Sunday, August 02, 2009

Ecuador 2009

Here's a summary of the first 8 days spent in Ecuador.

Days 1-3
The first 3 days have been quite an adventure, beginning with our departure at LAX. It took 1 1/2 hours to check in, due to our ticket agent being new at her job. We made it through security just in time to board our flight, only to land in El Salvador to find that our connecting flight had been indefinitely delayed (we had 3 connecting flights, since we booked the cheapest flights possible). Thankfully, we were automatically booked on another flight, and made it to our next flights to San Jose, Costa Rica, Quito & Guayaquil, Ecuador without incident.

When we arrived Thursday afternoon, members of the church greeted us and helped lug our 14 heavy suitcases full of personal items as well as materials for children's Sunday School, such as reams of paper, colored pencils and other items for crafts (yes, we did end up paying overweight for 3 of our bags!). But the fact is, the church in El Recreo is running low on funds--they are in debt, having had to buy heavier doors to keep their musical instruments and other equipment safe (they've had several breakins). So we brought items that they can use, which they can't afford at the moment.

We settled in Thursday evening, and attended a special service which was held to welcome us. Then we ate a very scrumptious dinner (at 9:30pm) and fell into bed, not having slept on the planes the night before.
Friday morning we got up at 7, ate a quick breakfast, and shared a time of devotions, about the power of God to transform our life, despite us being in a place and time of disillusion or spiritual cynicism. Then we began the physical labor: we plastered walls and sanded down those which had already been plastered. At noon, a group of 35 children showed up and took part in the feeding program that is open to them, Monday-Friday (the money for this is always tight, but they depend on donations from those in the church). We had them participate with us in a re-enactment of the story of the Good Samaritan, and helped them to create their own First Aid kits (baggies, cotton swabs, q-tips, band aids, alcohol wipes, and a card with a verse on there), so as to remember that they can also love their neighbor by helping him. We went back for showers after lunch (to wash off all the plaster dust), and got ready for the afternoon children's program.

In the afternoons, they head out to a neighborhood with room to run around, and start playing games with the children they find. We began with six, and within 15 minutes, there were at least 40 kids! After a time of song and dance, one of the girls who works with the children's programs taught a Bible lesson, and showed them how to do the corresponding craft. About an hour and a half after arriving, we headed back home to gather our things and head back to the church for our first leadership session. We learned about God's eternal plan: To gather all things, in heaven and on earth, in Christ (Ephesians 1). It served as an introduction to the next 4 sessions: How to grow into maturity to the full measure of Christ. The 20 people that showed up really enjoyed it, as it was delivered in Ralph Shead's typical style, mixing humor and God's truth. After another late dinner (which are the norm here), we headed back to bed.

This morning, we got up early again to dig into a little more intense physical activity (sanding again, painting, sanding rust off of seriously oxidized steel beams--of course, we're covered with evidence of all this, from head to toe). Now it's after lunch, we'll be holding Sunday School for the kids (they have it on Saturdays, so everyone can take part in the Sunday service), and attending a talent show at the Baptist Church, which apparently, we will be taking part in! Maybe dancing or singing--we don't know yet.

Continue praying for us. It's easy to become distracted, as things don't always go as we plan. Christina especially has suffered several minor physical injuries, which add up to a lot of discomfort. But she, like the rest of our team, has dug in and decided not to let Satan get the best of us! There is a lot of work to be done, the least of it physical, and we are determined to let God use us to make a difference. We have built relationships with adults and kids alike (in fact, sometimes it's hard to work because we'll have one or more kids hanging off of us). They remember us as the church that cares about them, and that has invested time, energy, money and a lot of love into their well-being.

Days 4-5
I forgot to mention that on Saturday, Jillian and Ralph went to the "squatters village", called "The Invasion" in Spanish, because it was land that belonged to no one, which poor people began building on. The reason this land wasn't already in use is because half the year it's submerged, due to the heavy rains in the winter. So the houses are built out of thick bamboo, and set on stilts, to keep the residents out of the water. They've built a rickety bridge to get out so they can work, but most people just don't leave during the rainy season. (Our cook lives in this area of town; she did so when she became a widow two years ago, and had to simplify her lifestyle.) Thankfully right now it is summer, and the roads are dried, made up of cracked mud. So each Saturday morning, the church takes their children's ministry opportunities to the kids that live in this poor area. They also take people to teach a discipleship course to a few of the mothers at the same time. A couple of them are close to making a decision for Christ, and we soon expect them to be baptized.

On Sunday morning, we gathered with the believers to worship God together and share in His word and communion. We learned about the Great Commission, how Christ sent us to make disciples, going, baptizing and teaching them to obey everything Christ commands (which is hard for those on mission trips, too!).
After sharing in lunch together, we headed to a small town called Buijo, about 1/2 hour away, to work with children and minister to seniors who are in need. As the regular kid's activity was set up, Kyle, Ralph and Sarah headed out with Geovanni, who really has a heart for the old people in this community. He finds sponsors for each person (right now he has 5), and they take care of paying for groceries as well as writing notes to encourage them. He also has others who help by donating groceries as they are able. We delivered groceries, shook their hands, gave out hugs, and just sat for a while to talk to them. The couple we visited first just got baptized about a month ago, and now they are talking about getting married (they are in their 80's). All the people we visited live in horrible conditions: large cracks in the walls, dirt floors, without clean clothes, but they know that once a week, Geovanni will be there to care for them and treat them like people.

