To Ecuador & Back Again

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It’s been about a week since I’ve been back from Ecuador and I’ve spent this time trying to process everything that happened in just eight short days. Not only that, but the transition of coming back home from Ecuador and that flight not being to Chicago or Grand Rapids (but to TEXAS). The last few months have been a whirlwind and yet, even in the midst of the chaos of moving and traveling and healing from sickness, God continues over and over again to demonstrate his faithfulness in powerful and tangible ways. HOW AWESOME IS THAT?!

Back in January, I traveled to Lubbock, Texas in order to visit Isaac Ramos after spending four months long distance during my internship in Quito, Ecuador. During this time I was deciding whether or not it would be possible to make the move myself to this crazy town in this supposedly bigger & better state (and if I would be able to handle the culture shock of being a Yankee far far far from home). During this week trip I ended up attending one of the initial meetings for the Ecuador mission trip, which Isaac had gone on last year and had already signed up to participate again. As his girlfriend and without a car I was stuck sitting in the meeting, and may I add… moping like a pucheras (slang for pouty face) that I had to listen to people getting excited about a PLACE THAT I KNEW SO MUCH about. I sat there, upset at myself for not thinking earlier about signing up and quite jealous that I would be spending spring break alone while this special man of mine got to go to a place that I would love to share with him.

At the end of the meeting, we walked outside and near our car was the leader of the trip walking out to his ride. In that conversation he revealed that one of the girls had dropped out of the trip and they had a spot to fill… WHAT?! Isaac e-mailed him the next day and told him that I wanted in. I could not believe that I had spent an hour pouting that I couldn’t go and God still opened the door for me to be involved in the trip. God is so good, even when I do not deserve it. That next weekend I sent out support letters (because I only had about 2 months to raise the money needed) and dedicated my heart to serving my preschoolers in my classroom and preparing to move while God would provide everything needed for this trip. And He did! I was fully funded a couple weeks before the trip and on March 1, I officially moved into my apartment in Lubbock! If someone had told me this time last year that I would moving to Lubbock to be closer to my boyfriend and going back to Ecuador, I would have laughed & giggled & called them loco loco loco. God loves writing the loco things into His plan, which is why this life journey is way more fun when surrendering to His plan and NOT mine!

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On March 14, our group of 15 (12 students and 3 sponsors) departed for Quito, Ecuador. We had a bit of a passport scare at the Midland airport with one of the students, but with much prayer and rebuking that Satan would have ZERO hold on messing up our trip, we located the passport and moved on to Houston. We arrived to Quito at about eleven and made it through customs by midnight. The officer that I went through saw my Ecuadorean visa and decided that he thought I knew enough Spanish to complete the process without English. I made it through with my ‘un pocito Espanol’ which actually is mucho more than I had expected (especially with not speaking it for two months). We met up with Jauna and Justin, our site hosts, who then loaded us up on the bus and we settled into the camp for the night (all while I am trying to figure out how I am back in ECUA again with a bunch of Texans y’all and I don’t even know how to process so many insane things at one moment). We also climbed a mountain on our first day in Ecuador. That might not have been the smartest choice, but boy was it rewarding! Not to mention it was so steep we had to slide down in the mud on our bottoms, many ripped pants in the process.

On our first day (Sunday) we ate breakfast (and I was reunited with my favorite drink in the world JUGO aka the tastiest juice that ever had the pleasure of meeting your tastebuds) and we had the pleasure of listening to Isaac preach the Word to us and the community church while being translated by one of the foster home dads. What a blessing it was to finally meet the people whose hard work we had heard about as they have given their lives to live with orphans and treat them as their own. Games were organized so that we could have a bit of competition and also reinforce perseverance principles from the message and we interacted with the two other American groups were at the Hacienda with us, including a group of teachers from Lubbock Christian University and a high school youth group from Canyon, Texas.

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Mis niñas favoritas!

The next few days consisted of working at the lowest income school in Tabacundo (where the Hacienda is located) with the Canyon youth group on a construction project of a playground. At the same time, some of our artistic students took on the project of a mural to put on one of the whitewashed walls of the school, providing a beautiful splash of color and talent for the school. One of my favorite things to do throughout the day was to pick up a friend’s camera and capture the sideways smiles and dimpled cheeks, the twinkle of light in each of the child’s eyes as they chased each other around the old playground or the shy smirk as I placed the camera close to their face. What a delight it was to see their eyes widen as I turned around the lens so that they could get a glance of their own faces staring back at them. Most of them told me that they have never had a picture taken care of them (I guess they don’t have parents with iPhones documenting every sweet milestone that is Facebook-worthy…). We finished the mural and almost finished the playground by the end of our time there – a few of the parts we needed had to be finished up before they could be put on. Overall, our group worked exceptionally hard and left slides and monkey bars and swings for those sweet children to enjoy.

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The Hacienda of Hope directors help twelve families in the community that work hard but just cannot seem to make ends meet. Many of these families are single parents or families with a large number of children under their care. A few of us had the opportunity to go to the local grocery store and buy enough dry goods to sustain their families for awhile. Here we were, a bunch of gringos dressed in work clothes, pushing around eight carts worth of rice and beans and detergent and soap and all of my compadres were in awe of the Ecuadorean goodies that surrounded us. I couldn’t help but run and grab some of my favorite things to bring back and let everyone in our group taste. Anyways, later in the week we went and visited two of these families, delivering these boxes to their table. At both of the families’ houses we took some time to sing to them and with them, proclaiming the love of Jesus together, even if they did not understand our songs in English or we struggled through repeating the songs led by Justin in Spanish. At the first house I was asked to translate, and at first that thought clenched my heart tight with fear… I wasn’t prepared for this, I did not know enough Spanish, I was going to make a fool of our group… but I did it anyway. And with the help of Justin and the gift of peace through Jesus, I succeeded in TRANSLATING SPANISH. Coming from a girl who struggled every single day of my internship in Ecuador, it meant so much that I had actually learned and retained some of what I had heard. At the end of singing, we had the privilege to pray with the families and after we walked out of each house we were overcome with humility at seeing and hearing the gospel of Jesus come from the mouths of those much less fortunate than we, who still emanated the love of Christ in a way that challenged us and inspired us to do the sam

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Guadalupe Familia ❤

Three nights a week we were invited over to the Casas to eat dinner. These are home to the foster families who take in the orphans and foster them as part of their own family, taking care of all their needs. The meals that they prepared for us on these nights gave us something to look forward to after long days of construction and around the table we were able to share our hearts and lives with not only these incredible parents but their own children and the foster kids, most of whom spoke English because they are learning it at the school. So many laughs and silly language misunderstandings, precious sweet hugs from the little ones and homework questions that made us fall in love with all the people at the Haciendas. God is doing an amazing work through all of them and these kids are being equipped to be incredible disciples of Christ.

