As a young surfer growing up in Costa Rica, Dennis Leon had many chances to live the typical surfer’s life of destructive self-indulgence, but God had other plans. As the youngest of six with a single mother, Dennis grew up in the small town of Esterillos Oeste on the central pacific coast of Costa Rica in a dirt-floored house with his grandmother and older siblings. Looking back on his life Dennis says, “I grew up in what North and Central Americans consider extreme poverty, but I did not realize that, and looking back I would not change the way I grew up for anything.” Life was hard for this poor family and Dennis remembers getting his first pair of shoes – rubber boots – at the age of six so that he could attend the local elementary school. He did very well in school and was the first person from Esterillos to attend high school in a nearby town. He had to work vacations and weekends to pay for his books, uniforms and other school supplies, but he persevered and after graduation was able to get a highly sought after job as a tour guide. During his high school years he remembers seeing his friends go off to surf while he went to school and wondered if it was worth it.
Growing up on the beach Dennis was used to seeing the “gringo” surfers who came to Costa Rica to enjoy the warm waves it offers. He started surfing with his older brother and friends when he was 13 and then watched as they all succumbed to the drugs and the party scene that typically goes along with that lifestyle. Dennis was known around town as a “good boy” but even so he felt emptiness inside that in retrospect only God could fill. He still is not sure how it happened but one night when he was 17 and on his way to the Disco for a night of dancing, he paused in front of a church where about five adults where having a Pentecostal prayer service. Nothing about the service or the people was attractive to a teen like Dennis, but he suddenly found himself in the back of the church on his knees asking Jesus to change his life. The next morning he started discipleship at 4:30am and read through a Gideon’s New Testament over the next week. Since that night God has been the Lord of Dennis’ life and he along with his family are now following God’s leading in a unique ministry reaching out to those in similar Costa Rican communities with few options for a healthy lifestyle.
Kyle Leon was born and raised in Santa Barbara, California. The oldest of five, she was raised by loving parents who began attending the local Free Methodist Church when she was young. Being raised in the church, Kyle has always sensed Jesus’ presence in her life and loved Him. She went to both public and private schools growing up and finally homeschooled in high school, which worked well when her parents moved the whole family to Costa Rica in 1999 as her dad took on a teaching position at a boarding school. They moved to the small town of Esterillos and were immediately introduced to Dennis Leon, who helped her family with the translation and transition that such an international move entails.
Over the next five months, Dennis and Kyle got to know each other. Dennis eventually followed her back to Santa Barbara where they were married in 2002. While Dennis was busy starting a Spanish language service for the Free Methodist Church of Santa Barbara, restarting the local chapter of Christian Surfers, and taking seminary classes as well as earning his degree in psychology from Santa Barbara City College, Kyle finished her degree in Communication at Westmont College. In 2005 they had their first son, Elias, and bought a house in Esterillos, Dennis’ hometown. This was the early unfolding of the great work that God had for them there.
Kyle recalls, “Dennis and I would go to Costa Rica every year for a ‘vacation’ but we ended up doing more ministry than anything else.” For one month every year, their house would fill up with friends and family. Dennis started doing impromptu bible studies and people would come back the next night wanting more, asking questions and seeking Christ-centered counsel. “Every year it began to get harder and harder to leave” says Dennis. As they got to know the youth of Esterillos and the surrounding areas, they saw that the youth lacked healthy adult and family role models. Many of the kids were living in very abusive family situations, had no where to go or anyone to defend them, or even offer them a safe place to be. After months of seeking God and the counsel of others, Dennis and Kyle started looking into ways that they could help address these needs. During this time, they began to feel a call on their lives to move to Costa Rica full time and start a ministry out of their home, offering a safe place and hope in Jesus to the youth and families of the coastal areas that are afflicted with insidious unhealthy cycles.