Bryan and Beth Tatum and their three children have served in Costa Rica since 2009. Their ministry consists of working with children, youth, adults, and family units in primarily economically distressed communities.
The Tatums partner and work alongside the Conexion Ministry. The Conexion team believes in spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ by acts of extreme service in communities of great poverty and need.
Here, Bryan describes the annual pilgrimage by millions of Costa Rican Catholics to visit the patron saint of Costa Rica, and what he has learned from their journey.
Almost 400 years ago, a young girl by the name of Juanita Pereira was gathering wood and came across a small, black doll inside a rock that was in the river. The doll resembled the Virgin Mary. She took it home and put it in a box. The next time she went to the river to gather wood, she found the doll again. She took it home and found that the box where she had stored the doll was empty. This happened several times.
A priest in the same town was trying to build a church. However, every time the church was near completion, it was destroyed by fire or an earthquake.
The local priest concluded that it must be the Virgin Mary revealing herself, and the Basílica Nuestra Señora de los ángeles in Cartago was built over the rock where La Negrita first appeared. Inside it there is a large area devoted to displaying the black doll Juanita first discovered.
Countless healings are attributed to La Negrita, and thousands of trinkets and charms are left on walls below the church to thank this small, black statue for her miracles. Many of these charms are in the shape of different body parts that have been claimed to be healed. Because of these healings, many people visit the church in Cartago searching for a miracle from this statue.
Each year on August 2, close to two-and-a-half million Costa Rican Catholics make the annual pilgrimage to Cartago to visit La Negrita. That’s almost half the entire population of Costa Rica. The pilgrims walk from all over the country, many walking for many days to arrive in Cartago on August 2.
Once the pilgrims reach Cartago, many will complete the last leg of the journey (some for miles) on their knees, often leaving behind a trail of blood as they crawl.
This is the third year that our family has witnessed this pilgrimage, and I am torn by this event.
First, I believe in the healing power and grace of a risen and living savior in Jesus Christ. I desire for people to find their healing and freedom and salvation in Christ.
Secondly, I am overwhelmed and in awe of the resolve and sacrifice of the pilgrims, specifically their resolve to walk and crawl for hours and days. If asked, would I walk for days in the rain and on muddy/rocky roads to be able to worship? Would I crawl on my hands and knees for miles with the rocks and concrete tearing at my skin? Do I even get on my knees to pray in the comfort of an air-conditioned sanctuary with carpeted floors? Could I, would I, spend the afternoon, the day, crawling to worship Jesus?
The ministry our family works with, Conexion, has reached out to the pilgrims on their journey. For the past five years they have set up a booth on the trail and handed out water bottles, talked with pilgrims, and prayed for people.
We pray that the people of Costa Rica would find salvation in Christ and the hope that only He can give.