I just got back from Ecuador and I want to thank you again for your prayers and financial support! Thanks to your support the entire amount of $1,850 was raised for me to go.
I truly believe that you were an answer to my prayers and that God also answered your prayers for the people in Ecuador. Below is a travel journal which shares the work we did and how we saw God working on this mission trip day by day. Some of you however, may interested in a summary and for you, I have included the following bullet points and definitions below before starting the travel journal. The website (www.theMeetingPlaceEcuador.org) is a great way also to connect with the ministry we worked with in Ecuador. There you will see additional pictures and info of the ministry. May the grace of our Lord be with you, now and always!
- Team: 15 people from FBC West Columbia plus 6 from a church in Cypress, Texas
- Ministry goals: 1) serving the disabled through service and construction, 2) providing discipleship to children through Soccer camps 3) helping the poor, the neglected, in remote places in the name of Jesus.
- Carlos Gaona - though blind he is the founder and director of a Special-Needs ministry
- Daniel Arellano - semi-pro soccer player, started the Seed Soccer ministry to children
- Eduardo Andrade - evangelist, missions facilitator, national director of IMOJ, runs the Meeting Place now that the Beaks have passed away.
- IMOJ - International Ministry of Jesus
- Rodrigo - our bus driver for the week, Christian, and friend of Eduardo.
- The Meeting Place - buildings used as a center base for missions, for missionaries, Christian conferences, and pastor retreats
- Tom & Joan Beak - retired missionaries, now deceased, who built the Meeting Place and cast the vision for it.
Day 1: Sunday, March 11th, 2018, 7pm
Got up, went to church with my family. The sermon was good. Pastor Ryan talked about “what things are eternal”: God, people, the Word of God. I needed to hear that basing my life on eternal things is what’s going to last.
Lately, I have been discouraged. I look at the bank account and there is not much. I look in the mirror and I see an overweight, balding man. I go to my job and wonder if I make a difference. I think about all my failures and what could have been. It is very easy to get discouraged.
But when I look at Jesus, I have hope. So what if I am not doing well temporarily?—I have life eternal through Him. I will see Him and his kingdom on earth. I will join all the saints who have trusted in Him. Like Job said in Job 19:25-27
For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.
How forgetful I am about who God is and what He has done in my life! I go to Ecuador to proclaim this Jesus—King of Kings and the only Savior. There are precious people in Ecuador who need to hear of Him. I pray that my words and service this week will point people to Him.
Day 2: Monday, March 12th
|view from the balcony at the Meeting Place|
Last night was crazy! We arrived in Quito just before midnight, got our bags and drove by bus to the “Meeting Place” in Nanegalito where we are staying. The last 15 minutes of driving in the bus was through a narrow jungle road on the side of a mountain, lurching downhill and uphill, crossing a narrow bridge and arriving at 3am. Rodrigo is our bus driver for the week and he knows every inch of his bus.
Today we got up and met the leaders of the ministries here over breakfast: Eduardo, Daniel, and (later) Carlos. I got to go with Daniel, a 20-something-year-old soccer player who has a ministry to children called Seed Soccer. Today we went out to Carlos’ house to partner with his ministry. Carlos is blind himself and runs a ministry out of his home for the physically and mentally disabled. We drove to his house and played a friendly game of soccer against Carlos and his team—except we played blindfolded! The soccer ball had a bell in it that you could hear as it rolled. The spectators would try to help the players by telling them, “left, right, forward” until they got to the ball. Believe it or not, one team lost 8-0 and it was not the team whose leader is blind. You would have laughed to see us stumbling around, groping with our feet to find the ball. Of course, Carlos had us play this game to be aware of the challenges those with disabilities face. He has a huge heart for caring for people who have been overlooked and neglected.
|blindfold soccer. Carlos is on the left with thumbs up.|
I told how I thought I was a Christian growing up because I went to church and read the Bible and tried to be a good person. I also shared how I was prideful, thinking I was better then others, about how in college I realized I was not a good person and I need Jesus to save me from the penalty of my sins and give me a new heart.
Afterwards, we learned about how this group of disabled people made handmade baskets to sell and help themselves. We spent time stripping vines for them to use for weaving baskets.
