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Build a Preschool in Costa Rica

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I have a serious question for you, my friend.

Could you sell your home (and all of your possessions), quit your job and abandon the only life you’ve ever known to move your young family to a developing country to serve the poor?

No? Me neither.

But there are people who have done just that all over the world. And not for their own self-interest either - but rather to make a real difference in the lives of others in need, to change the world.

I’m proud to know one of these selfless families - the Hutchins family, originally from my home state of Minnesota.

I first met John, Jill, Maddie and Mari in 2014 through my small group at church. Jill is the cousin of two of my gal pals in the group.

The Hutchins came to visit our small group on one of their first trips home to share their journey and ask for prayer and financial support. I was amazed by their stories, their candor and how well their two pre-teen girls had adapted to their continental move (I mean, come on - don’t you remember being a teenage girl? Hello, self-absorbed! But not those two!).

Read on to learn about the impact they’ve made over the last three years in Costa Rica and the impact the experience has made on their family in return.

Tell us more about y’all - who is the Hutchins family, where are you from and what do you like to do for fun?

We are the Hutchins family - John, Jill, Maddie and Mari. 

For the past three years we have been serving in Los Altos de Naranjo, Costa Rica, a mountain town about seven kilometers (about four miles) outside of Atenas. Before moving to Costa Rica, our girls attended public school in Mahtomedi, Minnesota. John owned his own home building company and I (Jill) was a high school Spanish teacher at Totino-Grace.

What first prompted the discussion to sell everything and move to Costa Rica to serve the poor?

At about 33 years old, John and I began asking ourselves if this was what life was all about - running around, paying bills, weekends with family and friends and trying to keep up with the Joneses per se.  

As we began asking ourselves this question, God began to reveal Himself in a way that made it clear that we were going to be called to something different. We served in church and did different outreach activities, but God calls all of us into different areas - areas in which He knows we can be best used for His glory and best equipped with the spiritual gifts He has given to us.

For our family this meant moving to Central America - specifically, Costa Rica.

Why is there such a need for your help?

The Nicaraguans have no other resources for themselves here in Costa Rica.  

One million Nicaraguans migrate for work each harvest, October-February, and we are the first of our kind for the people. Word about our brand new preschool is spreading like wildfire, and we expect many more children this year.  

However, we are trying to keep up with the demand placed upon the ministry as well as remember that most all Nicaraguans rely on walking to bring their children to us. Many cannot physically get to us and return to work in their assigned fields in an adequate amount of time, making it important to expand the ministry at some point to meet the needs of other families in the neighboring mountains.

Any particularly impactful stories you can share?

One of the most impactful stories I can share with you is that of a little two year old boy named Hernan.  

Hernan was born to a single mom and has a five-year-old brother. Their mother is very young and needs to work in order to provide for her two boys. She was sick most of the harvest and didn't pick as much coffee as usual.  

One day Hernan was asleep and one of the Tias (ladies who help care for the children) noticed something on his face. She discovered it was a long, thin worm crawling out of his nose!  

She grabbed it and called to let me know, but while he was sleeping out crawled another worm. He had worms that had started to starve and were crawling out of his open orifices to seek more food.  

When we offered to bring Hernan to the doctors with her and pay for his care, she refused. She was afraid her son would be taken and that she would be deported. Instead, she decided to return to Nicaragua. We did follow up and learned Hernan was treated upon arrival to Nicaragua - five days after the discovery of these worms. (Gina: Can you imagine?)

What’s been the hardest part?

The hardest part so far for our girls has been leaving friends and family.  

They very much would love to spend more time with their cousins, many of whom are unable financially to visit us abroad. When we return home to Minnesota, we are so busy. It is difficult to balance visiting family and sharing with those who also support us in the ministry God has chosen for us.  

For John and I, the hardest part is that we sometimes feel very alone, although we have people all around us. Culturally, we are set apart and this can mean deeper relationships take longer to develop.

What's been the most gratifying part of your journey?

By far the most gratifying aspect about living here is seeing needs met that would never come to fruition without God and His provision through the ministry.  

We see babies being loved, cared for and lives changing because of God's love for the children in the preschool we’ve started. We are considered a resource for the Nicaraguans here and they know they can come to us with their needs - everything from medical care to suitcases for returning to their country after harvest and many times just to visit and eat with us!

What have you accomplished so far?

God has really blessed His ministry here for the children.  

We have rented a house, renovated it for the permissions needed from the Health Department and are slowly filling it with items needed for the children we serve. This past year we hired three ladies from the community to help care for the children full-time.  

We also had a Christmas celebration and fed 67 people, provided gifts for each one of the children in the preschool as well as their siblings. And we were able to accept 19 children, full-time, into the preschool, as well as serve other families and their children as needed.

Tell us more about the preschool - why did you start one in the community?

We began the preschool in our home in 2014, serving four children.  

From there, we befriended several Nicaraguan families and began to see that many of their friends had to split up their families during the harvest - not being able to see each other for almost half the year because there was no way to care for their children in Costa Rica. There are no services available for them, government or otherwise.  

