Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Halfway There

Some days time moves so slowly it's as if we can hear the ticking of the clock. Other days it goes by in a blur, and we wonder when it all happened. I've had both slow and fast days here in Ecuador, weeks when I'm so busy I hardly have any time to relax, and others where I'm not sure what I really accomplished. Así es la vida. That's how life goes.

Half of my time here in Ecuador has now passed. It's been eight and a half months. Despite not being exactly sure of the fruits of my efforts here, I know at least that I have helped many children to learn; made many new friends; shared many ideas in developing the church; and visited, listened to, and encouraged many people. Often immediate results cannot be seen in the type of work I am doing. But seeing smiles of joy and understanding shows me that the purpose of our work goes deeper than numbers on a page or reports of conversions or graduations. It has to do with relationships, showing grace and love.

Over the past 8.5 months, I have learned many things and grown in innumerable ways. Here is a brief summary of what I have done here in Romerillos:
  • Started an after-school program. Lesson #1: Structure is good and must be put into place from the beginning, but kids also need a space to be active and learn through games and dynamics. Lesson #2: If you should fail, try, try again (the way we started out doing the program is not working anymore and we have been working to change it up).
Kids from the after-school program
Pastor Blanca telling a Bible story
  •  Became an amateur English teacher. Lesson: It is absolutely 100% necessary to establish a clear-cut discipline system that will encourage kids to learn in a positive and productive environment. 
The kids I teach English too at their school "El Sembrador"
  • Shared and accompanied on pastoral home visits. Lesson: Presence speaks louder than words. At times you don't know what to say, but just being there comforts.
  • Participated in folkloric dance. Lesson: Praising God is most beautiful and meaningful using the music and traditions within each culture. 
Folkloric dance ministry
  • Spent hours with kids at my house giving homework help and playing games. Lesson: Being with kids is more important than having a clean house or another hour to myself. 

My little 4-year-old buddy who came to visit me
Dying eggs for Easter with kids from church
  • Preached in Spanish. Lesson: God can use me to share his message despite my fear/dislike of public speaking!
  • Organized worship services. Lesson: Working together is key. No one person can do it all. We have to use the gifts and talents of the entire church.

Special outdoor service for Holy Communion
Worship team with youth
  • Helped revive and plan for youth program. Lesson #1: Prayer is key to change. Lesson #2: If even one person comes, it is worth the effort. 
  • Attended several conferences and workshops put on by the Methodist Church of Ecuador. Lesson: The Methodist Church, as well as the Christian church in general, is very diverse but can do great and wonderful things for the Lord when we come together. 
New friends from the Methodist church in Otavalo

Praying for the birthday girl
So, as you can see, I have been exposed to quite a number of new experiences here. In countless ways I have been stretched: spiritually, emotionally, and mentally. Much of my work is not something I expected to be doing upon my arrival, but I have come to be content with my weekly routine, or "non-routine", as in the life of a pastor's assistant (as I so often call myself) there can be sudden changes in schedule. I am learning to become more flexible and patient (two of my greatest weaknesses), and am still confronted daily with tests of my faith and character. These 8 months have been quite the adventure. I know that at the end of my time here, I will return to my homeland a different person than when I came. And I am confident that in that moment God will show me what he has for me next. :)

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Always on the Move

Since my arrival to Ecuador in September, I have been constantly traveling. Though I lived in Quito for the first few months, and now have my (semi) permanent home in Romerillos, every week I am hopping on a bus to go somewhere. **I love using public transportation here because it is so easy and cheap.** Whether it is a 15-minute ride to Machachi to go to the market, the half-hour journey to teach English in Pastocalle, or the 2-hour trip to Quito for a church conference or visiting friends, at least twice a week I am on the move. Hailing a bus on the highway has become a natural habit for me.

Despite the feeling of freedom and independence that comes with travel, it also comes with EXHAUSTION, not only physical, but emotional. At times I really want to return to Quito to visit friends or escape the cold, but I know the journey and constant switching of locations is tiring. Something I appreciate greatly about my missionary program is its focus on living in community. I have enjoyed getting to know my neighbors and fellow church members here. But with my job also comes the responsibility, and opportunity, of travel. Inevitably, I must go back and forth to Quito every month for various meetings and activities. In addition, I like to spent time off in the city. And on occasions we travel to other towns to visit churches there. Each trip to a new place is fresh and exciting, but I also know that I am missing out on life in my town. I often find myself thinking about my neighbors and friends in Romerillos, wondering what they are doing. It is a privilege to be able to daily share in their joys and struggles.

This same feeling of nostalgia comes with the knowledge that I am only here temporarily. Having been here for eight months now, I am almost halfway through my 1.5 years in Ecuador. How bittersweet it is to meet wonderful people here, make new friends, and become a part of the community, knowing that it will not last forever. Right now I miss my family in the U.S., but I know that when I leave this place, there will be a gap in my heart, from the relationships I have built in Ecuador.

That is the hard bit about traveling, and especially living abroad. You will always carry a little piece of the places you lived and visited...pictures, memories, faces, conversations. Even if I never return to Ecuador (and I sincerely hope that I will), I will most definitely never forget it. And I hope that this place will not forget me. So as I continue on the road, amidst its surprises and challenges, I will try to be fully present wherever I am. To feel the pain, the joy, and the uniqueness of each moment as it comes. And to live to the fullest the path that I am on.