DAY THREE AND FOUR – June 28-29.
Yesterday during our Vacation Bible School activity, we created a traveling photo booth and took over 100 pictures of the local children and their parents. They were so excited today when we helped them to make and decorate their own personal picture frames: “Jesus ama a Pedro “– this was the most challenging activity of the week, as we had to match every photo up with each child, then learn to spell their name for the frame. This photo may be the first photo they’ve ever seen of themselves. This became the most popular activity of the week.
At the work site, six sets of goggles, two wheel barrels, two pick axes, four shovels, several iron chisels, 20-foot wire forms and rebar, a couple lizards and some large beetles were the props used on our 3300 square foot “stage” lit by a very hot sun and virtually no shade. Nevertheless, our new friend, Eunico, directed Wong-Hughes-Schuman and our students as they dug ditches, mixed and poured concrete to finish the foundation walls ahead of schedule.
Down at the VBS site, in addition to the photo activity, games and fun abounded as more songs were sung about Jesus’ love and the final drama unfolded, with Adam and Eve becoming separated from God and Jesus coming to save all mankind from sin.
Today was our fourth and final day to spend with our new friends near Mario’s church in Progresso. We took more pictures of all the children and parents we were able to minister to and as we packed up to head for the work zone, many of us felt a little sense of loss and sadness as several of our students made some significant connections and bonded with these ninos since we arrived on Tuesday.
Some fun “facts and firsts”:
- Every day the ninos rapidly consumed all of the food that we made for them.
- Mrs. Harper made the largest batch of guacamole she’s ever made with limited resources – and it turned out great!
- Mr. Andrews drove his first bus-load of students through the cobble-stone streets of PVR where stop signs and signals are rare and compliance is optional – and everyone made it safely back to the hotel!
- Some students saw their first palm tree, peeled and ate their first mango, swam in the ocean, rode their first plane-ride and tasted ceviche for the very first time on this trip.
Tomorrow we walk down to the community center for a worship service and we will do some shopping and a little beach time afterwards. Then, on Sunday evening , we have all been invited to 15-year-old Lilly’s “Quincienera” which will definitely be a cultural first for everyone.
Please continue to pray for safety and praise God with us that the rain here has held off at the optimal times, allowing us to work and play as planned with little adjustments to our agenda. Continue to pray that we will be able to continue doing the work that God has in store for us these final two days here in PVR.
This morning we were greeted by an awesome sunrise , and the clouds and rain remained yesterday’s news. It made for a hot work day in Progresso, but no one got any major sun-burn nor were there any major injuries. Thank you, again, for your continued prayers and support.
The work crew pulled ahead, taking advantage of our ten hard-working students and led by Kent Hughes and Kenny Wong. The 3300 square foot foundation now has all the rebar reinforcements and frame-work established so tomorrow cement can be mixed and poured. Praise God, they are a day ahead of schedule!
The VBS crew set up shop under two perfectly-placed shade trees which served as the center for the mobile kitchen, craft table and drama/game location. Today’s theme was about David and Goliath, and how God faithfully helped David conquer the giant with three stones. The children sang several songs about God’s love and also played soccer, hung out at a brick wall and really enjoyed the giant, colorful 24-foot parachute game. In addition to the crafts, games, VBS stories and songs, we had the privilege of serving lunch to over 100 children, parents and a few stray dogs.
