THE CAMP IN CUENCA
I cannot believe that it is JUNE!!!!! I cannot believe I am in the United States!! So much has been happening that it has been difficult to find the time to sit down and fill you all in. I am sorry if you have all been waiting on me…I know it has been months. So, let me catch you up!
We successfully planned, fundraised, and held our own camp in Cuenca. It was a lot of work for Noele and me, being that we were the shoulders upon which fell the majority of the responsibility. We held the camp at Mensejeros de La Paz, which is Flor’s new place. We were originally trying to limit the camp to about 15 campers, which grew to 29 when we decided to hold it there, because there are three houses and we had to include all of the residents. We ended up having about 55 volunteers at the camp, not including the 8 or so who worked there during the weekend. We all slept on the floor on mattresses, and had to snuggle up to each other to keep warm, but it was a memorable experience, which lit a fire in many of our volunteers to keep going with Cristo Vive. We had so many first-time counselors, which is such a blessing, because they want to continue with camps, fundraising and telling their friends about the ministry. Although there was quite a bit of stress involved to make sure everything ran smoothly, there were several moments during which I was able to sit back and hear testimonies of counselors and campers, see the smiles on their faces, and know that we are accomplishing something beautiful for the Kingdom. One young man, who is about 20, has had a very difficult life, and the people in his life who were supposed to love and care for him, abused and abandoned him. He told his counselor of the horrors he experiences in his own home…things I don’t even care to repeat. We had been warned several times to take extra precautions with him, because if he has a history of seizures when he gets over-excited, and they only recently were able to regulate his medication and schedule to keep him stable, physically and emotionally. On the first day of camp, he shared with his counselor, that, when our bus arrived and he saw all of us, he was afraid and wanted to run, because he saw hordes of what he called “souls”. One of them took him by the hand, telling him not to be afraid, that these “souls” were not going to lead them to Hell. His counselor told him not to be afraid because what he saw were angels, and they were there to protect all of us. It makes me want to cry every time, because I could see the peace, comfort and joy he received during the camp, and especially with the friendship he was able to build with his counselor. He fully enjoyed camp and never once had an incident with his health. What an opportunity to share the love of Christ.
I should mention that we had some visitors with us from stateside (Gene, Jordana, Osito, Gene’s Dad Harold (lovingly referred to as Grandpa by all), Ramon, and Phil). What a joy to have them with us. We all traveled from Cuenca to Quito to hold another camp, and then from there, directly to the coast, to build a wheelchair ramp at the camp we use in Playas. It was so very gratifying, and such a wonderful time of fellowship, but we were exhausted and ready to return to Cuenca.
Noele and I, along with another girl, took a mini-vacation to Baños, a town nestled at the base of a volcano, which attracts a lot of tourism. We bungee-jumped, rode mountain bikes to the various waterfalls, relaxed in volcanic thermal baths, white-water rafted, and even went to the jungle to see some monkeys. It was such a pleasant break and an enjoyable trip for the two of us.
Upon returning to our “home” in Cuenca, we scurried to gather everyone for a party to thank them for the help at camp, and I got a special surprise…an engagement ring!!
For those of you who are just finding out, I apologize, but allow me to fill you in. I met Dario in the spring of last year, soon before returning to the states for the summer. When I came back in September, we quickly became good friends and began sharing our stories. I have, for some reason, always said that I wouldn’t get involved with an Ecuadorian, but, the Lord had other plans. In January, we began officially dating, and, here it is only 5 months later and we are engaged. It’s crazy, even to me, but I am resting in the Lord, and the peace He has given me throughout every step of the journey. There is no date set as of right now, and I appreciate your prayers as we have begun to wade through the processes of paperwork, visas, and the future. I seem to have a knack for the unconventional, so why should this be any different!!
As for me, I am home in Wisconsin for a few months, with mixed emotions. It feels strange leaving "home" to go "home"...I am excited and sad at the same time, kind of like how I felt when I left for Ecuador...oh, dear!! Well, I can be pleased with the results we have seen in Ecuador the last year, and look forward to continued growth. Gene and Jordana have asked me to consider staying in Ecuador for another 2 years to ensure the stabilization of the ministry here, which I have agreed to consider.
When I return to Ecuador the end of August or September, we will hopefully be ready to plan another camp for November. Noele and I finished our year with a camp in Playas and we brought 9 people from Cuenca with us!! What a blessing and a confirmation that our Cuencan friends are finally catching the Cristo Vive bug and are excited to continue. It was an especially special camp for me and many of the campers as it was camp focused on baptizing our campers who have accepted the Lord and been discipled to some degree through our camps, their families, or a church. We have been talking about doing that for some time now, and it was such a precious time for everyone involved. Many family members showed up for the day, participating in our festivities, and receiving the gospel.
I appreciate your prayers as I will be traveling a lot during this time, giving reports and raising more funds in order to continue along the path the Lord has set out for me. I have also been struggling with my health quite a bit over the last few months, and would like to pray for healing, especially for my sinuses, which seem to be a root cause of illness with me. Also, please pray for Noele as she is trying to decide if she should go back with me, or stay here to study and for Dario as he is trying hard to have steady work in order to save some money.