Justin and Jauna took us to Otavalo (a HUGE outdoor market with loads of alpaca apparel) and also to Quito in order to see a bit of the culture of Ecuador. Since Isaac and I had already been to Quito, we were able to skip out on the group activities and meet with some of the influential women in my life from my semester there. I think this was one of the moments of the trip where God’s sweetness was almost too much to handle… not only was I here back in Ecuador, but I was with my love and he got to meet some of the people I thought I would never get to see again.

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At the end of the week we had one final devotion to close out our week. The parents and kids of the Hacienda were all present and for one last time we all sang together some beautiful Acapella songs that I had finally begun to learn and enjoy. At the end of this time, Justin opened it up to say a few words before we would all say our goodbyes. One of the foster dads, Patricio, who had helped us all week at the construction site, raised his hand with a bit of anticipation. This man spoke only a few words of English, but he had written up some lines on his phone for Justin to translate. He told us that this week he had learned many things, such as what hammer means in English and how to make lasagna, but the most important thing he had learned is that God speaks through all nations and that it was amazing to see God does not have language barriers, only fellow followers of Christ. *CUE THE TEARS* At that moment, we knew that we might have come here to work with kids but that working with the adults and missionaries had meant just as much.

We left Ecuador late that night, taking a red-eye out to Houston and making it home that Sunday with droopy eyes and satisfied hearts. I am so thankful that God placed me with an incredible group of people that have become some of my closest friends in Lubbock. He knew exactly what I needed in my process of settling in and not only that but allowed for some awesome adventures on the journey. One thing that people keep asking me is if I am going to do missions in Ecuador. As for this, I do not know. My heart longs for the chance someday to move overseas and follow God’s leading wherever that may be, Ecuador or not. But for right now, amidst all of the changes and transitions and life changes in the last year, I am so LISTA (ready) to put roots down, delve deep into strong relationships and be involved in a community. For right now, God has called me to little ol’ Lubbock, Texas, and I am going to be faithful in choosing a church, involving myself in ways that help my gifts, working in order to pay loans, and preparing my heart and spiritual disciplines to be ready for the challenge of overseas living. Here’s to putting a little more “y’all” into my vocabulary and wearing in my cowboy boots and getting a tan in April. Seriously, Texas life is great and I could not be more blessed to be surrounded in a community of some of the nicest people I have ever met. God is good and He is faithful, always. What is there to complain about?

Much love,

Liz

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Through & Through

There’s just some days where Jesus wrecks my heart. I am staring at this computer screen and I feel like I am flat on my face in front of His throne. There’s just some days that I do not feel worthy of that privilege… of kneeling in front of the Creator of the Universe, who knew me before I was born, and yet knows when I get up and lay down, where I go during the day and where my heart strays when I let it. He sees me and He knows me… and He loves me. There are so many things that I would like to say about my time in Ecuador, but I have not been able to bring myself to update when my heart feels so lost.

I do not like to admit that I struggle. I especially do not like to admit that I struggle in what I expected to be the best semester of my life. Here I am, living in a bustling city, visiting some of the coolest islands in the world and immersing myself in this wonderful culture… and I spend more of my time fighting than I do enjoying. I have been spending a lot of time reflecting on why this is. Living in a different culture is extremely challenging. It makes me an outsider, a minority, and each day I have to fight to find my purpose for why I am here. The days where I find myself sinking deeper into myself, not wanting to suffer through not being able to communicate what I actually want to say. The hours of silence that I spend, wrestling with God because I cannot stand not being able to deeply connect and wondering if what I am doing here is making an eternal impact. I have felt worthless, useless and purposeless.

Truth is, I never expected to struggle here. I knew that life is always a battle, but this is what I want to do with my life. I thought that I am destined to live overseas and that life would just click while I am here. Yet, the funny thing is that even those expectations that I have of my future can become an idol. And God has been stripping that away from me. When I left I had told a friend that I could not imagine every becoming homesick, because God gave me a wandering heart and there is just no way I would ever miss America. Yet I have spent the last week missing everything about my life back in America, wishing that I could spend time with people that know me and where life is a little bit easier. Dreaming about driving my own car and going to a church in English and worshiping in my own language. Here I am, the self-proclaimed world traveler and I want to go home. Something’s wrong here and I am learning that I do not think God sent me here so that I could realize just how perfect He made me for missions. Instead, He is showing me that what He is calling me to is going to be hard. I am going to want to run and hide when it gets hard and I am going to miss home. I might be visiting some of the most beautiful places in the world, but if I am not abiding in Him, they will mean nothing. Missions is not about seeking a successful ministry, it is about learning to be dependent wholly on Him as He leads me where He wills. He is ridding me of my expectations of my missions life and is preparing me for some of what will plague me as I go.

I came into this semester expecting to live it up, to enjoy every moment that God has to give me. And I have, I really have. But I have also experienced every struggle that has been part of this journey and I will walk away knowing that God is using those for a purpose. Our struggles are never in vain, and I am so deeply loved. What my heart has been put through in the last month is not meaningless, it is for an eternal glory that I cannot glimpse right now. God’s fingerprints are etched along every memory that I have of this place. Ecuador is filled with His love, whether or not I seek it. It is in these moments of struggle that I find Jesus on my knees. I might wish that I constantly lived in the mountains of this faith journey, but I know that I need to be stretched. This past month has illuminated parts of my life that Jesus wants to shine His light on, places that I still kept from Him and those that I love. I can be so good at hiding and sometimes I do not even realize that there are still things that need to be let go of. I have no reason to hide. I am loved and accepted by Jesus, who took it on Himself to carry my sins with Him onto the cross, to raise from the dead and promise me eternity by His side. It is in these moments of loneliness that that Jesus can truly grasp my heart and let that sacrifice seep into those parts of me that I do not want any to see, the brokenness that holds on to deception: He sees me, He knows me, and He loves me, THROUGH AND THROUGH. Without Him, I am nothing. And if He needs to break me completely to show me that, then so be it, Lord. Break me, mold me, challenge me.

