Wow, what a day yesterday was. We continued our work projects in the morning. As I have mentioned before, the students are working really hard. The pace of this trip has caught up with the team a bit. A few of us are not feeling great and needed to take the morning to recoup and gain some strength. We made some great progress on our projects and look forward to wrapping them up tomorrow morning.
Yesterday was our first day of VBS here at El Refugio. We were so encouraged because the day before students had gone into town and passed out invitations. We had 132 children show up. All of the efforts that the students and leaders had put into preparing really showed. The goal is to demonstrate the love of our God for these kids through the program, the game time, the craft and the way that we relate to each other. We are looking forward to having the students return this afternoon for our second day with them. In small and large ways, our students are reaching out with this message and sharing it with the children. As always, the opportunity to serve has proven to be more of a blessing for us than we expected. God is so good.
Tomorrow many of the students are challenging themselves with the perimeter hike around the property. In order to see the sunrise, we will be leaving for the hike between 4 and 5 in the morning. It is an amazing experience and I am grateful that so many students are up for the challenge. We will begin packing up and preparing for our departure tomorrow afternoon as well.
Enjoy some of the pictures from VBS yesterday.
We have had an exciting couple of days here in Ecuador. Sunday we had the opportunity to visit with our FBCG missionaries, Brock and Nancy Lunginbill. They have been here in Ecuador for about 6 years and they shared how God called them from a fairly typical life in the Western Suburbs and into a ministry here in Ecuador that is reaching a subculture in the city of Quito that was overlooked or worse, intentionally told that they were not welcome inside the walls of the church. This was the beginning of La Roca Skate Church (you read that correctly). Brock and Nancy have discovered a way to reach a segment of the youth culture through skateboarding and La Roca is the result. There isn’t the time here to go into all the details, but everyone on the team was captivated by the creativity of the ministry, how God led Brock and Nancy to reach out to these students and the work that God is accomplishing through La Roca. It inspired us to think about how God might desire to use TREK and FBCG to creativity reach students that are not being reached elsewhere.
Yesterday was our third work day of the trip. We continued on some of the projects that I had mentioned earlier and began a couple of new ones. Our students are committed to working hard and encouraging each other as we seek to make the most of this time here in Ecuador. My team began the work of setting the foundation for a bridge that will cross a ravine on the trail. It was intense work but all day I don’t believe that I ever heard one student complain. We were literally carrying rocks down the side of the mountain in order to prepare for the concrete tomorrow and the students worked non-stop, all day to get the project done. I can say with confidence that you would all be very proud of our students.
We had another work day this morning, and will follow with VBS this afternoon. Half of our team went into the city to invite the children to join us. Please be praying that we would be effective in demonstrating the love of Jesus despite all of our language and cultural differences. The students have worked hard to prepare and are excited to see what God will do in the lives of the children that join us and in our own lives.
One prayer request, Julia Sanderson, one of our leaders and fluent Spanish speaker dislocated her knee a couple of days ago. The doctors were able to reset her knee however, in order for her to have a further medical check-up, she will be returning home today. She worked really hard with Julie Hartsock and the students to prepare for VBS and we know that she will be missed and she will miss being a part of this element of our trip. Please pray for a safe trip for Julia and that she would not require any surgery or further medical treatment to her knee.
God continues to show up on the trip in mighty ways. We will have some much more to share with you all when we return at the end of the week. Thanks for the prayers and I will let you know how things go tomorrow after VBS.
On Thursday and Friday, our team made the 7 hour bus ride into the jungle destination of Puyo. For most on our team, they had never experienced anything like this. This jungle is a part of the Amazon Basin and offered us the opportunity to experience God’s creation in new and fresh ways. After arriving, we took a nearly 4 hour hike throughout the dense jungle. About half way through our hike, we arrived at the river. We swam our way around a bend in the river to a hidden waterfall. It was breathtaking (mostly because of the experience and partly because of the temperature of the water). The students slept that evening in open air huts (under mosquito nets) next to the river. Clearly this stretched most of our students (and leaders) outside of their comfort zones but what impressed me is how everyone embraced the experience and saw the value in this incredible opportunity. I found that extremely encouraging.
The next morning began with a much shorter hike back to another waterfall for the baptism service. 24 members of our team made the decision to identify themselves with Christ through baptism. It was truly an amazing experience to hear each student share how them came to know Christ as their savior and now had come to a place in their faith journey where they wanted to follow Him in obedience. I have amazing opportunities as a Pastor to share in these significant moments with the students and each year this one proves to be both humbling and encouraging. I can hardly overstate the privilege it is to baptize these students and I thank God for the opportunity.