We ended our outing with a time of praise to God for what he's doing with both groups--the foreigners (as we know we are) and the Ecuadorians. The truth is that we are complementing each other well, working from our combined strength, and the willingness we have to work together, united with one purpose.
Sunday night, Tyler, Jillian, Kyle and Christina joined several members of the church in a basketball game, and arrived home ready to shower and go to bed, but were distracted by a fire across the street which someone started with a mattress. (Here, mounds of trash can be found anywhere in the street.) The trash caught on fire, and it began spreading! Once they had contained it, though, it was back upstairs to bed for everyone.

Today, Monday, we have spent an extending time in physical labor. We've painted with sticky paint that doesn't easily come off of hands or legs, sanded more plaster, mixed and poured cement (almost an entire slab in 3 hours, thanks to our foreman, Francisco), and carted sand and rock. We are tired, but looking forward to sharing an evening of leadership training, preparing the church here to continue the good work, encouraging them, and deepening their walk with God.

Days 6-8
Tuesday began with our familiar routine--we got up for breakfast, shared in a time of devotions, and began working. The guys (Kyle and Tyler) got to continue the difficult task of sanding down steel beams which were covered in rust (because of the heavy rains during the beginning of the year). The girls continued plastering, sanding, and painting. After a morning of those activities, we helped serve the kids who come each weekday for the lunch program (there are 35 kids that come to eat lunch here each day), and then we taught them a brief lesson, with a corresponding craft. This week we've talked about the importance of being part of the family of God, how we are a new creation in Christ and how we shine light in a dark world.

That afternoon, as we were showering and getting ready for the evening, I shared the Sunday School supplies we brought with Karen, who is in charge of the children's programs. None of this was big stuff--just pencils and scissors, colored pencils, crayons, a few reams of paper and construction paper and glue (which our church family donated), as well as some craft ideas. She hugged me hard and long, only pulling away once she had composed herself. "Tell your church thank you. We have nothing. This will bless the kids for many weeks to come!" I got tears in my eyes, too.

Then we got ready for an evangelistic campaign. This means we take a sound system and puppet house to an empty parking lot/soccer field in town, set it up, and begin inviting kids to join us in games and songs. After about 30-45 minutes of playing together and singing along with the puppets, we have them sit down so we (and by "we", I mean the Ecuadorians) can teach them a Bible lesson and help them make a craft. Then we send them home to invite their parents to come back for an evangelistic service, where we sing a few church songs, share a couple of testimonies, and present a choreography or two. At the end there is an appeal for those who want to know more or have questions or want to give their life to Christ to either step forward, or just stay in place, and then those who already follow Christ can walk through the people and talk and pray with them.

It was a good evening. A recent convert shared his experience of having been a drunk and drug addict, and he is only about 17 now! But it was a powerful message, and we were able to talk to several people, and three of them even showed up the next day and helped us work around the church! Hopefully they will continue to discover the grace of Christ.
On Wednesday, we followed the same routine--work in the morning, working with the lunch kids--but in the afternoon we worked with kids in a different area of town (kind of like the campaign, but without the evangelistic outreach to the parent&acutes kids). As we were standing there, I got to talking with a girl who looked a little disheveled. She began to tell me her story as I expressed interest.

Veronica is 13. Her parents died when she was young, and since then, she hasn&acutet lived anywhere where men haven't either tried or succeded in taking advantage of her. She recently was released from a girl's shelter, but the home where she was placed isn't any different from other places; the dad had come home late drunk the night before, and had tried to force himself on her. She refused to return there. I asked her where she would be staying that night, and she said she had no idea. She'd just probably stay on the street. I gave her a glass of kool-aid, bought her some candy because she had a sweet tooth, and prayed for her.

I have never felt so useless, so impotent to be able to do something for her. I had no home to take her to, no resources or money to take her somewhere safe. I wonder where she is today. I am praying for her. I know that God's plan for me was not to solve her problems, but to show her for an hour that day that she is loved. As I hugged her and told her goodbye, she began crying, and didn't want to let go. Please pray for her.
That evening we had our third Bible Study/leadership session. It was of great blessing to all who were there.
Today (Thursday, July 2)has been the same--work, kid&acutes lunch program, this afternoon we'll work with kids again, and this evening will find us in Bible study again.

Please continue to pray for us. We are getting tired, but still want to be a blessing, and keep our focus on serving, rather than our uncomfortableness in getting bug bites, having to sleep on the floor, and not getting a good nights´ sleep.

After the first 8 days, things got crazy and I didn't have time to write more about our last 4 days. Needless to say, they included a lot of sad goodbyes.

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