Let Go

When I was in Ecuador this past summer, we went to this little park with different rides and activites. One of them was riding this big swing over the side of a mountain. Ecuador is the home of the Andes Mountains; it’s absolutely breathtaking, but this also means the mountains reach around 16,000 feet above sea level. So riding a swing over the side of a mountain, sounds a little unsafe. Let’s be honest, it probably wasn’t the safest idea considering the park was only $1 to get into, the swing was duck-taped together, and Ecuador doesn’t exactly have OSHA regulating the safety of these different rides. BUT I got on the swing!

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Since we are about 16,000 feet above sea level, you’re basically in the clouds. So it’s not uncommon for the mountainous view to be veiled with clouds and that’s exactly what happened when we went to the park. If it hadn’t have been for the cloud, I probably wouldn’t have swung out over the mountain, but I braved up and got on the swing.

Even though I couldn’t see the view, I still got pretty high above the ground—higher than any swing I’ve been on here in the States—and it’s scary. I held on so tight. With what seemed unsfe, I felt I made the swing safer by holding on. I thought I would have a better chance of surviving if I death-gripped the sides in case the duct-tape broke. It gave me a sense of control in the midst of something that felt so unsafe. Of course I had a friend taking pictures because I was only going to ride the death trap one time and wanted the fun to be captured.

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After I got off the swing, I looked through all the photos. You could clearly see the death-grip in the pictures. Meanwhile, the rest of our team got on the swing to enjoy their own ride—don’t worry, everyone made it off the swing alive. But I was captivated by watching them. Those of us from the States had a similar reaction to mine; we all held on for dear life. However, when our translators rode the swing, there was an enjoyment. They trusted the process and knew it was going to be okay so they weren’t afraid to let go. I remember one translator in particular, Patricio, having a picture of him on the swing with the biggest, freeing smile with his hands in the air completely enjoying the experience.

It hit me—I want that picture.

I got back on the swing for a second time—this time wanting to let go. There was still a little fear there—afraid of the unknown, unsure of what the outcome would be—but I wanted that freedom because that freedom produced joy. I had already survived once holding on, but I didn’t get to experience the joy. I watched others freely let go, and completely embrace the opportunity to be free. I wanted that too.

Sure enough, I let go! I have the picture to prove it. And on top of that, I’m here to tell you about it. That fear didn’t diminish completely, but I knew I would be okay because of my first experience and because of those who had gone before me. I surrendered that death-grip to expereince the freedom producing great joy.

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Immediately after the ride, I looked through the pictures, comparing the two photos. The first one with a death-grip and the second with a complete joy.

And it hit me–I do this exact same thing with God.

I can’t tell you how many times God has called me to get on a swing. He calls me to trust Him on the journey and to fully surrender—to let go—and embrace the journey. And when I’ve approached that unknown, I’ve held on with a death-grip thinking my hold on things helped the situation. I thought my control of that swing made the outcome better. I thought I would have a better chance of surviving whatever God was calling me to if I death-gripped it. It gave me a false sense of control in the midst of something that felt so unsafe.

But when I looked at those pictures of me on the swing, I learned that keeping a death-grip is absolutely robbing me of the freedom and joy I could experience along the journey God has called on my life. When I hold on and try to remain in control, I’m not demonstrating the freedom Christ has to offer.

Just like me riding the swing, I had to remember that I was okay the first time and others had gone before me and were free so I could trust it.

The same is true in our spiritual lives.

Sometimes all it takes to let go is remembering that God had you the first time.

Sometimes all it takes is others modeling what that letting go looks like in order for us to experience freedom in Christ.

Here’s what I know to be true: if we continue to death-grip our life swing, we are going to miss out on the joy filled freedom of life God has called us to experience. We don’t need to hold on tight, but rather freely surrender to the unknown, knowing God is there. Knowing He is not some duct-taped swing that could crash, but rather He holds us with His righteous right hand. He doesn’t let go of us. He carries us and brings us through the unknown territory whether it’s veiled or revealed.

LET GO.

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fear not, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. –Isaiah 41:10

He is Mighty–A Year in Review

My top nine images of 2017 have really sparked this whole “year in review” thing. It got me thinking about the word remember.

What does remembering really mean?

According to Google’s dictionary the word remember means “have in or be able to bring to one’s mind an awareness of (someone or something that one has seen, known, or experienced in the past).” I love that part about bringing to mind the things we have seen, known, or experienced because that pretty much includes remembering the good, the bad, and the ugly. It’s whatever has happened in the past.

For me personally, there have been years where there has been immense pain. I didn’t want to look back because all I saw was pain and darkness. Even the thought of a specific circumstance would cause almost immediate tears to form in my eyes. However, there have also been years where the look back on life has been one of adventure, fun, and complete happiness.

But what if, the year in review wasn’t just about our life’s circumstances but about what God did? What would a year in review be like then?

It is a Biblical truth for us to remember what God has done in and through our lives. All throughout the Bible, God calls His people to remember all that He has done. It’s actually mentioned in the Bible 168 times (can be more or less depending on your version). There is clearly something powerful about remembering.

So why is remembering such an important thing?

There’s a story in Joshua 3-4 where the Israelites cross the Jordan River. This is an incredible story. If you aren’t familiar with it, take the time to go read both of these chapters–right now! It seriously is incredible! But the basic concept of the story, is the Israelites cross a really powerful river because of God. He stopped the river from flowing simply to show that He cared for the Israelites. After the Israelites passed through, God tells them to set 12 stones aside “so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty, that you may fear the Lord your God forever.”

We see here just in one example, God used a physical object (the stones) to show the world who He is, to show the world He is mighty.