I know that I have not done an update about home stays or the Galapagos and I promise that those will come. But right now I just need to steady my heart before the Lord and remind myself that it is He that sustains me and upholds me in His victorious right hand. My experiences here in Ecuador are incredible, but they mean nothing in light of the glory of the King of whom I love. So here are my heart notes, intimate and vulnerable. They are not easy and I hate admitting that my heart is hurting, but I am free to struggle in the grace of the Almighty, who is intricately weaving my story in a beautiful way. I do not need to be ashamed that I do not have it all together and I really feel lost on some days. It is okay to admit that I want to go home on some days and that I really dislike learning a new language on others. I am allowing myself to be genuine about what I am feeling, and that is freeing. I am not discrediting my life here, because it is amazing. It has just come with many unexpected lessons that God is going to keep revealing to me.

Psalm 77:19 says, “Your path led through the sea, your way through the mighty waters, though your footprints were not seen.” God is leading me through the seas and mighty waters, and what a blessing it is to wrestle with Him in this journey, for He is with me. His footsteps are much easier seen in hindsight, but they are there, each moment, every single day. I am resting in that promise tonight.

A Month In!

1455119_10204975070246619_1202737106739722322_nWell, it’s the second weekend in a row that my stomach has desired to wage a war against my body. However, at least this time I am not subject to five hours on a tour bus through the mountain roads on the way to the Jungle. Now that was quite an adventure that I would surely not want to re-live.

I woke up the morning before we left for the Jungle and instantly knew it was going to be a long day. I spent the morning hugging the toilet and had to lay in my bed and listen to the meeting, upset that I was feeling so horrible on a day that was supposed to be so exciting. By the grace of God I made it through the bus ride, thanks to the sleep drugs that knocked me out for almost the entirety of the trip. I was even more bummed when I did not feel up to going explore the city, which meant I missed out on the first encounters with the monkeys in the town square and the first dip into the river. Needless to say, I was not a very happy traveler. I even got nicknamed Rapunzel because I was seen looking out my window with a wishful glance at everyone going to do adventures. It’s a good thing that name has not stuck.

That night the missionaries came to our hostal and shared dinner, worship time and then their testimonies with our group. I might not have been feeling well, but I was not going to miss this, so I laid in a hammock right outside of the meeting area so that I at least listen. Their stories were incredible – of the way that God called them out of their lives in America and allowed them to start this school by adopting local jungle kids and teaching them English. The locals saw how much their adopted children learned and wanted to pay them to teach their own children, which is now their school! How awesome that God takes the faithfulness of two people in little ways and turns it into an incredible ministry. I so desire to have a ministry like theirs someday.

Now… admission… I started these past few paragraphs three days ago and haven’t gotten around to finishing this blog. I am finally feeling better and have motivation to do something besides lay in bed. I am thankful that both of these sicknesses have not been long-lasting! 10295269_10152707557083446_2515124188867140994_o

Back to my time in the JUNGLE! Healing happened just in time for me to go with the group to put on Ecua-Olympics for the local youth. In the past, the Youth World program has put on a VBS for the young kids, but the missionaries expressed that there is a huge need in their community for work with the teenagers. The youth in Misahualli are used to a culture that is full of sex, drugs, and alcohol and have almost no positive outlets in their lives. Because of this, we were able to be one of the first groups to work with this population and it went extremely well. Our staff put on the Ecua-Olympics, full of 3-legged and wheelbarrow races, leap frog and crab soccer! Most of us could not communicate well, but competition knows no language and smiles crossed over all barriers. We ended the evening with a great message from our Director of Education about what it means to live with Christ.

That evening someone had the LOCO idea to go swimming in the river at night and since I had not been in yet, I decided that it was worth being terrified out of my mind. This is a river that connects to the Amazon, who knows what critters lurk beneath the water…but I wasn’t even thinking of that when I got in the water. It was one of the most beautiful scenes of my life, for the Amazon Jungle was all around us, this powerful river rushing around us and lightning lighting up the sky in the distance. There are moments in life where God stops me in my tracks to put on a display that only He can do, and this was one of those.

10710300_10152712434018446_2713414484639212961_oThe next day we workedin the Jungle heat at the school that the missionaries started, ranging from digging holes and ditches to weeding and moving rocks. I don’t think I have ever experience sweating like I did from the Jungle humidity. Not to mention we were doing manual labor that is tiring itself even without the intense heat. However, we were working with a purpose and I was surrounded by friends, most of whom I don’t get to spend much time with, so this created an awesome opportunity to ask more about their stories and backgrounds.

After all this work, we were disgusting and the only thing that sounded refreshing was a dip in the river. I finally felt up to fighting the current to swim across the river and use the rope swing to swing off the tree. That wasn’t on my bucket list but I think I can check it off now! Later that day we went with a lot of the youth from the night before and tubed down the river! Imagine some incredible rapids, amazing Jungle scenery, and spiders bigger than my hand! The youth led us to the side of the river and SURPRISE – there was a waterfall! We actually climbed up it, got some group pictures and then some of the boys showed us that if they laid just right they could dam the water at the top so that we could all slide down the waterfall. It seemed like a fantastic idea, but at the bottom we all had stinging bottoms from the ride. And did I mention that there were MONKEYS all over the square and that if you few them they would jump all over you? Yeah, this is real life. Monkeys jumping on me!    10688199_10152726984418446_8245371016892537110_o10608558_10204960871651663_4854305589105493538_o

Our final evening we got to sing worship songs in Spanish with some of the teenagers and the missionaries and it was such an amazing experience to see so many of the youth connect with songs that they have never heard before in Spanish. Many of them told us that they were so thankful that we even sang along with them. I love being able to worship in another language because it reveals more of God that I don’t get to experience just in English. After worshipping, we heard a sermon and then got to surround the teenagers, lay hands on them and pray for each one of them individually. They are such incredible leaders and Christ-followers and we are so blessed to come alongside them in their journey, for howeverlong that is. We get to go back for a week in December and that will be time to build on the work that we have already done. 10649732_10204953473906724_5719643485659919631_n

