Having never been to South America before I was naturally nervous and excited when I signed up for Discovery's first trip to Ecuador. However, having the chance to participate in a Mission trip for Discovery as well as having the opportunity to meet our sponsor child and her family, far outweighed any concerns. Upon arriving in Ecuador any trepidation I had was immediately taken away. Not only had Compassion International done a fantastic job of arranging all the details of the trip, but I immediately felt welcomed by the warm and friendly people. Being the adventurous type anyway, I jumped into the experience wholeheartedly, wanting to soak in as much as possible of the culture and the people. The 3 hour trip from Guayaquil to our base in Echeandia passed quickly, talking amongst our group and getting to know the translators who accompanied us and enjoying the sights of the countryside. Arriving in Echeandi, we were introduced to the very friendly managers of our hotel.
The first night we drove up to the church in Echeandia was a humbling experience. The families of the church were all there to meet us, with the children lining the stairs that led to the church, holding candles, and welcoming all of us. That was an emotional and wonderful experience that will be with me the rest of my life.
The celebration and worship that night was touching and enlightening, with many of the children participating in music and dance. There is such a love for God among the families in this small community that the feeling of joy is in every corner of the building. Working at the churches in Echeandia, Sabanatilla, and Camaron, helping wherever we were needed and then celebrating with the children in the afternoons, gave me more than I could ever give back. This was truly a blessed experience and never once did I ever feel anything but welcomed and valued.
The highlight of the trip for me though was meeting our sponsor child, Jordana. Jordana and her family live in the small community of Camaron, the location of Discovery's partner church. After meeting at the church, I went with Jordana, and my assigned translator, to her family's home and was able to meet her parents, aunt, brothers, sisters, and some cousins - a joyous experience. Among other jobs, Jordana's father manages a dairy and takes the milk from the dairy to a cheese making facility near their home. While at the house, Jordana's father went to the cheese maker and returned with a special gift for me, a 2 kilo block (that's 4.4 pounds) of Mozzarella cheese. The cheese looked wonderful. Though I couldn't bring it home with me, I gifted it to the church in Echeandia, who could certainly put it to good use. All the churches that we worked with offer lunches to the kids who attend their programs, so the cheese, I'm sure, was well used.
After 3 days of working with the various churches and meeting so many wonderful families, we had a fun day with all of our sponsor kids at a local water park. Where we were able to relax and spend the day swimming and playing games with all of the sponsored children. Another detail that Compassion provided for was bringing in a large group of translators so that communication was never a problem. This made the day at the water park even more special for Jordana and her mother.
This experience has motivated me to not only participate in more mission trips in the future, but to learn functional Spanish so that I can relate directly to the kids and their parents.
Again, I gained much more than I could have ever imagined on this trip, and would urge anyone who has ever considered going on a mission trip to definitely do it!
Traveling to an unfamiliar place to participate in a mission trip and finally meeting my sponsor child who I had been communicating with through letters for the previous six months. All this led to many feelings and questions.
But all of the anxiety and doubts were assuaged the moment I saw Solanda for the first time as she waited patiently in line for a meal at church.
I walked over to her and without hesitation she wrapped her arms around me, squeezed me tightly and said “Madrina” with such joy. It brought tears to my eyes and it was then and there I realized how thankful I was that I trusted in the Lord in sending me to Ecuador.
Before I met Solanda, I worried about many little things like what were suitable topics to write to her about. Will she be excited to see me? Will she recognize me or what will we talk about?
I went on to serve Solanda her meal, play “pato pato ganzo” (duck duck goose) with her, meet her family and visit her home. We bonded very quickly that first day and the conversations flowed so naturally. Our environments are drastically different, but our love for God is the same.
I was so humbled to sneak a peek into her life. Letter writing has so much more meaning after meeting her. If you've never been on a mission trip before I encourage you to consider the benefits of serving the Lord in new ways in Ecuador and stepping outside of your comfort zone. God will use you, as he did me, in ways you might never imagine!