Remembering what God has done for you, helps you remember God is mighty–even in the midst of seasons of sorrow.

Your remembrance could allow the world to see He is mighty!

When we direct our focus on what God has done for us and who He is instead of life’s circumstances, it’s going to produce joy simply because we can rest on the promise that God is working all things for good (Romans 8:28). So whatever situation you are personally in, I would like to challenge you not to just look back at the circumstances that have occurred in your life this year, but rather all that God has done.

Personally, I would love to sit and have coffee with each of you and hear all about what God has done in your life this year! It’s encouraging to me to see God’s hand at work in the lives of others. If you want to share what God has done in your life this year, leave me a comment or send me a message here. But I would love to share with you, my “stones” of what God has done in, around, and through my life this year.


Friends and Community

One of the greatest things God has done this year, has been blessing me with some pretty great friends. It literally dates back to January when things started to all come together. It’s weird because I had just prayed asking God to give me some good community (people I could have deep conversations with and who challenged me). This group of friends does exactly that. I have learned about myself in some pretty crazy ways. My friends are most certainly not afraid to call me out, but they do it in love. They sharpen me when it comes to what I believe. It’s really just incredible. We’ve prayed together. We’ve cried and laughed together. We’ve celebrated together. We’ve even traveled to many different places together. I’ve seen God use my friends to share the gospel with tons of people. I’ve watched my friends disciple people who have been in their lives for years and have watched others start discipling and meeting with others. God’s hand is at work with this great group of people! I’m thankful for y’all in so many ways!

Nothing to Prove

At the end of 2016, Jennie Allen wrote Nothing to Prove and I had the privilege of being on her launch team (which basically means I got to help promote the book before it was released). I read it in November of 2016, and started wrestling with the idea of starting a book club at my school for some of the teachers there for us to go through the book. I didn’t really take a chance on sending out an invite until mid-January. To me it was this great risk and moderately big time commitment, but I knew I wanted to see God work at school, so I sent an email.

img_0943With about twelve women signed up to participate in the book club, I was so impressed at God. I was only expecting like 4-8 people and God totally kept them coming. I don’t remember exactly, but I think around 20 women ended up buying the book! God used the book club in so many ways! I remember each Wednesday, I would just listen to these women talk about God’s movement in their own lives and all God did was use them to tell me the risk was worth it. It was through this book club that I learned when God impresses something upon your heart, it’s 100% worth it. God was there and I watched Him move. It was the coolest thing to be apart of!

Totally fan-girling as well because I got to meet Jennie Allen at the beginning of February and just thank her for her obedience to the Lord in her ministry! God has used her books to remind me I was worth dying for and I have nothing to prove because Christ finished the work on the cross.

Quiet Moments

I think so often times we busy ourselves so much, we don’t really know how to just be still and see God. But for me, the quiet, still moments is when I see God clearly for myself. In these moments, God speaks to me. There are so many things I could write about how God has used the quiet moments to speak truth into my life, but the one recently God has been teaching me through Esther is His timing is perfect. It’s never late, and it’s never early. He is in control of all things, so He is ALWAYS on time.

God has spoken truth into my heart this year through the books of Esther, 1 & 2 Samuel, Nehemiah, Isaiah, John, and 1 & 2 Corinthians. It’s been a great journey through the Word! I’m grateful God speaks when we quiet our hearts before Him.

These quiet moments are usually processed through different people in my life, but two that are absolutely foundational to my walk with Jesus are Alysia and Barbara. I’m not quite sure I would be where I am if it weren’t for these two great ladies! They are a shoulder to cry on, a listener, and an encourager on my journey with Christ! They invite me into their homes and allow me to live life with them. Thank you for helping me BEHOLD Jesus each and every day.

My Church

For starters, I was transitioning between churches at the beginning of the year. I wasn’t quite looking to get involved anywhere, but really just wanted to soak in, but God had other plans (and His plans were way better). At some point in March, our Family Discipleship Pastor found out I had worked in student ministry in my old church and wanted to see if I would be interested in serving.

img_5490We meet for coffee; and at the beginning, I felt pretty standoffish because I had my own plans of not being involved, but the more we talked the more our hearts for ministry aligned. I could tell God was placing me here for a specific purpose. By the end of that conversation, an opportunity to go to Ecuador had opened as well as an internship, which is funny because remember I had no intentions of getting involved. Thankfully, God knows best!

img_2479God has used my church to reach the lost, make disciples of all nations, and minister into my heart. The leadership God has placed over my life has been a huge encouragement into my personal walk with Jesus. They have challenged me to literally go places I was scared to go. They walked with me through some really difficult times. And through it all, God was there. He was and continues to use my church as way to draw me nearer to Him.

The Internship

I would just like to remind you, I had no intentions of getting involved at my church and God had other plans. The internship was an awesome experience, one that I am so thankful for! I had the opportunity to hang out with students and serve all summer long!  We had VBS and as much as I’m not good with little kids, I got to see these sweet kids come to know Jesus. Watching them pray to receive Christ and watch their hearts be made alive was clearly the work of the Holy Spirit. It was awesome to see God take something dead and breathe life into it! It’s only something He can do!

img_3883I also got to go to camp with our middle school and high school students! At this point, I didn’t really know them, but by the end of the week, they were just a bunch of little brother and sisters! I got to watch God breathe more life into two of our students that came with us. The excitement a new believer has because the joy of the Lord is literally now inside of them is a miracle–each salvation is a miracle.

