I'm sure all of you readers are wondering how the end of our trip was and what some thoughts are now that we are removed from our experience by a couple months. So I want to take the time right now and write a final, parting blog with some summaries and reflections of how I spent my summer in Ecuador. Enjoy and thank you so incredibly much for all of the support and love you have given all of the deputees! With love, Erica.
Dios le bendiga. That's “God bless you” in Spanish, and is a phrase commonly heard when you say goodbye, accompanied by a kiss on the cheek. This my friends, is a characteristic of the unique and beautiful country known as Ecuador. And is also conveniently the place where I spent 2 months of my summer as a part of the Deputation program with University Ministries.
Other useful phrases in Español, you might ask? “Está bien,” “no soy fea,” “donde está el baño,” and “me gustan empanadas, dame una, por favor.” Just in case you were wondering. [Translations: "It's okay," "i'm not ugly," "where is the bathroom?," and "i like empanadas, give me one, please!"]
Ecuador is a South American country right on the Equator line, above Peru and below Colombia. People commonly think that being on the Equator for the summer would be a.) unbelievably hot and b.) would make people incredibly tan. However, both of these things are false. At least at where we were. Our home for 58 days was a church in small mountain town at 8,000 feet by the name of Cotacachi. We wore pants and sweatshirts most of the time, and it rained pretty much every afternoon without fail. But even that couldn't detract from the amazing beauty around us. Towering green mountains, rolling fields and clear lakes abound left us all completely breathless. Pictures don't do the country justice. I guess that just means you'll have to go to Ecuador and find out for yourself!
The missionary work we did while abroad covered a wide range of things. We worked for families from the church, doing anything from childcare to house-cleaning, and from gardening to working in family-owned restaurants. Which, by the way, is where I learned how to make the aforementioned empanadas. We also taught English in a remote Black-Ecuadorian village for two weeks to people aged 8 to 21, which was challenging, but probably one of our favorite parts of the trip. Other tasks of ours included starting up the first English service at the church for American expatriates, singing worship at church, both in English and Spanish, running games and crafts at a kids camp and painting the church, inside and out.
One of the things that stuck out to me throughout my Deputation experience was an overwhelming sense of God's love pouring out from the Ecuadorian people. The church we worked with was incredibly small and didn't have enough money to always pay the pastor, and yet they would rent a bus and drive 2+ hours to a remote village to talk about Jesus to non-believers. That my friends, is one of the greatest examples of God's love that I've ever seen. Their selfless devotion to spreading the gospel and caring for others less fortunate than themselves was beyond inspiring. How many churches here have exponentially more than a tiny church in Cotacachi and yet don't do as much with what they have? That was a question that constantly was, and continues to be, on my heart. All I can say is that the souls of the people there are beautiful.
As far as personal growth goes, one thing that I was constantly facing was my own weakness and the necessity to rely on God. That said, I'm the kind of person who feels the need to take care of others and get everything done myself. But in Ecuador, everything familiar and comfortable was stripped away from me. My family, my friends, my boyfriend, the types of food I was used to, my language, and even my normal intake of oxygen [there's not really a whole lot of air up there at 8,000 plus feet, friends]. And with all of that came the realization that I can't do everything on my own. And at first, that was defeating. But soon I found myself praying to God multiple times a day for everything. Even it if it was as simple as “please get me through this day, Lord.” As time went on and challenges arose, I became more confident in the power and peace of Jesus. And even though it continues to be hard, I'm learning more and more to embrace my own weakness and turn it into reliance on the wonderful grace of God.
Another thing that struck me while I was on this trip was the idea of God as the ultimate Father. To make it simple, I don't really know what a “father” looks like. However, while I was in Ecuador, this idea of a father was just something I couldn't get away from. And it's something I'm still working through, but I had the privilege of seeing what real and good, loving fathers look like in the men of the church, particularly our pastor host. And witnessing to these very well put-together and connected families led me to thinking more about God as our heavenly father. And as simple as it is, it really hit me that God loves me and there's nothing that I can do to make him love me more or less. To him, I am perfectly done; I am lovely. And I am his daughter. And he would do anything and everything for me. And in fact, he already has: he sacrificed his true and perfect son; something that would agonize any loving father. He lost his perfect child so that I could have the chance to live and love, even with all of my flaws and mistakes. And that is something that will continue to mystify and amaze me.
Overall, Deputation was a challenging but life-altering experience. I met people who are a second family to me now, I tried new foods [although regrettably not the specialty dish of guinea pig], I learned new skills, worked on a new language, and discovered new things about myself and about God. And I got to zipline upside-down through the jungle, snorkel, paraglide off a cliff and boat down a river in the Amazon.
I'd say that's a pretty good summer, wouldn't you?