Thursday, December 27, 2012

December in a Nutshell

It's been a while since my last post, I know. These past few weeks have flown by - I've been super busy. Of course there have been ups and downs. At times I feel like I'm not doing much, and other times, I feel overwhelmed. I guess that is the life of a missionary. But despite not having organized ministry all the time, I know there are things I can be doing: researching the culture, planning kids' activities, brainstorming ways to make learning fun, etc. So here's a bit of what I've been up to:

Wesleyan Theology Workshop:

A few weeks ago, the National Office of the Methodist Church here in Ecuador sponsored a workshop on Wesleyan Theology. The leader of the workshop, who is from Mexico, had studied theology at Duke in North Carolina for many years now, and wrote his thesis on "Responsible Hope" as a Christian ethic. During the two full days, we learned about the roots of our Methodist belief that the gospel lived out is evangelism combined with social action. I found the talks quite fascinating, because despite the fact that I had grown up in the United Methodist Church in the U.S., I had never done an in-depth study of Wesley's works. Honestly, a few months ago I had found it amusing when some of my missionary colleagues were all gun-hoe Wesley, quoting him left and right. But this week, after reading some of his sermons for myself, I found them surprisingly inspiring.

There is so much to learn from great thinkers, even those who wrote hundreds of years ago. The message Wesley taught of putting faith into action holds as true and necessary today as it was then. One of the themes we talked about in this workshop was the idea of social holiness. Wesley believed that the only visible and valid sign of the Christian experience is a live transformed, as indicated by the fruits of the Holy Spirit. Not only must we know and accept the truth, we also must live it out. The wheels are now turning in my mind, and I have some new reading material.

Journey to the Jungle:

Last week I had the opportunity to go to el oriente, a.k.a. la selva, or the Eastern jungle region of Ecuador. The bishop and another pastor of the Methodist church had to go to check out a church there that wanted to become Methodist. They invited me along to help and get to know a different cultural area. It was about a 4 hour drive each way (thankfully we were in car, not in bus, which would have been much longer and less comfortable!). When we arrived at the town, we drove by the church, when had been built earlier this year. Later that afternoon we went to chat with a lady from the church, to see how things are going. I anticipated it being a formal meeting. It turned out to be nothing of the such. We hung out for a bit waiting for the woman's husband, and when he didn't come, we agreed to come to their house later that evening. Around 5:30 we went driving around to find the house, asking about 8 different people for directions! Finally we arrived, but no one was home. We waited for about 15 minutes, knocking on the door, and as we were about to leave, a woman came walked up the street, taking her sweet time. It turned out she and her husband were the ones who had been leading the church. Commence 3 hour meeting, ending in the fact that this church is no longer Methodist. What a day! However, we encouraged them in their ministry and assured them that our doors were open if they ever needed help or wanted to collaborate with us. I had never realized before what a messy business church planting is. Whew!

On the bright side, this town is famous for the monkeys that live right in town. Here are some pictures of Misahualli, Ecuador.

Christmas Drama in El Prado:

The past few months I had been helping Sara, my fellow missionary, with a biweekly kids' program in a small community north of Quito. We wanted to do something special for Christmas, so we planned a drama and program with the 40-some kids who come regularly. Despite only having 3 weeks to prepare, and some kids who had roles did not show up, the program went super well. Of course I was stressing, but 150 people came to see it, the kids had fun, and they learned something about the true meaning of Christmas. I think that makes it a success. Rebeca, a friend from the church in Quito, helped me immensely in designing the scenery, finalizing the costumes, and practicing the songs with the kiddies. And we definitely could not have done it without all the work Sara put into choosing the songs, buying the costumes, and making invitations beforehand. Here are some pictures from our afternoon:

Precious little angels
The cast: Maria, Joseph, shepherds, wise men (and women), donkeys, etc.

We even had live animals! Isn't it adorable?!

Christmas songs
Worship band
 We are hoping to continue with the kids' programs every other weekend in the new year, and eventually start small groups for adults as well with the goal of growing into a church congregation. More to come later this week on my Christmas! Feliz Navidad y Año Nuevo!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Baby, it's Cold Outside!

It’s three weeks until Christmas, and I’m living 15 miles from a beautiful snow-capped volcano. I think that this maybe makes up for not having actual snow on the ground. Besides, if we did have snow here, everyone would freeze to death because there is no indoor heating. Brrr!!