We get back from the Jungle on Sunday, I go to my internship on Monday and then we moved to our host families on Tuesday night! I found out that I was going to be living with my friend, Dana, who is excellent at Spanish, which is such a blessing. I have two parents, Margarita and Miguel, and three brothers: Andres (30), Michael (25), and Niko (22). Michael is married so he does not live at home anymore, but I get to see Andres and Niko often. They welcomed us into their HUGE home, which is five stories and has a workout room, homework room, movie room, and a roof with an incredible view of North Quito. It’s been quite an adventure thus far, because Mami and Papi speak little to no English, so I have to rely on my beginner (and improving!) level Spanish or Dana and their sons to translate for me. The hardest part of this experience is that I just want to communicate with them and ask them about their lives, get to know them and how Jesus is working in their life… and all I can talk about is simple Spanish phrases. It has been a humbling experience thus far, and I am excited to see what else God teaches me through the frustrations and joys of living with this family. 10646622_10204997093037175_982544222622549825_n

One of the coolest part of the Sanchez family is that I now have three older brothers. I have always wanted an older brother and having two that treat me like a sister, who goof off with me and tease me about not liking cheese, who teach me how to salsa dance in the kitchen and graciously correct my Spanish… that’s what this is about. Making relationships with Ecuadoreans that wouldn’t happen if I weren’t able to be a part of a family setting. I love being able to come do homework at the kitchen table and listen to the parent’s banter with their sons, trying to understand at least enough of the context to get their jokes and join in if I can. The house is also big enough that I can have alone time if I need and also get my dog fix with their three dachshunds and german shepherd.

Since Margarita makes us breakfast and dinner (and she is SUCH a good one) and the cooks at Carmen Bajo make me lunch, I literally eat Ecuadorean food all day, every day. I am falling in love with it. It usually has some sort of rice with chicken or steak, a precursor of some delicious soup (that most likely will have chicken feet in it — YUCK), and paired with a salad of some sort. Cilantro and lime are their two main flavorings, which means I automatically like almost all their food. There have been a few dishes that I have had to force down, like tuna salad and a soup with shrimp in it, but I am forcing myself to eat whatever is put in front of me. To my delight, I am starting to like seafood and haven’t found anything besides cow stomach that I just can’t eat. Margarita found out that I don’t like cheese so she has been gracious to make me food without it, and even the cooks made me empanadas without queso! Things like that make me feel so loved!

The internship has been going well, even though I have found days that I am so overwhelmed with Spanish that I have to fight to keep my joy throughout the day. Although I can play with the kids all day long, I desire to have a deeper relationship with them… that just can’t happen. Somedays it makes me not want to try because I feel like I am not making a difference, but then that one kid that I haven’t really talked to comes up and gives me a kiss on the cheek and I remember that they are just appreciating my presence and I don’t have to say the right things to let them know I love them. It’s really hard, way harder than I imagined. This language barrier makes me feel stupid almost 95% of the time, but I am trying, and I know that everyone there sees that. I might be losing my dignity by butchering the language, but I am attempting to learn, and that means something. I try to step in where I can and ask when I don’t know what to do, whether or not I will understand the answer. This might not be like an internship that I would have in the States, but I am learning so many different things that I would not have the opportunity to do in Michigan.

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I have finally mastered my routes from my new house to my school and Carmen Bajo, which means that I have gotten lost a lot the past couple days. My philosophy is that if life isn’t an adventure then you’re not doing it right… and the public transportation has been an adventure. It makes me miss having my own car so that I can have a reliable way to get somewhere, but you know what, this is life here in Quito, and I’m getting to experience it firsthand. I’m not a tourist and most of the time I’m the only foreigner that I see all day on the buses. I take that as a privilege to see a part of life that many don’t get to see here in Ecuador, as much as waiting for buses without schedules every day can be.

Well, that’s about it for now. This girl needs some good sleep. A few more weeks of host family and then it’s the Galapagos! God is so good and He is manifesting Himself here in so many different ways. So thankful to serve a God that rules over all nations, including this one. I am learning more about Him each day, whether it’s through fighting frustration, getting hugged on by some kids or being healed of my sickness after a powerful prayer. He is good, all the time. Hallelujah. Gracias Dios por tu gracia y amor, no merezco tu compasion!

Growing Pains

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Rooftop Living

It’s been over two weeks and life here in Quito is well… normal. It is incredible how fast adjustment can happen. I’m becoming familiar with the city, maneuvering through the public transportation system in order to go to my internship, struggling through broken Spanish and learning more and more each day. It’s become the norm that I can go for hours without speaking a word of English, which means I get a lot of time to talk to Jesus because at least He understands what I’m saying!

This past week, Amanda and I started our internships at Carmen Bajo, which is a Compassion International site in the northern part of Quito. It takes us three different buses and around an hour and a half each way to get there, which gives us plenty of time to run through our Spanish notecards and take in some of the different areas of the city that we would normally not go to. We will be spending four days at this place, so around 30-35 hours a week, which is an incredible opportunity to connect with the kids and the staff and learn from their program. We have the privilege to help with their teen moms program, which includes taking care of their darling babies, helping them in the sewing room and in a few weeks TEACHING a baking class. Now, Amanda and I have never baked in high elevation, do not know much Spanish, and have never used the type of cooking utensils that they have…. which means that we are in for an incredible learning experience all around. We are just excited that we are able to have opportunities to be pushed out of our comfort zone in this setting! I will let you know how the first time goes!