Just for the record, at the end of 2016 I had been praying about switching careers. I felt this pull from God to seek something in publishing, writing, or editing books. I wasn’t sure where this was going to go, but I just started looking at different jobs in that field to see what it would take to one day work in the writing field. One of the things that was recommended was a Masters in English (which I start in January), but it was also looking for previous experience in ministry. Outside of volunteering in churches for 10 years, I didn’t have “official” experience. I just prayed God would provide opportunities to serve Him so I could do whatever He called me into. I prayed that in January, and then in March when I met with our Family Discipleship Pastor, the internship was available. God is just too cool!

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Ecuador

img_3036There’s so much that I could say about Ecuador and what God did there and you can read that by clicking on this link. But what I simply want to share is something that isn’t included in that blog post which is God used this trip (from the time in the airport to my quiet time in Ecuador) to tell me it was time to talk. For a period of time, God had silenced me when it came to an area of my life, but God specifically spoke reconciliation into my heart during this trip. It really had nothing to do with Ecuador, but just what happened because of Ecuador. It was pretty awesome that God would use a conversation with my pastor and then my quiet time to speak so clearly into my heart. Now was the time to speak.

Salvations

This is probably the coolest thing I get to talk about simply because I get to talk about the new brothers and sisters we have in the family of Christ! I had prayed at the beginning of the year, I wanted to see God save (here is what I mean by “save”) more people. But then at the beginning of the summer, I prayed more specially telling God I wanted to see Him save 5 people before the end of the summer. Well, God taught me this year He is capable of doing more than we think or imagine. Apparently 5 was just too small for God, because even at camp I saw hundreds of students profess faith for the first time, so then I prayed that God would either directly use me in 5 different people’s salvation or that they would be in my life for a period of time. What you see here, are simply the six people God has placed in my life this year who I have had the honor of seeing God take them from death into life!

I know I’ve already said it before, but salvation is a miracle! The fact that I have gotten to see so many salvations this year is just pure evidence God is real. He is alive and He is working.

Discipling and Small Group

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img_5512Discipling is one of my favorite things to do! I love meeting with students and talking about what Jesus is doing in their lives! I love walking through books of the Bible and being able to just be apart of watching them grow in their faith. Through discipleship I was able to meet with about 6 different girls! I wanted to be consistent with them and I’m definitely thankful for the time we have had together! Small group is the same way! At the beginning of small group, I was only anticipating about 4-5 girls, but we have about 10 that come regularly!

img_5247So what has God done through discipleship and small group? Well, I have seen God open the eyes and hearts of these girls to reading God’s Word. Several girls have grown in just their desire to reading His Word. According to my small group girls, they come and when we discuss God’s Word they leave “shook” or “in the feels,” which I think is a good thing. We also have tons of fun together just because the laughter never stops!

But for me God has used these girls to speak to me. There are times I will be teaching something to them, but it’s really to me. A good example of what God taught me through teaching them was when we walked through John 2 earlier this semester. God taught me what it is like to have Faith Like the Servants.

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Again, I would so love to have coffee and discuss all the intricate details that I know are missing from this list of what God has done in this season, but I would also just like to tell you there are things in my life that I have prayed all year (and some for years) for God to move. For whatever reason, God hasn’t moved there yet, but again, I know His timing is perfect. This year is evidence of that.

And if you are in a season of sorrow, it’s a season. I don’t know when it will be over, but I do know there’s a season of celebration around the corner. When it comes, you celebrate. The sorrow you have experienced in life, makes you appreciate the celebration so much more!

So if you find yourself struggling to remember what God has done this year in you, think about your salvation–that alone is a miracle. Think about what God has taught you–the discipline teachings as well as the gentle reminders. Did anything good happen? Because that’s God too, and that deserves to be celebrated even if it’s simple!

God loves it when we remember what He did.

Your remembrance could allow the world to see He is mighty!

Experiences in Ecuador

While I was in Ecuador, I kept an electronic journal of everything we did. This is more or a less a journal of each day in Ecuador. At some points, you will see how God shaped me on this trip, but there will be a blog just for that. However, I would like to encourage you to pray about God sending YOU as you read this. God is at work among the nations; God loves the nations; and He has commanded each of us to Go!

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20

Day 1: TRAVEL DAY
Team Phot

Ecuador Team Photo

On the flight to Atlanta, I sat next to an interesting man. He is the manager at a local bar, has two kids, and was on his way to Florida. I knew as soon as the man started small talking with me, it was going to get serious fast. I remember thinking, “Already God? Okay. Here it goes!” After asking some questions, I found out he didn’t really believe in anything, including a heaven and a hell. I told the man the best way I could show love to him was by telling him if he didn’t come to a place where Jesus is his personal savior and Lord he would be forever separated from God, meaning he would be in hell. I could tell he was uncomfortable, but he asked a bunch of questions about how the Bible was reliable and how I was able to be confident in the Word of God. I answered his questions the best way I knew how and invited him to church, but regardless a seed was planted.

It was around lunchtime when we landed in Atlanta, so everyone went and got something to eat. Eventually everyone met back up at the gate. We started noticing all these other people with matching t-shirts on and found out there were two other mission teams headed to Ecuador. One of the guys from a different mission team, went to the boarding counter and started speaking on the microphone (with permission of course). He immediately shouted, “The floor is LAVA! Don’t touch the LAVA!” and several people in our gate hopped up on their seat. I never anticipated playing the Lava Game in the middle of the airport; but immediately after the Lava Game, there was an alarm of some sort that went off. It went off for a good while before it turned off. We had no idea why it was going off, but it was quite the coincidence it went off after playing the Lava Game.

We were extremely blessed with a flight that offered blankets, pillows, and free movies! It was a very long flight, but Delta Airlines fed us dinner and I watched a couple of movies. The guy next to me was a forest fire fighter who laughed (belly laughed) at all the movies he watched. Towards the end of the flight, Dan and I shared the gospel with him. He had some spiritual belief, but wasn’t practicing anything in particular. Dan presented the gospel very clearly, and the guy appeared interested in the gospel, but believes he has a relationship with God.

