October 2007 - Vol. 12

Planted by His Kind Hands

Árbol de Vida Community celebrates its 30th Anniversary 

By Claire de Mézerville

Árbol de Vida is an ecumenical Christian community located in San Jose, Costa Rica and a founding member community of the Sword of the Spirit, an international ecumenical association of communities worldwide. This year is the 30th anniversary of Árbol de Vida. Claire de Mézerville, aged 25, has been an active participant of Árbol de Vida her whole life. In this article she highlights the early beginnings of the community and its growth.
“Fue un pequeño árbol
que un día fue mirado por Dios Padre,
y en él pensó poner su amor insondable…
le regó y le cuidó con su mano amable.”

“It was a little tree
that one day was looked at by God the Father,
and he decided to place in it his unfathomable love…
He nurtured and took care of it with his kind hand.”

Sowing seeds 
The words above come from a song written by community members Marco Ulate and his wife, Lorena, a song especially composed for the 25th anniversary of the Árbol de Vida (Tree of Life) Christian Community.  This year, 2007, our celebration reflects back on the 30 years that have witnessed: how we, a people of God, were born as believers and have grown into disciples, always maturing and changing, acknowledging our profound need for the grace of our Savior.

Costa Rica is a small country, with a population of about five million — more than half of whom live in the capital cities of its seven provinces. It is a land rich in volcanoes, beaches, mountains, and landscapes of exotic beauty, and a wonderful display of ecological life — which regretfully has not always been well taken care of. Our tropical land is populated by numerous fruit-bearing trees. Their abundant seed guarantee a fruitful harvest for generations to come. 

When the Lord began a new work among us, he planted a spiritual seed in the hearts of a small group of young university students in San Jose. When they began to meet together for prayer and fellowship in 1976, the Lord gave them an image of a great seed-bearing tree. They saw, for the first time, their present and future story reflected in the metaphor of a tree that bears the fruit needed and craved by the people of their land. And this tree only bears fruit as long as it is nurtured by the streams of water that come from its Creator.

Members of Árbol de Vida gather regularly for praise and worship, teaching and sharing

Early roots 
The story of our origins would be incomplete if we left out the account of how the Lord blessed our initial evangelistic efforts with the “Agape Café” (“agape” is the Greek term for Christian love). Agape Café was an outreach run by university students who shared the gospel openly with their guests. The outreach involved a variety of activities and events, including evangelistic camps held on one of Costa Rica’s mountains.  It was through this initiative that the Lord began to prepare the soil where, in 1973, he would sow the seed of the Holy Spirit, when this group of believers was baptized in the Holy Spirit during a Pentecost experience where they opened their hearts and their minds to a charismatic way of worshiping their Lord. 

That same year, a Costa Rican, Gastón de Mézerville, who was studying in Michigan State University in Lansing, Michigan, USA, became a member of what would later be the Work of Christ Community in Lansing.  Through the letters exchanged between Gastón and the leadership of the “Agape” group in Costa Rica, the “Agape” began to learn about the covenant community call that was being lived out in the Work of Christ Community, as well as in the Word of God Community in Ann Arbor. 

On March 19, 1977, a young group of Costa Ricans from the “Agape” Group  made their first community commitment to one another in San Jose, in response to a prophecy they had received a few months earlier:

I want to plant a tree in the midst of this city: a tree that will be nurtured with my water of life, to be always ready to bear the fruit that the city needs.  To plant this tree, I need seeds that are willing to be sown into the ground and die.  My calling is an invitation to be seeds in my Sower’s hands.  If you surrender yourselves to me, willing to die in order to bring new life, I will take care of you as you grow, and see that you become a rich tree.  I want to plant a tree in the midst of this city, and I want you to be my seeds (December 20th, 1976).

A community of disciples on mission 
In 1979, now with 80 members, the community (which was originally named Agape) first entered into a community covenant with the Lord and with one another, as brothers and sisters in Christ. The following decade, the 80’s, would bring to the community a significant number of married couples and a new call regarding Christian family life. In the earliest years the community was mainly made up of single university students. With the years, community life grew richer through God’s call to include families and people of all ages (from babies and toddlers to elderly brothers and sisters) and from different walks of life. 

In 1983, the Agape Community was one of the first few groups to become part of the Sword of the Spirit. The community has pursued various expressions of Christian life together as part of the same goal — to be a community of disciples living the mission to follow Christ and to spread His light. A university outreach (CEM, “Christians on the March”) began in 1981. The Servants of the Word, a missionary brotherhood of men living single for the Lord, established a household in 1986, which lasted for some years. And a program for young adults, named Shalom, has continued since 1987. 

In the wake of our 10th anniversary, the community took on the name it now has, Árbol de Vida, which means “Tree of Life”. The prophecy given in December 1976 was not forgotten, and the new name continues to inspire all the members, and by God’s grace will do so for new members in the future as well.

The song composed during the 25th anniversary of Árbol de Vida keeps on saying:

“Creció muy fuerte
abrigado por Su mano en la tormenta…”

“It grew strong,
sheltered by his hand during the storms…”

And, only because of the mercy of our Lord has this tree endured storms…

New directions for growth
Although the 90’s brought a new involvement of a number of Árbol de Vida leaders in the community-building effort in the Spanish-speaking region of the Sword of the Spirit, this was also a time of testing and conflict among the leadership of Árbol de Vida. The Lord’s faithfulness was always present, although community life had begun to suffer. By 1996, with the help of other leaders from the Sword of the Spirit and the guidance received during visitations, the community was able to take the steps that eventually led to a resolution of the crisis. In February, 1997 the constitution of Árbol de Vida community was approved by the community’s publicly committed members, a decision that brought new strength to this twenty-year-old tree. 

The beginning of the 21st century gave Árbol de Vida new directions for growth — a new perspective to extend the hope of salvation — so much needed by our country and our region — expressed in various ministries of missionary outreach and new alternatives for evangelization. The construction of a community-owned facility for our gatherings was finally accomplished, and in April of 2001 Árbol de Vida was able to start gathering in a building of its own for the first time. 

For Such a Time as This
Youth ministries have been invigorated due in large part to the inspiration of the “Ahora es Cuando” (“For Such a Time as This”) Youth Conference held in Acapulco, Mexico, in 2000 to receive the new millenium. In 2003, Árbol de Vida became a regional center for the youth outreaches of the Spanish-speaking region, a new challenge that was quickly followed by the regional summer internship programs called “Verano en Misión” (Summer in Mission). In 2006, after a time of prayer, Árbol de Vida’s university Christian outreach, CEM, was reopened with new vigor and a fresh approach towards bringing the gospel to university students.

During the year 2005 an important campaign for evangelizing married couples was launched, and by the time the campaign ended more than 30 couples had made their initial commitments to our community.

I am 25 years old and have been a part of the community all my life. I have gotten to known people of various ages who met the community and became a part of this “tree”, and I have seen how the life that brings us together does not come from human efforts. We are all seeds, trying to die to ourselves in order to bring new life. We are all soil expecting God’s holy work among us, and to quote the slogan of our 30th anniversary, we are all “witnesses of God’s work.”


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