Volcán Cotopaxi, 2nd highest volcano in Ecuador

I’m feeling the Christmas spirit today because yesterday I put on some holiday music while decorating my Christmas tree – that’s right, I have a mini-Christmas tree, courtesy of my wonderful mother and her co-workers at the library! It just made my day opening up the package to find Christmas decorations for my house and fun holiday crafts for the kids here. It was perfect! I know you don’t need all the shimmer and shine to celebrate the reason for the season, but it takes away a little of the homesickness. And makes my home more cheerful! Here in Ecuador, it’s difficult to find good materials for kids’ projects (crafts, games, etc.) at an affordable price. I am so thankful to have these fun activities (and stickers!!) for the kids in this church. They will love it!

As I sit at my kitchen table writing this, I am bundled up in a fleece sweater, thick socks, and a winter hat. It’s kind of nice being all cozy indoors, and it makes me appreciate even more the luxury we have in the U.S. of enjoying warm homes all winter long. Throughout these few days I’ve learned that most people wear several layers all the time: leggings under pants, two pairs of socks, multiple shirts/sweaters, etc. And it’s not an uncommon sight to see people walking around with a fleece blanket wrapped around their shoulders.

Despite being accustomed to the climate, everyone here is very concerned about my health. They are considerate when we have activities outdoors, saying, “We should finish soon so Becky won’t freeze!” or offering me their extra blanket. I am very appreciative of the motherly love I’ve been shown here in Romerillos. The cariñoso spirit of Ecuadorians is something I will not easily forget.

Here are some photos of my new apartment:

Prayers for warmth and strength would be welcomed. Oh, and if you want to, send me an extra sweater or pair of wool socks for Christmas. :)

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Small Town Life

This Sunday I made the permanent move to Romerillos, 1.5 hours directly south of Quito. It’s the total opposite of the metropolitan area of Quito. Romerillos is a small, rural town of about 600 people. When I say small, I mean SMALL. I’m guessing only about 25 families actually live in town, and the rest live on the outskirts or small surrounding communities. Here there is no bank, post office, hospital, grocery store, etc. Everyone goes to Machachi, the nearest bigger town, for errands and shopping. That being said, the town has one small convenience store that is open most days, an elementary school, a childcare center, and two churches: the Catholic Church and the Methodist Church, where I’m working.

Life here is so different than what I’m used to, even growing up in a small town in Indiana. Most people here are farmers, and their daily routine is organized around the planting and harvesting of crops, and necessary chores such as cooking and cleaning to maintain the household. This leaves me in an odd situation. My role here is not to help with the manual labor, but rather, work with the church and community to develop programs that with improve the lives of people here, not only physically but emotionally and spiritually as well. Everyone should feel that they have worth and are loved by God. Though it may feel weird and uncomfortable at first coming into a community where the culture is so different from mine, and the people are a bit hesitant about a foreigner living among them, I know that God has a purpose in this. Through the various tasks I will be doing, I hope to truly appreciate the beauty of this town and that despite our differences we will be able to work together.

Yesterday I had a meeting with the pastor here, and we talked about what my role will look like. Primarily I was sent here to help with programs in the church, but since that won’t be taking all of my time, I will also be helping around the community. One or two afternoons a week I will continue teaching English in the school where I have been for two months already (I live closer now). Possibly I will help out in the child-care center or elementary school one day a week as well. In the church, I will be working with the Sunday school program on Sundays, and starting to develop a kids’ program on Saturdays. The pastor also is interested in restarting a youth program and Bible study, both of which were functional in the past but have died off. It sounds like a lot, but really each event/program does not take much time itself. What will be more time-consuming is all the planning.

Please keep me in your prayers as I adjust to this very new environment. I hope to be able to see the differences in a positive, not critical, light.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Transportation in Ecuador

During my time in Ecuador, I have experienced many forms of transportation. In Quito alone, I have traveled by public city bus, trole/metro, and taxi. Visiting other towns, the methods have included camioneta (pick-up truck), large Greyhound-style bus, private car, and of course, walking. Each vehicle is different, and takes some getting-used-to.

Let’s start with buses. There are all kinds of public buses (commonly referred to as integrados) here in the city. Since Quito is very long, and the main streets run North-South, it’s fairly easy to find a bus going in that direction. However, it’s best to look at the sign in the front window of the bus to see exactly where it’s going. I usually am unfamiliar with the names of these areas, and I just now have figured out how to hop on the blue bus and get to my apartment from the nearby mall or park. Basically, you just have to go with someone who knows the system and learn the names of the stops. An interesting thing about these integrado buses is that you never know when to pay. They all cost 25 cents no matter where you get on or off. However, sometimes there is a conductor who collects the money when you get on, other times you pay the driver before you get off, and occasionally after exiting, the conductor jumps off to receive the payments. This one sure caught me off guard at first!


