Ecuador – Day 8 (Final Day)

ecuador-344Well, the amazing week was coming to a close.  This was the final day of an incredible journey.  My emotions were so mixed….I was super excited to see my family back at home, yet I felt like my heart had planted roots in Ecuador.  I had new family there and saying goodbye to them bummed me out.  Another full day was ahead of us though and I couldn’t wait to get moving.

We had the opportunity of checking out project 542, ALC’s 2nd funded project.  Construction had not begun yet, but the plot of land was acquired (after some drama – see day 5 for details).  We had a small church service and hugged a lot of great folks….notice the hugging theme?  🙂  It was cool to envision what the new project would look like and what memories would be shared there.

ecuador-514These projects are placed in great locations, right in the middle of impoverished communities, which is ideal.  They serve as great hubs and resources for those in need.  I love the way God works and I love the way He uses His people!

Speaking of God using His people, I have a cool story for you.  After we said our goodbyes at 542, we broke up into groups and visited a few more homes.  My group had a special mission.  There was a little boy named Freddie who just had a birthday about 1 week before.  A little before Freddie’s birthday, his dad started a new job working in the mines.  The job wasn’t close to home, so he had to travel.  Although it’s great that his dad found a job, the family hadn’t heard from him in about 2 weeks.  They didn’t know if he was just unable to make a phone call, in trouble or dead.  Freddie’s birthday came around and he was really hoping to see his dad…..well, the day came and went and the family still had not heard from him.  Understandably, Freddie was very bummed about this and he missed his dad very much.  This story laid heavy on the hearts of the staff of 542, so they decided to do something so special…..they threw him a surprise belated birthday party and we got to be a part of it!!!!  They went to a bakery and purchased a cake made just for him.  They also brought some drinks and decorated the walls of the house with cool kid stuff.  To top it off, they had this awesome sparkler candle to place on the cake and those pull-string little firework confetti things.  Although the folks from 542 had limited resources and funds, they still gave what they could in order to pour out God’s love on this little boy.  Inspiring.

ecuador-549I’ll never forget walking down the dirt streets to his house, cake and supplies in-hand.  Then entering his house and seeing his smiling face light up.  He was surrounded by people who loved him, family and strangers alike.  I couldn’t believe that we were standing in a house in Ecuador, eating cake with beautiful people, witnessing God’s love in action….I was standing on holy ground…truly.

After our little party came to a close, we took the last bites of cake and it was time to head out.  We visited a couple more staff houses to meet their families and pray with them.  I was reminded once again of how dedicated these folks were to serving and pouring out every resource that they had.  They hold on loosely to their lives, knowing that God will provide.  I want to be like that.

After some great visits, the trip was officially coming to a close.  We were saying goodbye to our friends and driving to the city.  The plan was to head to the market to buy some souvenirs for our friends and family.  It was a great time and fun to negotiate prices with the vendors!  I wish we could wheel and deal like that more in the states!

The next stop was back to the hotel…the same one that we stayed in at the very beginning of the trip.  We organized our luggage there and ate some dinner.  For me, this was a sad time.  We were heading directly to the airport from the hotel and I couldn’t believe that the journey was over.  After months of preparation and prayer, God’s agenda had been accomplished and we had the divine opportunity of being a part of it.

ecuador-564Well, it was about time for our team to pack up and head to the airport.  The anticipation of going through customs and security became our new focus.  Eventually, we all made our way through the ticket line and it was time to say goodbye to our leader, Liz and the translators.  They became family to us and saying goodbye was harder than expected.  They were amazing people and we couldn’t have made it through each day without them.  They wished us well and we made our way through customs, through security, to Miami, to Dallas and finally, to Portland.  The trip was smooth coming home (thank goodness!!!) and we were ready to see our families.  When the plane landed in Portland, we all knew that it was time to apply all that we had learned in Ecuador to our daily lives.  There was so much to share with our loved ones!

After tons of hugs from our families, we gathered one last time with our group to pray.  We thanked God for an unbelievable experience and our strong team.  We thanked God for His protection and for the opportunity to be loved and to love in a whole new, powerful way.  I’m grateful for my amazing team and the memories that we shared together.

ecuador-572Looking back to about a year ago, I never would have pictured myself traveling to Ecuador.  I’m just a normal guy who goes through the daily grind like everyone else.  Being interested and responding to God’s call to go abroad never seemed like an option or a possibility.  Boy did that change!  It just goes to prove that God can use any of us to make an impact around the world.  There are folks struggling out there, doing their best to make it through another day.  They need hope and joy and comfort and food and care and love just like we do.  Getting to that point of thinking outside of our little boxes is hard, but it’s necessary if we want God to make an impact through us.  It takes intention and it often takes God slapping us across the head to get there.

