Ecuador Mission Trip 2007
This is a long journal describing the phenomenal events of our mission trip to Ecuador from August 14 through 30.
Our first exposure to Quito was quite nerve-wracking but it all ended well. After our flight had been delayed a total of 4 hours at 2 different airports, we finally landed at 10 PM. We walked out into the airport lobby anxiously looking for our ride to the seminary and ready to begin this great adventure. We were met by a sea of joyous faces all ready to greet their friend or family member who arrived with us… but none of those faces were looking for us! After several minutes, we realized that something was wrong and there was no one there to pick us up. Now remember that we only knew a few phrases in Spanish, had never been to this country before and were really very helpless. Fortunately, Tamitha had brought the seminary’s address along for the immigration purposes. With this, we were able to arrange a cab ride with the help of an English speaking woman. The taxi driver was very nice, only he had no clue where the address was that we gave him. After stopping 4 different times along the way, we finally drove past the seminary gates and recognized it from the photos. Tamitha shouted “Aqui! Aqui!” (Here! Here!) and the taxi screeched to a halt. Then, in a practiced effort at the best Spanish we could muster, we spoke to the seminary guard and found ourselves escorted to our room within moments. With this first challenge successfully mastered, we slept great that night.
Bobby enjoyed teaching the students at SEMISUD (Seminario Sudamericano). The seminary is a Church of God extension to train ministers from all across Latin America. It is a first rate learning environment with a very beautiful campus. There are over 100 students from many countries who come to live and study to further their ministries. Bobby worked with a group of students which are training to be missionaries to various Islamic countries. These students are all very passionate about their calling and are serious about their time studying and growing in God. Bobby’s teaching on urban missions, Incarnational ministry and working with the poor was very provoking and the students had many questions. It seemed to spark much interest and enthusiasm in the students.
Child labor is a huge problem in Ecuador. There are estimated to be 400,000 children who are working on the streets instead of enjoying a normal childhood and attending school. Many times these children live with their families but the whole family must work for whatever they can get in order to survive on $1 or $2 a day. Often times these children are homeless or are loosely supervised by an older sibling or relative. For the most part, these children are on their own to wander the city and peddle their wares whether it be gum, fruit or shining shoes.
We visited a wonderful outreach ministry that offers the loving message of Christ as well as practical help to these children. The Susong family has worked to break through the defenses of a local group of street workers and have been able to touch the lives of almost 400 children in the first few years of their ministry. They offer the children a safe place to take a break during their work day. The children receive a nutritious, hot meal while they hear a solid Bible lesson. Then they are able to play, take showers and receive minor first aid. They even offer a night school option to help encourage school participation.
One story that touched us deeply speaks to the priorities of these children. Taking a lesson from most US children’s ministries, the Susongs established a points system to reward kids for coming and participating in the ministry events. Periodically, they offer a shopping day to redeem points in the prize store. Unlike most kids I know, these children pass by the shiny new toys and gadget prizes and instead beg for shoes and clothing to be included in the prize store. These children know little more than meeting their needs.
The first Sunday of our trip was spent visiting inner city Church of God congregations of Quito. We traveled for hours on public busses throughout the city and walked along dusty, litter strewn roads between half constructed concrete buildings. The glitter of the wealthy section of town was nowhere to be seen and we felt like we were in a movie scene of a desolate, war-torn country. Then, from out of the bleak, we saw the joyous smiles and open arms of God’s people greeting us. These people made this world of dirt and concrete explode with the colors of love.
At each church, the pastors would show us around their church facility even though there was very little to show. Each church had construction projects in the works in hopes of expanding or improving someday as money allows. The way of the people is to begin building and go as far as the money will allow and then stop. Their dreams are to add 2nd stories or other rooms… the costs of which may only be $2,000 but to these people, that is a fortune. But you can see in their eyes, and hear in their voices a passion and a faith that does not waiver. They know that God has provided thus far and He will continue to provide for the growth of their churches. There is no doubt even in the midst of obstacles.
These churches are true grass roots movements… reaching into a dark world and spreading the hope of the gospel with fervor. These churches have found true community in depending on Christ and each other for everything. They have such joy and love for the Kingdom.
Bobby preached with an interpreter at 2 church services and the people were so kind and gracious.
Another church we visited were not having services that day due to the coming together of the church members to help a brother in need. The entire church assembled at the member’s house and worked to help him build a new roof for his home. We met about 50 people who were all covered in concrete and sweat but who were all filled with the joy of the Lord. Inside, the women gathered in the kitchen to feed this group of people. Of course, they treated us as special guests and gave us more food than anyone could possibly eat. This group of church members all worked together so beautifully. It was obvious they know each other like a true family. This was a true example of being church.
Church here is so simple…uncomplicated. It is just a genuine expression of worship…nothing fancy. Everyone participates throughout the service… women or men singing in impromptu groups… the children singing or doing a drama. It is truly corporate worship together. There is no fancy sound system or screens. There is not even any Sunday school curriculum or children’s ministry props. They have so little and yet they seem so rich.
We spent several days in various parts of downtown Quito. The volume of children on the streets peddling whatever they could was overwhelming. There are tiny toddlers playing on the sidewalks all day while their mothers attempt to sell goods. There are others even younger than my own children who have graduated to selling on their own. They roam around the city with no supervision. They have to work constantly. These children have been robbed of their childhood … and the thief is poverty.
