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Woodbury High School junior Leah William led a mural-painting project in Costa Rica while in the country on a mission trip with Woodbury Baptist Church March 9-20.

Woodbury student paints mural in Costa Rica

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When Woodbury High School junior Leah Williams landed in Costa Rica for a mission trip with her church, she wasn't expecting to put her artistic skills to work.

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Williams, and her family, traveled to La Guacima, Costa Rica, March 9-20 with Woodbury Baptist Church where she led efforts to paint a 100-foot mural.

"My first thought was, 'Oh boy, this is a big undertaking,'" Williams said. "It was certainly different than anything I've ever done.

"But it is very cool to think about the fact that I supervised this project so many miles away that is probably going to be there for a while."

Where love takes root

For the past six years Woodbury Baptist Church has been sending groups to Costa Rica for mission trips at the church's sister church.

Woodbury Parks and Recreation director Bob Klatt also went on this year's trip.

Williams and her family had previously traveled to Costa Rica four years ago for a mission trip where she helped build a handicap restroom.

"We were dying to go back because we made some great friends," Williams' mother Winnie said.

Initially the mission trip was to consist of painting a roof, building shelves and other similar projects. It was only after they arrived that Leah learned about the mural.

The mural was to be painted on a 6- by- 100-foot corrugated metal fence.

Since Leah has artistic talent, both churches were looking to her for guidance on the mural project.

"It's not a pretty neighborhood, so beautiful things like that just don't exist and this was the perfect opportunity to create something beautiful," Winnie said. "They knew they had an artist in their midst."

The first step in Leah's task was to seek out input from the Costa Rican children at the church.

"I wasn't really sure what to think because we were supposed to be incorporating the Costa Rican kids in the project," she said.

The first night there, Leah went to the children to ask for possible mural suggestions. The children's suggestions ranged from the jungle, a farm, a forest, a beach, prairie, mountains, deep seas, marine animals, jungle animals and even such ideas as Sponge Bob Square Pants and a princess.

"Once they said Sponge Bob, I knew Leah had her work cut out for her," Winnie said.

That night Leah went to work sketching out a mural comprised of different natural atmospheres to accommodate all of the children's ideas.

Additionally, Leah incorporated a tree in the center of the mural with the words "where love takes root" written underneath in Spanish, which is Woodbury Baptist Church's vision statement. A tree is also Woodbury Baptist Church's symbol.

"It was going to be our piece that we kind of left them," Winnie said.

However, the tree proved to have more of a meaning than anyone initially thought because it turns out the Costa Rican church was first started because groups of people would meet under a tree to pray.

"For them it was really cool that a tree be the center of the mural," Winnie said. "We're both tied by this symbol of a tree."

Mural magnificence

When it came time to actually paint the mural, Leah began by painting the fence gray before unleashing the 60 plus people on the mural.

"We had a lot of hands to help," she said.

Leah then went to work sketching outlines of the different scenes to assist everyone with knowing where to paint.

"A lot of us were paint by number people," Winnie said.

The entire mural took about four days to complete and posed some challenges for Leah.

Leah had to give up some of her artistic control for the mural since not only did she have to rely on children and others to bring her vision to life, but she also had to adjust to the fact that she only had red, blue, yellow and black paint to work with.

"Every time she wanted a color, we had to attempt to mix it," Winnie said. "We had colors that weren't quite pure."

Leah said the experience in Costa Rica has changed her outlook on life.

"They make the most of life, so it's very humbling," she said "It makes me start to thinking what I can do in my own life."

Winnie and Leah both said it was a joy to watch the Costa Rican children work on the mural.

"It was pretty easy to let kids go loose with a paintbrush," Winnie said. "Many of them have never painted before, so for them, the chance to paint is a really exciting thing for them to do."

Winnie said the church hopes the mural will instill a stronger sense of ownership in the church for the children since they helped create it.

"If the kids have a sense of ownership of the space, they are more likely to help protect it," she said.

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Amber Kispert-Smith
Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.
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