Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Regreso a Ti

You may be thinking, what has Becky been doing all these weeks? Why hasn't she written a new blog post? Well, the answer is, I've been running around like a chicken with its head cut off. Every week I have my normal responsibilities, but other things always seem to come up that are either obligations, or spontaneous opportunities. It was one of these times when I decided on a whim to go to Quito one Saturday night for a concert. The main singer is a very well-known Christian artist from Columbia, Alex Campos. And the other group that performed, Tercer Cielo, is a popular inspirational pop group from the Dominican Republic. I had heard of both groups, but wasn't super familiar with their music, especially Tercer Cielo. My friend from Quito invited me, and we ended up going with some other young people from my church.

The concert was called Música Amor y Vida, which means Music, Love, and Life. The songs were not all necessarily Christian, as in talking about Jesus or God, but expressed a positive and encouraging message. I want to share one song that has really stuck with me since this concert. Here are the lyrics in English.

video


REGRESO A TI: Alex Campos

I find myself alone, I find myself without you
I'm afraid, I don't know where to go

I feel like I've lost myself in a gray world

And without a sure direction I walk away from you

Like the dove that returns to me
I undertake the flight that brings me life

Without you I am dying, bring me to the moment where I find your love
You are the life in my breath, my universe, you are everything that I am
I return to you

Feeling alone, I remembered
That on that wood you died for me

And it's just that I don't understand what you saw in me
So today I come to surrender myself to you

Like the dove that returns to me
I undertake the flight that brings me life
I lift my flag, I look to the sky, my destiny, only you...

Without you I am dying, bring me to the moment where I find your love
You are the life in my breath, my universe, you are everything that I am

Without you I am lost, without you I am nothing

I am like ash that is blown by the wind, without you the sun does not shine

My refuge and my owner, you are my thought

You are my faithful moment oh God
Creator of the universe, come and stay inside me

Come, I surrender to you my heart
Give me life with your fire, come and be my owner
I give to you all that I am…
I return to you


The year 2013 has been filled with ups and downs for me. For the first time in my life, I have lived an entire calendar year in a foreign country. During this time I have learned many lessons, met some amazing people, made mistakes, tried new foods, and started different programs. Throughout this time, I have had moments where I felt close to God, and others when he seemed distant.

I love this song because it reminds me that when we lose direction, when we don't know what to do or where to go, the only way to find peace is to return to God. At times we prioritize other things such as work, relationships, and chores. We get caught up in the busyness of life. But we must not forget that God is who gives us breath and life. He is our refuge and owner. In the year 2014, I want to prioritize God in my daily life. Despite the many tasks that each day brings, I want to put God first, because he is everything that I am. He is my refuge. So I return to Him. Regreso a ti.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Community

Now that my time in Romerillos, Ecuador is coming to a close, I've been reflecting quite a bit on the meaning of community. For one year now, I have been a part of this small community of farmers, hard-workers, and good neighbors. At times it has been difficult finding my role here because I don't work in the field like most people. Instead, I work from my home, planning activities with the kids and events in the local church. I guess you would say my job is a mix of church planning and children's ministry, not to mention the English-teaching bit.

Despite the difference in our work focus, I have been able to connect with many individuals in this community in a unique way, from 3-year old boys to pre-teen girls to elderly couples. The fact that I stand out here because of my physical characteristics, accent, and style of dress has actually helped me build relationships with people I wouldn't have expected. People know me because I'm different, but they treat me as part of their family. I can't count the times that my neighbors have stopped me in the street to catch up, or invited me into their homes for a cup of tea. I am eternally grateful for this spirit of hospitality and unity that exists here in Romerillos.

I remember when I first arrived in this town. I felt lost and insecure, not understanding the culture or traditions. Now I know the slang, where to tell the bus driver I'm getting off, and how to eat chicken soup (the right way). I'm even picking up some of the customs like drinking tea with bread for an evening snack, washing my clothes in the morning so they can dry in the afternoon sun, and wearing a shawl over my coat in the night cold. There will always be some things I still do my way, but I can at least usually understand the other point of view.