So how do I conclude such an awesome trip?  How do I sufficiently portray what’s on my heart?  I guess I’ll just leave you with some great words behind why I went: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” -Matthew 28:19-20

As a Christian, the Great Commission lays heavy on my heart and truthfully, it scares the crap out of me sometimes.  God calls all of us to “go.”  It’s not always pretty or organized or perfectly planned, but neither is life.  God uses normal people to accomplish miraculous things, He just needs folks who are willing to take steps in faith and trust Him.  So I ask you this: Are you brave enough to go?  Are you willing to stretch yourself and risk being uncomfortable?  I encourage you to let these questions sink in.  God’s inviting you to join Him in transforming lives…in transforming your life.  Take the invitation.  Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.

Thanks so much for following me along this incredible journey!  It’s been fun!

ecuador-585God Bless,

Paul

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ecuador – Day 4

Ecuador 247After a good night’s rest, we had a challenging, faith-testing day before us.  Our team was being asked to “disciple” and “teach” the staff at project 534 on how to prepare and teach a Sunday school lesson.  The evening prior consisted of late night preparations, teamwork  and foggy brains.  We put together a structure of how things would go, but we all understood that God was ultimately the one calling the shots.  We were learning to be ok with this.

We arrived at 534, ready to be stretched.  The day began with a great devotional time together and we prayed for the day.  We then headed outside to play another team game.  We stood in a circle and passed a soccer ball to each other.  The person passing the ball expressed something that they appreciated about the other person….something encouraging and uplifting.  Once the ball was passed, the person had to sit down and on it went until everybody had a turn.  There were a lot of smiles and “ahhh, that was sweet” comments going around.  I felt the love man!  It was a great building block for what was ahead that day.

Ecuador 159Next, we headed into the church to begin a time of teaching and brainstorming.  In a nutshell, Sunday school lessons at the project mainly consisted of opening the bible and reading the story to the children.  Although this is totally fine, keeping the kids focused was a challenge.  There was a need to spice things up a little and pull some creativity and fun out of each lesson.  So, with the leadership of Erin, that was our focus!  It was a creatively messy time consisting of ideas being flung around, minds being challenged and confidence being developed.  It was beautiful.

The brainstorming led to structure, which led to the formation of a lesson plan.  Over the next couple of days, each group presented their lesson plan and I could sense the pride, excitement and optimism within each of the staff members sharing.  We were so dang proud of our Ecuadorian church family!  I’m confident that this was only the beginning of great things to come.

Ecuador 165God works in awesome ways doesn’t He?!  As a group, us North Americans felt unequipped for the task at hand….we aren’t anything special, only normal people learning right along with everybody else….but we were called to do something bigger than us, so we gave it a shot and had the opportunity of seeing super cool results.

After our productive time together, we were treated to an incredibly tasty lunch made by the staff at the project.  I think it was shrimp, chicken, beans, rice and other good stuff.  They worked so hard and it was so appreciated and enjoyed!

Ecuador 169At 3pm, the flood gates opened and the kiddos poured in for our first VBS of the trip!  What a riot!  I was seriously in heaven….crazy kids hanging onto our legs, jumping around, super excited to be there….shoot, I was super excited to be there too!  The parents assumed their positions on the sidelines, observing the semi-organized chaos with proud, content smiles.

We organized the VBS in a way that rotated the kids from a bible story, to crafts and then to games.  The kids dove right in, laughing at the great stories and using their creative brains to make cool crafts.  I was part of the game crew, so I got to be rowdy and goofy with the kids…it’s a spiritual gift of mine ;).  There was so much joy as we made up secret handshakes and played simple games like soccer, and bean bag toss.  You know what, I think they would have had just as much fun playing with rocks or sticks…because they were just happy to see us….we were present and available for interaction….we were there to love and love we did!

Ecuador 178

Sadly, after many “see you tomorrow’s” and long hugs goodbye, it was time to leave the project and visit a few more of the sponsored children’s homes.  The day kept getting better!

I can’t explain how great of an opportunity it was to visit so many homes over the course of the trip.  Each family was so different, but there was one common thread…they all had grateful, hospitable hearts.  Us folks in the states hesitate to have guests over when we haven’t cleaned the windows or dusted a countertop in fear of being judged by others.  Our amazing Ecuadorian friends invited us into their poverty-stricken, difficult situations with open arms….their gratefulness for our presence trumped their concern about our judgment.  Can you imagine how different our communities would be if we had this level of transparency?  Pretty eye-opening and humbling.

Ecuador 488Although it was tough to put this day to rest, it was now time to grab some dinner and debrief with the team.  We had so much to talk about and so much to celebrate.  This was a day of victory…not only because of what we accomplished, but because of the fears that we overcame.  God knew what we could handle and I’m so glad that we all jumped at the chance to be challenged.

A big truth came out of this day for me: typically when God is calling us to do something, it’s not predictable….in fact, it can be pretty scary.  Not much growth happens when we are comfortable though.  Faith develops when we are bent, squeezed and faced with the possibility of failure.  These are the hardest times, but often, the most rewarding times in life.  I felt like some walls were broken down for me….like some chains were loosened….because I got a taste of God doing what he does best: using normal people to accomplish great things.  All this being done by His power and grace only.  This day was a fantastic day.

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” -Romans 8:28

Ecuador 337More to come….stay tuned for day 5!!!

God Bless,

Paul