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Costa Rica

Costa Rica map

Map of Costa Rica

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has a long history of supporting theological education in Costa Rica. The PC(USA) is also in ministry with partner groups and mission personnel in holistic ministries of new church development, evangelism and health ministries. Our mission co-workers serve as educators in Costa Rica.

Costa Rica borders the Pacific Ocean to the west, the Caribbean Sea to the east, Nicaragua to the north, and Panama to the south. It has one of the highest life expectancy rates in Central America. Tourism and commerce are Costa Rica’s main industries, accounting for 68 percent of its GDP. It has a growing technology/computer chip industry, and its main agricultural products include bananas, coffee, sugar, and beef. In spite of its long commitment to social welfare and education, Costa Rica is increasingly dealing with critical issues including poverty, debates over widespread immigration from Nicaragua due to extreme poverty in that country, drug trafficking, sexual tourism, and domestic violence. Although Costa Rica has some of the most favorable economic indices in Central America, the percentage of the population living in poverty has increased significantly in recent years. About three-quarters of Costa Ricans are Roman Catholic and approximately 15 percent are Protestant.



Elisabeth Cook

Elisabeth Cook

Elisabeth Cook

As a the daughter of missionary parents who served in Latin America, Elisabeth was quite literally at home when she began mission service in Costa Rica.  From the time she was a child, she felt a desire to respond to the problems of poverty and oppression she saw around her.

“I was made aware from the time I was very young of social and economic injustice, and the vital importance of mission, sharing the good news in word and deed, both at home and around the world,” she says. “I have felt a call to be a part of the ministry of sharing God’s love in concrete ways by making my gifts and skills available to Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) partners.”

Elisabeth is serving as an educator with the Latin American Biblical University (UBL). She values academic excellence, but she sees her role as much more than imparting knowledge to students. She seeks to help UBL to prepare leaders from partner churches to participate actively in the  quest for reconciliation and justice.

Her first love is teaching the Bible. Elisabeth is both a careful interpreter of scripture and a vigilant observer of the social context that surrounds her.  “I am continually challenged by the need to be aware of the complex reality we live in and the multiple forms that injustice and exclusion take in these contexts,” she says. “I strive to learn continually from those I work with and among, to hear the diversity of voices, and to develop abilities for critical thinking both for myself and for the students with whom I work.”

Elisabeth graduated from Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma, with a bachelor’s degree in accounting. She received a bachelor’s degree in theology and a master’s in Old Testament studies from UBL. She is pursuing a PhD in Biblical Studies at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom. Her dissertation focuses on issues of gender, religious piety, and exclusion in the book of Ezra.

If you’d like to contact Elisabeth or read letters she’s written about her experiences, you can find those on her profile page here.

 Karla Koll

For Karla Koll, the Latin American Biblical University campus in Costa Rica is a place God’s Word and God’s presence in the world can be encountered in new ways. That was her experience in 1984 when she went there as a theology student. “The institution that was then the Latin American Biblical Seminary offered me the opportunity to learn from and with Central Americans about what it meant to follow Jesus Christ in the midst of the struggles for peace with justice in the region,” she says. “At the same time I also discovered my calling to serve in Central America in theological education and to build relationships between Christians in the U.S. and Central America.”

Today she is helping UBL’s students discover how they can more faithfully and effectively serve Christ’s church. “I have the joy of guiding women and men into deeper understandings of their faith in Christ as my colleagues and I provide them with tools for working in God’s mission in ways that transform lives and communities.”

In addition, Karla’s work at UBL gives her the opportunity to help Presbyterians in the United States “be drawn to greater commitment to work in God’s mission for the fullness of life for all.”

“My study of the history of Christianity in the region helps people understand the religious field today and see where there are possibilities for transformation,” Karla notes. “I offer people tools for analyzing mission efforts as we seek to be faithful to God’s call.”

As she pursues her work, Karla says she is inspired by 2 Corinthians 5:17–21, which describes our calling as Christians to be engaged in reconciliation.  “As followers of Christ, we are called to be ambassadors for the new creation God is bringing about,” Karla emphasizes. “The call to work for reconciliation has been central to my ministry.”

Karla, a member of Presbytery of Pueblo in southeastern Colorado, began her ministry as a theological educator in Latin America in 1986 when she accepted a PC(USA) mission appointment to Nicaragua.

After eight years in Nicaragua, she returned to the United States to pursue doctoral studies in mission, ecumenics, and the history of religions at Princeton Theological Seminary. As she was completing her doctorate, she re-entered mission service in 2000 and began work in Guatemala, where she served until June of 2013. Karla holds an undergraduate degree from St. Olaf College in Minnesota and two master’s degrees from Union Theological Seminary in New York.

Karla is married to Francisco Javier Torrez Bermudez, a native of Nicaragua. They are the parents of an adult daughter, Tamara Torrez-Koll.

Read more about her ministry on her profile page, which you can find here.

Partner organization

Latin American Biblical University (UBL)
The Latin American Biblical Seminary (LABS) opened in San José in 1923 as an institute where students could learn theology and nursing skills to serve in all Latin America. Since 1997 the seminary has been an accredited Costa Rican university, which makes it an even more influential and well-known institution throughout Latin America. Its theological education program is carried out in 19 centers in 14 countries. Programs are offered in pastoral theology, Bible, theology, church history, women and theology, and teaching and theology. Programs range from nondegree to master’s degree level. Much of the course work the students do in their home countries through programs of theological education by extension (TEE). Most students working toward a degree then attend UBL’s main campus in San José, Costa Rica, for 2–12 months in order to take specific courses for their degree track and to finish research for thesis work. The PC(USA) is privileged to have had mission personnel cooperating with UBL for many years.

Presbytery partnership

Presbytery of Lake Huron

Costa Rica Mission Network

For information, contact Tracey King-Ortega.

The Costa Rica Mission Network is among more than 40 networks that connect Presbyterians who share a common mission interest. Most participants are involved in mission partnerships through congregations, presbyteries or synods. Network members come together to coordinate efforts, share best practices and develop strategies.

The Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Costa Rica (IEPC)

The Fraternity of Costa Rican Evangelical Churches (FIEC) officially formed in 1985 as a group of seven Protestant churches working to improve the physical and spiritual lives of the people in Costa Rica through the gospel. The FIEC is a member of the Association of Presbyterian and Reformed Churches in Latin America (AIPRAL).

Costa Rica Mission Network

For information, contact Tracey King-Ortega.

The Costa Rica Mission Network is among more than 40 networks that connect Presbyterians who share a common mission interest. Most participants are involved in mission partnerships through congregations, presbyteries or synods. Network members come together to coordinate efforts, share best practices and develop strategies.