I have internally charted my time here by the way I answer people in passing, when they ask me, "how long have you been here now?" and "how much longer will you be here for?". Before, the latter answer was longer than the former, but now it's the opposite. I have to tell people, I've been here for a year now, which usually impresses or surprises them, but then I have to say, But I'll be leaving in two months. Most of time the response is, Oh, why don't you stay longer? Find yourself an Ecuadorian man and settle down. or So soon? We thought you'd be here indefinitely. These responses always make me sad because I realize how much of an impact on my heart this community has had.

I don't know if I will return here one day, but I know that I will never forget these loving people. They have truly emanated to me what the words of Peter in 1 Peter 4:8-9: "Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling." My community in Romerillos will always be remembered with fondness as my Ecuadorian family.



Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Giving Day

Just a quick note for today (I promise a more detailed post is coming soon!).

Today is Giving Tuesday!! This means that every donation made to an Advance project (United Methodist ministry) will be doubled, ONLY TODAY!! Please consider supporting ministries of the United Methodist Church during this giving season of Advent and Christmas. Here are a few of the projects I would encourage you to support:

Children's Ministries in Ecuador. Donations to this account support children's programs in the various Methodist churches in the country, specifically attending to the needs of at-risk children and teenagers. Advance #: 3021530

http://www.umcmission.org/Give-to-Mission/Search-for-Projects/Projects/3021530

Rebecca Dean. Donations made in my name go to support the Young Adult Missionary Program, and cover costs such as travel, monthly stipend, rent, etc. which enable us to actively participate in ministry in our various placements around the world (mine is in Ecuador). Advance #: 3021501

http://www.umcmission.org/Explore-Our-Work/Missionaries-in-Service/Missionary-Profiles/Dean-Rebecca

Pastoral Support in Ecuador. Donations to this account help provide a living wage for local Methodist pastors. Many of the pastors in Ecuador currently do not receive a sufficient income and rely on other means to support their families. Advance #: 3021092

 http://www.umcmission.org/Give-to-Mission/Search-for-Projects/Projects/3021092

Thank you so much for your continued support of my ministry in Ecuador. We want to see the Methodist Church here grow in many ways, and you can be a part of helping that happen! Please pray about how you can give on this special day. May the Lord guide you during this Advent season, and may your homes be overflowing with blessings. Peace and joy.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Mountain Climbing Adventures

In the past two months, I have climbed three mountains (up two, down one). The first was the magnificent Cotopaxi, which I jokingly call "mi amor el Cotopaxi" because I fall in love with it every day it decides to show its beautiful face. I am fortunate to be living in a community that is right beside this incredible volcano, the second highest peak in Ecuador and one of the highest active volcanoes in the world (I can't help bragging!).

In August I had the opportunity to take an excursion with my church family and real family to climb Cotopaxi. Although it appears so close from my town, we had to drive over an hour to get to the base of the mountain. We then trekked up to El Refugio, which is about halfway to the top, and even got to see a glacier where the snow-capped part starts! With each step, I was equal parts shocked by the intense wind and cold, and amazed by the natural beauty that God has created.





In September, the pastor and I took our youth and kids on a hike to a nearby mountain, Santa Cruz. Now this mountain is not snow-capped like Cotopaxi, but it's covered in trees and wild plants. My friend Rebeca from Quito also came with us. We started off energetic and excited, easily climbing the first ascent. Soon after, however, we found ourselves catching our breath and pointing desperately at the kids who were already a good 20 meters above us, running and waving wildly. Along the path we ducked into thickly wooded areas, avoided deep caverns, and pushed through scraggly bushes. Using a term from a wilderness May term I did at Hope College, we were literally "bush-hacking". Finally, after 4 hours of exhaustion and adventure, we arrived (only to find that the kids had been there for hours already!). But my, oh my, was the view worth it! We could see for miles in every direction, each angle of the panorama exhibiting a gorgeous volcano or mountain range.





Finally in October, I went with a friend to Quilotoa, a crater lake and previous volcano about two hours from my town. After some slight complications with our ride, we arrived at the top of the crater. Our first view of the lake took my breath away - I didn't expect the water to be such a fresh sparkling turquoise. This time instead of climbing up, we carefully made our way down to the bottom of the crater to observe the water. It turns out going down can be more tedious and time-consuming that going up! Once again, struck by the gorgeous view, I was in awe of the majesty of God.