Hotel Room

Our Hotel Room

To be quite honest, I was a little nervous about going through customs. I didn’t know what to expect, but they literally asked for my passport and sent me on my way. They didn’t even look in my bags (which I mentally prepared myself for that). We met up with Deb and a couple of our translators at the airport. Then we loaded the bus quickly–buses are only allowed to be in the parking lot for 15 minutes total other wise they get fined. The drive from Quito to Patate was about 4 hours. I was thankful for the bus seats in comparison to the plane seats, but I found myself waking up every twenty minutes. Everyone anxiously awaited the hotel, and we made it there around 3:30 in the morning. Emily, Lauren, and I roomed together. I think we were settled into sleep around 4:30.

Day 2: CHURCH AND EXPLORATION
El Tambo Church

El Tambo Church

Our day began with church in El Tambo at 10:30. We were greeted by very friendly Ecuadorians where the custom is to kiss the cheek. The Ecuadorians were very excited to have us for their ONE year anniversary of being a church. The room was decorated with orange and blue balloons with streamers. The little kids (ages three to middle school) were recognized because they completed their lessons by Samaritan’s Purse. They put on a little graduation for the kids where Bobby and Matt were asked to present the graduation caps and completed lesson books, which was super sweet!

Playing in the Park

Playing in the Park

After the ceremony, Brooke and Jake (two of our high schoolers), Elizabeth and JC (two of our translators), and I went to the local park with all the little kids while the adults had church. While at the park, we played games and hung out with the kids. We actually would teach them a little English as we played with them–things like fruits, colors, and numbers. The park was extremely nice. It had a bathroom that you had to pay to use and one cool thing was the playground was more like miniature workout machines for kids to pull their own weight to promote exercise at a young age.

After about an hour we got back on the bus to return to the church for lunch. Lunch was delicious! We had rice, chicken, and fries! The rice was my favorite and the fries have a sweeter taste there.

After church, we were given time to catch up on sleep or chill time. Most people took a nap, but there was a small group of us who went and toured the city of Patate.

Our first stop was to the local Catholic Church–Catholicism is the main religion in Ecuador. As we walked up, there was a woman selling candles and candy. In the entry way of the church, there is a ticket booth to purchase tickets to the museum of the church; apparently the Catholic Church does whatever they can to make money. While we were there, Dave, the American missionary, met up with us and explained more information about the Catholic Church. For starters, front and center of the church is El Patate’s idol. It’s called the Lord of the Earthquake. Directly opposite of the idol is Jesus Christ on a crucifix at the back of the church. Just by walking into the church, you could feel the darkness. Off the front right of the church is a room that is dedicated to worshiping the idol. People will light candles to the Lord of the Earthquake, but based off Scripture what they are worshipping is an idol.

Although most people have Bibles, we were also told the people in Ecuador are discouraged from reading the Bible simply because the priests believe they receive a word. Most nuns don’t have bibles for the same reason. The priests are the ones communicating what God says.

Honestly, this broke my heart for the lost people in the world and this knowledge of the cultural church created an urgency to share the gospel. A deep desire to share truth with the Ecuadorians grew a great deal. I didn’t want to see people following people, but rather people following God.

Christian and JC, our two translators for the afternoon, gave us great tourism information. We walked through a local market, and Patate is known for their fresh fruit–and it’s delicious (I don’t like pineapple and ate pineapple for breakfast almost everyday)!!!! We eventually stopped at the local cemetery, where it’s more like a mausoleum. Families often buy huge sections of space for their whole family. Some people here even pray that the spirits will be led into heaven even after they die. It was a beautiful place, but also sad to see the uncertainty of what came after death.


We came back tot the hotel and got ready for dinner. We were introduced to our restaurant for the week, La Mantoña, which is delicious!!! It’s one of the only places the Americans won’t get sick simply because the owners use purified water. Not only is the food great, but THE VIEW!!! Oh. My. Gosh. You’re up on top of the mountain looking down below to the city of Patate, and every time I looked below, God reminded me of how finite I am in comparison to His infiniteness. God is truly big and looking down at the city reminded me of how God is holding all things together–I’m much too small to think I can remotely control my life. That view–it never got old. Following dinner, we had an orientation meeting where we talked about the gospel and how to share it–especially in a way that reaches Ecuadorians based off their culture. We ended with acoustic worship! There’s just something about worship that draws you in to the nearness of God!

Day 3–GOSPEL SHARING ON THE STREETS

We began our day with breakfast at La Mantoña. We had fruit and granola topped with yogurt, toast with butter and jelly, followed by eggs and cheese. To drink they offered juice (freshly squeezed), coffee, hot chocolate. The food is delicious!

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Pelileo

After breakfast, we went to the church in El Tambo to highlight and tab some bibles with different verses so we could quickly get to a verse when we were sharing the gospel. After about an hour of marking the verses, we headed out to share the gospel in the center of Pelileo, which was near the headquarters of the city. The streets were filled with students in different school uniforms (school was still in session). My team (Gloria, the translator; Neillie; and myself) set out to share the gospel for the first time in Ecuador with a group of four high school boys to share the gospel with them. They didn’t seem very interested, but they politely listened. I think more or less they felt a little awkward. One of the guys seemed more interested in the truth than the others, so we gathered all their information and are praying for follow up.

