Monday, September 21, 2015

Thoughts on Ecuador

ADSE Headquarters in Shell
ADSE Plane taking off from Shell
As we settle back into the busy hectic-ness of school, work and chasing around a toddler, we wanted to share with you a few of our experiences and learnings from our trip to Ecuador. We spent almost two weeks in Shell which is the location of the third busiest airport in Ecuador. It sits about 100 miles southeast of Quito at the edge of the jungle and is home to a several thousand people.
ADSE Cargo: Bananas
and live birds

Jungle Flight
ADSE pilots and planes getting ready to fly
Sometimes it rained hard!
Joe spent his days at the Alas de Socorro (ADSE) hangar going on any flights that were not full, helping out with aircraft maintenance and shop projects, and inventorying tools. Since English is extensively used in the aviation community, he was able to communicate with many of the Ecuadorians working there. 

The river walk in Puyo
For me, the first week felt like a mini vacation. Our host, Tracey Whitehead, was kind enough to introduce me to the greater missionary community. While the things we did, like shopping, drinking coffee, going to lunch, going to the pool, having our nails done and walking by the river (and no, this is not what they do all of the time) were fun, it gave me the chance to meet many amazing people and have deep conversations with them. I met a girl who married an Ecuadorian and was teaching English at a local college, teachers, a doctor and a librarian. I met people whose passion was working with kids and people who had adopted children. I met an occupational therapist who helps special needs children at the orphanage and a couple whose husband works as a contractor for a clean water project. 

English Class and Bible Study
We also met a couple who moved from the States with their three kids to do street evangelism. Although they did not know Spanish when they arrived a little over a year ago, we got to have dinner with them and over 30 of their Ecuadorean friends while they had a English class followed by a Bible study. They do this several times a week. We also met another couple whose passion is helping Ecuadorians have the support they need to help other Ecuadorians whether that is counseling, mentoring, life skills like fixing equipment or sewing, or Bible resources. They are working to raise funds to open a resource center so that they can better help more people. 

I want to send a special thanks to all of my new friends because they touched my heart with their openness to answer any question I had about both pluses and minuses of life in missionary work. It was a joy to get to know them and their stories.

During our second week in Shell, I spent some time at the Nate Saint school which is a small K-9 school for missionary kids. I had a lot of fun meeting the teachers and principal there. They even let me sit in on some of the classes.

I also spent three days at the orphanage where their mission is to provide a haven for kids that are abandoned or that have special needs.  In the jungle, kids born with special needs have historically been killed at birth since the parents aren't able to take care of them and it would be extremely difficult for them to survive in a culture that relies on walking, hunting and fishing. Now, these kids are brought to the orphanage.  It's hard to see so many kids without families and to hear their stories. There was one little boy there about three who runs up and hugs everyone. There is also a little girl who has a degenerative condition that affects her eyesight, ability to swallow and move independently. But her face would occasionally light up with a beautiful smile when I held her and sang to her.  While the staff at the orphanage was very kind about letting me help out where I could with my very limited Spanish, I felt like they really needed people who could make a long-term commitment to partnering with them. If you are interested in learning more about the orphanage or sponsoring a child, their website is

