I have loved my time in Ecuador so far! I am here with Maria, a sophomore from Colorado. We have been staying with a missionary family in Atuntaqui (a city in northern Ecuador), and they have two sweet girls who are two and five. The father is German, as are many of the missionaries, and the mother is Filipina, so I have been learning about these cultures as well!
These first two weeks I have mainly been learning about Ecuadorian culture, practicing Spanish, helping with some small ministries, and meeting the locals and other missionaries. One of my favorite ministries was giving meals to people in need. I joined members of the church in Ibarra (a city near Atuntaqui) in dividing into groups and driving around different areas of the city to pass out homemade meals. Some people from the church donated to pay for the food, while other members cooked the meals. We passed out around 75 in total and could have easily given more. There are many Ecuadorians who are struggling to make ends meet, selling small things on the side of the road or going through the garbage to find bottles to recycle and sell for a little money. There are also currently many Venezuelan refugees in Ecuador on their way to Peru or Chile. It was inspiring to see the members of the church providing for those less fortunate than themselves when the average Ecuadorian makes only $15 a day.
I also really enjoyed participating in the girls club in Chamanal, a black village in the mountains. The black people in the village were slaves on a plantation until only 50 years ago, so they struggle with self-worth. The girls club was with teenagers, and the presentation was on self-worth and body image. It was interesting to hear this discussion because it was also something we talked about multiple times at my Christian summer camp. The same talk given by a camp counselor in Texas applies to the girls in a village in the mountains of Ecuador.
From left to right: kids from the Awa congregation where Kevin & Kathy Bruce minister; Meredith and Maria with girls at the retreat center in Lita; praying and distributing food to Venezuelan refugees.
I have now been in Ecuador for a full month! I enjoyed my last two weeks, finishing up my time with the Friess family in Atuntaqui, spending a week at the Liebenzell Mission’s retreat center in Lita, and then moving to my final destination in Rio Verde. I am currently living in this rural, mountainous region with Kevin and Kathy Bruce, who have lived in Ecuador for 26 years ministering to the Awa tribe.
At the retreat center, Maria and I taught an English class each day to two kids whose parents maintain the retreat center. We also helped two girls our age with their work at the retreat center, using machetes to clear the hillside. Neither of these families speak any English, so it was a great time to practice our Spanish! We got to try sugarcane juice and cacao fruit from the retreat center land, which were both delicious (for anyone wondering, cacao fruit doesn’t taste like chocolate, but it’s still pretty good).
The past few days we’ve spent in Rio Verde. It is very peaceful here, with a gorgeous view of the mountains all around. There is no dishwasher, washing machine, or shower, so my dorm will seem luxurious after this trip! Yesterday, Maria and I helped with the children’s Sunday school, and we are now preparing for two vacation Bible schools we will do with Awa children in two communities. I am excited that we will have this opportunity to bless the Awa children, especially as I have come to understand more and more how much time and investment it takes to really make an impact in the mission field. Kathy and Kevin have built relationships with the Awa, living with them and learning their language and culture. They made the treks to the community when there wasn’t a road, built their house here themselves, and they get up at 5:00 am each day to be ready for unexpected Awa visitors in the mornings. The Awa community has some challenges, with girls getting pregnant at very young ages and men getting drunk…They are very superstitious, trying to control the world of spirits and demons. Because the Awa are a fear and power culture [referring to three frameworks of presenting the Gospel according to different cultures, as described in The 3D Gospel by Jayson Georges: “Fear/Power,” “Shame/Honor,” and “Guilt/Innocence.”], Kathy and Kevin emphasize in their conversations about the Gospel that the Awa do not have to be afraid of spirits because God is more powerful than all of them.
Left: the beauty of Ecuador. Right: with the Awa kids in Rio Verde.
I am back home in Fort Worth! The last two weeks were my favorite of the trip. I was staying with the missionary couple Kevin and Kathy in Rio Verde, a rural region in the mountains. They have been building churches with the Awa tribe for the last 26 years.
We hosted two Vacation Bible Schools (VBS) for Awa children in different towns. The first VBS was smaller, with 61 kids by the last day (more children came each of the three days), while we had 86 kids by the end of the second VBS. Thankfully, we had two German interns to help with the youth while Maria and I worked with the children. Interestingly, we taught English because it is a requirement by the Ecuadorian government for youth to reach a certain level of English in order to graduate from high school. We also used storybooks by the nonprofit organization Samaritan’s Purse to teach the stories of creation, the fall of Adam and Eve, and the salvation of Jesus Christ.
My favorite part of the VBS was giving the kids shoe boxes from Operation Christmas Child. People around the world pack shoeboxes full of toys and necessities, and Samaritan’s Purse sends these boxes to children in need through their Operation Christmas Child program. I have been packing these boxes with my church since I was little and once volunteered at one of their processing centers, so it was incredible to be able to give the boxes to the children and see their joy. We only had 59 shoe boxes for the last VBS and knew there would be at least 80 kids the third day, so we had to divide all of the boxes for children ages 2-4 into bags and change some of the girl boxes into boy boxes. It was rather like God multiplying the loaves and fishes because we ended up with enough presents for every child!
The biggest thing I learned during my final weeks in Ecuador was how to love. Every night with Kevin and Kathy, Maria and I read the book Love Walked Among Us: Learning to Love Like Jesus by Paul E. Miller. This book has great practical insight into what it looks like to love those around us in our daily lives. We also started watching “The Chosen” together, a TV series about the life of Jesus. Doing these two things in tandem has really helped me see people and situations a little bit more like Jesus. He feels much more real to me, and I know he is actively teaching me as one of his disciples. Before going to Ecuador, I imagined I might see people being saved or even miracles. But at the end of the trip, I read 1 Corinthians 13 and realized that loving others in my daily life is the most important thing I could learn, and this is what God wanted to teach me on this trip. The other things might come later.
What are Journey internships?
For 6-8 weeks during the summer, or during a length and time of your choosing, you can serve with Liebenzell USA missionaries on a cross-cultural experience. Opportunities include Ecuador, Spain, Zambia, southern U.S., Canada, and more.