I recently returned from Ecuador where I was on a missions trip with our church youth group. It was been a blessing beyond words. We had to be at the MSP Airport at 3:30am on Tuesday, July 19. It was a long day. We had a long layover in Miami so we hopped on the bus to go to the beach for an hour. We arrived in Guayaquil quite late, and stayed at a hotel near the airport. The staff from Merge Ministries (a part of the Evangelical Covenant Church that helps facilitate missions trips) met us at the airport. The next morning they briefed us on our schedule and things to remember. Then we headed to the church and school where we would be spending most of our time.
When we arrived we were welcomed with an hour long assembly by the schol we were serving at during the day. They performed dances, sang songs, led us in worship, and treated us like celebrities. Students would come up to us with paper and pens and ask for our autographs. Some would even have us write our names on their arms.
During the day part of our group leads worship services and part goes into classrooms to help students practice and learn English. Some students knew English fairly well and wanted to talk and ask questions. Some didn't know it at all and didn't want to try. Most had some interest in interacting with us regardless of their proficiency in the language. Most of our group, however, only knew the rudimentary basics of Spanish (some knew none), so at times communication could be an issue. Still, we usually found that we could communicate far beyond what words allowed.
We stayed in groups with local families. Three of the high school guys and I stayed in an apartment building where our hosts lived. We had our own flat. We missed out on living with our family, but it was also nice to have our own space and be able to go to bed when needed. Hot water is a rarity in most homes. Toilet paper cannot be flushed into the sewers. The water isn't safe to drink for North American stomachs. The windows don't have screens and parts of the apartment are open to the outside or hallway. Doors are metal and have several heavy bolts. Cats roam the sidewalks outside at night and pigeons do during the day. We had a lizard show up in our bathroom the first morning. And we thoroughly loved our "Ecuadorian Bachelor Pad."
The first two evenings we went into neighborhood churches and ran outreach programs for children. We sang some songs, acted out the Good Samaritan, memorized a verse in Spanish, made some crafts and played some games. We had initially been told that we would be doing three nights of this as a whole group. We ended up having to split up our group into two and doing two churches each night. It wasn't what we had planned for, but flexibility is a needed quality in Ecuador, and things still went well. The youth did great in reaching out to the kids who came.
On Friday the students at the school had assemblies to celebrate three upcoming holidays over the course of July 24-25: a celebration of Armada (defeating Peru), the birthday of liberator Simon Bolivar, and the founding of Guayaquil. The youngest students dressed up in traditional outfits (the girls often in dresses that reflected the pattern on the city flag) and performed skits or sang songs. The junior and senior high students had a pageant to vote for Miss Guayaquil, enacted skits about the founding of the city and traditions, and had another pageant of outfits made from recycled material. That evening we played games with the youth group from the church.
On Saturday the local youth group joined us as we boarded busses to drive two hours to Salinas to play at the beach that day. The students from both countries got along together remarkably. At this time of year the water in the Pacific was much colder than what we experienced in the Atlantic.
On Sunday we attended the two morning services at the church. The Holy Spirit was very present. Our group led a few worship songs and Pastor Mark preached the sermon. Right after church we left with our host family. They had a family obligation that day that we were invited to. It ended up being our host father's parent's 55th Wedding Anniversary. We drove out to the wealthy suburbs where his brother (a doctor) had a home. The parents and along with the brother and his wife renewed their wedding vows. We were welcomed as part of the family and enjoyed time with them.
There was no school or work on Monday because of the holiday, so we had the day to tour the town with our family. We went to the Park de las Iguanas were scores of lizards roamed freely. Then we went to Malecon 2000, a park that stretched along the riverfront. We visited two soccer museums, hiked to the top of Santa Anna where we climbed the lighthouse and saw 400 year old houses and cannons that were used to defend the city from pirates, and visited a firefighting museum. The brother-in-law of our host dad picked us up and took us to their home where we played soccer with some neighborhood kids, swam in the pool, and enjoyed a meal and their hospitality.
Tuesday was our last day at the school. We did some English classes and the youth did three assemblies teaching the students about Minnesota life and culture, focused around the four seasons. Before the final assembly, the school and church gave us a farewell. It was very touching. That night they decorated tables and chairs in linens with gold trim for our supper. After a reflective debriefing, we headed to the hotel we stayed at for the first night and had a short night's sleep as we had to be ready to leave for the airport by 3:30am the next day. After hours in the airport and on airplanes and delays of our final flight, I was finally home by 1am Wednesday night/Thursday morning.
The trip was a huge blessing. I was blessed by getting to know people from church better. Blessed by the guys in my group. Blessed by the hospitality of our hosts. Blessed by the welcome and sending off from the school. Blessed by the worship there. Blessed by the ministry we got to be a part of. Blessed by the people.