Why Ecuador? Last June, Matt and I were searching for a change. We wanted to use the first year of our marriage to give back to the world and serve others together. So after a few months thinking and praying we decided to leave jobs that we loved, get rid of tons of stuff, raise support and move to Quito, Ecuador to volunteer with GO International for four months. Best decision ever! The couple that started GO, Greg and Christa Baca, are the types of people we all want to be like when we grow up. They've devoted their lives to serving the poor and forgotten in several countries across the world and moved their ministry headquarters to Quito a few years ago. Basically, these are the people you want in your inner circle. Creative, passionate, caring and willing to push you towards a better version of yourself. A huge draw towards moving to Ecuador was being mentored and taught by the Baca's. We love you guys. Forever and ever and ever. And if you're looking for a place to donate financially or even for a place to serve internationally PLEASE check GO International out. In our opinion, you won't find a more worthy crew.
We are currently nearing the end of our time here in Quito and although the future still looks a bit unclear for us, this was the best decision we could have made within our first year of marriage. Last July, we moved in to a large home and have had over fourteen different housemates since being here. The showers are cold-ish, the washing machine always stops working mid-cycle, dog barks and car alarms are a daily (hourly) part of the neighborhood soundtrack but this home has changed our lives. Living in such close community with like minded people who want to make this city a better place (and who like to dance) has been incredible. Never for a moment did we doubt this move. It would be impossible to share all the stories from Ecuador in one single blog post but we wanted to include a few snapshots of our time here. If we're ever in the same area and you would like to have coffee (or donuts) we'd love to share more about what went on during our time living in South America. It's been a beautiful, humbling, life changing, hard and joyous ride.
And now...the photos!
Our first week here, we were given the opportunity to visit an AIDS orphanage. Most of the children don't even know they're sick. The parents of the little ones most likely died from the disease and some of the kids were born sick and some not. We played soccer, loved on puppies, helped make their lunch and hugged a lot of adorable kiddos. We were greeted by a little girl holding a water hose and the only way to enter was to run directly into the spray. Kids are kids, ya know? And this day we all had a blast.
GO is one of those not so typical organizations that's constantly bringing creativity to a new level. We helped put together art exhibitions, called campaigns, in the some of the most popular areas of Quito. We went to the party districts, the touristy areas and anywhere with high foot traffic to try and start deeper conversations with people walking by. I love that Greg and Christa are always thinking of ways to engage people by getting to know them on a deeper level. And the crazy thing? It works.
We've also been part of this beautiful church plant called ONE Uio. Greg and Christa helped start the gathering as a safe place for people of all backgrounds and beliefs to join together and learn about the love of God, especially His unending grace towards us. Questions are encouraged. Doubts are welcome. Life change happens. Every Tuesday, we meet together in a bar called House Of Rock to worship and hear about Jesus. We've made some of our closest friends at ONE and Matt even got a chance to speak one night. It was amazing and you can check it out here, if you want. (Proud wife moment!) We've seen God change people's lives. We've seen healings, witnessed miracles, worshipped in a language we don't understand, felt the Holy Spirit, broken bread with friends while sharing in their heartbreaks. It's been one of the most beautiful, moving churches I've ever been a part of.
Ecuador is home to some of the most amazing people and a lot of them come from extremely hard times. A large part of the population is well below the poverty line. We've witnessed street children trying to sell us candy in dangerous neighborhoods at 1 am with no parents in sight. We've seen prostitutes in the party districts because it's a legal trade here. We've seen people snorting cocaine in club bathrooms. And we've experienced injustice and poverty at a level I didn't know could exist. I honestly don't think we can go back to 'normal' American life now that our eyes have been opened to the darkness in the world. Loving people makes you feel alive. It's the most beautiful natural high one can experience. I want to hold people in my arms instead of just donating my money towards a cause (but don't get me wrong, donating money is totally crucial and we'll continue to do so). We want to invite people into our home for a meal instead of just taking a photo of them to post on Facebook. My heart has grown three sizes bigger thanks to the people of Ecuador, the loveliest souls who shared their lives with us over these several months.