In addition to the quality physical exercise and spectacular views, I learned a lot on these hikes. 

1. Working in a team. Climbing a mountain is hard work. It can't be done alone. Having friends to guide and support you is utterly vital. Lending a helping hand when others need it, having patience to wait on the slower ones, and being willing to accept advice.

2. Stopping to have fun along the way. Take a look around, take some pictures, play some music. Five minutes of your time is worth it to enjoy the scenery or company.

3. Not giving up. Sometimes the best path looks like the hardest, but you have to keep on going. Endurance will pay off in the end.

4. Knowing when to take a break. On the four-hour hike to Santa Cruz, I think we stopped every five minutes. But the air was thin and the ground steep. We needed it.

Who knows when will be the next chapter of my mountain climbing adventures in Ecuador. I know I can't wait, to explore a new part of God's beautiful creation!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

It's not rotten, it's chocolate!


I realized today that I have gone over a year without doing a post on my work with the little kids of my community – in the childcare center. Once a week I go to the center to help out with the kids, from 6 months to 4 years old. I usually don’t have a specific job, and I just float around, doing random tasks. This normally includes encouraging kids to eat during meal times, cleaning tables, wiping snot from kids’ faces, breaking up fights, singing silly songs, and holding crying babies. But it’s not all work. There are the precious moments, too. Like when you arrive and all the kids shout, “BEEEECKY!!” and pummel you. And when a three-year-old guy whispers to you, “Sit by me, Becky. Because you’re my friend.” Of course, no day lacks its funny kid quotes either. Today the older group had bananas for snack, and one boy showed me his brown damaged fruit, saying, “I want a new one. Look, it’s rotten.” To which another child nonchalantly replied, “It’s not rotten. It’s chocolate.” I couldn’t stop from laughing before getting him a good banana. All together it makes for a fun but exhausting day.

Although many of these kids are not from the richest families, they have taught me so much about being content with what you have. They always have clothes on their back, shoes on their feet, and food to eat. That is what is most important. Simple sticks and pieces of paper can be transformed into awesome superheroes and fierce tigers by the power of imagination. Not to say that none of the kids have toys, because that is not true. It’s just that there is very little pouting and tantrums because of not having the latest Barbie or LEGO toy. Their innocent joy is contagious. Kids here can see the good in every situation, and imagine the most humble object to be a something cool and fun. They can see the chocolate in a rotten banana.

Probably the most rewarding part about working at the childcare center is seeing how the kids are learning and growing. One day my four-year-old buddy came up to me and I saw that his shoes were untied. I offered to help him, like I had done many times in the past. This time, however, he said, “No. I can do it.” And I watched patiently, smiling to myself, as he tied those shoes. I was so proud of my little Jofre! Four of the oldest kids at the center when I first started coming have now moved on to school. It’s sad not seeing them anymore, but I am happy knowing that they are learning new and exciting ideas as big kids! The niños here have so much potential, and I can’t wait to see where they all end up years down the road. 

So take a lesson from the kids: let's not forget to see the positive in every situation. Because even when life seems rotten, God leaves a little chocolate just for us.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Time with the Guys

About a month ago, my dad and brother came to see me. And I've been so busy ever since, I haven't been able to tell you about it! During their time here, which was just a little over one week, they got to see many diverse and beautiful parts of Ecuador.

The first few days, we stayed in Romerillos in my apartment and helped out with a mission team that was working with a Methodist church in Pastocalle. I mainly worked with the Vacation Bible School while Harry and Dad did some construction work on the new school.





On Saturday, we finally did something I've been waiting to do ever since I arrived in Ecuador.....climbing Cotopaxi!! This snow-capped volcano is the second-highest in Ecuador, and only about 45 minutes from my town (although based on the view it looks a lot closer). About 12 people from the church took the journey with us, hiking up to the snow.







Following a lovely service in Pastocalle on Sunday, we traveled to Quito. There we saw some of the city...




We took a day-trip to Mindo, a humid jungle town (that's not really in the jungle) famous for its butterflies and the ancient quetzal bird. 




