Thursday, January 28, 2016


{all over the world this Gospel is bearing fruit and growing}

I've been back from Ecuador for almost three weeks now. I want to thank all of you who were praying for me and the team. We appreciated those prayers so much.

People ask me, "how was Ecuador?!" It feels so shallow, but most of the time I say, "it was great!", followed up by a short summary of the trip. I take awhile to process things. And while I'm processing, about all I can get out is the "it was great" part. So if you've asked me that question, and gotten that lame answer, my apologies.

Ecuador was great.
It was nothing like this summer. I can't say it was better or worse...just very different.
It was challenging and rewarding, exhausting and amazing.

When I left Ecuador on August 2, never in a million years would I have thought that less than five months later, I'd be back. Silly me. Shortly after I returned last summer, I began praying for an opportunity to return sometime this winter. I looked into some different options. But I really felt like God was telling me to just wait. So I did. I can be pretty bad with the whole waiting thing. It's not easy; I like having answers and knowing what I'm doing and where I'm going. But when I found out that Global Encounters was going back to Ecuador over Christmas break, I knew that's where God wanted me. He worked out every detail for me to be on the trip. Money, time off work, family schedule. I was SO excited to be going back.

It was great to be back with these three who were also on the Summer trip...we love Ecuador!
The adventure started out two days after Christmas. After a nine-hour layover in the Miami airport (which was made bearable by the fact that Lydia was with me the whole time and Liz and Micah arrived at various points in the afternoon) a delay, and engine trouble, we finally made it to Quito and met up with Christy early Monday morning. We drove to Casa Del Padre and slept for a few hours before starting our kids' programs on Monday morning. Our days in Quito were full. We ran a morning program with about fifty kids and an afternoon program that was slightly larger. For the most part, the kids were receptive and very sweet. In the morning program there was a little girl named Ava, who was I believe, seven years old. From our very first day working there, every time she would see me, she would come running over and give me the biggest hug. It was so cute. 
Sweet Little Ava

Because our team was so much smaller than our team this summer (6 people as opposed to 20!), each of us ran our own station by ourselves. Thank goodness for our awesome translators who worked alongside us. Because I needed to be able to take pictures as well as teach, I got not one, but two amazing translators. It was such a blessing to have Andrea and Taty on my team. I led a craft team the first week, and it was really cool to watch the kids grasp the spiritual concepts I was teaching and get to teach them how to do some new things too. One day we made braided cross necklaces, and a fair amount of kids didn't know how to braid, especially the little ones. It was fun to show them how to do it and then watch as they caught on. I feel like the oldest group of kids is always the hardest to reach. They're at that age where they think they're too cool to be going to a vacation Bible school. I was encouraged that by the end of the week at both programs, I felt like I had really connected with them. I took a Spanish class after I came back this summer, so I felt a little more comfortable using Spanish. They would laugh at my broken attempts, and I would quiz them on their English. The oldest group in the morning program would sit down every morning and then say in unison "good morning teacher" in the cutest little accent. Melt my heart.

They laughed at my Spanish, I laughed at their English, it was all good. 

My translators, Andrea and Taty. <3

This little guy wrote out his whole verse by himself.

If you're shopping at the market in Quito on New Year's Eve, you should definitely buy matching necklaces. :)
One benefit of the smaller team was that we were able to spend more time with our translators. They are such a fun bunch of people and it was awesome to get to know them better. We spent the night of the 30th at Andrea and Martín's house and enjoyed their wonderful hospitality. They also introduced us to an Ecuadorean New Year's Eve tradition - burning the "año viejo". Basically, you decide on a person in your group that you are going to make a puppet of and then stuff old clothes with newspaper, and make a mask for the face. Then, on New Year's Eve, you burn the puppet, symbolizing burning the bad things that happened in the old year. It's supposed to bring good luck to the person being burned. So we all made a puppet together. Since the clothes they had for us to stuff were guy's clothes and there was only one guy in our group, it was a pretty easy decision of who was going to be burned.

On New Year's Eve, after a lovely dinner at Pastor Benjamin's house, we lit "Micah" on fire and jumped over the burning puppet. We spent the remainder of the evening playing a hard-core game of spoons together as a team at Casa Del Padre. At midnight we went outside and watch the Quito sky light up with fireworks and paper lanterns. It was a sight I will never forget. 

New Year's Day brought one of my favorite parts of the trip. We slept in a little bit and then drove to Otavalo. If you read my recaps about the summer trip, you may remember that we worked in that city during the summer. I feel like it was in Otavalo this summer that I really fell in love with Ecuador- its people and the culture. Otavalo was also where God taught me the biggest lessons of the summer trip, so starting the year out there was such a special gift. We enjoyed a much needed day of rest there, and also some market shopping and volleyball. The next morning we were able to return to the church we had worked with during the summer and play some games and do a short program with the kids there. It was awesome to see some familiar faces -- especially little Jordy. :-)

This view brings back so many memories

Crew Navidad
Between Saturday night and Sunday afternoon, we ran four programs at four different churches. Two of them, Iglesia Iñaquito, and the church in Carapungo, we had worked with this summer, and it was wonderful to see some of the kids and translators we had previously worked with. After wrapping up the programs, we repacked our gear, said goodbye to Janelle (who was only able to join us for a week), and took of for Cuenca, ready for week two.

