A Ministry of New Beginnings: The Methodist Children's Home in Costa Rica
In the summer of 2006, HPUMC initiated a partnership with Ray and Lidia Zirkel, Methodist missionaries serving in Costa Rica, who had been researching and receiving approval for the establishment of the first Methodist Children's Home in Costa Rica. The congregation of HPUMC has embraced the dream and we are currently providing support for the children living there.
Imagine you’re an 11-year old child living on the streets of San Jose, Costa Rica. You can’t depend on your parents to protect you, give you shelter, or even provide the basic necessities like food. You’re forced to dig through the trash for scraps of food, not just for yourself, but possibly for two or three of your siblings. To survive you must panhandle and steal from strangers. All the while you know that no one is coming to help you. No family. No friends. You are alone.
This sad life is a reality for some 1,500 children who were said to be living on the streets in San Jose as of 2005. Many of them never learned to read or write, or have any basic trade or skill to help them get a job. For the most part, they are ignored by the general population. They have no hope for adoption, because after all, who would adopt one of these “wild children?”
For Ray and Lidia Zirkel this was an unacceptable reality. The Zirkels have lived in Costa Rica as missionaries for 21 years. During that time, they have attended church in San Jose, with their two young daughters. It was during one of those Sundays while on their way to church that their lives would be forever changed.
While walking with her daughters, Lidia noticed some of those homeless children, who happened to be sleeping on the streets.
“My girls were about three and five at the time and they just asked, ‘Mama, where are their mamas? Who is going to take care of them?” Lidia Zirkel remembers.
Their daughter’s simple question, born out of compassion, sparked something in the Zirkels. A few days later Ray Zirkel phoned the Bishop to ask what could be done to help these children. He was told to come up with a plan to present to the local branch of the Costa Rican Methodist Church. Two months later, the plans were approved and thus began the first chapter of the Methodist Children’s Home.
Today the home - which sits on a seven acre campus - houses 24 children. The campus features two homes, one for boys and one for girls, a playground, basketball court, soccer field, garden, and an administrative building. By 2022, the Zirkels hope to finish construction on the last of five homes, allowing them to house up to 60 children.
The hope for each of these children is that they will eventually be adopted. Since adoptions from Costa Rica were closed to the United States from 2001 to 2011, most adoptions have taken place from within the surrounding community. But one challenge facing many of these children is that they are not exactly adoption ready when they first come to the home.
“The last couple of families that we’ve gotten have come straight from the streets,” Lidia Zirkel explains. “We have a family of four, three boys and one girl, and they have been on their own just living on the streets.”
Lidia Zirkel says this particular group of kids came from a home where their parents were mostly absent. The mother was a reported drug addict and their father would work long hours and spend his evenings drinking.
“When they removed the children from the home, they looked for the family and none of the family wanted them,” Lidia Zirkel says. “No aunts. No uncles. No grandparents… they found them all and nobody wanted them.”
For these particular siblings, she says something as simple as eating was like entering new territory.
“They have not eaten with utensils,” Lidia Zirkel explains. “To sit down in a chair at a table and eat… they had not done that before.”
In rare cases, children will arrive to the Methodist Children’s home with a few items of clothing. Most of the time they come with nothing.
“Sometimes the government will even buy them an outfit on the way here so they come with clothes on and the other kids will receive them better,” Lidia Zirkel adds.
For many of these children, life at the home initially is all about a return to the basics. They often have to learn practices that most of us take for granted; like how to eat with utensils and not their hands, put clothes away in a closet instead of tossing them on the floor, and using a trash can rather than just discarding things on the ground.
“We took them to school and about 15 minutes later the school called and said come and get them," said Lidia Zirkel. "We would take them to school and they would put their books down and then run out of the room. They wouldn’t even stay in class.”
For most children, six months to a year spent at the Methodist Children’s home is all that’s needed to see a complete transformation. Lidia Zirkel says this is especially true for one group of three siblings who now live at the home.
“They had a dirt floor. They didn’t have electricity. They didn’t have a closet. They slept on pallets on the floor,” she says. “But now they know how to make their beds. They wash their dishes after they eat and put them up. They are a pleasure to be with, they are lovely children! They will be a blessing to whoever gets them.”
Adoption is the hope for each child that comes to the home in San Jose. All of them will live at the home until they are either adopted or turn eighteen. Aging out of the system is a real fear for many children, especially in government care.
“They have no family, so where are they going to go?” Lidia Zirkel says. “If they do not have someone to help them find a job or plug in somewhere, they are going to end up back on the streets.”
At the Methodist Children’s Home the Zirkels came up with a plan to make sure that did not happen. The last home will serve as a transition house, where teens can learn a trade or get help getting into college. For some of these children, finding a well paying job would not only help them support themselves, but also their siblings.
To this day a total of 13 children have been adopted through the Methodist Children’s Home in Costa Rica. The Zirkels say they owe a big part of the home’s success to the many ministries who have partnered with them over the years.
“We can’t begin to say thank you enough for the support, the continued prayers for us, and all the groups who have come down to be with us,” says Ray Zirkel.
“They are changing the life of these kids in miraculous ways,” Lidia Zirkel adds. “I just pray they will get to see not only the changes in the facility, but the changes in these kids as well.”