The second type of bus in the city is called the trole or metro, depending on which line it is. This is a bus that has its own lane in between regular traffic (where the normal buses go), which makes it much faster and efficient. The trole functions by electric wires that follow the tracks of the route, hung above the bus. This makes for a much smoother ride than the jump-start jerkiness of the regular bus. At each parada, or stop, people get on and off in a small station. The driver will encourage people to move quickly with his muffled Siga, por favor. It’s a very organized system. The trole bus runs on the road close to my apartment here, so I use it often. 


Taxis here are normally very cheap, but they can also be deceiving. I’ve learned how to recognize a legit taxi – not only yellow with the taxi sign on top; it also has to have yellow (orange) license plates. If not, the driver probably does not have a taximeter, which means he will want to charge you more than necessary. There are also unmarked taxis, which will pull over trying to get customers. Not a good idea, as they try to charge more as well. To call a taxi, you have to stand on the sidewalk and put your arm straight out, but don’t wave, and if a taxi is free he will flash his headlights as a signal and pull over. Typically, for a 10-minute ride in the city during the day it costs $1.50. At night when there is more traffic, it’s more. It’s always best to clarify a price before getting in the taxi, or verify that he has a taximeter. 


To travel outside of the city, the most common method is taking a big Greyhound bus. There are tons here, going to all the major cities in Ecuador. Every week when I go to teach English, I take one of these to Pastocalle. They cost from $1-3, depending on the destination. The ride is very comfortable, unless you have to stand. Often the conductor tries to pick up more passengers along the way, even when all the seats are taken. Interestingly, at the edge of the city, every bus I have been on has always stopped at a certain corner to beg for more passengers, especially if the bus is not very full. It is not uncommon to wait for 10-15 minutes here while more people get on (it can be very aggravating when you’re in a hurry!). Street vendors take advantage of this time to jump on the bus and try to sell their wares, mostly food items. Sometimes they even stay on the bus once it is moving, and give a little rant about why you should buy their product. And here’s the mind-boggling part: after the rant, the seller often hands a sample item to everyone on the bus, sin compromiso, meaning you don’t have to buy it. I guess it’s a way of generating more interest in the product. Later they come around to collect the items or money if you choose to buy. If you want to get off the bus before the final destination, just tell the conductor and the driver will stop for you. 


Finally, in more rural communities, many people get around by riding in the backs of pickup trucks. I’ve seen up to twenty-five people crowded in one, bumping along dirt roads. Usually these are not formal “taxis”, but people who are going in the same direction who asked for a ride i.e. hitchhiked. I had to do this once when I was with another missionary, because we were late for a program. What an adventure!

I’ve been fortunate to have been able to ride in a car many times to our different programs, which is much more comfortable and efficient than by bus. However, living in the city has definitely made me appreciate public transportation. I’ve never had to use it quite this much before, but you can get around pretty well without a car here. And many people do, every day. It’s great to be able to explore the city on foot or by bus. Even when a place seems far away, it might only be half an hour’s journey on bus. To be sure, along this journey you will experience many sights, sounds, and humorous moments. The journey is half the fun.

Monday, November 12, 2012

You've Got a Friend in Me

Before I even arrived in Ecuador, I knew it would be a challenge to find new friends here. I was prepared to have ample time to myself at the beginning, as I get to know people. To be honest, the first few weeks were really difficult. I often felt alone. As I am a naturally social person, I don't do well spending all my time alone. However, it was good to be connected with the church, get to know my neighbors and colleagues. Each night I prayed for friends here in the city. I trusted that God would provide for me in his timing. And in time, he did. I have been blessed with several wonderful friends now, and though we come from different places, we can connect and support one another. I want to dedicate this blog to appreciating the amazing friends I've made here in Quito.

Firstly, my friends from Español Intensivo. Over the weeks, I got to know three girls at the school where I'm studying Spanish. They are engineers, from other countries (foreigners as well!). Scarlett is from China, Chika from Nigeria, and Prossie from Uganda. It's been a joy getting to know them. A week ago we went to Baños together for a weekend get-away (during a holiday, of course).

