Those two words probably don’t induce an image of a child passionately following their parent’s spiritual footsteps.
The stereotypical wayward path of the MK is being broken by a family of missionaries high in the Tilarán Mountain Range of Costa Rica at La Montaña Christian Camp where children play sports, hear the Gospel and grow in their faith.
Joe Pent Sr. and his wife Clara originally followed the typical career path after graduating from Moody Bible Institute by taking a job as a youth pastor in Chicago for a few years.
But God had other plans, tugging on the young youth pastor’s heart to go into the mission field and minister to teens. In 1962, Joe accepted a position with the Latin America Mission because the missions organization would allow him to focus on young people in Costa Rica.
Joe Pent, Jr. explains, “Right from the beginning, [Dad] developed a ministry to young people working with evangelism, discipleship. That developed a dynamic of renting facilities, going to different camps, using those different facilities and created a desire and the focus to someday develop our own Christian camp.”
Joe Jr. was born and grew up in Costa Rica during his father’s 47 years as a missionary and caught the vision for youth ministry at a young age. By 13, he was speaking to groups where his family ministered. Joe Pent Sr. said all three of his sons served and led in their barrio (poor neighborhood) ministry and national youth movement, Movimiento Cristiano Juventud Nueva, which Joe Sr. founded with a friend from Colombia.
“When the national youth movement was founded in 1980, even though Joe Jr. was in early adolescence, he and his brothers each became part of a barrio leadership team, planning and directing weekly meetings, camps, prayer retreats and many other unique programs,” Joe Sr. said. “
“As leaders, they were part of an outstanding discipleship committed wholly to Jesus Christ, and they were witnesses to all God was doing in many young lives.”
Joe Jr. said his involvement in the family’s ministry helped him stay strong in his faith. Since his parents lived out their own teachings, he was able to see the practical application of faith – and in the kids they ministered to, the consequences of falling away.
“During their ministry years (that continue today) I personally witnessed the transformed lives of tens of thousands of young people,” he said. “I saw the Lord change hearts and lives that left me impacted with the power and the need to continue to use Christian camping to reach countless more.”
Three anonymous donations enabled the Pents to fulfill their calling of a permanent camp ministry. A Costa Rican company, led by a Christian couple who shared their vision for ministry, donated the original 550 acres of cloudforest (land at an elevation that literally places it within clouds). Two other financial gifts, each enough for an additional 80 acres, were given by Christians in the U.S. Joe Sr. said he considers this the most recent of the many miracles he has seen throughout his life.
The Pent family converted the miraculously donated land into a fully functioning camp, complete with water blob, ropes courses, archery, etc. Because La Montana transports Costa Rican youth far from the pressures and distractions of daily life, it allows them to focus on God — which has prompted amazing spiritual transformation. The Pents make sure each camper that becomes a new Christian gets connected to a local church for immediate, deeper discipleship.
“Discipleship has always been my passion throughout the almost 50 years of youth ministry in Costa Rica,” Joe Sr. said.
And the legacy grows. Both Joe Jr. Kannada dictionary and his wife felt called to camp ministry and they are passing on their enthusiasm for youth ministry to their kids: their oldest son is currently studying youth ministry at Azusa Pacific University.
“Like my parents before me, my three kids have also become very involved in serving in the ministry,” he said. “They all love it and look forward to the opportunities that it provides. That is the key: We all love what we do and we all feel equally involved in it.
“Kids today are so bombarded with options for fulfillment. I want my kids to know that the only true way to be filled is in Christ,” he said.
Joe Jr. recommends mission trips to parents and youth leaders as a way to give teens a broader global perspective.
“You know, your U.S. kid is living in a bubble,” he said. “Their reality is based on their experience. Until you take them out of that comfort zone and out of that reality and expose them to as many places as you can, then what it does is throws open the blinders of the limited reality that they have and it really expands their worldview.”
He said youth ministry is different in Costa Rica compared to the U.S. because of the Costa Ricans’ openness to the Gospel. Often, a typical U.S. teen doesn’t see the need for Christ because of all that they already have.
“Their cup is full. What we need to do in the U.S. is pursue ministry that knocks the cup out of their hands so that they can come face to face with how empty they really are and in need to be filled and FULL-filled,” he said.
Missions can also open teens’ ears to hearing what God is speaking in their own lives. He encourages challenging teens to follow the call of Deuteronomy 10:12-13 in seeking to love God with their hearts, souls and minds.
“I would include in that searching that they earnestly develop a life of prayer (talking and hanging out with God). If there is one thing our world needs today, it’s prayer.”
A tremendous spiritual legacy blooms – for one family as well as the nation of Costa Rica – because Joe Pent Sr. responded to the Holy Spirit’s prompting. And it won’t stop there as the ministry looks to help believers form their own camp ministries in other Latin American countries, including a new camp opportunity in Cuba.
“God’s work, done in God’s way will never lack God’s supply,” he said. “I believe the same miracles will happen in Cuba in the not-too-distant future.”
You can plant a legacy as well, and it doesn’t require moving to a foreign country or starting a camp. We impact eternity when we pour spiritually into the lives of the children God places around us, whether that’s the teens in your group, the kids at your camps and events or the children who live in your home.
To serve at La Moñtana Christian Camp this summer, visit servantlife.com or connect via Twitter @servantlife.