I traveled to Ecuador with 10 acquaintances and many questions, but I left with joyful memories, a “daughter” and 10 brothers and sisters in Christ from my church.
November 14th will always carry a special place, much like an anniversary or the birthday of a loved one. You see, on November 14th I finally met Darli Alexander Jimenez Rendón face to face.
I have known this boy for over a year. I would see his face every morning on my refrigerator as I loaded my Dunkin Donuts K-cup into the Keurig. I would be reminded of him when my 3 year Paisley would grab his picture and come to Ashley and I asking, “can we pray for our boy?” I would eagerly await opening the mail any time we received envelopes from Compassion, hoping there would be a newly drawn picture, a new photo, or any type of correspondence. My family and I have known Darli Alexander for some time in these intangible ways, but today he was an actual 8 year old boy in my physical presence.
At first he was one of 60 kids running around and playing. He blended in, having fun with his friends, not really noticing the group of Americans aside from the fact they were serving lunch. Then I was called over by one of our interpreters, Angie. In Spanish Angie asked this young boy, “do you know who he is,” while pointing to me. Darli (who going forward I will refer to as Alexander as that is what he prefers to go by) quietly shook his head “no” and continued eating his rice and fried chicken. Angie then responded, “el es tu Padrino.” (he is your Godfather). At this announcement, Alexander stopped mid bite, grew a smile from ear to ear, and from that point to the end of the day he became my shadow. If I went outside, he was by my side. If I played soccer, he was there on my team. No matter where I went he was never more than an arm’s reach away. During the day our conversations were limited. Not limited due to a language barrier, as I have always been confident in my Spanish and if worse came to worse we had interpreters at our disposal, rather it was limited as he seemed like he didn’t know what to say or was being shy or even more simply he wanted nothing more than to be in my presence.
Fortunately our day did not end at the church. Thanks to the wonderful partnership and planning of Compassion International a visit to Alexander’s home was prearranged. After the children’s events for the large group ended, a small intimate group including team members from Discovery, interpreters, and I walked with Alexander to his house. We were greeted by his mother, step father and one of his two younger sisters (the youngest was napping during our visit). The family invited us into their home, which was not more than 14ft by 14ft in size and completely constructed of bamboo. It was here we spent part of our afternoon asking each other questions about our lives. I learned that the man Alexander calls his “padre” is not his biological father, but his step father that is raising and loving Alexander as his own. I learned that his mother takes care of the house and kids while his father works on the farms in the area and anywhere else he can find work. I learned that Alexander shares a room with his two sisters, him on the top level of the bunk beds and his sisters on the bottom. I learned that Alexander has only fallen off the top bunk twice. They learned about my family, about my beautiful wife, mi hija Paisley y mi hijo Levi. They then asked me when I was coming back and if I was going to bring mi esposa (wife). Sadly, I couldn’t give a definitive answer to either question. And finally we prayed together.
And then our time was over as soon as it seemed to have started. Both Alexander and I didn’t want the day to end as neither of us seemed to want to break from our final embrace.
Whether I do come back, or will never have the opportunity to go again, my commitment to remaining a part of Alexander’s life will not change. I have faith that God will care for Alexander and his family, and I know I have been shown an unconditional love by someone who simply wanted to be in my presence.
WHY DID I WANT TO GO?
My very first Sunday at Discovery Church was the Sunday when they introduced our church plant in Ecuador and had 300 children that needed sponsors. Being very new to being back in church on a regular basis, this was not the service I was expecting and it was not what I thought I needed at the time. As usual, I was completely wrong and God was perfectly right.
When the Ecuador trip was announced I didn’t hesitate in wanting to go. I wanted to see and experience for myself what it was like to live in poverty on a daily basis so I could understand, if only for a week. I wanted my sponsor child to be able to meet me and know that there was an actual person on the other side of the world that really does care about her. I wanted to meet her. I wanted to get to know her and her family. I wanted to meet new people from another country with another culture and share in loving Jesus with them.
WHAT WAS I EXPECTING? WHAT WAS THE REALITY?