The absolute hardest part of this internship is not being able to communicate because I am still a beginner Spanish student. Only the director speaks English and even then she wants us to speak Spanish to her unless we are completely lost. Now I understand that immersion is the best way to learn, and I am so excited to see how much I pick up. However, spending nine to ten hours being absolutely clueless is exhausting. I have felt frustrated, stupid, angry, and bitter. I’ve wanted to shut down and stop listening or trying to learn. It’s easier to just passively move throughout my day without speaking, because it’s hard. I mess up a lot. I don’t know what to say most of the time. But I’m learning that by fighting through my frustration, I am actually growing. My Spanish is growing a little bit, but my patience and character is really what is being practiced and refined. Because I only can have a few conversations with the people at Carmen Bajo, I am having to find different ways that I can be a light for Jesus and share His love without language. That means that I try to step in and serve wherever I can, even if it doesn’t have anything to do with social work. It also means going in for hugs whenever I can, keeping a smile on my face even when I’m not in any way joyful, and making an effort to use the Spanish I know, even if I know that I am butchering it. What life lessons I am gaining and it’s only been the first week!

Some of the most rewarding parts of the week have been the little things that make my day better at Carmen Bajo. One of the kitchen ladies is named Laura and she loves talking to Amanda and I slowly in Spanish, trying to make sure we understand. We found out that she has nine kids – she had her last one at 44, whew! Every day that we arrive she greets us with an inviting smile and warm kiss on the cheek and truly appreciates the work we put in. Not to mention she makes authentic and delicious Ecuadorean food that we get to eat everyday with the staff. We also have gotten to play with the kids in the mornings and I might not know how to speak to them, but I surely know how to play. Tickling is a universal language that brings laughs and giggles and I can chase a ball with the best of them. I’m slowly learning the kids’ names and I love that some of them remember mine, too. Soon they will realize that we are not just short-term people who will leave in a week but will be around for 3 months!

Last week we were taken zip-lining through the rainforest of Mindo. They hooked us up and we went flying over the trees in the rainforest, taking in all the views from above and feeling the rush of adrenaline that zip-lining provides. I even got to be attached to one of the guides and be flipped upside down – now THAT is the best way to do it. Later in the day we visited the Equator and experienced all the odd things that the Middle of the World provides – like being able to balance an egg on a nail! Now, I failed at it, but many in our group succeeded and proved that it was possible!

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The Mariposa!

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In the last year, God has been preparing my heart for this journey. He has put me a freedom path that has allowed my story to be shared to thousands (!!!!!) of people and my heart to gently and wholly be placed in His hands (if you’re interested, check out a blog I wrote about it at http://www.covenanteyes.com/2014/08/15/girls-hooked-porn-battle-notes-weathered-fighter/). It’s incredible to see that all of those things that have happened to me are coming into play, here in Ecuador! God has taught me so much already. He has opened my heart to believing that His Spirit is in me and is going to do great things through me. Last week, a few friends and I encountered the Spirit in the middle of QuiCentro mall. The four of us were sitting around a table in the food court, sharing our testimonies with each other and praising God for them. After this time, we prayed together and the power of the Spirit came upon us, causing a few to weep, others to laugh with joy and all of us to feel either warmth or electricity in our arms that cannot be explained away in anything rational: it was the Spirit, blessing us with actually feeling His Presence. Following this encounter, we went and prayed for an Ecuadorean man sitting at a table near us and were able to share our heart for the Lord with him. I might not have understood everything he said, but as he got up to give us hugs and take pictures, we knew that it was a God-ordained moment, one of those good works that God planned in advance for us to do.

Some of the greatest moments that I have had here in Ecuador come from worshiping on the rooftop. With the lights of the city twinkling, the shadow of the mountains on the horizon and the buzz of the streets below, one’s thoughts can only linger on the majesty of the Creator. Behind me is an incredible volcano, full of bridled power and strength, in front of me is a valley of people, all created in the image of God, and next to me is fellow brothers and sisters in Christ who are singing out praises and glory to God as one. Those moments are what make my heart yearn for heaven, when all will be crying out to God together, marveling in who He is

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West view off our rooftop!

The first night that we were out there, after our encounter with God at the mall, the moon came out at 9:30. This is an incredible feat because the moon usually comes out at around 7:00, and those that have lived there for year have never seen it come over the mountains so late. As I had been praying God drew my attention to the horizon, and as the moon became more visible He began to speak to me and assured me that just as the moon will move through the clouds and out into the open, so will I. I am just like the moon, being moved by the power and light of God, who will shine into the darkness. It will take time for God’s light to become brighter in me for sanctification is a life-long process, but God is working. He has not forgotten about me – no, He made the moon come up later in order to assure me of that. He is constantly working in my life, and He is not going to stop. He is revealing gifts to me that I never thought were possible in my life and revealing His supernatural work in this world. I cannot be more grateful for His unveiling of more of Himself in my life.

One of the ways that God has been unveiling His plans for me is through other people. During our rooftop worship times, I have had a couple people speak words over me that they hear from God. A staff member told me that she sees something special about my eyes, that I am a dreamer and God is revealing those dreams to me in private and in time will allow me to share them with the world. What an awesome promise that is, especially when I know that God created my heart to dream big, to always crave to be used by Him in powerful ways that will surprise me and trample my own lousy plans under their feet. She also told me that my foundation has been reset and that God is going to use me to reset other women’s foundations as well – which is a direct testament to what God has been doing in the last year. I couldn’t get over how accurate it was! God is amazing in the way that He constantly surprises me, especially when I think I have Him figured out (maybe someday I will learn that I can’t figure Him out and give Him the freedom to show up in whatever way He wants).

One of the coolest parts of this study-abraod program is the Christian community that it provides. I have found incredible friends who have already challenged and spurred me on in my faith, my ideas, and my worldview. We are in this together and we are all under the same purpose – to learn and grow more in Jesus Christ. I am so grateful for those nights on the roof worshipping with them, the prayers that we share and the laughs that come from our embarrassing moments. It’s amazing when you know that God placed these people in your life for a reason and it only takes two weeks to start to figure out what that is.

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This week begins with my internship and Spanish tutoring, but ends with our first trip to the Amazon Jungle! We have been anxiously awaiting this trip since we got here. Apparently we are going to see lots of monkeys… and possibly other Jungle animal species that might not be as inviting. I can’t wait to visit this place that I learned about so long ago – I can’t believe I get the opportunity to go. You can pray for our group as we head out there on Thursday – not only for safety, but that we are able to have servant hearts and be lights for Jesus wherever we go!

