A History of International Baptist Church, Costa Rica

Say the words International Baptist Church of Costa Rica, or simply “IBC” as most locals call it, and many will immediately think of the distinctive and beautiful church building in Guachipelín de Escazú in the central valley just west of the capital city of San Jose, Costa Rica. It is a beautiful building, but talk to its members and visitors today and you will see that it is much more than a building. IBC Costa Rica is a rich body of believers in the Lord Jesus Christ whose roots go back over 40 years and span the globe from more than 80 different countries.On March 18, 2012, IBC Costa Rica celebrated part of this wonderful history with a 10-Year Anniversary celebration of the Opening & Dedication of its remarkable facility as well as its rich history that started in the early 1960’s.

Where did we come from?

In the early 1960’s many missionaries from the United States’ Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) who were serving in Costa Rica began to gather regularly to worship God with English-speaking services. Though their mission was with the local Spanish-speaking community, there was a common desire to worship God in their native tongue and to grow fellowship and closeness among the missionaries who were far away from home.

In 1963, construction was completed on the International Baptist Chapel which was later named the Baptist Center in San Pedro and many of the missionaries and others from the English-speaking community gathered together for regular Sunday evening worship. Just as this early church started to grow, the SBC urged its missionaries to focus on, and become more involved in, the local Spanish-speaking churches. Graciously, though, they assigned a rotation of various ministers to preach at the newly planted English-speaking church. During the 1970’s and early 1980’s the congregation, which numbered near 50, continued to be ministered to and led by SBC missionaries who had full-time responsibilities elsewhere.

In 1985, the SBC asked missionaries Frank Lay and his wife Margaret to dedicate 60% of their time to leading the church. Frank served as pastor from 1985 to 1990 and then had to take a yearlong furlough for health reasons. In the interim, Reverend Steve Henning, a teacher at the International Christian School, served as pastor. In 1991, Frank Lay returned and continued leading the church as pastor until 1996.

In 1997, attendance was averaging 80 people each Sunday morning. With this growth, the church saw the need for a dedicated pastor and called Dr. Tom Hill of New Mexico to come and serve the growing church. Dr. Hill and his wife Connie arrived on January 3, 1997 and quickly moved the congregation from the seminary chapel which only seated a maximum of 70 people to facilities at the radio station, Faro Del Caribe (a Christian radio station), which seated up to 120. Committees were soon formed and the hunt began for a new permanent facility.

The search led to the west side of San Jose to a hilltop in Guachipelín de Escazú. The search criteria were: to be close to a large English-speaking population; to be clearly visible; easily accessible; and most of all, affordable. Locations in Pavas and Escazú were considered before God directed the leadership to the current location.

The property was purchased at a considerable discount—approximately one eighth of the market value at the time. It was an exciting time for the church, but sadly, during this time, there was division on the direction and future vision of the church and some of the members left in 1999 and began another English-speaking church on the east side of San Jose—a church which remains active to this day.

In October 1999, Dr. Hill retired and suggested Dr. Richard Steel of Baytown, Texas as his replacement. Dr. Steel and his wife Betty graciously agreed to come and stay on board to see the church through its building phase.

On January 28, 2000, ground was broken on the building project. By that Easter, on April 23, 2000, part of the sanctuary was built and a sunrise service was held in the midst of the partially constructed building. A record attendance of 260 was set on that day.

With the new attendance numbers becoming consistent, the church moved from Faro Del Caribe to the top floor ballroom of the Gran Hotel de Costa Rica. The church met there every Sunday for fifteen weeks in 2001.

As Easter of 2001 approached, there was a sense among the church that it was time to start meeting at the new home in Guachipelín even though the construction was still not yet complete.  On April 15, 2001, the church again met in the still unfinished building to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus on Easter Sunday. One member recalled that without doors, two small dogs joined the service and seemed right at home.

On March 17, 2002, after five years in the planning and building stages, the new church building was dedicated. Even more remarkable than its beauty or the one million dollar price tag was the fact that not a single penny was borrowed for the project. All proceeds were donated by both its members and by many others outside the church who cheered the project on and wanted to be a part of its history.

With the building complete, and his mission complete, Dr. Steel helped the church search for its new pastor. The search led the church to Paul Dreessen of Houston, Texas. Paul, his wife Dina, and daughter Denae moved to Costa Rica and began their ministry with IBC in August of 2002 and continue to serve to this day.

Currently, with Pastor Paul and our church staff serving our congregation, IBC continues to experience strong growth hitting a record attendance of over 700 in the Spring of 2016.  With an emphasis on family and community, and with an energetic blend of contemporary and traditional worship,  we pray that our congregation will continue to be influential to English speakers in the San Jose area.

Today, the church continues to experience amazing growth because of its unwavering dedication to the mission of Knowing Christ, Showing Christ, and Sharing Christ. We hope and pray that you will consider making IBC your church home and join us in this commitment to share the good news that Jesus Christ is Lord!

Attendees at IBC come from all over the world. With a close proximity to UWC (United World College) and UPEACE (University for Peace/Universidad para la Paz), and with a strong surge in international businesses and retirees from the United States and Canada, IBC Costa Rica stands ready to serve the community by sharing the love of Jesus Christ.