Whitewater rafting

Repelling waterfalls!

Scarlett, Chika, and Prossie

Secondly, my friend Oscar, who I met at dinner at a mutual friend's house. He is Columbian, but has lived here for years, thus he's been a great help in showing me around the city!

At the historic district of Quito

Finally, I have had the chance to get to know some of the other young adults at the Methodist Church here in Quito. One afternoon we walked around the city together. One of the girls is also named Rebecca, thus I was the "Rebecca" pronounced in English and she was the "Rebecca" pronounced in Spanish. Although I kept reminding them to call me Becky. :)

The 2 Rebecca's

Josue, Rebecca, and I
I've really enjoyed getting to know these individuals over the past month or so. It just goes to show that God can transcend borders and languages! Developing friendships with people who are so different than me, but also so similar has been a learning experience. We've had some deep conversations, we've disagreed on certain issues, but we've had fun. I will miss these friends when I move to Romerillos, my permanent placement in two weeks, but I know that I will get to know many more lovely people there as well. God is good, all the time! And even when we feel like we are without friends in this world, God is there. He is our shoulder to cry on, arms to carry us, and voice to laugh with us. A friend loves at all times. Proverbs 17:17

Friday, November 9, 2012

Ecuadorian Cuisine

I think it's about time I had a post about food. And I'm sure you're all wondering what kind of things people eat here in Ecuador. So, I will give a brief survey of Ecuadorian food and share some of my favorite dishes here!

Typically in Ecuador, people eat a small breakfast, a large lunch, and a small dinner (usually just a snack or coffee, depending on the family). This has been a difficult adjustment for me, as I am accustomed to having just a sandwich or something small for lunch, and a bigger hot meal for dinner. When I am with co-workers or friends and we go to a restaurant to eat lunch, normally we buy what is called an almuerzo, meaning lunch in Spanish. This includes a big bowl of soup, a heaping plate of rice, lentils or beans, meat, and plantains or other vegetables, and often a small fruit or dessert. After a meal like this around 1 or 2 pm, I usually don't want to eat much for supper!

Here are some typical dishes or snacks from Ecuador:

Tostados - chochos and toasted corn kernels, onions, tomatoes, garlic and lemon
    This is a very common dish in smaller towns and indigenous communities of Ecuador in the Andes region. Chochos are the small white beans (similar to lima beans), and are eaten cold as a snack. They're delicious! Typically tostados are served on the street from vendors in a small bag (not on a plate), and you mix and eat it with a spoon. Here is the best picture I could find:

Cuy - roasted guinea pig, often served with rice and lentils, or potatoes
   (Doesn't it look appetizing?! Actually, it has a tough texture and not much flavor. Luckily, when I ate it, the head had been removed!)


Locro de papas - a thick potato soup served with chunks of cheese and avocado


    This snack is a hard bread, similar to bread sticks but crunchier, with the texture of a cookie. Cayambe, a city north of Quito, is famous for bizcochos and along every street you can see store after store selling them freshly baked. Usually bizcochos are eaten with hojas de queso, cheese sticks, and coffee.


Guaguas de pan y colada morada - traditional postre for Dia de los Difuntos, or Day of the Deceased here in Ecuador.
    On this day, which was last Friday, November 2, many people honor their ancestors or members of their family who died, by bringing to the cemetery the favorite foods of those who passed away to eat together. This day is more commonly celebrated in indigenous communities, but some people in the city do as well. However, everyone eats the guaguas de pan, which are small loaves of bread shaped like babies (pronounced wa-wa, guagua means baby or child in Quichua). To accompany the guaguas, they drink colada morada, a thick hot beverage made from black corn flour, raspberry, pineapple, cinnamon, orange peel, and cloves among other ingredients.


Seco de pollo - hot meals including rice, meat, and a side
    I find it a bit ironic that these meals are called secos, which means dry, since the meat often has sauce, but I guess it refers to the fact that it is more solid food, as opposed to soup. Often I will see people selling secos on the street in bags, or the vendors hop onto buses to try to find customers.

Jugos naturales - the fresh juice here is delicious! In any given restaurant you can find jugos of different flavors, which are made right then and served fresh. Usually the juice is squeezed and mixed with just water or a little milk, and it has a foamy texture on top. It's very healthy any yummy!

    So, as you can see, the food in Ecuador is unique but excellent! I have enjoyed learning about the culture through trying the cuisine in various places. Now, since you're probably hungry, buen provecho!!