Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Minga: A Community Endeavor

A couple weeks ago, I traveled to Pijal, a small town north of Quito, to help with a construction project. The Methodist Church in Pijal is building an addition to the church to create more space for the after-school kids’ program that takes place there twice a week. The church is small, but everyone in the community knows about it because of this after-school ministry. Many children in the town attend on these days to receive a hot meal and help with their studies. What a great way to serve the needs of the community while being a witness to the love of Christ. Sometimes a church can seem like a place that is out-of-reach or too political for people. The image is that the church is only for the perfect and righteous, and not welcoming to those who suffer or sin. Helping children in the community is one of the best ways to show as Christians our acceptance and care for individuals.

Methodist Church of Pijal

When we arrived that Sunday afternoon, I expected to join a handful of workers building the new dining area for the children in this program. Instead, I was greeted by 10 women at the gate, who were in the process of cooking lunch. Then, as I entered the church property, I saw the 120 people working on laying the concrete roof!! 

I could not believe my eyes, as I took in the sight of basically the entire community, young and old, working together shoveling rocks, mixing cement, wheeling it onto the roof, and pouring it into the holes. The team had quite an effective system going on, and there were so many people that at any given time, probably around 50 were resting. Quickly, we joined the work, though it was clear that there were plenty of workers already. I realized on that day that there is value in simply desiring to be with people, participating in the work, even when the extra hands are not necessarily needed. We were there to show our support of the project and community. The afternoon turned out to be quite fun, as I had the opportunity to chat with several women as we shoveled dirt and rocks together. 

Later, I found out that this time of community effort, called a minga, is actually quite common in small farming towns in Ecuador. The idea is similar to that of a barn-raising, a normal practice in the 19th century. When someone needs a big project completed, all the neighbors pitch in. This not only makes the work easier and faster, but also gives people a chance to share stories and life. About once a month here in Ecuador, many towns have a minga, an event where all able-bodied persons in the community are expected to offer their hands to help with work of some type. It’s a great way to complete a huge job more efficiently. However, the community effort is more about spending time together than needing 120 people to complete the job.

Volcano Imbabura

Honestly I am very inspired by this community spirit. People realizing there is a need, and jumping to action. Many of the families in this community have kids that attend the after-school program, so it’s also a way for them to support this ministry. But what is really neat is that even those who did not have a connection with the church wanted to improve their community. Now, if only we could all come together like this as the body of Christ. If despite our differences of opinion, we could gather to discuss important issues and act against injustice in our neighborhoods. I think the church can learn a lot from the example of this community. Let’s work harder at sharing our resources and pushing for change where it needs to happen.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Faith, illness, and hitchhiking

Sometimes life comes at you unexpectedly. Without warning, it slaps you in the face. And all you can do is hold on for the crazy ride. This happened to me last week. In multiple ways.

The first unforeseen event occurred on Monday morning, when after getting ready for the day and eating breakfast, my stomach started aching really bad, and I got the feverish chills. I had felt a bit bad the past Saturday, but it had gone away the next day, so I thought nothing of it. Now what was this?! I didn’t go to class the next few days, and after going to the medico it turned out I had gastritis and a throat infection. Ick! Thankfully, it only lasted until Wednesday and now I feel much better. These days definitely gave me time to think more about what my purpose is here in Ecuador. I realized that I have been focusing too much on “doing” and having a busy schedule full of programs. It’s only my second month here, so I can’t expect myself to have accomplished anything huge. After talking with my supervisor, I can now see the importance of these first few weeks being easier and more for me to learn about the culture and people here. It’s ok to not have a bunch of things to “check off my list”, as I normally do, but God can use me simply through “being” with the people here, experiencing what their lives are like, and sharing ideas about how we can be the body of Christ.