There are a number of different organization that GO partners with and one of my absolute favorites is Pan de Vida. Pan de Vida operates fully on donations from folks like you and me. They serve over 500 meals a week to some of the poorest families in Quito. The most heartbreaking part is over 65% of the people coming for meals are under the age of 7. These kids slay me. One of the best parts of my weeks were letting them play with my hair (they think it's candy), sit in my lap and teach me Spanish. Matt volunteered weekly in the kitchen cooking and serving meals while I got to play with the kiddos. My heart. I can't handle it. I cry every time I think of these precious faces that wait in line for hours to be fed a hot, healthy meal. Pan de Vida has a hard time purchasing enough food for all the people that need to be fed. Just last night, over 300 people came out and we turned 80 away because there weren't enough funds for food. This can't be the normal. If you would like to donate to help out this amazing place they would LOVE it. Click here to make it happen and change a families life.
There were a number of different experiences we've had where cameras weren't allowed. Our first week here, we were able to help throw a dinner party for over 90 sex workers in Quito. We rented out one of the fanciest restaurants downtown and completely decorated the building, filling it with fresh flowers and photo backdrops. We invited the ladies to come have a sit down dinner while we served them and taught them to make flower crowns and told them how valuable they are to the Lord. How beautiful He thinks they are and how they were created for a purpose. The night ended with a dance party and every lady present went home with $30 so they didn't miss any earnings from taking the night off. Although we weren't allowed to take photos, the night will remain in our memory forever.
Every week we visit a juvenile prison and spend an hour with 20 of the boys in the long term offender group. These fellas have completely stolen our hearts! We play games, talk to them about life and try to remind them that they're not forgotten and have a grand plan for their life, even though they've experienced hardships. Many of these boys are in prison because they were stealing to try and take care of their families. Some have committed darker crimes but we don't talk about their past, instead pray over them and try to fill their hearts with joy and positive messages. Some of these young men come from extremely hard circumstances and may (hopefully not) end up back on the streets doing illegal activity once they're free from the juvenile prison. Our heart is that they see how they can become men of integrity and earn honest wages for themselves and their families. Again, photos are never allowed but just imagine the craziest South American dance party with 20 young men and a crew of Americans. Yes, we dance a lot.
We also partnered with a ministry called Dunamis, a day program for young girls rescued from sex and labor trafficking. We got to spend a few days working with the girls and helped them learn english, make tagua jewelry and even took some of the girls to the zoo. A lot of them had never been to a zoo before so it was precious to see them running around trying to complete the zoo animal scavenger hunt. These beautiful ladies are all under seventeen and some even have children born into rough situations. The organization is currently raising money to build a safe house (it'll be the ONLY one in Ecuador) where the girls can spend the night and be hidden away from people trying to hurt them. Please consider checking out the website and donating towards the cause. These are the most beautiful, affectionate, sweet girls and they've experienced more horror in their little lives than most of us have even seen in movies. I don't want to share their stories here but know they're rescued from complete darkness and being brought into the light of Christ. I love, love, love this organization.
We knew in our hearts we had to come here and thanks to SO many friends, family members and even strangers we were able to raise $9,000 in six weeks. It was unbelievable and we THANK YOU from the bottom of our hearts. We hugged orphans and fed the hungry and shared the hope of Jesus with ladies in prostitution because of your generous hearts.
For me, I needed to find the heart of Christ again. Moving here helped me reconnect with the heart of God, the heart for the poor and forgotten. My spirit has been awakened and I feel an even greater burden for the voiceless and those in the cycle of poverty. We aren't sure what our next steps are but we do know that our lives will forever be centered on bringing love, light and hope to those who have lost it. We love you forever, Ecuador. Thank you for loving us so well and for allowing us the great privilege to love your people. Nothing but tears of joy and fond memories for every single soul we've encountered.
Again, there are so many stories I left off for sake of time but if you'd like to reconnect with us once we're back in the states let us know. We could talk for hours about the goodness of God and the beautiful people here. Plus, I have a lot of fall drinks to catch up on. Lastly, love people where you're at. You don't have to move to a different country to serve the poor. Let's live our lives to bring honor to those who have lost their hope. I can't think of anything worth pouring our time and money into than sharing the Gospel with people. And in a way where they become family to us. Nobody wants to be a project. Everybody wants love.
(photos by Matthew Arbo, Steve Little and Nick Livingston)