The families that stuck together and made the journey to the coffee fields would put all of the children five and under in a group, leaving bottles and the four-to-six year olds to care for the infants. These children would stay in one small area while the adults went into the fields. (Gina: Again, can you imagine? Our son is almost five and our daughter just turned three...)

The dangers are evident - abduction, sexual abuse, poisonous insects and snakes are just a few of the things that these children were exposed to while being left alone. The families are all poor; the vast majority enter illegally and can be arrested/deported at any moment. They rarely have enough food, live in dirt floor shelters with no bathroom, electric or running water.  

Honestly, there were just no options for them here, but the draw is that they can make several times more money per hour than in Nicaragua - $1 per day versus $30 per day or more in Costa Rica. (Gina: Which is still less than half of minimum wage here!)

Our goals for helping these families were three-fold:  

1. Get the children out of danger and into a safe, clean place with bathrooms and beds.  
2. Provide 2.5 healthy meals per day, clean diapers and a bath.
3. Have a preschool-type education format to provide them opportunity they would never otherwise receive.  

The ministry side coincides with the hierarchy of needs - if the basic physical needs are not met, ministry will not be effective.

Providing this kind of service and care for the most innocent affords us the opportunity to share the love of Christ, what it means to follow Him and the fulfillment that God provides to each of His children through salvation. This ministry is not only extended to the children we care for, but to all of the families in the community with the hope we have in Christ!

How will owning land/your own building help people in the community?

In the process of running this ministry and seeing the expenses associated, we began to examine what it would take to keep it up long-term.  

We do not see being able to perpetually raise the necessary $15,000 per year to operate one preschool, much less two or three, without considering sustainability. (John and Jill can’t legally work in Costa Rica, so all of their funds are through donations. They applied for citizenship when they first arrived, but haven’t been granted it yet.)

The goal behind having a permanent location means that all of the monies invested would not be lost if we had to move locations. In a rental situation, the landowner has complete control over the improvements on the property and can take the property back at will without ever reimbursing for any improvements, forcing us to start all over somewhere else.

To us, this is an unnecessary risk.  

Another component of our goal for a permanent location is to have a hub of operations for future ministries - be it another preschool, medical mission, missions outreach, etc. We also will need an area for training interns and future partners to be able to extend our outreach as well. The permanent location will be designed as a "resource center" with a preschool - and God-willing - a church and small group outreach as well.

It doesn’t end there, does it?

Our ministry does not just touch the lives of the Nicaraguans and their children; it is also a service to help the local farmers see the value of providing a safe workplace for their workers, which adds to increased production, reduced liability and we hope to decreased prejudice in this country toward the Nicaraguans.  

We are also able to bring in short-term missions teams, families and groups that wish to serve to help them understand what life is like outside of the familiarities of Western culture. Every facet of this ministry is an outreach - a testimony to what God can do using a few people and His might to change the world!  

Our prayer is that God is continually glorified and His love reflected in all parts of this ministry - we see the next steps as a God-sized way of doing just that!

What do you hope to accomplish over the next year?

Over the next year we hope to accomplish the following things:

- Buy a plot of land for a permanent location for the preschool.
- Accept up to 10 more children at our current location.
- Hire two more full-time employees.
- Develop a preschool curriculum.
- Close-in the outside sitting area.
- Buy a laundry machine.
- And renovate the playground.  

How can we help?

Here are the three biggest ways in which you and your audience can help:

1. PRAYER - We truly need constant prayer cover! Satan hates that we care for God's children and we at times are under strong spiritual attack.
2. TEAMS - Sending teams to help us accomplish building tasks that are time consuming and difficult for John to do alone, as many times he does.
3. FINANCIAL - We cannot serve in the capacity that we do without financial help from all of the people who support the ministry. We are a team and you are the partners in missions that enable us to be here and continue in God's work!  

Ready to become a part of something phenomenal?

I hope the Hutchins’ story resonates with you and touches your heart as much as it does mine.

We had the pleasure of visiting in person again this past May, and when they told us about their goal of purchasing land to build their very own preschool accommodations (which will also be used for church services, further connecting with the community, etc.), I felt moved to help.

Even though I’ve never done anything like this before, I’ve convinced them that you and I could raise $50,000 to complete the first phase of this audacious goal (purchasing the land and getting it ready for subsequent construction).

Will you help us?

All we need is 5,000 people to donate $10. 

Basically the cost of a fast food lunch these days. Some of you will be able to give more and some of you won’t. That’s okay - we ask that you give what you’re willing and joyfully able - nothing more, nothing less.

Have just $1? Go for it! 

If you’re willing, please help me in supporting their amazing efforts financially by sharing this post with at least three friends and by praying for this campaign and the Hutchins family. Who knows, maybe we’ll see each other in Costa Rica someday!

And from the bottom of my heart, THANK YOU! For reading, for considering participating and for being genuinely awesome. Rock on!

Want to follow the Hutchins’ journey? Make sure to “like” their Facebook page  to keep apprised of the life-changing work they’re doing in Costa Rica.


  • Aja McClanahan
    • $350 
    • 7 yrs

Organizer and beneficiary

Gina Horkey
Stacy, MN
John Hutchins

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