We looked for someone else God wanted us to speak to and that lead us to this man who was waiting for the bus. We began sharing the gospel with him and as we shared, another woman and her son came up and joined in on the conversation. That was a great conversation and I definitely felt as if they were closer to coming to know Jesus. We gave them all bibles and gathered their information. They seemed willing to come to church, which encouraged us!
For lunch, we went to the training center where Bobby taught about twenty pastors from Ecuador Biblical information about church planting. We got to eat with the different pastors and worship before going back to Pelileo to share the gospel more.

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Sharing Christ in Pelileo

When we went back out to share the gospel, our first sharing opportunity was with Jake, Theresa, Elizabeth (our translator), Nellie, Gloria (our other translator), and myself. We found this younger guy sitting on a bench, walked over, and started talking with him about the gospel. We had about a 45 minute conversation with him and gave him a bible. He was very interested in the faith, but confused because of what the Catholic Church teaches. We encouraged him to look and study the Word of God to find out for himself what the Bible says because ultimately God speaks to us through His Word.

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Pelileo with the man whose mom received a Bible

Our group split off into our original groups and Neillie, Gloria, and I walked over to a man where we had about an hour conversation about the gospel. This was quite possibly my favorite conversation of the day. We shared with him the gospel, and similar to the others we engaged that day, he had several questions about the faith. As he was talking to us, he mentioned that someone (probably from our group) had already given his mom a bible. God was totally at work in that man’s heart and it is apparent that God is at work in this man’s family. I genuinely would love to see him next year going to church in El Tambo. It’s amazing to see the interest yet desperation these people have for the gospel. Their hearts literally ache to experience God, and these people want hope. As we shared the gospel, you get a glimpse into their hearts. You can see their hearts begin to awake to the truth and their eyes start to be opened.

We got back to the training sight, where everyone was exchanging stories from the day. Listening to all the ways God was glorified was absolutely amazing!!! We then worshipped as a team and one of the women who was in on Bobby’s class started worshipping with us. She is a Cuban woman who is missioning with her husband in Ecuador to share the gospel. We were singing Oh How He Loves and the translators taught us how to sing the chorus in Spanish, but we would alternate between languages. I noticed this woman wanting to sing the English with us so I wrote it down on a sheet of paper and showed her how to sing it and she lit up. She was so excited and sung louder!! Regardless of language, we can all worship our God and that worship is absolutely beautiful.

On a less serious note, when we got back to the hotel; Emily, Lauren, and I would hang out and chat about our day. There seemed to be a repetitive event: every time Emily got up from her bed a quarter would drop out of her bed. Lauren and I died laughing because Emily would sit on her bed, then as soon as she stood up; change would fall to the ground! Not that this is supernaturally important, but it’s just fun!

Day 4–SCHOOL, PELILEO PARK, AND COMMUNION

Early this morning we got to La Montaña for breakfast. The yogurt was there today, but we had hard boiled eggs. It was delicious, but instead of toast they had these crescent rolls but without the crescent texture; I wish I could have taken them back to America because they were fantastic!

img_2780After breakfast, we headed to a private school, but not affiliated with any religion. We were told most of the teachers claimed to be believers in Jesus Christ, but their hearts are far from Him. They know information and church-like answers because they are educated, but don’t have any kind of a relationship with God as their personal Savior and Lord.

img_2796When we arrived at the school, we were given different rotations of students to talk to: the elementary, middle, and high school. During the first group with the elementary kids, we taught the kids a couple of songs, a Bible story, and played some recreational games with them. We didn’t have time for a craft because the rotations were pretty short, but we basically did a one-day VBS with the kids. Emily, Dana, Lauren, and Gwen taught the kids the story of Zacchaeus, which is how they were able to share the gospel. The goal of each story we presented was for the kids to see a relationship with Jesus is based around a heart change.

During the middle and high school rotation, I had the opportunity to share the gospel with the personnel director of the school. She was administrative, making sure students/teachers are running on time and on schedule. After talking to her, I felt like she was saved, Allison (my translator) had the opportunity to talk with her about her personal story. But the cool part was that we were able to encourage her in her faith. She didn’t need to be afraid. We encouraged her to get plugged into a church and really share the truth with those around her. The best part of all this was simply showing her verses that affirmed for her she was saved! It was absolutely wonderful! When the conversation was about over, she told Allison she wanted to ask me a question. She asked, “Out of everyone in this room why did you choose me?” I told her it was because of God. She nodded her head and told me that she tries to stand in the back and yet, every time a group of missionaries come they always come to her. When talked about God’s love for her, she teared up and cried because she realized an easily forgotten truth. It was a beautiful moment.

At the end of our conversation, the rotations had been long over and our team was eating a snack provided by the school. Shortly there after, it was time to talk to the teachers. Dana, Amanda, Theresa, and myself went to the auditorium to talk with the female teachers; while some of our adult guys went to another room to talk with the male teachers about teaching in America and the gospel. Once the women arrived, we shared our stories of how Jesus saved us individually and how that has an impact in our school. We had just finished our testimonies when Dave walked in. He sat down and confronts the women with the truth of the gospel. He shared the truth in love. He let them think. He ruffled their feathers, and the women potentially for the first time thought about religion for themselves. One lady said that she couldn’t be changed from her religion! She wanted to believe what she had always believed. Other women were more receptive to the truth. We were a little bummed that collectively we only had two Bibles to give out, but we are confident seeds were planted with both the men and women.

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American and Ecuadorian Teachers

For lunch, we headed back to the training center with the other pastors and Bobby. After lunch we rested outside because the team was pretty tired from playing and running around with the students from the school. Across the street from the training center was a little store. We looked for some chocolate and other snack items. Thankfully our translators knew how to take care of us by making sure we didn’t eat anything that was (maybe) a year expired.