Our jungle trip concluded by facilitating a VBS program in a small town called Rio Negro. We had about 54 children show up for the program and our kids immediately jumped in and began building relationships. Our goal was to offer a glimpse of the love of Christ in the 2 hours that we were with them. The ministry for children that exists in this little town is primary facilitated by one woman who has a heart for these kids. Her commitment and dedication to these children was a testimony and challenge for our students and the partnership that we were able to offer was a blessing for her.
It has been an incredible couple of days. We arrived late last night and allowed the team to sleep in a bit this morning. Today the kids are participating in a 2 hour solo time. I wish that you could have heard them share the feedback from this. For most, it was the largest amount of time that they have ever designated for the specific purpose of meeting with God. Their insights and feedback have been amazing. Currently, we are divided into 3 groups, some are experiencing the programing that is offered to the Ecuadorians for leadership development and team building while the others visit the equator.
Tomorrow we will have the privilege of visiting with FBCG missionaries Brock and Nancy Lunginbill. They run a very unique ministry called La Roca Skate church that reaches reaches out to Ecuadorian youth with the gospel through a skate park. I am really looking forward to them sharing their story with our team.
Next week we will focus primarily on work projects and facilitating VBS with the Cala Cali community here at El Refugio. Thank you for your on going prayers. We look forward to sharing all that God is doing in and through this trip.
We had our first full work day today. The students were divided into 4 different teams and 4 different projects. One group worked on a sanding and sealing a huge telephone pole that is going to be on the challenge course here at El Refugio. This new element is called the Leap of Faith. Students will climb the pole and then stand on a small platform on the very top. The very last aspect of the challenge is to leap from the platform on the top of the pole and reach out for bar that is just out of reach (hence the name Leap of Faith) The second team was working on the side of the mountain preparing the site for this element of the challenge course. They had to dig out the side of the mountain in order to create a level spot for groups to meet and to facilitate the element. They had to cop down a tree by hand (the chainsaws are busy in other locations) just in order to develop the necessary space. Our third group was removing a “hedge row”. The term hedge row is a gross understatement. These are 40 foot trees that have dense growth. Most of these students spent their day with machetes in hand, removing the brush and creating piles of limbs to be burned later. Lastly, our fourth group spent their day laying a concrete slab behind the workshop. This group really learned to function effectively as team and to support each other.
You would all be really proud of these students. They worked incredibly hard all day and I never heard one complaint.
Our evening concluded with a time worship and our study of John 15. We are discussing what it means to follow Christ with reckless abandon. Jesus taught his disciples to abide in Him and as a team we spent time trying to understand what that looks like for us. The students brought amazing insight to the discussion and I am encouraged by how to are learning together as a team.
Tomorrow morning we leave for the jungle. We are be baptizing students in the basin of a waterfall in the jungle on Friday morning and the students will be leading VBS in a small jungle town on Friday evening. We will be out of contact until Saturday morning. We look forward to sharing all about this when we return from the jungle.
Today, our first full day here, we learned all about El Refugio through an Adventure Race which included a variety of leadership activities and a few just fun challenges all around the camp and CalaCali. Note the high ropes and zip line
This evening we had opportunity to worship and connect with God on a deeper level as we prepare our hearts to grow our faith these next two weeks.
All is well and everyone is healthy
We have arrived at El Refugio safe and sound. With the exception of our bus showing up late at the church and attempting to cram everyone and our luggage into a bunch of minivans (thanks for everyone’s flexibility by the way), our travel went relatively smooth. Upon arriving here at camp, We were greeted with some warm soup and some fresh bread. The students have settled into their rooms and looking forward to getting a great night of sleep following a long day.
Tomorrow morning, following breakfast we will introduce the students to our devotional focus for our two weeks in Ecuador. We will be exploring what it means to be a follower of Christ from those who originally left everything in their pursuit of Jesus, the Disciples. Our goal is to consider for ourselves the call to follow Christ and to “go all in” in our own faith. Continue to pray of us as we learn together from God’s word and take on the challenge of following Christ with reckless abandon.
I look forward to sharing how God is working and moving among the team.
Following our time of devotions, we will have an orientation to the property and the ministry of El Refugio, followed by some team building exercises. In the afternoon, we will begin our work project. Thanks again for all the prayers and support. I will share more again tomorrow evening and post some pictures form our first day in Ecuador.