Sunday, October 30, 2016

Bringing the Joy of Jesus to Ecuador

Saludos de Ecuador! I had the privilege of investing 9 days with the missions team that's assembled from UT, OH and CA in Quito, Ecuador.

Our trip was led by Rod and Debbi Bond, missionaries that dedicated 11 years to working in Quito Ecuador. They were called to work in a new mission field, Utah, 2 years ago and this was their first time returning since they left.

Our mission? To encourage the local believers and churches that the Bonds planted while sowing seeds for the children of the communities with vacation bible school (VBS) style community programs.

the Missions Team!

Day 1

Our first day had a late start since the flights from UT and OH were delayed so those team members didn't arrive until 3 am. We had a low key day exploring the Colonial District of Quito, the Artisan Market, getting to know each other and trying to adjust to the altitude (we're over 9,000 ft above sea level). The evening was spent prepping and planning for our events on Day 2!

Day 2 

Praise & Worship in the Park!
We visited "La Victoria" a community an hour outside of Quito. Here, we visited with the local “house church” that the Bonds planted many years ago. One of the women we met was “Angelita.”

She is 90 years old and was the first brave believer to open her home for Bible Studies. The Catholic Church publicly denounced her upon learning this and she received many threats. Despite this, she opened her doors for other believers and, when they became too large to fit in her home, moved to other homes, including her daughters’.

Later in the day set up our VBS in the park. We had about 40 children join us for 2 hours of games, music, clowns, puppets and fun! We also had a church service in the park later in the afternoon and even enjoyed a bit of rain.

Day 3

Pastor Steve from UT with the children
We returned to La Victoria for a 2nd day of programming. We set up in the park once again and the clear skies promised it would be a nice, hot day in South America.

Our morning began with an hour long program for select classes from the local primary school and the kids were so excited about the souvenir "clown noses" they received. We then had a short break for lunch to catch our breath and return to the park for our 2nd VBS program.

Once again, songs, games, music, clowns and fun! In total, we worked with about 70 kids for the day. One of my highlights? When the children were asking us "What time will you be back tomorrow?”

Day 4 & 5

We traveled to a low-income community about 45 minutes outside of the center of Quito, Oyacoto. We had just under 100 kids each day and it was... Wild! We actually had the opportunity to actually work indoors and it was a blessing because it was pouring on our first day.

Catholicism is also deeply rooted in this community. One of our missions team members was chatting with a little girl and asked her if she believed in Jesus. She responded “I believe in the Virgin.”

Still, the children were very excited about having us and enjoyed the opportunity to sing songs, play games, make crafts and hang out with clowns and puppets. Crowd control was challenging at times. Each day was stressful kind of joy with the children and we've not only embraced it, but ran with it!

We also were requested by the leader of the area to visit a home. Despite being very tired, we dragged ourselves to this home… and were reminded of how we can be God’s hands and feet. We met a terminally-ill bedridden woman who simply wanted prayer. The team earnestly prayed for this woman and her grieving family. It was an emotional meeting.

Day 6

It’s my birthday! I was greeted with a slice of cake, a candle and birthday card at breakfast and then.. it was off to work!

Sergio, Rod & Rosa
We headed to another community about 45 minutes from Quito and visited an elderly couple that holds a very special place in the hearts of the Bond Family, and quickly learned why. Sergio and Rosa are over 90 years old and have been married for 71 years. They both now have difficulty walking so are unable to visit their local “house church” and were overjoyed to see the Bonds visiting them.

As a team, we prayed for them and sang hymns together. Before departing, we presented them with a love offering we quietly collected for them during our visit. Upon receiving this gift, they immediately raised their hands, looked to the sky and praised God. Their faith and love for Christ is inspiring.

The Children of Chambitola!
After this, we moved on to La Ruminahui to set up our VBS in a basketball court. Here, the local leader Lucy has been hosting a kid’s club every Saturday in one of the local believers’ homework for over 6 years. As soon as she steps out of our van, the children flock to her to greet and hug her.

Though the team anticipated around 40 children, Lucy revealed that she and the church had printed and distributed 500 invitations to the program and she was expecting around 100… and 100 showed up!

It was a special afternoon for me to lead games, puppeteer and bring a message of God’s love to these children on my birthday. Easily the best!

Day 7

Mitad del Mundo
Friday was our 2nd and final rest day and it was very much welcome. We started the at the "Mitad Del Mundo" (Middle of the World) Park and had some time for fun photos and souvenir shopping.

From there, we had a 2 hour drive to Septimo Paraiso, a cloud forest reserve near Mindo, for hiking, hummingbird watching (we saw at least 10 different types) and relaxing in the cold mountain water pool. It was a great day to recharge, enjoy Ecuador's natural beauty and prepare ourselves for Saturday.

Day 8

We had an early start for our 3 hour drive to Chambitola, a very rural community in the mountains. The entire drive was scenic and gorgeous and the final stretch of the drive was up the side of the mountains on very narrow dirt and rock roads.

Once in Chambitola, we joined the local church for a dedication of their new sunday school classrooms for the children. The Bond Family and many of their ministry partners and supporters helped raise the funds for the construction of these classrooms. The inauguration included gratitudes, a Kincha (indigenous language) choir and a surprise for Rod as he was asked to cut the ribbon for the new classrooms.

From there, we quickly set up for our final program. The children and adults alike were all excited about everything: the puppets, the clowns, music, games, crafts, storytelling and fellowship.

We ended our time together gifting 60+ handmade finger puppets (from Kristie Baldwin in PA), clown noses and snacks to all the kids and teens. Bertha, from OH, also gave a big bag of beanie babies to the lead teacher and she was thrilled to have them for future gifts to the children.

We then had to rip ourselves away to say goodbye and begin our journey down the mountain before the roads became too dark. Chambitola was a huge blessing to visit. I've often observed that those with the least give the most and the people of this community were no exception.

Day 9

For our final day of the mission, we spent the morning together with nearly all the ministry partners we had worked with during the week. Our time together included sharing experiences, encouraging the Ecuadorians who work in these communities and eating lunch together.

Ending on this note gave us an opportunity to reflect and celebrate the work we had done with the children and communities all week. The rest of the day was busy with packing and final preparations for the team to go home.

Missions Team from the US and Ecuador
In summary, we worked with somewhere around 350 children with 5 site visits over 6 working days. We even logged around 20 hours of travel time in our van to these site visits for the week!

Each day was an adventure where our greatest reward was seeing a group full of smiling faces as these children enjoyed clowns, puppets, songs, games and crafts. Each day, these children walked away hearing a message that they mattered.

If a group of almost strangers from the United States was willing to come all the way to Ecuador to spend the day with them, how much more do they matter to God, the Creator of the Universe?