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
The View out of Flor's new Bedroom Window...
Hangin' out with Flor's new Roommate Maricela...
Opening presents from the Grandparents (my Mom and Dad!)
On Friday, February 5, 2010, I met someone who, though I didn’t know it then, would change my life. Her name is Flor. She is about 20 years old (“about”, because she was abandoned as a baby and no one knows her real birthdate. We met by accident in an orphanage in Guayaquil. I will never forget when I first saw her. She was sitting alone on the floor, hunched over, without a shirt on, in a puddle of urine, staring at her hands. I approached her and introduced myself, and then told her that Jesus loved her…at which she scooted away from me screaming hysterically. I took that as a sign…so the next week, after praying and fasting for her, Gene and I returned and were met with a much different experience. Though she was still sitting on the tile floor by herself, when I approached her and asked if we could sing, she nodded and smiled, taking my hand. I began singing some songs in English and whatever Spanish songs I could remember, while Gene prayed and read Scripture. I then prayed a simple prayer with her and explained that Jesus was her friend and wanted to help her and that He was always there for her.
Since then, whenever in Guayaquil, I would visit the orphanage, and helped the others who were ministering there to see that they needed to include her in their activities and make sure she was getting attention too. She and the two other boys with special needs came to our camp the following April and had such a good time, they were NOT happy to go back the orphanage. Flor has a huge smile, a great laugh, and a lot of love for others. She won the hearts of everyone at the Cristo Vive camps, and continues to grow more and more famous as her story circulates throughout Ecuador and the world.
As we spent more time with her and Laura, the director of the orphanage, it became apparent that they lacked much when it came to providing for the needs of the children, especially the special kids, and that the people who lived and worked there were taking advantage of the situation. To be completely honest, they were negligent, and at times, downright abusive. We had many ideas for making it a better place, taking a team of volunteers there to work on one of the houses, but, recently, the people in charge, and the government, decided that they needed to close it down, rebuild it, and start over with new employees and new children. All the children except the three special kids, as it turns out, have some sort of family, with whom they could live. So, we began the search for a home for Flor, Julian and Jose. I am still in awe at how the Lord worked everything out, from the closing down of the orphanage, to the inauguration of a brand-new facility in Cuenca.
This last Sunday, January 23rd, we celebrated Flor’s arrival with chocolate cake and gifts, and we decided that from now on, this would be her “birthday.” She spent the night at our house, and on Monday morning, we made the journey to “Mensejeros de la Paz” (Messengers of Peace).
It is a stunning place with a beautiful view. It is very impressive, the brand new houses with bright orange rooftops, nestled into the mountains. There are areas for physical, occupational, and speech therapy, classrooms, trails, wheelchair accessibility, and space for about 36 orphans and young people with severe disabilities. The criterion to get into this particular place was quite strict, being that they are a facility which has the capacity to care for those who are truly dependent upon others for their basic needs.
We showed Flor around, got to know the workers and some of the others who were also just beginning to arrive, and tried to help where we could. One concern we have is that they are planning on having about 12 residents in each house and only two staff people to care for them. As far as I know, this includes such things as laundry and dishes, which means they will be overwhelmed. And, some of these people have little to no experience working directly with people with special needs. Granted, they do have a nurse, a psychologist and therapists, but I cannot imagine having to care directly for 6 residents. The people that we have spent time with there seem like very nice people with good hearts and that they want to take good care of them, but my desire all along, especially for Flor, is that these children have a place where the love of Christ is shared every day, and the spiritual needs are met, as well as the physical.
Noele and I returned with a few friends the following day, Tuesday, to make sure that Flor was adjusting well. We entertained the handful of residents that share her house, took them for a walk, sang some songs, stretched and helped with lunchtime feeding. After lunch, Flor colored for a while (which she loves!) and then, unfortunately, she started to throw a fit. I have seen this from her a few times before, and so we just kept trying to comfort her, holding her, praying for her, telling her that we love her, while being careful that she didn’t hit, bite or scratch herself or one of us. It did not last very long, and we took her to lay down. She was restless and upset, and I sang to her and held her until I had to leave. I think she is realizing that everything is changing, and that she has no one there that is familiar. She knew that we were going to leave as well.
This is the heartbreaking reality, and I felt horrible leaving her. I keep thinking, “Why do I have more than enough…why do I have so many friends and family who love me and want to take care of me, and Flor has no one, and nothing?? But I know that Flor has God and He loves her more than any of us can. Flor knows who Jesus is, if you ask her, she will point to her heart and to heaven. She loves to pray, for herself and for others, and she is very affectionate and very funny. I know the Lord put her in my path to teach me many things, one of which is that we need to fight for the innocent, and advocate for those who cannot advocate for themselves, love those who need loving, not just ignoring them and letting someone else deal with it. So, please keep on fighting…pray for peace in her heart, and healing of her wounds.