One of the funniest things I’ve encountered is that no one can pronounce my name here! Since the ‘z’ is said with an ‘s’ sound in Spanish, my new name for this semester is ‘Lis’ or ‘Elisabet’. I actually find it quite endearing!

Until next time, amigos.

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Al Comienzo

Almost three years ago I was starting my journey to travel to the Holy Land for a semester, overcome by feelings of fear, anxiousness, and excitement, all of which pushed me to the point of not wanting to get on the plane. I was eighteen and inexperienced, never been out of North America and succumbed to the the inadequacy that those facts made me feel. I remember blogging a few weeks before I left about how I did not feel qualified or prepared to go, that I was dreading all the goodbyes and my heart was filled with fear of the unknown, fear of what was to come. Now I’ve started another journey that God has set before me, one that looks much different than my time in the Middle East. Here I don’t know the language, I don’t know the customs, and I am living in a much more intentional community setting. This time I am experienced, with a faith that has exponentially grown since I got on my flight to Israel, not because I have tried harder but God has proved Himself faithful over and over again. I know that He has led me here, to Ecuador, to living with eight wonderful women on Sebastian Cedono Calle and to starting an incredible social work internship next week and learning this lovely language.

 

Yet, even a few weeks ago, I felt the same pull to stay with what is familiar. After working at camp all summer and then taking a trip to Texas, I barely had any time to settle back into my routine in Michigan. I had just finally started to attend my church, my small group, and reconnect with friends… and then it was already time to pack and get ready to leave. Even though God has created my heart to be somewhat nomadic and given me the blessing of being adaptable wherever I go, I still fell prey to wanting to stay at home, to being fearful of what was to come.  I even told some of my friends that I did not want to go. WHAT?! Here I am, being given the opportunity to spend four months to study abroad again and I want to stay with what is easy? It’s a good thing that emotions are temporary, only sticking around for a bit and can change momentarily. The moment my heart changed was stepping on the plane in Atlanta and realizing that the next time I touched the ground I would be in my new home, Quito! 

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And what an adventure it has been in the past week. It was only seven days ago that our plane touched down, but I am quite comfortable and adjusted already. Having done this already is a great advantage, for I have been much more prepared for the adjustment process and adapting to a new culture and customs. Who knew that slamming a car door here is considered rude? Luckily, we have an incredible staff that has been diligent in giving us this kind of information (along with every form of safety rule) that will guide us in our semester here. We have learned to ride the trole system, the bus system, and somehow figure out what to say to taxis to get around. My teeny bit of Spanish has provided at least a way for me to understand a few things, but in most things I am completely lost. This language learning is going to be quite the adventure; I am anticipating countless awkward and uncomfortable situations, all of which are going to teach me something, even if it is only to laugh as I make a fool of myself.

A large part of this learning experience is living in community with other believers and spurring each other on to put Jesus on display. Every part of our program comes from the core of Christ, and all that we will be doing this semester will be intentional, not only for our professional internships, but for our walks with Christ. We live in houses together, relying on each other for support and guidance, laughter and joy. It is so cool to already have a family here, one that includes staff that pour into us and sisters and brothers in Christ to run around this city with. Next week we start our individual schedules, but the foundations that we have made the past week (and the rest of this one) will allow us to stay connected even as we move into ‘real life’. 

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One of the biggest challenges that I face is that I will have forty hours of a week of internship that is all in Spanish… and I am still in the beginning processes of learning. I know that God will be teaching me how to communicate without words and to display His love without needing to say exactly what is on my heart. I am excited to see what God does to bridge the language barrier so that I can attempt to connect with the Ecuadoreans that I am working with. My heart is going to be humbled in many ways as I have to realize that I am already a beginner with the social work field and even more so because I can’t understand most of what they say to me. But, God is good, and He has such amazing things to teach me in the next few months. My prayer for myself is that I can stay engaged amidst frustration and continue to seek His grace and presence no matter how hard this will be. 

After living at 10,000 feet elevation for a week, my body is finally starting to acclimate. Our house is on a hill, so we get a workout wherever we go, which is paired with the lack of air supply that comes along with living in the mountains. I am actually enjoying that I get to walk everywhere, because it makes everything more of an adventure and it teaching me to fight against my nature of wanting things to be instant, quick, and convenient. However, despite the hardships, living on the mountain of Pichincha is an incredible experience. All I have to do is go up on my roof to get an incredible view of the city, and we are only a trole ride from Old Quito, which is one of the most beautiful cities that I have ever been to. I still can’t believe that I get to live in this majestic city. God’s plans are so amazing and I find that every day I am finding more ways to thank Him for what He is doing in me here. 10659335_10204783742143536_1801989354930246040_n

Tomorrow we get to go visit the Ecuador and also go zip lining – the start of some our high-risk adventures that await us this semester. In a few weeks we will head to our first trip in the Amazon Jungle and then in about a month we start our home stays. So many things to look forward to and prepare my heart for! I am going to seize every moment here, because I know firsthand how quickly the semester is over and how hard it can be to go home with things that I wish I had seen or done. It’s so wonderful to be in a place of faith where my reliance on God is the foundation for why I am here and for everything that I do. Each day is a chance to grow in Him more, to trust Him with all aspects of my life. It’s been quite an adventure already.

 

The Power of Vulnerability

It’s been a long time since I’ve gotten the creative juices flowing for a blog post. This is mostly because those juices are constantly sipped away by this tyrant called school, but I’m scavenging a little bit away (and sacrificing homework time) because I find that there are so many thoughts swirling around that need to be spoken, praises that need to be shouted high onto the mountain. God’s faithfulness has been pouring down on my life in torrents the past few weeks and I humbly kneel at His feet in awe of how He is working my life. 

 

Two Sundays ago, I was physically drawn to my knees after a sermon at Impact Church, which has become my church home. The pastor spoke truthfully about the oppression of sin and the absolute destruction that is has on our lives, along with seven different ways that sins of others an enter into our lives and leave a trail of hurt that carries with us into our lives. But we don’t get that as an excuse, because God has set us free and we are not bound by the cruelties of our past. Instead, we stand in freedom, dwelling in His love and truth and our scars may be physical reminders of hurt and our own sin, but they are covered by His grace and mercy. AMEN, right? I accepted the call for freedom, and because I had felt so convicted and touched by the Spirit at this service, I felt the need to email the pastor. This is what I wrote to him: 

 

I can’t tell you how timely your message was yesterday. I’ve spent the past day mulling over just how much I needed to hear what was said.

