un siglo de avance. Costa Rica: self-published, 2002.

Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia. Second revised edition. Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing, 1996. S.v. “Costa Rica.”

Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook. Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association. Various years. .

South-Central Costa Rica Conference secretariat archives, San José, Costa Rica.

Notes

  1. http://www.fao.org/forestry/40021-072df4eef5a6e662193ff1698abb61aa6.pdf, accessed May 31, 2021.

  2. Daniel González Ch., “Migración e identidad cultural en Costa Rica,” Revista de Ciencias Sociales de la Universidad de Costa Rica (1840-1940), author’s personal collection.

  3. “Costa Rica,” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia, accessed June 3, 2021, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Costa_Rica.

  4. “Politics of Costa Rica,” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia, accessed June 3, 2021, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Politics_of_Costa_Rica.

  5. Álvaro Murillo, “Ahora solo la mitad de los ticos se declara católica,” Seminario Universidad, March 6, 2018, accessed June 3, 2021, https://semanariouniversidad.com/destacadas/ahora-solo-la-mitad-los-ticos-se-declara-catolica/.

  6. Jewell Parrilla, El Rey de la Tormenta (Miami, Florida: Inter-American Division Publishing Association, 1998), 83.

  7. Ibid., 116, 117.

  8. Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia (1996), s.v. “Costa Rica.”

  9. Floyd Greenleaf, The Seventh-day Adventist Church in Latin America and the Caribbean, 1 (Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews University Press, 1992), 133.

  10. Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia (1996), s.v. “Costa Rica.”

  11. Luis Rubio Montalbán, Los adventistas en Costa Rica…un siglo de avance (Costa Rica: self-published, 2002), 25.

  12. Ibid., 14.

  13. Greenleaf, 1:297, 355.

  14. Rubio Montalbán, 77.

  15. “Costa Rica Mission,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1999), 132.

  16. Rubio Montalbán, 142-150.

  17. Ibid., 136.

  18. South-Central Costa Rica Conference secretariat archives.

  19. Rubio Montalbán, 133, 134.

  20. Ibid., 38.

  21. Eduardo González, interview by author, San José, Costa Rica, March 19, 2012.

  22. Rubio Montalbán, 138.

  23. Daniel Valerín, interview by author, San José, Costa Rica, June 29, 2019.

  24. Roberto Romero, interview by author, San José, Costa Rica, June 30, 2019.

  25. South-Central Costa Rica Conference secretariat archives.

  26. Rubio Montalbán, 156-159.

  27. “Costa Rica-Nicaragua Mission,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Takoma Park, Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1928), 243.

  28. Rubio Montalbán, 68, 71.

  29. “Costa Rica Mission,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 2004), 137.

  30. “Caribbean Costa Rica Mission,” “Central-South Costa Rica Mission,” and “North Costa Rica Mission,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 2005), 139-140.

  31. Rubio Montalbán, 154.

  32. Ibid., 181.

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Rubio, Luis. "Costa Rica." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. June 09, 2021. Accessed September 21, 2021. https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=8HZE.

Rubio, Luis. "Costa Rica." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. June 09, 2021. Date of access September 21, 2021, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=8HZE.

Rubio, Luis (2021, June 09). Costa Rica. Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. Retrieved September 21, 2021, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=8HZE.