Another day we went to Papallacta, a well-known town for its natural hot springs. My friend Chika came along with us. 




I superbly enjoyed the time I had with the two Harry's! It's always fun experiencing Ecuador again through a newcomer's eyes. Now they just need to work on their Spanish so I don't have to translate for them next time! :p

Friday, September 6, 2013

These are the Sounds of Romerillos

As I sit on my roof on a warm afternoon, I hear:

Birds tweeting contently.
Trucks rumbling by.
Women slapping wet clothes on a rock.
Dogs barking, protecting territory.
A knock on the store, a vender!
Car alarms beeping incessantly.
These are the sounds of Romerillos.
These are the sounds of a small mountain town.

I smell:
Smoke from a neighbor's fire, burning branches.
Corn tortilla patties being cooked to sell.
Cow manure as the herd passes by.
Fresh pine air that fills up the lungs.
Onions frying in butter.
These are the scents of Romerillos.
These are the scents of a small mountain town.

I see:
Clothes hanging out to dry.
Workers planting onions in the field.
Children leaving school with backpacks in hand.
Trees, grass, plants, everywhere green.
A newly-painted house shimmering white in the sun.
Cows grazing lazily in the pasture.
These are the sights of Romerillos.
These are the sights of a small mountain town.

I taste:
The chicken soup my neighbor made last night.
Morocho with its milky corn texture.
Pancito and coffee for an evening snack.
Fresh claudias and peras from the market.
A sugar cane candy given to me by a friend.
These are the flavors of Romerillos.
These are the flavors of a small mountain town.

I feel:
The sun on my back.
A warm breeze on my face.
A car tire's vibrations on the road.
The cold cement of my house's walls.
The soft fur of a stray puppy.
The calmness of life.
These are the feelings of Romerillos.
These are the feelings of a small mountain town.

I hear, smell, see, taste, and feel. I am a part of this small mountain town.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Jesús es mi Superhéroe


The word salvation always reminds me of a knight in shining armor dashing onto the scene to save the princess, or Clark Kent rescuing Smallville with his super-strength powers and lightning speed. In our society that is so filled with fantasy films, romanticized stories, and unrealistic endings, we all dream of a perfect world where a superhero comes in to solve our problems. But in the end we know that it is fiction. Not real.


Recently in Sunday school with the kids at my church, we talked about Jesus being our Superhero. No, he doesn’t fly with a long blue cape, scale walls, or drive a fast car, but he is so much more. He has the qualities we fantasize about in a superhero: power, bravery, a desire to help people, a passion to do good in the world. And even more than that, he gives us love and grace. Jesus came to save the world, not only in the individual sense, transforming hearts, but also in a social justice sense, transforming society.


The salvation that Christ brought to the world comes through knowing and accepting Him and his eternal love for us (all of humanity). But it also comes through realizing his call for justice, for being a neighbor, for reaching out to the suffering. Only transforming hearts would leave us with a world of people on fire for Jesus, praising and worshiping Him, while some still struggled to make ends meet, and others still exploited workers through corporal greed. Likewise, only transforming society would mean that everyone would be treated fairly and would have enough to be content and live on, but have a spiritual emptiness inside.


This is the reason why we as Christians need to realize the importance of integral mission. Both sharing the gospel through preaching and teaching, and working to render ineffective the systemic injustices in our world, are equally vital to being an effective witness to Christ. In the Methodist tradition, we declare a commitment to both personal and social holiness. This means that our church focuses both on having a personal relationship with the trinity (God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit), and living out our faith by working to solve the social problems of the world.


For me, salvation represents our hope in something or someone greater than ourselves who will redeem us from our mistakes, imperfections, and the general messiness of life. It is searching for a savior from the pain and injustice in the world, and finding that Jesus is the answer. That when we put our faith in Him, he will work through us to change the world that is plagued by sin and inequality. It is knowing that in all this mess, there is an answer. The answer is not a superhero who comes to fight off villains through violent methods, but one who comes to create a new world through peace and love.


As Glory E. Dharmaraj says in her book Concepts of Mission, “Salvation is not only forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with God, but transformation of the structural evils of society which perpetually keep the people of God under dehumanizing conditions.” When we talk of conversion, then, let us not speak only of a conversion of the heart, but also of the mind and way of thinking. Let us decide when accepting Christ as our Savior, to put our faith into action to transform society. As a noble superhero would do, let us courageously fight for truth and light to be brought to our world. 

