“Manuela” a pregnancy help worker in Costa Rica, was touched when she heard a pastor’s wife and speaker from the U.S. preach on the importance of not giving up on your God-given dreams.
The message could not have been more fitting. She was a worship leader until her husband, who was also a worship leader, died in a car accident. She had not sung since her husband died.
“That was a really incredible story about how God touched her, about not giving up on her dream, so we gathered around her and prayed for her and her family,” said Dianna Wheeler, one of the leaders of The Refuge Pregnancy Center in San Jose, Costa Rica, which brought the mission team to the Central American nation earlier this spring.
The mission team that Wheeler led had 13 women from three different churches. The women included pregnancy center workers, teachers, nurses, college-age women and a pastor’s wife/author.
Scenes from this spring's mission trip | Photo Courtesy: The Refuge
The team ministered three days total in Costa Rica: one day to 25-30 pregnancy center leaders (like Manuela) and two days to pregnancy center clients (60-75 women total). The team taught classes on hygiene and baby care, self-esteem, stress management, CPR, and studying the Bible. They also did crafts with the women and children and fed them lunch and snacks.
“Some of the feedback from the trip was that we really made the women feel special and that we really ministered to them personally,” Wheeler said. “A lot of tears, a lot of prayer, just an incredible experience, so much so that we are planning to do it every year.”
Connecting for Ministry in Costa Rica
Wheeler and Melissa Mixon, the pregnancy center director, have a unique partnership. In 2012, Wheeler was a stay-at-home mom living in Arkansas with a son in high school and son in college. When an acquaintance told Wheeler she felt God leading her to tell her about a local pregnancy center, Wheeler began a new track in her life as a center manager at Life Choices pregnancy center for five years.
“I had never done anything like that before, but I just knew it was the right thing to do,” Wheeler said. “I wasn’t equipped for it or trained for it at the time, but I felt the Lord leading that that’s what I was supposed to do.”
Her stint as center manager came to an end when she and her husband moved to Oklahoma in 2017. But her work in the pregnancy help community was far from over.
Wheeler’s husband Lynn is a traveling evangelist who had stocked up many air miles, so Wheeler and her husband had a tradition to vacation together at the end of each year. That year, they decided to travel to Costa Rica. Wheeler’s friend told her about a mission trip she went on to Guatemala, and for the first time, Wheeler began to develop a heart for overseas mission. However, she wanted to wait to see if her husband felt the same call before giving weight to her feelings.
“At the end of our vacation, we talked about how lovely the people were, and my husband said, ‘You know what, I think we should look into doing some ministry here,” Wheeler said.
In 2013, the Wheelers began emailing ministries in Costa Rica to offer to help fundraise or to send short-term mission teams. After not getting any responses for about six to eight months, Wheeler connected with her cousin who went on annual mission trips to Costa Rica. He knew of a couple named Micah and Melissa Mixon who had been serving as missionaries in Costa Rica since 2012.
Mixon and her husband had created a community center ministry called Til He Returns that serves children and adults. The community center has English tutoring and crafts for children, as well as job skills training for women.
“We’d teach cooking, sewing, jewelry, massage skills, nails—anything that can give a woman who is at home with her child (and may feel like she’s feel trapped and they can’t leave a bad relationship or something like that) a way to earn money without having to leave their families,” Mixon said. “So, we teach skills and it empowers women and provides them with resources.”
The year prior to meeting Wheeler, Mixon had gained experience volunteering in one of the first pregnancy centers in Costa Rica.
“The pregnancy center falls directly in line with the vision that we have to be able to serve a community of people and provide different services to get them out of the streets, out of the slums, just to restore lives and relationships,” Mixon said. “It’s been the main part of our ministry and produces the most fruit in all that we do.”
They also have music and dance classes to appeal to youth and get them into a discipleship program and church.
“We don’t want our pregnancy center to limit them from getting their entire family to Christ,” Mixon said. “We’ve provided other avenues to where, yes, our main focus is the pregnancy center, but when it comes to restoring the whole family to Christ, we have systems in place to reach the entire family.”
Wheeler and her husband serve in an advisory role to the center: They help raise funds, gather baby boutique donations in the U.S., and work on mobilizing short-term mission teams to serve at the center. Mixon focuses on the day-to-day tasks.
“Melissa is fluent in Spanish which makes her invaluable,” Wheeler said. “She’s familiar with the culture and the people. She’s an excellent administrator and runs everything there, but we just have a good open communication, we don’t get to be around each other physically a lot. But we do communicate about what’s going on there.”
“When Lynn and Diana first came, we weren’t doing any of this,” Mixon said. “But it’s just the intention and team of people they brought to it to help us get it off the ground.”
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Services the Pregnancy Center Provides
Today, Til He Returns has two Refuge pregnancy centers and one job skills training center.
The pregnancy center offers counseling services and an Earn While You Learn program. Clients earn points by coming to at least one of the four annual events (Mother’s Day, Christmas, graduation, and a general event in June), going to Bible studies, or bringing a friend.
Clients at the pregnancy center complete one year of pregnancy counseling and then complete a discipleship program (usually lasting one year as well). After completing the discipleship program, many clients stay involved as volunteers at the center to mentor other women who are dealing with the same issues.
The program has been in existence for three years, and there are three alumni volunteers. Over the past year, The Refuge has served 30 consistent clients.
“They’re one-on-one dealing with these ladies,” Wheeler said. “It’s not a classroom setting. They’re getting individual attention every time they come in, which is so very important to make them feel that they’re cared for, valuable, and their life is worthwhile—even though their circumstances are not good, they are a worthwhile and beautiful person, as are their children and their families.”
After clients complete the discipleship program at the center, they have the option of completing job skills training. The job skills training uses an Earn While You Learn model as well. When they complete apprenticeships while in the program, the money they earn is saved for them. At graduation, they are given their earnings in a savings account, and awarded equipment (such as a sewing machine or baking supplies) to start their business.
“They need to know they can do it,” Mixon said. “Because it teaches them to work hard in the real world.”
Pregnancy Help Ministry in Costa Rica
Abortion is illegal in Costa Rica, and women usually turn to abortion only in the most desperate of circumstances.
“The biggest thing here are women crying in our office saying, ‘I don’t have any more room in my house to fit another person, I don’t even have enough room for the people already there, much less put food on the table for them or put them in school or buy them clothes,’” Mixon said. “I do not have the ability, and I’m just going to have an abortion because I can’t.”
The center is more focused on empowering women, providing them with parenting education, building relationships with the women, and discipling them. Clients of The Refuge deal with many issues from living in the slums, including sexual abuse, drug abuse, and violence.
“So many of these ladies, because of their financial issues and the environment that they’ve lived in, are made to feel worthless, so the hope that we have is that they can build relationships with other women and be made to feel that they’re created in God’s image, that they’re beautiful, and that they’re worthwhile,” Wheeler said. “That’s something that we do and that’s not something that can be handed to them—that, of course, is just by spending time with them.”
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