Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Ecuador, the first morning

Continuing account of Ecuador trip with Compassion Intl. & P31 Ministries:
(again, sorry for the length of these posts)

SATURDAY MORNING: We woke Saturday at 6:00 am, and the first thing I did was open the curtains to see the city. Off-white, mostly-square-with-flat-roof buildings stretched out and up the mountain side in every direction I could see. The very tops of the mountains, however, were unpopulated and bright green without trees. Morning patches of fog floated about the city, later to burn off. I can tell you that there was not a single place I went in my entire time in Ecuador that didn't have an amazing view. However, most of the buildings wound up looking better from a distance.

The shower had the strongest water pressure of anywhere I've been - loved that. We dressed in layers, packed our tote bags with plenty of hand sanitizer, sunscreen, and some gifts for the kids, and headed to the hotel restaurant for breakfast.

I forgot to mention in my last post that when we arrived at the hotel Friday night, they had a tray of cold juices awaiting us - one red juice and one white. The white one looked like a pina-colada, which intrigued me so I tried it. Yum! It was made from a local fruit that we do not have. Sweet, cool, tropical and refreshing. The next morning at the breakfast buffet I found it again, along with a stunning array of fresh juices: various melon juices, papaya juice, mango juice, pineapple juice, watermelon juice, etc. And just as many selections of fresh fruit. There were lots of other offerings but I made my breakfast most days of yogurt with granola and fresh fruit. Oh and the coffee ("cafe con leche") was delish. There were no Starbucks in Quito, but their local coffees were very good.

With full bellies we boarded the bus to head to Compassion project EC-108 "El Rancho." The bus took us up winding roads into the steep hillside. I talked with Paul, the photographer with the cutest dimples you could imagine, who was sitting across the aisle from me. We had both been to journalism school and he was a freelance photojournalist. He'd been on other mission trips like this one and said Quito looked a lot like Mexico City. We noticed that the wealthier folks live in the valley close to the city center and the less wealthy live on the outskirts up on the hills overlooking the city. I didn't see a single house I would deem a "rich home" the entire time I was there - but surely there are some somewhere.

As we rode, I faced Paul across the aisle from me. My back was to the mountain side. Over his shoulder I could see the city and tell that this winding mountain road we were on ended just a couple feet from the edge of our tires. There were no guard rails either. I'm not afraid of heights and I love roller coasters but honestly I was getting a little nervous and could feel my heart dropping into my stomach. As cute as Paul's dimples were, I had to force myself to look at them and quit looking past his shoulder where certain doom loomed large over the edge of that cliff! After a while, the roads turned from old pavement to dirt, with many potholes. I honestly don't know how they drove this bus through that area. We bumped and bounced in our seats, periodically tossed to one side or the other as we made sharp turns around shabby buildings and finally stopped in front of a cement structure with dozens of smiling children lined up out front to greet us. My heart dropped once again as I stared out at the children and surroundings

As I stepped off the bus a cold wind greeted me, along with the smell of something burning nearby. I'm told they burn the dead grass on the land in hopes of stimulating new growth. I knew the "dead grass" of poverty that I was encountering had the ability to stimulate some new growth in my heart if I'd let it.

A little girl, about 5 years-old, stood holding a rose to give to me. She and another young boy named Johnny took my hands and led me into the church building. Their hands were cold and the brown skin on their faces were chapped, turning their cheeks whitish pink. They were dressed in their finest clothes in preparation for our visit. I was dressed in my jeans in preparation for their dirt and dust, which I was told the night before that we'd encounter.

Inside the modest church building I sat in plastic chairs with the the children. Quickly I realized I should've taken some Spanish classes before this trip. I knew how to ask the children their names in Spanish, how to tell them my name - I was "Raquel" all weekend - how to ask them how old they were, and if they had any brothers and sisters. I knew how to ask "where are you from" but that was not needed as all of them had lived on this hill all their lives - as had many of their parents. I knew how to ask where the bathroom was, that's always a need-to-know phrase. The only other thing I really knew how to say to them was "you are beautiful" and that is a sentence I would utter a 100 times a day to the people in Ecuador. Really it was the sentence I most wanted to tell them, other than "Dios te ama mucho," which is, "God loves you very much."

Inside the room, a big sign on the wall behind the "stage" read "Bendiciones Proverbios 31." They had a vacation-bible-school-like show planned for us with several of the kids singing and dancing. The first dance was to a worship song, in Spanish. The other was a native dance to a Bolivian song, with the kids in traditional costumes. They were precious.

The place was clean - obviously well cared for - and prepared for our arrival. But it was also quite old. They had done a good job keeping it fresh with paint. The windows had black iron bars across them, the floor was covered with reddish brown linoleum tiles. The only furniture was the white plastic tables and chairs - the kind we would buy at Wal-mart to put on our patios. A podium stood up front on the right of the stage, a bucket of roses sat on the left. The walls were a very pale color and the ceiling had some cracks and a few moldy spots. The most striking thing in the room was the children's big brown eyes ... and the atmosphere of excitement and expectation at our presence among them.

All of these kids were very well behaved!

After the show, the pastor and his wife greeted us and dismissed the kids to their classrooms. "My" little girl accidentally ran off with the rose in her hand and I smiled as I watched her out the window because I really wanted her to have it. She stopped when she realized she had the flower, turned and brought it back to me. My eyes welled with tears for about the forth time already that day.

Being early August, school was not in session yet and this is a place they come on school days or Sundays, not on Saturday mornings. Many of them walk quite a distance to come here. But these kids wanted to come on this Saturday to meet us. So the project planned some activities for them to do while we looked over their family, school and medical records Compassion keeps on each child. I could tell the pastor and Compassion staff were eager for us to view these records of their activity with the children, but I had already seen what an impact they were having on these kids. These kids had hope in their eyes, despite their circumstances. One girl I met that morning - Gabriella who was about 10 or 12 years old - had even received heart surgery thanks to Compassion.

These particular kids had hope because they knew someone cares
about them ... someone who actually has the means to help them.

Isn't that the function God has in our lives too?

I wondered how many kids in the nearby neighborhoods feel like there is no hope - no one who cares about them, or at least no one who cares who also has the power to do something for them. Standing in that place that morning a series of questions ran though my mind, thoughts that would reoccur through out my trip:

Who am I ... who am I that they would insist on serving me? I should be serving them. Not once have they asked me for help, yet they are in obvious need. Why was I born into comfortable conditions in the United States, and not into these sweet but very poor families on this mountain side in Ecuador? What responsibility do I have to do something with the "status" and "wealth" I happen to have? What can I do for these children? What can I learn from these people?

How can I honor Christ in them?

1 comment:

  1. Rachel, I am still processing my extraordinary trip to Ecuador. It had a mighty impact on my life as well. I can think of no higher calling than to reach out to the poor, helping them through the excellent support Compassion International gives needy children. I continue to be amazed at the perfect infrastructure set in motion by Compassion International. So glad I experienced it first hand. I miss you and my traveling companions soooo much! Van


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