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.