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on the outskirts of Guayaquil, Ecuador, I received news that Chris Hoskins, the coordinator for our trip would not be joining us. A 21 year old student on a team in the Amazon jungle the week before ours had disappeared after jumping into a local swimming hole and being swept down stream. Chris had to stay to be a part of the search team. Dale Lusk, the head of Merge, the Covenant missions organization we work with, sent me this tragic news and informed me that Richard Santana, a Merge staffer and native of Guayaquil who was on our team last year, would be leading our team. Amidst this tragedy, we headed out unsure of how our time would be affected. When we arrived at the missionary home in Guayquil with Richard, we were met by one of the other staff members for the week: Josh Swenson whose parents were missionaries in Columbia and Ecuador for Pasadena Covenant for fifteen years. Josh had given up his vacation time to come and spend one last week with a team before heading back to work in Quito. Another Covenant missionary from Quito, Mandy Hjelm, arrived the following day and our team was complete. Our time was heavily devoted to helping the school build the exterior wall on the second story addition to one of their classroom buildings. While we were there, I was able to get better information about the specific reasons for the addition. Last year, the government passed a law stating that all elementary schools were going to move from K-7 to K-9 schools beginning in the 2012 school year. Schools that do not comply will be shut down. This new addition is primarily to make room for two new grades who will be joining the school next year. We hauled 2,500 cinderblocks to the second story over the three days we did construction work. We also cut and bent rebar, hauled water for cement, mixed cement and sand, and did any other grunt work that the mason needed us to do. We worked Tuesday through Thursday 9am-4pm with a 90minute break for lunch. Hard work, but rewarding to know what we were helping the school accomplish. Upon arrival, we also discovered that the school had received a number of desktop computers and had recently established a computer lab and had begun computer classes for the older students. It had been our impression initially that we were bringing computers that they did not have, but the reality of these situations is that the church and school have multiple sources of support, so information and situations can change quickly. That does not mean, however, that our laptops were not needed or wanted! Laptops are a premium item in Ecuador, and the school will use the laptops for in-class instruction. On Thursday morning, Melissa had the opportunity to teach PowerPoint to multiple groups of students over the course of three hours. PowerPoint happened to be the next lesson for these students, and the computer teacher was happy to let someone from our team step in! She helped them make presentations about themselves and what their favorite things are. On Thursday afternoon, I held a reading workshop with all the teachers and tutors from the school. Ecuador is not a reading culture. Because print material is so expensive, most people do not learn to love reading because they do not have the ability to choose things that they want to read. We also discovered that libraries in Ecuador do not operate the same way they do here. They operate only as reference libraries and reading rooms. The idea of a lending library is
completely foreign to them. This meant that we would not be helping them establish a lending library; rather, we decided that resourcing the teachers in how to help kids learn to love reading was the best way to go. I, along with the long term Covenant missionary in Guayaquil, Cheryll Clark (having served for over 25 years), taught how to incorporate a story time into their classroom time as well as a silent reading time. We also showed them how to track the number of pages students have read in a visible place in their classrooms. Teachers in Ecuador currently do not have to have a college degree to teach—they only have to be 16 years old (though both of those things are changing soon as well.) As a result many of these teachers have not received much training, and no training in teaching reading. But because teaching in Ecuador is not a lucrative job (they make minimum wage—about $240 a month), they all have a passion for teaching. They were very enthusiastic about the ideas we presented to them, and were ecstatic about the nearly 200lbs of books that we brought for them. We’re excited to have this as an ongoing ministry to the school. The most important part of our ministry to Guasmo Sur, however, is in the relationships that we are building there. We were heavily involved in Vida Eterna’s services again this year. I preached three nights in a row, Joy Steinmeier shared a testimony, and we also led a few worship songs. We had the opportunity on Thursday evening before the service to have dinner in the homes of church members. Last year, we went in groups of three or four into homes, but this year, the church really wanted each of us to go alone so that as many church members as possible could host us. What that demonstrates is an enormous amount of trust and hospitality on their part. In short, they love having us there! It was a challenging experience as the majority of the team did not know much Spanish. But the language barrier was a small obstacle, and everyone had a wonderful time and found ways to communicate. It was great to return, see familiar faces, and get to know people better. The community was warm and hospitable last year, but this year people seemed to want to be even closer to us, which was incredible. In addition to connecting with the church and the school, we were able to connect much more with kids from the community this year. Because of the poverty in this area, not every child goes to school. A number of kids who live right around the school and church do not attend school at all. On our first day of construction, a thirteen-year old boy named Pedro rode up on his bike and asked me if he could help us carry cinderblocks. I gladly accepted his offer. Over the next few hours a number of other boys from the neighborhood joined in, and they ended up helping out the entire week. Mandy invited Pedro to come to church, and on Wednesday he did. It was moving to see his desire for relationship and connection. Many of the students we work with are still in awe over the strangeness that we bring being white and from Los Angeles—which is certainly expected for elementary age kids! But Pedro was making an extra effort all week to find out more about us and seek out meaningful conversations that went beyond a superficial exchange of information. On Saturday, we Richard heard from Chris that the body of Joshua Kim was by the Cofan people. It was a solemn, sobering moment for all of us, but we were filled with hope and joy to learn that the Joshua’s father, who had traveled down to Quito to be a part of the search team, decided to make a commitment to the Lumbaqui region in honor of his son’s passion for the people that he was serving. It was an extraordinary example of Christ’s love. The church was in the final year of a three-year commitment but has decided to renew that and continue to go back
for as long as they can in honor of Joshua. We should all be in prayer for Joshua’s family, the Hoskins, and also the Merge staff who were there (Elizabeth Grothe and April Buff) and who risked their own lives to try and save him (Nathan Nelson.) They need the peace of the Spirit to be upon them. I look forward to returning next year and want to encourage all of you as part of the body of Pasadena Covenant to consider being a part of the team! More information will be available in the next couple months, but do not hesitate to contact me if you want to know more!
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