Well, 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!
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.
The 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!
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.
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.
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.
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!