 

I have spent a lot of my life being upset at the way that God allowed for bad things to happen to me that have seeped into how I live and feel now. I resonated with the seven abominations, especially the hands that shed innocent blood. When I was six years old, I was introduced to pornography by an older kid. That event marks the beginning of a struggle with sexual desires being forcefully awoken too soon. My childhood was marked with a deep shame, one that drove me far enough into self-pity that I shut out the world, convinced that I was dirty, worthless, and unworthy of love. Those lies still echo in my life today. 

 

Over the past year I’ve been on a quest for freedom. Not only freedom from my past, but freedom for today. To be able to live free in each moment, not just free from what has happened to me. Yet, in the past few months, I’ve been feeling like I am failing. I too often tend to rely on using my past as an excuse for how I react to things today. Thank you for telling me that it is not okay to do that and for making me even more determined to allow God to finally (and completely) cut the cord for me. My resistance has been founded on truth, but instead I have held on to the fact that I still feel unworthy of love and therefore treat others like they would expect the worst out of me. By doing that, I have pushed people away that truly love me and isolated myself from relationships that were healthy. 

 

A year ago, I broke my addiction from pornography and set off on a determined track to lead a pure life, no matter how hard and deep those wounds were. Although there have been a few bumps in the road, I am proud to say that I have won that victory with the strength of Jesus Christ. I am on the quest for freedom, and a few weeks ago I was asked to speak at a pornography’s effect on women summit at my school, Kuyper College. Since then, I have felt all of the lies of my past enter my head, telling me that I am not far enough along in my path of healing to teach others and am not equipped to make a difference. But yesterday, kneeling on that floor, I was led by the Lord to say yes to speaking. There will be freedom in my vulnerability, and these fears do not define who I am anymore. People, for the first time, will hear my real story and my hurt will come to light. Because I will confess that I have been oppressed. But I will also confess the healing freedom of Jesus. I just thought I should share. Thank you for being an instrument of Jesus to your flock. In only the two months that I have attended, I have already experienced the openness and love that is cultivated at Impact, and for that I am so thankful.

 

This began a journey of vulnerability that I did not see coming, a path that over the past week has taken this story, put it on film, and showed it to over a thousand people at Impact Church. Growing up and dealing with this, I never once thought that I would be speaking about this in front of that many people. Why? Because this is hard to talk about. This is gut-wrenching, “What are people going to think of me now” topic. This could damage my reputation, change the way that many who have been my life view who I am. It could potentially have me lose friends because I have been involved in activities that they do not approve of. It could bring shame on my family and my parents and make them out to be failures. But, I cry out, “NO!” All of these fears, whether voiced or not, do not speak truth. They drip with lies from the devil and because of that I decided that they would not affect what I said in the video. No sugarcoating, no making me out to seem better than I have been in my life. Just me, telling of my struggles with sexual sin and how I desire for that to not be taboo to talk about. And let me tell you, deciding to show that video was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made, and I experienced more spiritual warfare because of that decision than I could have ever imagined. But I made the choice knowing full well that if Jesus is for me, no one can stand against me. And my testimony, however terrifying it is to share, will be used for His glory and His alone, and the eternal good that comes from it will far outweigh any negatives that it could bring to my image.

When we live with unconfessed sin, it eats us up from the inside out. Instead of allowing Jesus to cover that sin and His love to be what comes out, the sin becomes the walls around our heart. The soft edges of our hearts are filled with harsh bricks, meant to keep everybody out, lest they find out our secrets. The secret sin begins to nestle in our hearts, taking over what could be full and vibrant tissue and leaves it tattered, broken. We are constantly looking around for who could find out about what we are doing, and they become threats to our livelihood. Instead of our purpose being built on loving one another, it is centered around protecting our sin, whatever the cost. This takes a devastating toll on our bodies. We are built for fellowship and community with one another, and when we step outside of that need and isolate ourselves with our sin, we take ourselves out of the life source that flows from the love of others. We are in turn becoming self-fulfilling prophecies, seeing ourselves as outcasts and becoming them.

 

I see this in my life, the destruction that I caused myself by allowing sin to take full reign of my hurt. God became someone that I had to hide from, not one that I saw as merciful. My friends became those that could find out my secret, and so I ran from them, even if they truly had the best intentions. Instead of looking for the love that I was given, I looked for the faults of others, because if I could find faults in them, than I could feel better about myself. I should have been seeking openness and healing, but I continued to hide behind my walls, for fear that I would share how dirty I actually am and lose the Christian image that I had worked so hard to build up. I can look back and see how my heart became impenetrable and my head unwilling to let anyone in. I was worthless, unlovable, and dirty, only worthy of shame and punishment. And this is all because I let that sin make a home in my heart, a place that should have been hostile to it but yet became its dwelling place at the expense of my own freedom.

 

And yet, God was not going to let me stay at this place. My heart is His, and He began nudging me to share, to let this go. And eventually, at the beginning of high school, I started sharing this with my counselor. And although I held a lot back, that initial stages of relief cracked through a few of those bricks. I scrambled to put them back up, but there was enough of this beautiful damage that I could start seeing the light on the other side. And the thing about confession is that once your sin is in the open, it has no power. When darkness is brought into the light, it is captive to the light of the Lord, of the truth and life that Jesus brings, and does not hold us hostage anymore. When I allowed my darkness to not hide and put it in the path of Jesus to overcome, it wasn’t my battle anymore. And although the change didn’t happen overnight, God’s freedom was upon me at that moment. I just had to claim it, demand that the chains that I had allowed to ruin my life are forever off of me and I stand in the light of Jesus. Micah 7:9 says, “Because I have sinned against him, I will bear the LORD’s wrath, until he pleads my case and establishes my right. He will bring me out into the light; I will see his righteousness.” He brings us into the light, He restores our lives and condemns the darkness. Hallelujah! 