Dan and Emily went with Christian (the translator) to an appointment with a family, while the rest of us loaded the bus to Pelileo Park so we could further talk to people about the gospel. On our way to the park, I started talking with Neillie about the gospel to help encourage her to share with other people in Ecuador, and continued our conversation when we arrived at the park. Neillie and I walked to a little park bench off to the side. I asked her some questions about her spiritual beliefs and after digging around, she came to the realization that she needed Christ for herself. We talked through several of the verses she had marked in her bible. Right then in the middle of Pelileo on June 27, Neillie prayed to receive Christ. (SMALL UPDATE: On July 23 Neillie got baptized!)

The park also had a little market. Several of us walked over to the workers and quickly shared the gospel with them before having to load the bus. JC and I shared the gospel with a college student. He grew up in the Catholic faith, but never read his bible for himself. We gave him a bible and grabbed his information for Dave.

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The team at Pelileo Park.

We left the park and headed back to the training center to meet up with Bobby and the other pastors. La Montaña catered dinner for us. While we ate, we discussed the stories everyone had from the park and even from the school. After dinner, instead of doing worship; we all had communion together. We didn’t have an unleavened bread or grape juice, but what we did have was potato chips and water. It’s not about the elements, but what the elements represent. This moment wasn’t just an ordinary communion–it was communion between cultures, united together by the Body and the Blood of Jesus Christ. It was a beautiful. God’s people joined together to share in the remembrance celebration together! After reading through the Scriptures and joining together with the elements, we gathered in groups and prayed for each other in native language, longing for the day when language is no longer a barrier!

Day 5– EL TRIUNFO

The day started with our morning breakfast at La Montaña! As usual it was absolutely delicious! Shortly after our breakfast, we took the long and windy road up the mountain without guardrails to El Triunfo.

Once we got to El Triunfo, there was a brief morning rain. When the rain let up, I noticed a woman in rain boats sweeping the rain. There isn’t much of a drainage system there, so to prevent the flooding, the woman came out to sweep.

Right after the rain passed, a few of our team members stayed behind in the church to get ready for the VBS, while the rest of us went out to do street witnessing. Pastor William, the lead pastor in El Triunfo, had several appointments set up for those of us going out. Most people were able to meet with them, but the ones Pastor William had for Lauren, Gloria, and me were busy. As we walked around we were able to hear about the spiritual warfare going on in the city. This city seems to be overcome with confusion, but thankfully God is moving in the hearts of people in El Triunfo!

We walked around the community and as we did, we stopped by a local hardware store where a young girl was working. Pastor William introduced us to her because they are neighbors. Lauren anxiously awaited her first time to share the gospel, and found this girl her open opportunity. Lauren did a great job as she spoke truth into this girl’s life. We gave her a bible because the girl was moved by the truth, but she wasn’t ready to commit her life to Christ. Regardless, we are all confident that God will use this gospel opportunity to glorify Himself.


We made our way back to the church for a quick lunch before the VBS. The kids were ecstatic about the VBS. They waited outside the church doors for the activities to begin. Several of our teenagers went outside to start playing games with the kids while everyone else finished getting organized. The kids were awesome and full of love.  Before VBS, I went out to paint the kids’ nails, which allowed me to fill out what they knew about Jesus and other stories in the Bible.

Our VBS officially started! Amanda presented the lesson, while Neillie and Brooke used the felt board to give the kids a visual of what we were talking about. After the lesson, I taught the kids a Bible verse and they totally got it. It was adorable! For a craft, we had the kids make salvation bracelets. The bracelet was a great way to teach them the gospel. After crafts we took them over to the soccer field for recreation. The clouds outside eventually cleared up from the morning rain, and we saw the volcano from where we were with the kids. While the kids were in a VBS, many of the adults were able to share the gospel with people on the streets.

 

Day 6–NATE SAINT HOUSE, SHELL ORPHANAGE, AND EL BAÑOS

The morning started early by being on the bus at 6:30. We drove about an hour with a beautiful scenic route to Nate Saint House. If you aren’t familiar with the story of Nate Saint, he was a martyr (one of five other missionaries–Jim Elliott being another) for the faith. His house in Shell, Ecuador was turned into a little museum. Nate was the pilot who took 4 other missionaries to the jungle in order to reach a people group known as the killers. The missionaries spent several weeks giving gifts to the people in the jungle, as well as sending pictures of themselves to the people. The missionaries landed on the beach to encounter the people a few weeks later. Three people greeted them: a chaperone and a couple. Together, they all shared a meal together even with the language barrier. The jungle people were friendly with the missionaries to the point that they took pictures together. Remember the jungle people are killers–they kill. Well, everything on the beach was going smooth, but the couple from the jungle went off alone and that wasn’t supposed to happen. The couple got caught by one of their family members. When they were confronted, the couple placed the blame on the missionaries; saying the missionaries were going to kill those in the jungle. The very next day, the killers came after the 5 guys and brutally killed each one of them. Every day, Nate’s wife waited at 4pm to hear from her husband via radio. When he didn’t call that day, she called for him and he didn’t answer. Immediately, she knew something was wrong and she sent the search committees out to find the team. What they found was a brutal killing. After awhile, the families of the men who were killed decided to reach out to the killer people in order to continue the mission of sharing the gospel. In fact, the killers themselves became believers and that village group has the Word of God now. Nate and the other men were martyrs for our faith.

For lunch, we went to JC’s family restaurant. The food was delicious!! We were able to hang out and spend time together for awhile. It started raining but it was gorgeous. We packed up and headed to the orphanage and my heart is genuinely forever changed.