Tommy and I played "Andy and Lucy" so many times throughout the week. We had to get a picture after our last performance. 
For our second week, we were blessed to have the opportunity to work in a new city with new contacts. We spent one night in Cuenca and then on Monday morning, we met our new translators, Andres and Taty, as well as Pastor Gonzalo and some other people from the church we would be working with. There was some excitement on the the two hour drive through the mountains to Cochapata- the van that half the team was driving in lost half its brakes going down the mountain. The driver was able to lower gears and get them safely to a repair station. Things like that make us realize how much God watches over us as we travel thousands and thousands of miles.

The church foundation, and the house that some of us slept in

Two years ago Pastor Gonzalo moved his family from Cuenca to Cochapata to start ministering to the people there. They have the foundation for a church building laid. There is also a building with a kitchen, bathroom, and common area, that is partially finished. We pitched a few tents, and some of us slept in them while others opted to sleep inside on the floor. Except for the first night...just before we went to bed, it started raining. We were told it hadn't rained in seven months. We all slept under the roof that night. :) Aside from the fact that every dog in Cochapata starts barking after dark, the roosters start crowing at about five in the morning, and the donkey starts braying shortly after that, I enjoyed the camping experience. We all worked together to cook our meals, and it was nice to have a slightly slower pace after our action-packed week in Quito.

We started ministry on Tuesday morning. Part of Pastor Gonzalo's vision is to reach out to the single moms in the community. Although we don't typically work with adults, we pulled together a program for the ladies. It was really cool to see how many came to the program. One lady walked 45 minutes carrying her baby to be there. Our team members had fun holding their babies and playing with their toddlers. I got to hold a one month old little girl for about an hour. They enjoyed the program so much that they asked if they could come back the next morning. Of course we agreed! They were eager listeners, and gospel seeds were planted.

In the afternoons we walked for about half an hour through the countryside to the school where the kids program was held. It's easy to get into a groove when you're teaching the same lessons over and over again...especially when the kids you're working with know most of the "Sunday school answers". But here was different - the kids didn't know the Sunday school answers. So we stuck to the basics and tried to tie everything back to Salvation. Unlike our programs in Quito, where kids typically stop coming when they are 11 or 12, we had kids who were in 9th and 10th grade coming. In fact, the oldest group of kids was the biggest. On our last day, there were 21 of them there. Much like the program with the single moms, the kids didn't seem to want to leave after the program was over each afternoon. We had fun playing soccer and just hanging out with them after we were done teaching. But my favorite part of the afternoon program in Cochapata? That's easy. She had the biggest smile and a mischievous personality...Sophie. She stole our hearts from the first day.

Sophie. :)

One evening we were talking with Pastor Gonzalo after dinner. He told us that we were the first team to stay in Cochapata. Other teams have driven back and forth from Cuenca everyday. He also told us that as much as he wants to minister to the community, his first priority is to lead his family well and he asked us to pray for him. He said, "when you go back home, tell the American churches about us. Ask them to pray for us". In this exchange, I was reminded just how important it is to be in prayer for our missionaries. They are on the front lines day in and day out. Especially for people like Gonzalo, who is in a small city far off the beaten path, the work is hard and often lonely. It was a huge blessing to our team to know that God allowed us to be an encouragement to him and his family.

Taty and Andres jumped onto the team as translators...they were a perfect fit!

After our program was over on Thursday, we made the drive back to Cuenca. No brake problems this time, but an exciting drive nonetheless. Thick fog, narrow mountain roads, wooden bridges, and drivers who pass wherever they feel like it, make life an adventure. We were able to take a short bus tour of Cuenca with our translators on Friday morning. A Panama hat museum, the interesting architecture, and swinging over the city, were some of the things we enjoyed. After flying back to Quito, we spent our last night with our translators at Tommy and Martina's house. Good friends, good food, charades, and reminiscing about the events of the past two weeks, was the perfect way to end the trip. 

In the crowded city streets of Quito, in the mountains of Otavalo, amidst the quaint architecture of Cuenca, and the dirt roads of Cochapata, God's word is going out and He promises that it will not return empty. Ecuador was great. It was challenging and rewarding, exhausting and amazing. One thing that we talked about as a team, was that we can't bring anyone to salvation. Only God can do that. But we are called to share the gospel. And maybe next week or next year, or maybe ten years from now, the seeds that were planted during our two weeks in Ecuador will take root. Maybe we will be blessed to see the fruit, or maybe we won't know the impact of our trip until eternity. Results are God's.

Photographs, a few mosquito bites, a couple bags of chifles, and some peeling sunburn are the reminders that I did actually get to go back to Ecuador this winter. That, and the renewed reminder that all over the world, this Gospel is bearing fruit and growing.

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