We took the long journey through the steep mountains back to where we are staying and I saw cloudy mountain tops through the afternoon rain on the forests of tropical plants and banana trees. There is a reason this area is called the “Cloud Forest.”
Day 3: Tuesday, March 13th
Today was busy but awesome! I coach soccer in the States and when I got assigned to help with the Seed Soccer camps I was a little disappointed because I am tired of soccer at the end of the high school season. However, the ministry led by Daniel here was refreshing to be a part of today.
One part of our group went to do construction today in the Dos Puentes (Two Bridges) community. They are working on a home for a lady name Carmen who takes care of her 3 brothers. All her brothers are named Luis, and all of them have mental disabilities. Carmen’s husband left her at some point and she struggles to take care of herself and them. She began building her own house though and our construction group last year put a roof on it and windows. This year they are fixing some of the walls and laying tile on the floors. I met Carmen and 2 of the Luises at Carlos’ house on Monday when we played soccer.
|Palmitopamba kids. Daniel is the one on the right.|
|Soccer drill, Collecting Easter Eggs|
|Bible story time|
Day 4: Wednesday, March 14th
|Welcome to Urcutambo|
Today the weather was beautiful—sunny skies with a cool breeze. We went to do another Seed Soccer camp. This time we went to a village called Urcutambo which has a gorgeous view on the top of a mountain ridge.
Daniel, our leader, has been coming to this community for about 6 months. There were a lot of kids so we divided them into two groups: 9-12 yrs and 13-15 yrs. One cute little boy named Milán tagged along with siblings. He is 4 years old. He was my little buddy today and I helped him with the drills. I also ran the drills for the younger kids while Daniel lead the older group. Our schedule for the soccer camp went something like this:
- opening game
- water break
- Bible story part 1
- water break
- Bible story part 2
- Awards for the best player, best attitude, and best attendance
Today it was a joy to play with the kids. Yesterday, I was shy because I didn’t know what we were going to do but today I jumped in to get to know the kids. When we asked questions after the Bible story to see what the kids learned, all of the older kids were sitting, listening, and answering. Milán, the 4 year old, had been wandering about during the story time so I sat by him and gave him a rock to play with to keep him from distracting the others. He began digging in the dirt with it. When Stephanie, who had been telling the Bible story asked the kids, “Where does believing in Jesus lead us?” Milán shouted out the answer “al cielo” first without looking up from digging. “Al cielo” in Spanish means, “to Heaven.”
We returned to the Meeting Place for dinner. After dinner we had our own Bible study and then played games like Uno and Ping Pong late into the night.
Day 5: Thursday, March 15th
Today was another beautiful day of weather with a scenic (but long and bumpy) ride on the bus. This time we went to the village of Vista Hermosa to put on a soccer camp for kids ages 5-8. We drove through the mountains past banana trees, corn, aloe plants, yucca, and sugar canes. Chickens were pecking and scratching near the houses we passed. Men on motorcycles (usually dirt bikes) sped by at alarming rates on the narrow mountain roads.
When we arrived there were 29 kids that were waiting for us! I took the 7-8 year olds on one field for drills while Daniel worked with the 5-6 year olds on the other beside it. We had them play soccer games like Wolves & Lambs and Collect the Easter Eggs.
Again there was a little boy named “Smith” who was 4. In Spanish his name sounds like “Eh-smit.” He worked hard to keep up with the others. Many parents came out today to watch the practice. They sat above us on the edge of the hill that the soccer field was carved out of. There are not many flat places where we were. However, the parents go to hear the kids pray out loud. Daniel had them repeat a simple prayer at the beginning asking God to keep them safe, to help their bodies grow, and to learn more about the God who loves them. At the end he also had them pray after him to thank God for the day and the food they were about to eat.
Tomorrow (Friday) 2 teams of the older kids from this community (Vista Hermosa) and Palmitopamba will play each other in the stadium. Both teams are the ones Daniel has been training and ministering to through the Seed Soccer program.
I am amazed at how a 25-year-old soccer player like Daniel has started a ministry that disciples so many kids in neglected areas. He is also trying to reach the parents with the love of Christ. Please pray for him and Seed Soccer. He has a few financial supporters from the States but honestly I don’t know how he does so much with so little.
At the end of the day we went to a place to eat which also had ziplines through the top of trees. The view was beautiful but the climb to get to the pulleys and cables was difficult. I’m still sunburned and sore, but happy.