Another thing I have experienced several times now is the different way of viewing travel here. It is totally normal and acceptable to hitchhike here, whereas in the U.S. we now see it as dangerous and risky. Of course, I would never try to catch a ride by myself with someone I do not know, but… On one occasion, another missionary and I were running super late for a kids’ program, and we hopped in the back of a pickup truck in order to more quickly reach the end of a small dirt road. The driver didn’t mind at all, and didn’t even charge us (usually you tip the driver a bit)! Public transportation here is another matter entirely, which I am going to dedicate a separate blog post for (coming soon!).

Also unexpectedly, two weeks ago the pastor at the church where I will soon be working asked me to preach! At first I thought she was joking, but she was serious. Despite my doubts and fears, I agreed to do it, though I begged for more preparation time (to which she conceded). I finally got over myself, or rather, my initial fear of preaching (in Spanish!) and decided on the passage in James 2:14-26 on the importance of putting our faith into action. This had been a message on my heart a lot lately, and I felt like it needed to be shared. So after many days of preparation, I gave the message. Although I did fumble in Spanish a few times, it went really well. I hope that people were inspired by the message to really live out their faith. The key point of these verses is that faith without action is dead. But equally, good works without believing and knowing why we’re doing them is no good either.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

¿Donde está la Biblioteca?

I like to call myself an avid reader. I always have a book on hand, by my bedside, and usually in my purse when I travel (just in case I have to wait). You never know when you’ll have a free 15 minutes. However, because of my propensity to exceed weight limits on airplanes, I had to carefully limit myself as to the number of books I brought with me to Ecuador. Of course some books, like a Bible and journal, were absolutely necessary. Despite my mother’s constant warnings to pack light, I also carried with me the esteemed cookbook for all mission interns in my program. More-with-Less, it’s called. How to eat better and consume less of the world’s limited food resources. I felt like it was worth it. In addition to these three, I chose three books simply for pleasure reading.
Now three books would only last me about 3 months maximum, so I knew I would have to find a library. This became one of my first tasks in exploring the city of Quito: to locate the nearest public library. Not to check out books right away, but it’s always comforting to me to find a niche in the library simply to have some down time amidst a busy schedule. Maybe this is due to the fact that I worked in a library every summer during college, and it will always hold a special place in my heart. Anyway, I was determined. I looked up libraries in Quito, and found a few results, though not a good website.
The next day I set off on my adventure to find the library. With my map and previously-written-out directions in hand, I confidently walked the two miles to the park where the said library was to be located. Upon arriving in the park, I passed by several families with children playing and people walking dogs. As I wasn’t certain where to find the library, I asked a few different people. Two looked at me strangely and said they didn’t know of a library near here, but finally one woman pointed me in the direction of a small building with high glass windows in the center of the park. When I approached the tiny library, it turned out to be closed. From outside I could see that it contained no more than 10 shelves and a few small desks. My best impression told me that it was a small children’s library. Not exactly what I was looking for…
Round 2. That night I found another alleged address of where a library would be. The following afternoon I packed my bag and started off again, ready for a relaxing afternoon browsing the shelves. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on some classic Ecuadorian literature! After about forty minutes, I found the corner where the library should be. Hmmm, the only thing there was a Domino’s Pizza, interestingly enough. I wandered around the block, peering closely at each tall building, looking for a sign that indicated biblioteca. Finally, after no success, I inquired at a security station, to no avail. The guard didn’t have a clue where the library was. Same response from the man on the next corner. Thwarted yet again.
On my way back home, I decided to ask the taxi driver, on the off chance that he might know (after all, it was part of his job description to know the layout of the city, right?). He didn’t know of one nearby, but he mentioned that the National Library was located next to the Presidential Palace. When I arrived back at my apartment, I found the Presidential Palace on the map. No library was marked, but that will be my next try. It’s quite a distance away, so until then, I will have to be content curling up on my bed reading Cuentos Folclóricos del Ecuador, a book I borrowed from the Spanish institute. In case you’re wondering, one of my favorites so far has been the Ecuadorian version of Hansel and Gretel, “Los Niños Perdidos.”