While I won't tell you everything that happened in one post, I just want to give you a quick "get ready!" because the next few posts I write will be stories, graces and interesting happenings from our mission in Ecuador.
I want to begin by saying this trip was infinitely more incredible than I ever imagined. In all honesty, amidst the hectic life on campus, planning a Koinonia retreat, keeping up with my personal relationships and making an earnest effort to take better care of my health and well-being, I prepared in a pretty minimal way for this trip, and didn't even pack until the day I left. Luckily I had everything I needed (minus some non-scented soap, travel size toothpaste and bug repellent) so packing was a breeze. Also, I have a mindset when traveling that is pretty minimalistic, so I was never worried about packing to begin with.
Although the four of us missionaries had been hosting conference calls each Tuesday for the last couple of months, I really felt like I didn't do a lot to prepare myself mentally or spiritually for this trip.
.....fast forward to last Saturday, March 15....
All of a sudden I find myself standing in LGA airport receiving text messages and phone calls from strange numbers, and they are all the students coming on our trip, wondering where the heck this missionary is hiding (I was the person they were told to contact when they flew in). That's when the trip gets real for me, and I quickly learn that I need to navigate a group of 10 people through NYC to get to Pat's place somewhere near NYU. And for those of you that don't know me, I'm a small town girl and Fargo has nothing on the Big Apple.
After a couple hours of wandering through the lovely public transit weighed down by backpacks and sleeping mats, we make it to Pat's house an hour later than we're supposed to and find out that it was literally perfect timing. That's when it's made pretty clear that the Holy Spirit has this trip "on lock" (as Frank said) and we are going to be just fine.
Without getting into too much detail, I want to say that I am extremely thankful for having had the opportunity to serve in one of the most dynamic ways yet, and my heart grew a few sizes over the past week. The "work" that we did while serving included this: helping build a chapel for a community that gets Mass only once a month; walking around and reaching out to the local community, catechizing and sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ with them; doing a nightly catechesis for the niños (children); praying the Rosary (in español!) with the local community and simply bringing Christ with us wherever we went.
|Our group in front of the chapel of St. Francis of Assisi, where we worked, on our last day.|
|The retreat center we stayed at. The girls slept here.|
- Joy in simplicity. Basically, exactly that. We had the opportunity to serve and work alongside Ecuadorians with far fewer material things than we had, yet there was a joy present that is hard to experience in our day-to-day lives with technology, material possessions and the like. I've been drawn to living more simply for a while now, and this was a reminder that it is not simply about living simply but finding joy in detachment and joy in the simplicity of life. This has left me with much to pray about.
- Heroic generosity. One of FOCUS' key values that we strive for, and something that many people need to grow in, including myself. On this trip each one of us had to learn how to be a little more selfless, regardless of what was at cost. Whether it was having to wait an hour to shower in our one shower, sharing your small mosquito net with three other people, or remaining positive amidst spiritual attack, we all learned this on the trip. Not only did we learn from our experiences, but we witnessed heroic generosity from the people that we served. Families that took us in and served us all soup, the women that lived near us always making sure the water tank was full so we could take showers and wash dishes, those that had little to nothing and yet sacrificed their valuable time to talk with us. I definitely witnessed people's generosity in a heroic sense this past week.
- Importance of family and community ties. In the area we stayed, this dynamic was one of the biggest factors in these peoples' lives. For them, family is everything. When they found out that I haven't seen my parents since Christmas and won't see them for another month, they were shocked. They didn't understand how or why I'm not living with them if I'm not married, and the idea seemed completely foreign to those I talked with. Also, many of the people that we visited had their children, grandchildren and other immediate family members living nearby if they hadn't moved to Guayaquil, the largest city nearby (about an hour and a half away). Even those who had the family members in Guayaquil said that they come visit them in their homes on a very regular basis, whether that's weekly, twice a month, or once a month. It inspired me and continued molding my desires for close family and community ties, and has me thinking on how I want to make changes in my own life.