Day 6: Friday, March 16th
Today was the big day of the soccer game! The older kids from the Palmitopamba and Vista Hermosa were to play each other in the large soccer stadium. Of course, these are the same kids that my group and Daniel worked with earlier in the week.
|The Big Game|
Both teams played well and I think the final score was 6-4. I enjoyed helping with the warm up drills, chasing balls that went out of bounds during the game, and coaching a little from the sideline.
After the game Daniel shared a soccer story with all the kids (about 30 in all) which related soccer to the greatest story of all—the Good News of Jesus Christ. He urged them all to faith in Jesus and gave them an opportunity to respond in faith and pray. Many prayed quietly during this time. A few of the kids have already professed faith in Christ and they are bold about their faith. They answer first in the Bible story time and lead out with their attitude, sportsmanship, and kindness to the other players. Both groups need our prayers though because God only knows how He is working in their lives.
After the story, we fed them lunch and celebrated at the stadium. I played with 3 of the younger boys: Ferné, Elking, and Derek. Ferné is 4 and shows exceptional skill at soccer for a boy of his age.
After saying goodbye to the kids we went to a nearby sugar cane farm. It was 5 minutes from the stadium. We saw men there boiling the cane and cooling it to brown cakes of solid sugar. It smelled strongly of molasses. I could have bought a 5 pound round of sugar for $1.
|The Greatest Story|
|Luis trying to get Rodrigo with the stick|
- I never wanted to be a Spanish teacher or a soccer coach but have been doing it for years now.
- I was a pastor and called to vocational ministry but now I am not.
But this week I spoke Spanish, coached soccer, and testified to Jesus by word and deed. For this reason, I felt that my life made sense, that God was showing His love to me and giving me hope for the future.
Day 7/8: Saturday/Sunday, March 17-18th
Believe it or not we had to be packed and ready to go by breakfast because we would not be returning to the Meeting Place. Our flight leaves at midnight Saturday and we would spend the day in Quito before being dropped off at the airport.
Even though we have been here for only a week it was hard to say goodbye to Eduardo and his wife. Eduardo is an evangelist, a godly Christian leader, and full of wisdom and joy. His lovely wife, María, served us food each morning and night and made us feel at home. She is an excellent hostess. Eduardo had to stay behind while we went to Quito to prepare for the next mission team which is arriving at the same time we are leaving.
Daniel and Samuel (the photographer for the week) spent the day with us in Quito since they live there and go home on the weekends. It was hard for me to say goodbye to Daniel because I saw God working in this young man’s life and ministry and I wanted to stay and help.
I also talked to Rodrigo, our bus driver for this week quite a bit. He is a Christian about my age and he has worked for Eduardo about 6 years. We had to speak Spanish because, unlike Eduardo and Daniel, he is not bilingual. Rodrigo is good-natured though—smiling, laughing, joking. We got along very well and I will miss him.
|Our trusty bus, parked at Two Bridges. Ain't no mountain this baby can't climb!|
|One of the Equator markers|
Next we went to a Basilica in Quito which is a large, ornate Catholic church. In my opinion though, it was not worth the $2 admission. Finally, we went to an open-air market to haggle some more. There were so many booths of indigenous hand-crafted articles: ponchos, beads, shirts, bracelets, hats, figurines, swords, shrunken heads, spears, canes, and much, much more.
|the outdoor market in Quito|
After shopping we drove 40 minutes to the airport. Quito is large and the traffic is horrible! Seriously, you are always on the edge of having a wreck because they drive like maniacs. And the pedestrians, which are many, cross the roads whenever and wherever.
So here I sit in the airport waiting for the red-eye flight. We leave around midnight, arrive in Houston after 5am Sunday morning, drive from the airport, and most likely arrive home around 8am. I plan to go to church tomorrow but I will probably be a total wreck. God is so good though and worthy of all my praise and energy. Whether I am sleeping at home tomorrow during church time or attending I will be resting in the grace of my Lord, Jesus Christ.
Update: I did make it to church. I was the only one from our team that did. Pastor Ryan preached on how we haven’t arrived, that we are a work in progress. I bowed my head to pray halfway through the sermon and fell asleep. I barely realized what was going on when we stood to sing the final song.