Monday, August 19, 2013

Vacation Bible School

It's summer, and that means Vacation Bible School!! I have always loved helping out at my local church's VBS, whether teaching a class, doing music, or helping with crafts. So now working at a Methodist Church in Ecuador that had never had a VBS before, I knew we had to do it. Vacation Bible School is tons of fun for the kids, they learn all about Jesus' love for us, and discover that church can be a cool place. So, after weeks of planning and preparing, this week we had the first Vacation Bible School ever at my local church here in Romerillos. Despite the constant mob of kids running around, the daily changing of plans, and the general craziness, I think it was a success.

The little ones playing "duck, duck, goose"
Explaining to the kids about today's song

One important lesson I have learned here in Ecuador is that money does not equal success. It isn't necessary to have fancy backdrops, pricey crafts, and themed t-shirts to have a great Bible school. As we were a bit limited in resources, volunteers, and time available, we did the simple version. We bought lesson booklets, picked out fun songs about God's love, planned easy crafts (mostly with materials we already had in the church), and asked church members to bring the snack each day.

Enjoying snack time
Three of the oldest girls

Not ever having done a program like this before, the pastor and I didn't know how many kids to expect. We were excited to see around 25-30 kids show up each day. Some even brought friends or siblings the following day, and on the last day the kids said they didn't want it to be over!

Passing an orange down the line using only your neck
Lesson time!

Although it was a very busy and at times stressful week, I believe that everyone involved learned something and grew in new ways, especially me. The kids learned about God's love, and have found the church to be a welcoming place for them. Some might start coming to regular church services. Also, the congregation really came together, many people, especially the youth, helping with various aspects of the school. Thanks to everyone who helped in any way!

Pastor Blanca caring for our littlest participant
The "jovenes" playing music during snack time

All the kids and helpers on the last day

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Ecuadorian Weddings


Since coming to Ecuador, I have attended three Christian weddings. The biggest differences I have noticed compared to American weddings are: way longer, way more food, and way more talking. In the following section I will explain the beauty and mystery of Ecuadorian weddings.

THE CEREMONY
The basic style of weddings here is the same, just extended (typically they last 2-3 hours). The bride wears a white Western-style dress, and the groom a suit. 


There are bridesmaids and groomsmen, decorations, processional, and a reception afterward. 


However, there are also some noteworthy distinctions:
Instead of a flower girl, in Christian weddings here there is usually a young child who carries in the Bible, as well as a boy and girl who together bring in the rings. 

Sometimes, instead of throwing birdseed or rice on the happy couple, we throw rose petals!

There is a designated time for worship during the ceremony, during which a praise band and/or guest musicians play a few numbers, everyone singing along.



The pastor will actually preach a message, having to do with the commitment and love required in a marriage, before initiating the marriage ceremony.


The bridesmaids and groomsmen, instead of standing in front with the couple-to-be, are positioned in the aisle, making an arch of flowers as the rest of the party enters. 



Words of the parents: before or after the vows are exchanged, the parents of the new husband and wife, as well as the godparents, are asked to give words of wisdom or encouragement for the new couple.


THE RECEPTION
No dancing. In Christian weddings here, there is not dancing. Sad, right? Since dancing here is associated with drinking, it is looked down upon in many Christian families. There is sure to be music at the reception, but just for listening and clapping. 



More food than any human being could possibly eat in one sitting. At the first wedding I attended here, I could not believe the amount of food we received. First came a huge bowl of soup, which was enough to fill me. Then came an enormous plate of meat and potatoes, including literally a third of a chicken and steak. Later I was relieved when the servers came around with to-go baggies for everyone. Apparently no one expects you to finish it all. Finally, the cake. The bride and groom usually cut it and hand it out to the guests, but there is no smashing cake in each other’s face.



 More toasts. In addition to the family members and those in the wedding party, any guest who wishes to publicly congratulate or well wish the new couple is welcome and encouraged to. Tis all very lovely, but makes for a seriously long day, and often, night.