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!
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.
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.
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
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.
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?