THURSDAY: It was 97 degrees here in Wilmington with a heat index of 106. I'd checked the weather forecast for the city of Quito where I was going and the highs were expected to be around 67 degrees. That's a 30 degree difference! I just couldn't figure out what I'd need to wear while there... its been months since it was 67 degrees in this beach town. Ecuador is on the equator (hence the name) but it has three distinct regions as you move from west to east: the coastal plains, the highland mountains, and the rain forest jungle. We would be very high in the mountains so it would actually be cooler than here in Wilmington. In fact, the Capitol city of Quito where we stayed is about 9,300 feet above sea level - that's nearly twice as high as Denver, CO!
I travel quite a bit with my speaking ministry and my family is accustomed to that, but this trip both my kids were anxious about my going. They had been with me to the Health Dept a few weeks earlier where I had to get various vaccinations (yellow fever, Hepatitis A, malaria, etc.) so they knew this trip held dangers my other trips did not. We had looked at Ecuador on a world map - its on the west coast of South America by the Galapagos Islands - so they also knew I was going farther away from them than I had ever been. When I tucked them in bed on Thursday, they both cried. All Caleb could do is cry and hold me. Alaina cried and told me she did not want me to go. I told them God could take perfect care of me, that this was an opportunity to pray and to trust Him. We prayed then together. I also told them to look at the stars and moon each night and know that we were looking at the exact same thing even though we were many miles away.
I wound up running to Walgreens at 11:00 pm because I'd forgotten to buy some disposable cameras for the trip. I fell into bed just after midnight wondering exactly what lies in the days ahead, and prayed for divine appointments to be the hands and heart of Christ to the people I'd meet.
FRIDAY: I flew from Wilmington to Atlanta where I met up with the rest of the P31 team going on the trip: Lysa, LeAnn, Luann, Van, Tracie, Charlene, Carrie, Amy, Melissa and Glynnis. We all wore matching P31 shirts so the Compassion Intl. staff that was taking us - Rich Van Pelt, Julie Johnson and Mike Johnson - could find and herd these 10 talkative women. The Compassion staff were awesome people who loved God, had hearts for the poor, and were each excellent at what they do. We also had two videographers, Pete Gannon and David Hames, as well as photographer Paul McEntire join us for the trip. I had a window seat on the plane in the row with Melissa and Rich. Melissa and I talked so much - pumped by the opportunity to sit together and by the Skittles Melissa had brought - that Rick eventually gave up on us, put his headphones on, and drifted off to sleep. His sleep would be interrupted many times by our need to go to the bathroom. Don't you just love those tiny toilets on airplanes? Little did I know those would seem luxurious compared to what I would use in days to come!
Just as I had prayed, we arrived safely that night in Quito - with all our luggage. The first thing I noticed was a HUGE bouquet of roses in the airport. They looked so perfect I had to touch them to see if they were real. They were, and they were gorgeous. I'm talking like 60 roses in this single vase. I wondered about the airport's budget because I'd see two more bouquets like that before I made it through customs and to the chartered bus awaiting us. I kept thinking, "I can't believe I'm standing in South America."
Once on the bus, we met the "country staff" meaning the Compassion staff who are from that country. The Ecuador staff who spent the weekend with us - Roberto, Omar, Sixtoe, Joy and Veronica - were each outstanding people and each consummate hosts. The entire trip I was taken with the integrity and hearts of the staff both at Compassion Intl. and Compassion Ecuador. I adored each of them - they've left a sweet impression on my soul.
They took us on a 20 minute bus ride through the city of Quito to our hotel. We stayed at Swissotel in Quito. It was a fabulous 5 star hotel. When I walked in, sleepy-eyed, to the beautiful lobby, the first thing I saw was another HUGE bouquet of roses. Perfect, just like the ones in the airport. Two more arrangements, similar in size but with different colors of roses, sat near the front desk. In our room, Charlene and I found a single stem rose laying on each pillow with a piece of chocolate and a note welcoming us to Ecuador. I knew I was going to like this place! That kind of hospitality permeated our entire trip.
You may wonder, as I did, why a ministry like Compassion who helps poor children around the world would book us into such a posh/pricey hotel. Let me first say that they get a discounted rate, they called an "in-country" rate. Next, they do that for a number of reasons: 1) It helped to guarantee our safety. This hotel was in a very safe section of town and provided excellent security. 2) All the food in the hotel restaurant was safe for foreign travelers to eat. That is not the case in other places. 3) The hotel would be cleaned to standards we were accustomed to and would keep us in good health. 4) Each room had a safe to store our passport, money and things while we were out. 5) Julie told us we would likely be thrown so far "out of our element" as we visited the Compassion projects and homes that we would need the respite of comfortable, clean surroundings to come back to each night as we processed all that we'd encountered. Very wise - she was right.
After we unpacked a little, Charlene, Glynnis, Van and I went down to the "business center" off the lobby to send an I-got-here-safe email to our husbands. (Our cell phones did not have international service on them.) We could use the hotel's Internet service for 10 minutes for $1 so we all typed short, fast letters to fit within the 10 minutes. (LeAnn made the mistake of calling home to her son on the phone in her room. They talked for 10 minutes and it wound up costing her $100!!) I let Rick know I was there, felt very safe, and did not expect to be sick. I told him and the kids not to worry about me, and to pray for divine appointments and ended by sending them my love.
Back in the room I gazed out our 10th floor window at the amazing view of the city of Quito. The city is situated in a valley, surrounded by green hills and mountains. Lights dotted the landscape up the hillsides. I wondered what it would look like in the daytime. It was beautiful at night. I brushed my teeth with bottled water - we did have to avoid drinking the tap water in the sinks - and climbed into bed feeling ever-so-slightly woozy from the high altitude. I slept like a baby under the down comforter until Charlene's cell-phone alarm rang at 6:00 am on Saturday. (We weren't sure how to use the room phone to get a wake-up call so we just used our cell phone alarms... that's about all those phones were good for once we left Atlanta.)