Overlooking Tiweno Airstrip
Path from the airstrip up to Tiweno

We also had the opportunity to fly into a smaller, jungle village called Tiweno. No developed roads go there so airplane is the main way to get people and supplies in and out. At some of the jungle strips, people from the village will spend about an hour a day maintaining the runway by clearing the grass with machetes or, if they are lucky, with weedeaters. The community we visited has developed a tourist industry for when people want to come out to the village. They dress in traditional clothing and sing and dance. They even got Joe to dance which was pretty cool (and rare). They also sell many of the beautiful things they make out of jungle materials. For example, they take a grass-like plant, boil it, and then roll it on their legs to make rope. This rope is then woven together to make clothing, bracelets, hammocks, purses, carrying straps for water gourds and blow guns, etc. One of their church leaders introduced himself and spoke about his village in Woarani, which was translated to Spanish and then to English. He said that even though we cannot understand each other now, some day we will all be together in heaven and we will be able to talk together about all the great things God has done. It was also our pleasure to meet Dyuwi, who was one of the men involved in the spearing party that killed the American missionaries Ed McCully, Jim Elliot, Pete Fleming, Roger Youderian and MAF pilot Nate Saint in 1956. Dyuwi later became a Christian when Elizabeth Elliot (widow of Jim Elliot) and Rachel Saint (sister of Nate Saint) came to live with the tribe shortly after the missionaries were killed. Dyuwi's face has joy written on it.  Every time an MAF plane comes in, he makes a special effort to walk from his home at the end of the runway to where the plane parks so that he can pray with the pilot. His prayers (in Waorani) always include a thanks to God for the women who came with the message about Christ so many years ago.  What a testimony to a changed life through the Gospel!
The hut where we danced at Tiweno
Its a little hard to describe what life is like in Shell. Learning the language is hugely important as English is not widely used. The town felt safe, and was comfortable with a great public transit system.  It possessed a strange (to us) mix of modern and not so modern living. American clothing and music are valued there and cell phones are common. They have lots of internet cafes. Grocery stores are small and numerous. Generally the stores are a combo of farmer market stand and convenience store. You may have to pay for toilet paper or bring it with you, and because of plumbing issues you throw it away instead of flushing it. On the roads, people pass anywhere they want, use their horn to communicate about everything and seatbelts and carseats (while required by law) are not usually used.

One of the big differences we noticed in culture is a different view of time and planning. Planning ahead is not so common as it is in our culture.  The cultural attitude is, why plan ahead when the plan will just change anyway? The culture tends to puts people first. It would be rude to leave the people you are interacting with if you have not finished your time with them, just because you may have an appointment elsewhere. There is a big emphasis on hospitality and it is rude to not greet everyone personally when you go someplace and see people you know. Most everyone goes outside in the early evening to go to the shops and socialize with neighbors, family and friends.

Pinchos - Chicken and Grubs (no we didn't try grubs)
Anyone who know me well knows how I love food (someone there said she had never met anyone who got so excited about eating) so of course I will write a little about that. We would often go out for meals, which were typically only a couple dollars per person. Restaurants were commonly either lunch-only places or dinner-only places. They were usually in the lower level of a family's house, a casual affair with the family around. It was almost like being invited into their home to eat. When you walk into the restaurant, it was important to greet everyone there with hola or buenas dias (in the morning), buenas tardes (in the afternoon) or buenas noches (at night). Sometimes we would get flustered trying to remember the right greeting for the time of day and say the wrong one which was always amusing! 
Typical Almuzero
Amazing fish and fried plantains

The traditional meal for lunch is almuerzo, which was often the only item being served at the restaurant and exact recipe changed from day to day. It was usually some variation on delicious fresh juice, soup, and a small piece of meat with rice and beans. Papas fritas (french fries) were almost always served. Menus with pictures on the wall were just as likely to be decoration as representative of what you could order, as availability depended on what the owners were cooking up that day. One of my favorite things to eat were the barbecued chicken skewers sold on the street (pinchos).  The food we missed the most was salad! We took the recommendation that we not eat salad because it could be washed with tap water.  Tap water is only drunk by those who have adapted to the microbial content of the water and is a big no-no for turistas.  For this reason we drank either treated water, bottled water or soda. 
Overlooking Quito on the hike toward Pichincha
Pichincha, taken from 14,500' above sea level

After our time in Shell, we spent three days in Quito as tourists. Quito is very modern and it feels a little like Miami. The high elevation means it hard to walk up hills and its easy to get a sunburn. Some highlights were taking a bus tour around the city and seeing the old part of Quito with its beautiful churches. We also took a cable car up one of the mountains and then hiked up a trail, achieving an altitude over 14,500 feet. Joe wanted to be able to say he had hiked to a higher point than any of his friends in the lower 48 United States. We also took a mountain bike ride out out near a volcano called Antisana. That area of Ecuador reminded me of the breaks around the Snake River.  However, due to the high altitude, the flora was much like tundra. If you ever get to Quito, check out Zinc Gastro Bar. We had one of the best meals we have ever had there!

