Things were about to get real. Days 1 & 2 consisted of travelling, overcoming, vision-casting, introducing, laughing, crying and resting in preparation for what was waiting for us on the next leg of our journey. The clouds were beginning to lift in Guayaquil and we would soon hop on the bus and take a 2 hour drive to Santa Elena! This would be our new home for the rest of the trip. My stomach was churning with excitement…only God knew the powerful time that was ahead of us.
As the bus rumbled through the streets of Ecuador, past banana tree farms, past street vendors, past iguanas on walls, past homes, mostly small and broken, I knew that our team was ready for a new adventure. We would soon be arriving to project 534 where we would be greeted with smiles, hugs and the presence of Jesus. It was time to hang with some kids! Not yet though….the bus began to slow down a bit and suddenly, the roads were solid dirt, the homes became smaller, wild dogs wandered the streets and it was obvious that we were taking a quick detour before the project….
The bus rumbled to a stop and the lingering dust cloud behind us began to settle. Little eyes, both big and small peered at us with curiosity through bamboo fence slats and door openings. They must have been thinking things like; “Who are these people?” “Why are they here?” Well, to my surprise, we were there to visit a few homes of the kids that we sponsored, woo hoo!!!! I knew that we would be visiting, but not this soon! Although I was beyond excited, I have to be honest about something…..arriving to these poverty-stricken areas via a large bus embarrassed me a little. I felt unworthy, spoiled and humbled. The folks living in the community didn’t seem phased though…..just excited that we were there. Unlike North America, every “hola!” was exchanged with another. Every wave was returned enthusiastically. Folks were human to each other, even amidst rough conditions. How refreshing and inspiring!
We broke up into 3 groups and ventured off to visit a few homes. I had the amazing opportunity of visiting my sponsored child, Nicole. As my group and I strolled down the streets of Santa Elena, I couldn’t fight off the nervous feelings. I didn’t know what to expect. Would they welcome me with open arms? Would we have enough to talk about? Would Nicole be afraid of me? My anticipation turned to joy as soon as I was embraced by Nicole’s mom upon our arrival to their home. I met Nicole’s dad next as I approached the door to their home. Hiding sheepishly behind him was Nicole. She wore a pretty white dress and was just plain adorable! Understandably, Nicole was very shy at first. We exchanged hugs and had a seat in their home. I couldn’t believe that after a few years of mailing letters and praying for this little girl, I was sitting next to her, my shoes touching her floor, my arms hugging her, my team being a part of it. God is so good!
Our conversation was pretty simple. It consisted of basic questions regarding school, food, pets, etc. My man Fernando was translating for us (thank the good Lord!) and did a great job of bridging the language gap. There may have even been a little ballet dancing going on between Nicole and I…maybe 😉
One last thing about the visit blew me away…in the middle of their main living space, there was a table with a photo of our family on it…yeah, our family! Also, Nicole had multiple pictures of our family in her bedroom, strategically placed in a certain area right next to a little box which contained all of the letters we had written her. Man, we were a part of her family! They love us! It was an amazing reminder that the simple things like sending pictures and writing letters to these kiddos means the world to them. What a humbling and encouraging feeling!
I had heard about the experience of pulling up to the project for the 1st time and couldn’t wait! Kids and families were just waiting for us to arrive. Welcome signs were held and smiling faces lit up the space. As we exited the bus, it was as though we were famous or something. I wanted to shout, “we’re not that special, really!” but I just enjoyed the moment and grabbed all of the hugs, kisses and high-fives that I could get. I let their love penetrate my heart. There’s no words to explain it, only gratefulness.
After we all got settled, these beautiful people held a “welcome to Ecuador” church service for us. They waited a day to hold the service due to our travelling delays, so thoughtful. There was preaching (by Bryce), singing, dancing and American / Ecuadorian flags being presented together, united as one. Powerful.
We had the opportunity to meet a lot of kids (including my other sponsored child, Alan) and reunite with the project staff that we had met the day prior. It was a great day. One full of anticipation, love and joy.
After this awesome evening, we headed back to the hotel and ate dinner, debriefed and prepared for the next day. Day 4 presented the opportunity of teaching the staff how to structure a fun bible lesson for the kids. We were all a little intimidated…it felt beyond us. You know what, it was. God stretched us and taught us something very valuable….to just trust….not only in God Himself, but the skills and abilities that He has given us. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on our own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight.” -Proverbs 3:5-6
Stay tuned for day 4!