La Guaria Water Committee meets about extending their water system to neighboring San Isidro de Pocosol. Nancy Potter is second from right. PHOTO: COURTESY NANCY POTTER

Nancy (second on the right) meets with the La Guaria Water Committee about extending their water system to neighboring San Isidro de Pocosol (Jan. 2022). PHOTO: GEGull

Nancy Potter and George Gull, a recently retired couple, discovered that the Mission Volunteer program with Global Ministries offers an outlet of service for a lifetime of experience.

By Nancy Potter
February 11, 2022 | ITHACA, N.Y.

Transitions in life offer such a gift. When we were thinking about retirement, we looked at some of the life values and goals that we’d put on post-it notes years earlier. Some of them were perfect for this next chapter of our lives, including international travel and volunteering. We had both grown up in United Methodist churches in different parts of the country, upstate New York for me and South Dakota for George. Because of the Women’s Society of Christian Service (WSCS) and its successor, United Methodist Women, even our small church received visitors from other countries. It was an environment that placed high value on community service. From the time I was five, I was seeing people from other parts of the world and recognizing that we are all God’s children.

My career focused on community-based education and organizing for a public organization and I had expressed to a United Methodist friend that I would like to use those skills in a faith-based setting. George’s lifetime as a “toy builder” (mechanical engineer) for projects ranging from astronomy research to building our home was great for any kind of construction. So, we began exploring ways to weave these threads.

One option we learned about was Mission Volunteers (MV) through United Methodist Global Ministries. Hmmmm, does international travel and putting faith into action with a two-month volunteer placement sound like a God-send – while still balancing our time with aging mothers and other commitments?

Our first mission volunteer trip in 2015 to Los Chiles, Costa Rica, seemed like a big leap, yet we found the training had really helped us map out our preparation and understand the “yin and yang” of the experience. So, we reasoned, if it’s not the best fit, it’s only two months out of our entire lives.

The Agua Viva Serves team at the local ice cream shop, “MaryMary.” Nancy and George are sitting on the elevated seats in the back row. PHOTO: GEGull/AVS

We packed up and headed down to Los Chiles to a tiny Mom and Pop hotel and restaurant, the Carolina. Thelma, the owner, worked with the first director of Agua Viva Serves* and now most volunteer teams stay at the Carolina. After being with the local Agua Viva Serves team and getting acquainted with the communities in the first few weeks, we couldn’t imagine not going back again and again!

As George notes, when we walk around Los Chiles, people know us, and we know them. It is like we are going home every time we return. The more we are there, the more we understand the complexities. It is fascinating to see the connections we make at that little restaurant and the way Divine intervention happens. Community development is an ongoing process. One of the things I do is evaluation interviews to assess the impact of a project. One president of his hamlet’s development association said: “We like that you come back and check on us. We know that you really care.”

We have hours of stories and photos to show of our MV trips! Drilling wells for potable water for remote clusters of homes and small hamlets of limited resources never gets old. Public health workers and school directors/teachers tell us how much change they see in the health and education of children and families when they have access to clean water! We also learn about the challenges and goals of families in these remote border areas and the opportunities for tapping other local resources.

Cleaning the Los Corrales well (Jan. 2022). PHOTO: GEGull

We have been forever changed by the excitement, generosity of spirit and gratitude of the people we’ve been privileged to work with side-by-side. The COVID-19 pandemic changed when we could return, but the sense that we are “back home” now that we can return has not changed one iota (or omicron)!  We are indeed blessed to be on this epiphany journey and, si Dios permite, we’ll be back, again and again.

*Originally founded by United Methodist volunteers in mission from First United Methodist Church in Winter Park, Florida, Agua Viva Serves is a nonprofit, faith-based ministry that provides sustainable clean water projects through community partnering and direct volunteer support in Northern Costa Rica and Southern Nicaragua.

Nancy Potter and George Gull are 2014 Mission Volunteer trainees who have returned to Costa Rica five times since that first trip in 2015. They are members of St Paul’s UMC in Ithaca, N.Y. After a two-year delay because of the COVID-19 pandemic, they returned to Los Chiles in January 2022. They helped Agua Viva Serves drill a 203 ft. well for 10 households and made headway in preparing a major Rotary Foundation Global Grant project to bring water to 85 households in San Isidro de Pocosol.

Visit the Mission Volunteers site or email for information about 2022 Mission Volunteer training events. The first will be March 16-19, St. Raphaela Retreat Center, Haverford, Penn. It is currently planned as an in-person event.