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Witnessing in Costa Rican valley keeps lostness alive for missionaries

SAN MARCOS DE TARRAZU, Costa Rica (BP)–Missionary Tony Rengifo chats with a passer-by as the sun slips behind the coffee-covered mountains above San Marcos de Tarrazu, Costa Rica.
It’s been a long day for Rengifo, but he never tires of sharing his faith. That’s what he’s doing talking with a man on the streets of San Marcos, the largest town in a Roman Catholic region called “The Valley of the Saints.”
The man, a Guaymi Indian from neighboring Panama, tells the missionary he’s a migrant worker on a nearby coffee farm. Rengifo listens with interest, then shifts the conversation to spiritual matters. While people pass them on the street, the man prays to receive Christ.
Encounters like this are why Rengifo and his wife, Renee, missionaries of the Southern Baptist International Mission Board, travel several weekends a month to San Marcos, about a two-hour drive from their home in San Jose, Costa Rica’s capital.
“Our work here in the valley helps keep lostness alive for us,” Rengifo says. “It’s here we face most the challenges of the mission field — meeting new people, listening to their needs, leading them to Christ, helping to disciple new believers.”
The Rengifos, originally from Peru, already have plenty to do in San Jose. He trains church leaders as a professor at the Costa Rican Baptist seminary. She leads Woman’s Missionary Union work and serves on the missionary-sending board of the National Union of Baptist Churches in Costa Rica. The couple, who earlier were Southern Baptist North American Mission Board missionaries in Norman, Okla., also are leaders at San Jose’s San Pedro Baptist Church.
But finding time to go to the valley — for centuries a stronghold of Roman Catholicism — has been a top priority for the Rengifos since 1991, when the couple first heard about the region. At the time, no Baptist work existed in any of the valley’s 23 towns — all named for Catholic saints.
“As we traveled through these towns, we became aware God already was at work here, so we, at his invitation, joined him in that work,” Rengifo says.
During one of his first trips to the valley, Rengifo took with him IMB missionary Russell Bare, then attending Spanish language school in San Jose. The pair stopped at a mountain overlook and gazed across the valley below.
“We saw the tremendous challenge God was posing to us, and like Caleb prayed God would give him the mountain [Joshua 14:12], we prayed he would give us this mountain and ‘The Valley of the Saints,'” Rengifo recalls.
Since then the Rengifos have prayed at this same site on every trip to the region. In 1997 they began voicing those prayers with some fellow members of San Pedro church, who started going to the valley with the Rengifos after the congregation felt God leading them to join in the work.
A major breakthrough happened that year when Juan Carlos Castro, then the pastor of San Pedro, and Rengifo walked into a San Marcos tailor’s shop operated by Jose Ramon Chaves, a former Baptist pastor.
For nearly six months he had prayed God would provide him a pastorate. When Castro and Rengifo introduced themselves, “I felt something warm in my chest — like a fire,” Chaves says. “I knew the Lord was answering my prayers.”
Rengifo recalls: “We’d been under a heavy impression that the Lord had someone for us to work with in San Marcos. When he led us to Jose Ramon, we joined God where he was already at work.”
Later Chaves helped the Rengifos and San Pedro members start a Baptist congregation in San Marcos, where he now is pastor. The Rengifos’ team still travels to the valley to help Chaves spread the gospel and disciple new believers. They’re also trying to start congregations in surrounding towns.
All the while, the Rengifos keep sharing their faith in the bustling capital of San Jose, too. The main way they do that is by building lasting friendships with Costa Ricans.
“We believe incarnational witnessing takes us a long way in missions,” Rengifo says.

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  • Mary E. Speidel