 

In the last few years, I have been on this process of being true to myself and to God. He knows exactly what is in my heart, but I surrender all of my thoughts and worries to Him because that gives Him the power and does not allow me to go back to my old way of hiding. The first step needs to be that honesty with God, because His forgiveness comes when we ask for it, when we take a hold of His mercy and live in that reality. Admitting that you are fallen and worthy of punishment is what makes His mercy so unfathomable. We are worthless, but yet in the light of Jesus’ sacrifice we are pure and holy, as white as snow. And that changes everything about how we approach Him. Instead of trying to be like Adam and Eve in the Garden and hide in the shame of our sin, we stand in the light of His grace and revel in His forbearance, that He has stuck with us although we have strayed from Him.

 

My next step was to not only admit it in my heart to God that I had sinned and fall short of His glory, but to share with others in my life that could keep me accountable. I chose a few friends in the past few years that I have valued their friendship and trusted that this information that I shared would them would not be held against me. As scary as it was to admit my faults, this against took out a few more bricks with each person that I told. Each person was a greater light that could assure me of my worth and value not only to them but to the Savior. The relief was overpowering – I did not have to run around in a scurry and hide from everybody, but I could be vulnerable with them, along their love to start healing me.

 

When we allow ourselves to be vulnerable, we take a risk. We risk that this information will be too much to bear. We put our hearts on the line, knowing that the reactions of those that hear can either build us up or tear us down. But I am here to say that it was worth everything. When you sit down and bare your soul, not what makes you look like a greater individual but what makes you look like a broken soul saved by Jesus, you allow the gospel to be spoken through our mouth in a way that is real. Instead of driving people away, you let people in. You allow them to hold the fragile parts of your heart. But each time the darkness is let out, the light starts building up your heart again. For me, this has been an exhaustive experience, allowing the years of hurt and pain to be made whole again. But the encouraging words of those that I shared with were tantamount to where I am today.

 

And today, I am at a place where I never saw myself being: living daily in freedom, free from pornography, and working on maintaining a pure and holy life. Instead of running from my story, I am sharing it. With friends, with strangers, with over a thousand people at church. I am not ashamed of my story, and if anyone has problems with it, then shame on them. Because I am speaking of the power of God’s freedom, and I want to shout it to the world. I want everyone to know that no matter where you have been, or what you have seen, or what you have done, or thought about God or thought about yourself or did to yourself, you are not alone and not doomed to live in your prison forever. You can remove yourself from behind your walls, but it’s going to take a lot of work, pain, and struggle. But it is worth it, every second of it is worth it, because the first time you hear someone say, “me too”, all of that struggle will fade away and will be placed instead with awe of the providence of God.

 

Since my video was shown this weekend, I have not received condemnation. No, I have received countless thankful words for having the courage to put my story out there, no matter how touchy of a subject it is. Thanks for making a taboo subject be the discussion of the church. And I am so glad that I am able to be a vessel for the Lord and that by me taking a giant leap of faith and telling Him yes, I am already seeing fruit. All praise and glory to our Father, who makes us new and sets us free!

 

Instead of carrying your burdens any longer, set them down and replace them with wonder. Marvel at God’s mercy and grace that He gave us, even though we don’t deserve it. And don’t be afraid of your story, because you don’t know just who needs to hear it. Let’s be a people who do not run from topics like sexuality or pornography and instead speak about them openly. Join me. 

 

In His freedom,

Liz

 

**For those of you who have not seen my testimony video yet, click on the link below and watch it! Share it, like it, talk about it. I would love to know your thoughts. 

 

 

http://vimeo.com/89152163

The Deep End of My Heart

Emotions. Hmm, I have a volatile relationship with them. Sometimes they enrich my life, bringing me colors of richness and intensity that paint brightly over all parts of my life. Other times, they tear through my canvas, ripping out anything that is not secured onto truth and ravages it, leaving me with frayed problems, issues, and insecurities that ensnare my thoughts and reactions. All too often, I find myself pondering why God would create us, and especially me, with these things, which seem to be my friend for one moment and then turn on me the next. 

          However, the real question is whether these emotions have any real control over my life, or whether the fact that I experience such a wide variety of them at a deeper level than most means that I am supposed to let them carry me through the different colors of this journey. I’ve heard many times over the years that I am the chooser of my own feelings and emotions and that whatever I am feeling, whether that be happy, sad, excited, or depressed, that is subject to my own will and I should have complete control over them. Yet, through my experience, it’s really not that simple. I may be able to choose joy, which I strive to do in all occasions, but that does not mean that I do not still feel sad, or excited, or depressed. These lingering emotions, even with due mental strength, cannot and do not completely exit my heart or mind. I find it hard to believe that this is due to a lack of trying on my part. 
           What if I were to believe that God gave us emotions so that we could express them, enjoying the flavor that they bring to life. But what if I were to believe that emotions are a hindrance to my life, including my spiritual walk, and should be fought against in order to level out my mental activity? Like so many things, I don’t think this is a dichotomy. I am allowed to find a balance. Yes, God commands us to rejoice in Him always and to direct all of our thoughts and feelings toward Him, but I am convinced that He also gave us emotions so that we could experience and feel His presence in our lives, to understand what it means to be image bearers. I wish that I could just strike up this balance immediately, but unfortunately, I keep struggling. I find that the more that I struggle with not being able to transcend my emotions, the more I doubt that God is working in my life. For some reason I falsely think that the way that my thought process is working that day is example of where my life stands with Jesus. Yet, there are just some days that I am just sad. Or extremely happy. Or somewhere in between. I cannot try to re-evaluate where I am with God with fleeting emotions. It just doesn’t work. My life is already given to Jesus, and each day I can struggle, gripe, or rejoice in Him. But in my rejoicing, there might be heartache, happiness, or just plain struggle with my circumstances. And it’s okay to feel those things, as long as I am fixing my eyes on eternal things. 
          AND…there is so much freedom in Jesus that covers all of these things. Not freedom fromemotions, but freedom for and through. His salvation encompasses all of my life, his love fulfills all of the voids that negative sin (and thoughts) destroy, and his peace penetrates whenever I feel weary, anxious or upset. We are to rejoice with him, to take strength in his joy, which is set apart from the joy of the world. This is what my focus is on…God, your joy is my strength. Each and every day, each and every emotion, I will rejoice in your heart, your purpose, and your identity. Letting go feels good.