Lessons from Ecuador
I have had the privilege of being a part of eight short term missions trips in my lifetime. Each one has been unique and has taught me many important lessons, so I knew our planned mission trip to Ecuador this summer would be the same.
From the very beginning, it seemed like God had a lot he wanted to teach me. One big lesson was in the area of trust. As individuals began to commit to the trip, I had some concerns as there were health issues for some and timing issues for others. At one point, everyone who had committed to the trip was under the age of 21 except for me.
But God is always faithful to put the exact people He intends to go on a trip and as I trusted, I saw His plan come together in an amazing way. Our final group of nine consisted of two “older”adults (and I include myself in that number!) and seven who were under the age of 27.
As I looked at our team, my excitement began to grow. After all, it was on my very first missions trip to Australia when I was seventeen, that God stirred in my heart and gave me a desire to serve Him with my life- a commitment that I continue to seek to be faithful to follow. For four out of our seven young ones, the trip to Ecuador would be their first missions trip. Adding to the excitement for me personally was that two out of those four first timers were my own children! I knew that the lessons learned through our time in Ecuador would likely be more for my teammates than for me and the joy and privilege of that was not lost on me!
In addition to trusting God with the team He would put together, there were challenges with getting passports and airline tickets which would become another area of trust and of humbling for me. A travel savvy friend helped me with ordering tickets, but the process was grueling as we entered names and birth dates for nine people over and over again. We had found the perfect itinerary that would allow us to fly out of Rochester, NY (our hometown) and arrive in Cuenca, Ecuador (our final destination) all in one day. This would eliminate the need for a hotel or an in country flight, but every time we tried to get these particular tickets, we were told that one of the flights was overbooked. Each time a message would pop up saying hurry there are 9 tickets left! which was exasperating as we needed nine tickets exactly! We were so sure that these were the best flights and so we kept trying. After entering all of the information three times with no success, one of the flights on the itinerary changed slightly. We prayed that this might be the flight that was causing the issues and entered our information as quickly as we could. This time, our booking was confirmed! We were so excited.
And then I looked closely at the information we had entered and I had spelled MY name wrong!! I felt my heart sink, because I knew that this would not fly (sorry, can’t help myself sometimes!). The next day, I tried to work with the travel site to fix the issue. Two hours and $75 later, the error was fixed. It was humbling for me and incredibly frustrating.
As the team leader, I felt the financial burden for our team and this was compounded by the burden of sending three family members on an expensive trip. We had a benefit concert to raise funds for the team and it was a wonderful success. We worked together as a team and the strengths of our group encouraged me. Our church family and friends were incredibly generous. But after all of this, I still felt a bit stressed. I knew God would provide- He always does!- but I also knew that we had a lot of work to do. One of the beautiful lessons for me was watching my kids work hard to raise money to cover their own expenses. We had many conversations about how we need to trust God to provide, but we also need to work hard with wisdom and integrity. They both did a great job!
And then we were off! All of our hard work in preparations paid off, because our day of travel was wonderful. But when our final flight arrived in Ecuador, we discovered that our bags had not been on the last flight. This was a big disappointment for us after a long day. The lessons learned were to pray and remain calm (our mantra for the entire trip was the Spanish word tranquilo!). As we attempted to use our limited knowledge of Spanish to figure out how to get our bags to Cuenca, I felt a nudge to take a picture of our baggage claim stickers that the airport worker took from me. This ended up being the most important picture that I took in Ecuador! When our bags did finally arrive a day and a half after we did, one of our team members bags was still missing. This caused a lot of frustration for him and a ton of work behind the scenes to find the missing bag. Having the baggage claim information was important, so I am grateful that the Holy Spirit prompted me to get that picture!
There were many moments like that along the way when we could see God’s hand at work. Most of our team traveled from the airport over the Andes mountains and to our final destination (about three hours) in a van, but I was able to go with another teammate and two of the missionaries that we would work with the rest of the week in a car. This would end up being one of my favorite times as we were given the gift of being able to hear about the ministry in Ecuador first hand. The next day, we discovered that three of us from that car ride had read similar passages of scripture in our devotional time that morning and we were all encouraged, knowing that God doesn’t do anything by accident!
Our team stayed with six different host families and we were all blessed by this time, feeling like God had put us exactly where He wanted us to be. Not only is He a faithful God, worthy of our trust; He is a loving God, sweet and compassionate.
One of my favorite parts of the trip was watching how each team member had the opportunity to serve out of their strengths. Many of our team members were hard workers and some were skilled workers. As a result, we were able to contribute to the work projects at a property that is being prepared for a new church plant. We also had multiple opportunities to share Christ’s love in parks in partnership with Iglesia Bautista La Fe in Cuenca. We loved getting to know the people of La Fe and working alongside the missionary families who love the Lord! One of our team members is a nurse and he brought a first aid kit with him. We were all incredibly grateful for his contributions throughout our time there as we faced allergies, stomach issues, altitude challenges, cuts and jammed fingers. Besides having to take an unexpected trip to a chiropractor himself, our nurse was able to remove stitches on two of the missionary’s daughters!
We all fell in love with Ecuador. It is a beautiful country and Cuenca is a fascinating city. The rugged terrain of the Andes mountains, the gorgeous rivers that wind through the city, the historic buildings, Incan ruins, crazy traffic that felt surprisingly safe, the dog sightings everywhere, even the challenges of no electricity or water at times, captured our hearts. This was because the people we came in contact with were welcoming and gracious to us over and over again. They genuinely wanted to get to know us even when there was a language barrier. It’s an incredible thing to walk into a room full of people and receive greetings from each person. They welcomed us into their homes, fed us incredible food, and became our friends.
Friendship crosses cultural and language barriers. And what I have found over and over again in all of my travels is that when there is a mutual love for Jesus and for the gospel, those friendships go deep!
I prayed often for my team members, knowing that they would likely be deeply impacted by their time in Ecuador, but I wasn’t prepared to cry on our last day when team members began sharing what God was doing in their hearts and lives. Many did not want to leave and are already preparing for the next time they will be able to go back. Everyone grew in their trust in God and their desire to serve Him!
Our theme verse for the trip rings true and will continue to be my prayer for our team..
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. ~Ephesians 3:20,21 NIV
I can’t wait to see where God leads my teammates, particularly my children! He IS able to do more than we can ask or imagine and to Christ Jesus be glory throughout all generations!
For all of you who supported us through prayer, encouragement and financially, thank you seems inadequate!! It felt like our team was much bigger than nine people and that’s because it was! YOU were a part of our team as well and I pray that God will bless you as you have been a blessing to us!
With deep appreciation,