We asked our student leaders to share their thoughts and pictures with you, so you can hear how God is working in their hearts. Here’s what some of them have to say:
“Today a girl came to me and called me her “Amiga” or in other words her friend and even though we didn’t really have anything to talk about because of the language barrier she asked me if I wanted a bracelet as a gift. I didn’t understand what she meant at first but then she put the bracelet on my wrist. In return I gave her one of my bracelets. It was just really cool to see that people with so little can still give wholeheartedly” – Hannah Meyle
“Working with the children in Puerto Vallarta was cool because when i first walked on the vbs site a little girl came up to me. all i said was “feigo” and pointing to the sky to say it was hot out. this little girl took my hand and lead me through the whole vbs all day. it was really cool that she attached to me for really no reason at all, all i said was “feigo”, and she wouldnt leave my side. it just shows that languages cant keep people apart”. – Liz Naatz
“When Emily was painting nails for the Mexican girls it made me realize how little it takes to put a smile on their faces. Also, this experience here has made me realize how powerful prayer is.” – Elizabeth Daanen
“Playing with the kids and communicating in spite of the language barrier has showed me God’s power while it puts me out of my comfort zone.” – Mike Kenney
“Through the worship songs at the community center, I have seen that there’s more in store for me and there are things that I can work on. I’m learning that God’s love is endless.” – Madison Harris
“Even though the people here have lesser than I do, I can see that they value family and love more than they value material things.” – Matt Terwilliger
“The only difference between space and my stomach, is that space is empty. Seriously, the people here really express themselves and they are so thankful for everything they have.” – Noah Barbel
“I never realized how good serving the children here felt. The smiles on their faces brought so much joy to me.” – Stephen Guevara
“Rendering physical aid and giving spiritual aid at the same time was an encouragement not only to myself but to the others (local kids) who were injured [Nurse Karen had her first injury to tend to today when a nina cut her foot playing soccer with no shoes on] – Karen Harper
“When sitting on the bus, one cheek on the seat!” – Caroline Drayer and Ashley Palese
After our twelve hour trek from the East Campus parking lot to our hotel, Casa Anita, downtown PVR, our adventure has kicked off to a great start! Thank you all for your prayers. The travel here went off without a hitch. Our student leaders are here, working side-by-side with other churches from Evanston and Virginia.
Day One – We settled into the hotel, which is comfortably nestled up two sides of a steep hill overlooking the city and the beach, which is several minutes’ walk away. The guys are staying in 3 rooms on one side of the hill and the girls are in 4 rooms on the other side of the hill. Our home base for the eventing meals and group time is in a community center which is only a few minutes’ walk down the hill around a busy intersection and through some old cobblestone streets. Keep praying for safety as we make this walk daily.
Day Two – After our breakfast and morning devotions, we were bussed from Casa Anita to our worksite across town and approximately 40 minutes away. Mario, our host and local pastor here, told us that Puerto Vallarta is made up of approximately 400 neighborhoods. His church is located in the Progresso neighborhood where several dirt roads, vintage volkswagon beetles and uniformed school children work and play and the dogs and chickens compete with the busy urban traffic.
When we exited the busses, we first had a short meeting at Mario’s church, planted seven years ago in the middle of the city under a large tree. Today there is a park and a new building that serves as a beacon of light for the community. A few short blocks away we found our worksite: another church building foundation 3300 square feet. The work crew chisled out several foundation posts today to tie in the new foundation walls which we will be pouring concrete for, later in the week.
In addition to the steel chisels, hammers, safety goggles, etc. we also fed 75 children and a dozen of their parents at the adjacent basketball court. It was there that we set up our make-shift shelter, PA system and drama center next to the traveling kitchen.
This morning, we prayed asking God to hold off the rain and he answered our prayers. As soon as we put the tarp away and packed up all the food, the rain came.
We are a little sweaty and wet, but so grateful that God has brought us here. Tonight we heard a message about the Love of God from Luke 15, and we learned that we cannot earn his love, we don’t deserve it, but like the prodigal son, we must turn around, and receive God’s love in order to be able to give it.
Many testimonies were shared tonight about tangible ways our students felt God’s love in the arms of the ninos.
Here are a few pictures of what we experienced on our first work day today.
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.
Once again, we had another productive and Spirit-filled day here in Milwaukee! The students have truly been the hands and feet of Jesus during their time here, and it has been evident that the Lord has been moving in and through them and the people of Milwaukee.
Today was our last official “work day”, and much was accomplished! Groups were scattered at different sites within Milwaukee, working on things such as sorting clothes, painting the church our team is staying in, and painting a mural in a local Spanish emersion school. Thank you so much for your prayers. It was evident that the Lord blessed the students with the last bit of energy they needed to end the week off strong! We finished the night off with a time of worship and continued to go through our “Journey” series led by Next Step. The students were then given the chance to pair up with another student or leader within the group in order to have some time to reflect on what the Lord has been doing in their hearts. God was moving in awesome ways tonight, so continue to pray for transformation within the lives of the students.
Tomorrow we will be giving the students a chance to relax and refresh! We will stay back at the church to help with some cleaning, and then we will be heading to beach for a filled with day in the sun!
We have truly been amazed by the team’s enthusiastic attitude towards serving the Lord and His people this week, and cannot wait for you to hear their stories when they return!