I expected: to be quite uncomfortable. I had never been on a mission trip before. In my mind I had pictured us all sleeping in one room…in a hut…on a dirt floor…in the tropical heat…with no air conditioning…and no modern bathrooms.
The reality: Aside from most of us being without hot water for most of the trip we were all so well cared for and looked after. We were treated as very special guests. I felt guilty. I felt guilty for living so well while I was there.
I expected to meet a little girl who may or may not recognize my name and face, but didn’t really know who I was. I’ve watched the Compassion videos about how excited children are when they get a new sponsor, when they receive a letter, when they are enjoying the meals and activities in the centers. Quite frankly, I thought much of that was most likely “advertising” and embellished in order to pull at my heartstrings. I really did not know how my little girl or any of the other children there would actually feel about us when we arrived.
The reality: These children really, truly, wholeheartedly love their sponsors. We met and spent time with literally hundreds of children. Only a very small percentage of these children were lucky enough to get to meet their own sponsor during our trip there. Many had asked us if we know their sponsors. Regardless, all (and I mean all) of these children showed us so much love that it was overwhelming. My little girl’s name is Nahely. She and I were blessed to find each other our very first night there. Actually, she made it a point to find me. I was over the moon to see her standing right in front of me and to be able to hold her in my arms. It’s not an overstatement to say we were instantly connected in love. A strong bond was there before I was. The rest of the time I got to spend with her was a blessing bonus I couldn’t possibly describe. All of the children there showered us with so much love that, once again, I felt guilty. I felt guilty for being blessed with so much love when the whole point of my trip was to go there to give it to them.
I expected to meet families living in poverty, the likes of which I’ve only really been exposed to via images on television. I expected to visit homes that we in this country couldn’t imagine having to live in. I expected to see understandable despair and sadness and desperation. I expected to be heartbroken and be exposed to so many “problems” I would want to solve for them.
The reality: Going through the neighborhoods I did see several images that I would see on television. I did visit neighborhoods and homes that I’m not sure I could live in. I did visit homes that were tiny, cramped and housed only the bare necessities, if that. BUT (a big one), the difference is that when I went through the neighborhoods and into the homes, I did not see the despair or sadness or desperation. I did not see that they had nothing. I did not see the suffering I thought I would. I wondered why. It was because of the people. When I walked into the homes I saw them. They had smiles. They had each other. They had what they needed. They seemed free of many of the burdens that we carry with us here while trying to keep up with the Joneses. They seemed free of suffocating from all of the superfluous clutter we have here. In this case I didn’t feel guilty. I felt a little jealous.
I feel like I have a “daughter” now along with a new family with her mother and sister. I think about her all the time. I write to her much more often in the short time since I’ve returned. I daydream about the time we may meet again. I imagine what she’s doing now. I think about all of the children there…and I don’t normally consider myself particularly “kid-friendly”.
My thought process has a new freedom that it didn’t have before. I’m free of thinking I need unnecessary things. I can’t wait to get rid of all the clutter in my life. I no longer spend so much time worrying about what I can and cannot afford because truthfully I have all I need and so much more. And I know I will always have what I need. God will see to that. I came home to a barrage of holiday commercials trying to convince me that I need to buy stuff to show my love to others. In all honesty, things like that were a bit difficult to come home to.
In going over this short memento, I want to emphasize so many points. I want to underline, italicize and bold thought after thought. There was also SO MUCH MORE that I want to shout to anyone who will listen, like how extraordinary the Compassion organization is or how incredible the church staff is and how very very very (very) hard they work every day or how much they all truly care about the community and the children and what they do and how much they all love God. The bottom line is that it’s simply not possible to put words down on paper that could do justice to this experience. It is quite simply a bucket-list item that every single person should have. If everybody knew what an experience like this entails, it would be the #1 bucket-list item for us all.
Today I received a letter from my sponsor child. It was the first letter since our visit. I was so excited as I am with every letter I receive but this one was even more special because now I have more than just a face to put to the letter - I have a hug and a smile. I have heard her voice, heard her laugh, seen the expressions dance across her face. I also know who she is talking about when she says she lives with her mom and sisters. I have met them and prayed WITH them - not just for them.