We got there and there were three girls sitting on a bench. I took a translator and together we went and talked with the girls. I quickly found out there was a beautiful girl there. She’s 17 years old. After small talking for a little bit I knew that I wanted to share the gospel with her, but she had to leave for lunch. In the meantime I talked with Elizabeth, one of our translators, and together we waited on the girls to be done with lunch.

When the girls finished eating, we took the 17 year old aside and started talking to her. For awhile we chatted, but then we dove in deep. We actually moved to a more quiet place over by her room. When she sat down, I asked her for her story. And she told me things, I had only heard about through Passion, but I had never met someone myself.

This precious girl shared with me that at a year and a half, her mom and dad left her. She was taken to her grandma’s house and her grandma raised her in the Catholic Church until she was 12. But at 12, her grandma began to get sick and could no longer take care of her. So at 12 years old she tried to go back to her mom, but her mom didn’t want her. She went to live with her sister, and her sister started to sell her body for money. At 12 years old she was forced to have sex with men and do things with them that no one should ever have to do. She was raped time and time again so her family could have money. She tried to move out with her sister and in with her dad, and her dad did the same thing. From ages 12-16, her life was marked by sex trafficking by her family. Eventually, she didn’t want that life anymore so she went to the police station. The police station led her to the orphanage and she’s been there since she was 16.

Once she shared her story, it took every thing in me to not start crying out of pure anger. My heart just sank and I felt sick. But I knew the only way to shed light on this darkness was to speak life. So being led by the Holy Spirit (because I have absolutely no idea how to reach someone with that kind of story), I began to share. Without a doubt though, Satan did not want the conversation to happen. About ten minutes after she shared her story, we were interrupted by a female police officer, detective, or lawyer to go and talk about the things that had happened to her (right now she’s in the midst of filing a lawsuit).

While we waited, Elizabeth and I started debriefing what we just heard. It’s just painfully sad. Heart wrenching. And that kind of darkness in the world is extremely overwhelming. Neither one of us could find words, but rather all sorts of emotions!

When she came back, we moved to the shade (because it got really hot). The shade however was closer to the moving of the water tank. It was loud and there was a lot of distractions, but nothing was going to stop Elizabeth and I from sharing the gospel with her. We shared with her the whole gospel and before we could ask if she had any questions, another interruption occurred. The nurses came and needed to check her blood pressure and do a little check up.

Shortly there after, she came back and we asked her if she had any questions about what we just shared. Instead of asking questions directly relating to the gospel, she had questions about things she had learned earlier in her childhood. She asked about the idols in the Catholic Church. She asked why the Catholics bowed down and worshiped Virgin Mary. She compared what she heard her grandma say to what God’s word teaches. She began to make connections that what grandma and that Catholic Church taught didn’t line up with God’s Word. She asked about baptism of babies and what the Bible said about it. And then she asked about the priests and why the Catholics needed one. Elizabeth and I took each question and answered it because each one was a doubt of hers. Each time, we were pointing back to Jesus being the only way we can get to heaven.

Eventually she couldn’t think of any other questions or doubts that she had so I told her, “you told me earlier that if you were to die today that you would be going to hell. You can change that today by praying to receive Christ. Is that something you would want to do today?” And she said YES. We talked about the commitment that she was deciding to make–to follow and commit her life (past, present, and future) to God. Even with talking about the commitment, she still wanted to give her life to Christ.

img_3245Right there on the side walk, she prayed to receive Christ. She now had hope. Now she was going to see God bringing about good to everything in her life! She was no longer alone. She was no longer without a family because she’s been adopted into God’s family. She no longer has to worry about her dad selling her because she has a perfect father.
I wanted her to tell people what happened so we could all celebrate with her. She went and told Dave and Deb about everything that had happened and she asked Dave to come do a bible study with them at the orphanage. God works in such great ways especially in ways that only He can be the Rescuer!

When you walk out of the orphanage, you end up walking out of a gate. I barely made it through the gate and emotions just flooded me. I couldn’t even continue myself. We were leaving these kids. The love they had experienced for a couple of hours was leaving, unless they had Jesus Christ. I was overwhelmed. I was mad. I didn’t understand why God allowed some people to have these great seemingly “clean” stories where they get to grow up in church when others out there have a story marked with pain and “messiness”. My heart just broke. It still breaks. I had so many questions. Who was going to take care of those kids because the government isn’t doing it? Who is going to train the girl that just prayed to receive Christ up in the Word? How will she be taken care of? I had questions for God. How in the world could he let a parent sell their child for sex? It just didn’t make any sense. So many of these girls are victims of abuse and my heart just couldn’t contain it. Even to this day, the thought of these stories rips my heart.

We got back on the bus to leave and I was still having a melt down, but all the other kids didn’t want to say goodbye. They literally ran to the bus, they even got on the bus at one point, and they didn’t want to let go. It further tore my heart. And then to know that we were just going to go to dinner and carry on with our lives; it made me mad. The whole bus ride I just spent time processing and praying just trying to be okay. Trying to see the good of God in the midst of such brokenness.

We got to the pizza place and I had calmed down, but Dave talked to me and brought me back to tears. He was just encouraging me to come back to Ecuador at anytime; telling me that I was welcome to come and stay with him and Deb anytime. And that he would get me my personal translator and I could go and see those sweet kids anytime!

We concluded the day with some shopping around Baños which was really fun! Several of us picked up souvenirs to take back home with us!

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Day 7–PELILEO SHOPPING AND SAN JUAN

img_3341We started the day with La Moñtona for breakfast where we had a bit of share time where we talked about what was going on in our hearts. We had a chance to talk about how God moved in our hearts–really just a time to debrief what all happened over the last couple of days. We even had some worship time that was really special!