Overlooking Quito
A Church in Quito

Looking toward Pichincha

Lake and "tundra" at over 13,000 ft. near Antisana
On the way down from Antisana
On the way down from Antisana

Grandpa Scott and Grace pick "Olaf" carrots

While it was nice to have time alone as a couple, we missed Gracie so much! It was especially hard when we would call on FaceTime and she would ask us to hold her. While I'm not sure we could take that much time away from her again, we are proud of how well she did with her grandparents. She had great bonding time with them. They said she knew where we where at and that we were coming back soon for her. One the last day before we got to see her again, she told us she was going to run and grab us!

After this trip, we definitely think that missionary aviation could be a good fit for us. It also opened our eyes to see how many options there are for other ways to help others. Over all, our main takeaways were that:

1) It was not as deserted or spartan as we thought it could be.
2) There is a lot of variety and people tend to do the same type of work overseas that they did at home.
3) It is important to view your work there as not just a job but as a ministry where the most crucial aspect is developing authentic and positive relationships with people.

On a much more personal note, the trip was an important part in my journey to understand my relationship with God and my part in His plan.  To be honest, I worry about Gracie and that she will not have the family ties or opportunities that she would in the States. It's so easy to believe the myth that if you work hard enough, you can provide a perfect life for your kids and that if you could, they will be happy. I worry that I don't have myself and my own life figured out, so how can I be a good representative for God? It's definitely easier to pretend like you have it all figured out than to do the hard work of really understanding what you believe and why, and then living that way consistently.

The truth is that while the idea of moving to another country to do missionary aviation forces me to think about these things, it cannot give me the answers. It cannot transform me or satisfy me or validate me. Only a developing personal relationship with the God who knows me perfectly and still loves me unconditionally can do that.

God is not asking me to be perfect or to try harder to get everything together. He is asking me to trust Him. In some ways that is easier than trying to do things myself but it is also hard because I know God wants me to give Him my whole heart and my life. He is asking me to give up having it all MY way for His perfect way, so that I can taste and see that He is good. It is not easy and it is painful and I fail, but I wouldn't have it any other way.

I believe this is the kind of love that transforms, not because of fear or for personal gain, but because of relationship. Just like in a marriage or as a parent, where you chose to do or not to do something you might otherwise do because you love the other person, so it is with God. He loves us and always forgives us, but if we chose to do things we want that are against what He says, then it hurts our relationship with Him.

While we are unsure of what the future holds for us, we know that God is using all of our experiences to prepare us. Every day God calls me to a closer relationship with Him, to spend time with Him and read His Word, and to allow Him to make me more like Christ. He is calling me to figure out what I enjoy, what I'm good at, and how I can use my skills and passions to help others. He is asking me to show other people the same love and grace He has shown me. He is asking Joe and me to learn as much as we can so that we can make good decisions about the things we can control, and then to trust Him with everything else.

I believe that if I put my relationship with God first, then the other things like supporting Joe in his ministry, raising Gracie, where we live and what I do will all fall into place at the right time.

Thank you again for all your prayers and well wishes! They mean so much to us. A few specific things we are praying about for the next few months are:

1) Joe has a mild colorblindness to red and green, which has caused a night-flying restriction to his medical certificate that is required for him to be a pilot. He is in the process of scheduling a test of demonstrated ability for color perception with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in order to obtain a permanent exemption from restrictions due to his limited color perception.  He expects to take the test within a few weeks, so prayer for a successful outcome would be appreciated.
2) I am helping out with a Bible Study at church and considering whether or not I should go on our church's short-term mission trip to India in January.