We saw many little boys working as shoe shiners. These guys work hard. They are always looking down at the feet of passers-by to find someone willing to pay for a shine. One little guy we saw didn’t even have a rag to shine with, he just used his hands! Now can you imagine how many toxic chemicals enter his body this way? Does he even have a clue? No, he is simply trying to help his family survive.
Most of them have been trained to beg and plead – especially around Americans. They’ve learned a few phrases in English that tug at the heartstrings (or purse strings). It would be easy to be annoyed by this and treat them harshly because they don’t seem very childlike or innocent. But that’s just it – they aren’t. They have been robbed of the ability to see life’s joys and are only seeing people as a possibility for their next meal. It was difficult to bear the sight of this tragedy sometimes. The problem is so enormous, how could anyone ever help them ? We just have to trust that God’s love can make a difference in their lives and pray for that to happen.
We traveled through much of Ecuador during this trip to become acquainted with the culture and various issues affecting the church in this country. One of our visits was to an indigenous church high in the Andes Mountains. On the way to this church, we traveled around and up the mountain side on a dirt road. We kept going higher and higher and I thought there was no way anyone could life up there. When we topped the mountain’s peak, the land flattened out and there was a huge community of people in the middle of nowhere.
Here we met the pastor of a truly powerful Church of God that has endured true persecution. This pastor is reaching the children of their community in mighty ways. They offer tutoring to 120 children 3 days per week. They provide a nutritious meal for them in their tiny dining hall which can only seat 20 at a time. He desires to expand and trusts God for provision. What this church is doing, is mighty; but what they have endured is admirable.
Several years ago, as the power of God began to move through this pastor, enemies of the church began to come against him. He was accused of various thefts and other crimes in attempt to deter him from preaching the gospel. It came to a climax when a group had him held captive for several days. During this time they beat him, sliced his ear almost completely off and humiliated him publicly. They attempted to set him on fire and he recalled the story from the Bible where God walked with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace. He began to pray for God to have mercy on them. Can you imagine having been beaten and humiliated and your enemies trying to burn you alive? What would your response be? His was to pray that God would have mercy on them. They made him drink gasoline and tried to light matches. Match after match was struck but failed to light. Eventually they grew tired of the game and left him alone. Several days later he was rescued and is now able to share the testimony of how God spared him.
Now this man is trying to raise just $2,000 to expand their tiny dining hall to feed more children.
We were also able to visit Mi Tambo, a Church of God orphanage outside Quito that is home to many special needs children. The children were so happy to see us and seem to be well loved by their house parents. It was most exciting to meet one 12 year old boy who has been unable to hear all his life. Through persistence and prayer, the orphanage was able to get this boy an appointment to see a hearing specialist. The specialist discovered that the boy’s condition could be remedied by a special type of simple hearing aids. For twelve years he has lived in complete silence … a silence which could have been easily shattered if only someone had taken him to the doctor earlier. The day before we arrived, he had been fitted with these special hearing aids and was finally able to hear for the first time. It was incredible to share in the joy of that special moment … to be with someone who had once been deaf but now could hear … to hold him close and whisper in his ear that Jesus loves him and for him to smile widely and shake his head emphatically yes. A modern day miracle made possible by simple ear plugs. How many more children are waiting in Ecuador for their miracle to come by only someone helping them get to a doctor?
We also visited the jungle region of Ecuador. It was very humbling to visit the original home where Nate Saint had his base camp in the 1950’s. If you remember, Nate Saint and four other missionaries were martyred by the Waodani Indians in Ecuador for attempting to share with the tribe the love of Jesus. We were somberly reminded of the possible cost associated with responding to the call of God to go to those who have not yet heard. The site itself was very plain and simple. It fact it was surprising how “normal” it all seemed. If this place had been in the US we would have created a museum and charged admission. Here in Ecuador is it just another rundown building in the middle of a people who are still going about mission work.
Our trip continued going downhill as we traveled by canoe down the Puyo river for about an hour into the Amazon Rainforest. It was exciting to see the incredible wildlife up-close and personal such as monkeys playing everywhere and toucans in the trees. However in the midst of such beauty and life we constantly found ourselves surrounded by poverty and need. Littered along the edge of the river stood small children with bloated stomachs reminding us that not everyone knew where there next meal would come from. At one point we heard that a nearby island had an evangelical church so we decided to go and visit it. We found a small church in a remote village of about 200 people held together by five faithful women. As we visited with them they told us of their need for training and discipleship. They talked of their desire for someone to come and work with them to evangelize their village. It was beautiful to see the passion of God’s people in isolated areas such as this but at the same time it also confirmed the call God has placed within our heart to come to Ecuador. Their plea was the same as the indigenous groups in the city … God please send someone to help us!
This trip was such an amazing opportunity. In every way we were completely reaffirmed that God has called us to this place … to this people … to Ecuador. Though we are not naive and we know the journey will be hard, we go in the confidence of knowing that we are called. We go in the strong name of Jesus that faithfully worked through many missionaries before us … even those martyred for the sake of His strong name. We go knowing that God is begging for us to respond to the need He has showed us and our prayer is that you will continue partnering with us as we labor in the Kingdom together. To God be the glory. Amen!