One of the best parts of the trip was being invited into her home, meeting her mom and all the other family and friends that were there to greet us. She was so proud to show us around her modest little house, with only a couple of plastic chairs that they insisted we sit in.
Our sponsor child is 6 years old. She is very bright and full of spunk! We took a puzzle of the U.S. that I found at the dollar store and the time spent working on that puzzle was such a highlight for me. Seeing her work through it, completing it and then sounding out the English words to us was amazing. This girl is smart! The other highlight was meeting her mom, hearing her story and finding we had many things in common.
This was my first missions trip and I pray it won’t be my last. There were so many reasons why I had not gone before - none of them any good. But now that I have Katherine and her family, I know I will make the trip again - if not this year then the following year.
I also can not say enough about Compassion International and all that they did to inform, educate and come alongside us in every way during our entire trip. It was absolutely incredible to learn and understand how the program works and their transparency was like nothing I have ever seen. The programing and itinerary were fantastic!!
Once it was just a portrait of her on our refrigerator door and a letter with drawings of a river and trees. Now I was in her dilapidated home, surrounded by her family and being offered some cheese. I see her and her sister's room and it takes everything in me to hold back the tears. There are makeshift ceilings and walls. It appears to be made of wood and cardboard and you can smell the rotting mold from the constant rain and humidity. I can't help wonder how this impacts the health of Daniela and her family.
Leaving her home, a part of me wants to save and rescue Daniela from these living conditions. My heart breaks for this child and for so many others living in extreme poverty and I wrestle with the fairness of why one is born into privilege while others suffer abject poverty.
Yet, with my head pressed against the window as the bus drives away, I hear a faint whisper. Perhaps it's the gentle voice of Jesus showing me that Daniela and her family will be alright. I must do what I can do by praying, writing letters of encouragement, and advocating child sponsorships to help release children from poverty. But the rest is in God's hands. His hands hold the world and the hands of all the children.
Heavenly Father, while dads on earth may walk away from their family, You will never walk away. Be with Daniela and her family as you bring comfort, peace and strength. May we trust that Your hands will hold them together and may you use our hands and feet to share your hope and love to others.
I truly believe this was God’s plan for me. After seeing Pastor Scott Kim in the lobby after he returned from Ecuador, I told him I wanted to go. He said a person had cancelled out and there was an opening. After much prayer and my husband Bob’s blessing, I signed up. This all happened one month before the trip.
We had our schedules and teams. I can’t believe how well we all got along. Each day was an adventure! Compassion International had sent a team of exceptional staff who worked alongside of us. We ate our meals prepared by an amazing cook. We stayed at hotels and had our own rooms. We went to three churches to help serve lunch to children after singing and acting, spoke to parents, helped with building our sister church on its grand opening, prayed alongside pastors and their congregation. Each evening we debriefed. We shared and learned so much from our experiences.
The day I met my seven-year old sponsor child I instantly fell in love. I was very humbled by her large family and living conditions. Though I could not fix the issues I knew I would pray very hard for her and her family. I also knew I needed to write more often to give her encouragement and prayer. On our play day, I gave her gifts and saw a smiling face throughout the day. We both had a great time. Leaving her was very emotional for me. I am so glad I listened to God and pray I will be able to visit again soon.
I keep the photo of her and me together on all my devices and it will be forever in my heart.
Going to Ecuador changed my heart and outlook for the better. I think of my sponsor child every single day now, and write to him often through Compassion’s app because I know now how important those letters are to him. I had no idea how impactful sponsorship really was until the only question they repeatedly asked me was “when are you coming back?”
I highly recommend going on a trip like this to meet your child. You will gain insight into their daily life, their community, their family and how you fit into this picture. You will foster a deep bond with your child and their family. You will come back understanding more about how to keep that relationship alive. And you, like me, will be blessed to carry the message forward to inspire others to participate actively with their child.