After breakfast, we headed to Pelileo for some shopping! Mostly everyone picked up some souvenirs to take home (blankets, sweaters, bracelets, purses, etc.). We were told to bring a jacket because San Juan gets chilly at night. I picked up an alpaca sweater (along with several others).

We drove to San Juan after shopping and we quickly realized that it was our last day in Ecuador to share with others about Christ–hopefully I will be back! On our way there, Dave informed us of some spiritual warfare taking place in the city. At one point, the San Juan church grew tremendously, but the Catholic Priest wasn’t happy. He started informing the people that if they went to the church, the adults could potentially lose their jobs and the kids would have to repeat their last grade. It was our prayer as a team for us to engage the priest at some point with the truth. The priest has a lot of power of the people in that community; however God’s name is being glorified!! People are thirsty and hungry for the Word of God.

Once we got there, our teams looked a little different. I was with Emily and she wanted to share the gospel so it was awesome watching her lead and share her faith with others. As we walked around the city, we found three girls on the street. They all happened to be sisters. Emily started sharing with them about all that Christ had done for us, answered their questions and when it came to actually accepting Christ, two of the three wanted to accept Christ.

I asked the one sister who wasn’t ready to accept Christ what was holding her back and she said that she was afraid that her life would be harder. I told her that Jesus doesn’t promise an easier life, but he does promise to be with us. As I started talking with her, she had tears welling up in her eyes. Right in the middle of a climatic moment; her phone rang. She stopped and answered the call,  then came back and sat down. She was less emotional, but as soon as I finished talking, she still said no. I then explained to her that without Christ in her heart she would be in hell forever. She fully understood that, but she did not want to receive Christ. However, we weren’t going to let this one sister stop the other two from making a profession of faith. Along the sidewalk that day, two more sisters were added to the kingdom!

We continued walking around the town and we passed by the school. Christian (our translator) talked with the school principal and asked if we could come and share the gospel with the kids. He was really receptive and said yes.

 

 

Right next to the school was a local bakery. We talked with a young man who was working. He was extremely confused about the gospel. After an hour conversation, we left with giving him information about the church and collecting his information.

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Question and Answer Time in San Juan

We concluded the day with a church service at the San Juan church. We had about 10 people in attendance plus all of us. Dan preached a message of encouragement. Then they had a question and answer time for the people. Disicpleship is so key here. There are so many people praying to receive Christ who are so thirsty to come to know him, but they aren’t enough people to disciple. The people are many who want to know Jesus, but the workers are so few. It’s amazing how elementary these people are in their faith, but how much they want to grow.

Day 8–ZIPLINE AND TRAVEL TO QUITO

This morning was our last morning in Patate. We started at La Moñtona for the last time and I was definitely sad because they were excellent in their service. Everyone went out to the view to take pictures! It’s sad that we are all leaving because my Ecuadorian sisters and brothers are awesome! Their heart for the Lord is contagious and they definitely want to share.

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The Zipline Right Behind Me

We loaded up the bus and went to Baños for the zipline. That was so fun–although I was absolutely terrified to Superman the second time. It was just a good time to be able to hang out with everyone and just enjoy God’s creation. We ziplined for $15 and we got to zipline twice for that price. After the first run, we had to climb up the mountain. That was quite the challenge. It was straight up, but the view there was absolutely breath-taking. Ecuador is beautiful. And it’s cheap. I could without a doubt live here. As most people have seen, I slightly freaked out because on the second zipline the guy started removing my harness and putting it on me a different way. He was putting me in the superman position which meant that I would be head first. So I freaked out but wanted to get it out of the way. It was a LOT scary, but it was really fun. We went so fast that my eyes watered.

We went to grab lunch at a chicken place. It was great, but shortly after that we had to say goodbye to half of our translators. Elizabeth, Gloria, Alex, and JC all got off the bus. It was sad to see them leave, but we know that we will be reunited again some day. Then we spent the rest of the day traveling to Quito and looking for a hotel for the night.

Day 9–CHURCH IN QUITO, MIDDLE OF THE WORLD, AND FLYING HOME

Our last day in Ecuador started in Quito with church. Immediately when we pulled up to the church, we were greeted with such warmth. The people of Ecuador are extremely friendly and loving. The church greeters gave us a tour of the church. The church itself is so useful and intentionally even as a building. They have a room on the top floor just for missionaries to come and stay.

When church started, people slowly gathered into the sanctuary. The worship was so genuine. Again, the people have such a joy when it comes to worshipping the Lord. After worship was over, the pastor called all of us missionaries to the front of the church. They wanted to present a gift to us–an Ecuadorian hand-made bag. The women of the church made them for us because they wanted us to have something to remember Ecuador and for us to have something to hold our Bibles. The moment itself was extremely touching.

img_3529Bobby preached with Javy as a translator. In America, I have a hard time keeping up when I take notes with Bobby as he preaches, but even with a translator, I still couldn’t keep up. Bobby preached an incredible, encouraging yet challenging message to the Ecuadorians.

After church, we headed to the Middle of the World for lunch and tourist fun! We were able to walk around the park, take silly pictures, and see some crazy things that are only possibly on the equator. There are actually two Middle of the World sections in Ecuador and they are right next to each other. The first one we went to had several shops, restaurants, and statues. This one is not the real middle of the earth, but they thought it was, but when GPS became a thing, they realized they had the equator in the wrong spot. We got to go to both and we were able to get our passports stamped at both locations.

Without a doubt, there were so many amazing things that happened on this trip! I know I have missed some and if you have genuinely made it to the end of this blog, give yourself a pat on a back. Then go on a mission trip yourself! It’s life-changing! I can explain that in a later blog!