Category Archives: Ecuador beauty

Listing my limitations…

Let’s just file this under “a lesson I am STILL learning”…

When Brad and I came to Ecuador for a week-long vision trip four years ago in May, we made a list.  I remember sitting on the bed at the Quito Connection, a sweet, accommodating guest house just a block from Alliance Academy.  We were almost through the week and had met with multiple ministries, visited Calacali, shared cafecito with numerous people, and were truly searching to see if what God had put on our hearts actually matched the reality in front of us.  Starting with a yellow pad of paper, we listed every single item that came to mind in regards to what we felt God was asking us, calling us, or challenging us to do.

Over the years we have been here, this list has come out a few times…retreat weekends, yearly commitment reviews, and, even over our anniversary getaway a year ago last March.  We have used it to make sure we are staying on track with where we thought God was leading, but also as a tool to keep striving to do better and keep stretching.

Doggone #11.

I had to look at it again tonight, because I needed to know what number it was.  I needed to name it.  Because my dear spouse called me out on it this evening.  Again.  Of course, I readily accepted his insight, thanked him for his gracious help in this area of challenge, and immediately changed my behavior without missing a beat.  It is probably one of my biggest areas of struggle, one of my deepest challenges, yet one I recognize as so important and an area in which I truly want to do better.  (Admitting you have a problem is the first step in recovery, right?)

#11 speaks to loving others unconditionally, strengthening relationships…and creating space and time for hospitality.

If you know me, you know I CAN do hospitality well.  I really can.  I love to cook, put together a great dinner, see family and friends enjoying themselves around the dinner table.  When we arrived in Ecuador, I knew family would look different.  It would be friends who we would share life with, enough that they feel like family.  I did well, especially the first few years…I really think I did.  I love the fact that our dinner table will never be the same again.

But. I feel I am backsliding…in #11 and in other areas.

I’m in the middle of the self-evaluative portion of this realization, but I do know this much…every time I give up my control and let Him take over, He blesses it in some substantial way.  But it is a lesson I am still learning.

Like I said in my last post, I’m still under construction. Some people are just slow learners and need to be hit over the head multiple times before they get it.   Don’t judge.

 

 

On the second part of our recent roadtrip, after Quilotoa, we traveled on to a beautiful hacienda within the Cotopaxi National Park.  Cotopaxi is one of the world’s highest and most active volcanoes.  Last year, we kept extra supplies on hand at home as a significant eruption seemed imminent but its activity has now tapered off making it safer to venture to its base.  We had the place to ourselves, with the exception of two ladies who shared the dining room with us at dinner, and soon we found ourselves visiting with them next to the fireplace in the living area before we retired to our rooms for the night.

After breakfast the next morning, we were packing up in our room when Brad suggested we give these ladies a ride to the volcano as they were planning on walking the entire way since the bicycle rental was quite expensive.  True to form, my knee-jerk reaction was one ridden with the need for control, logistical concerns, and inconvenience…we would have to change our route and go home a different way, the kids would have no place to sit if it rained, we don’t even know these people…you get the idea.  In retrospect, it always seems pitiful and petty.

But, as Brad laid out the change in plans and how it actually WOULD work, I agreed to the idea, somewhat reluctantly.  And, once again, why am I surprised when God blesses obedience and shows his children his love for us in such unexpected ways?  These women were wonderful traveling companions, appreciative of our hospitality, and great conversationalists.  We had such an enjoyable time with them, and I came away from the experience extremely thankful that we had ventured forward with Brad’s pull on his heart to help…and to have an outward focus based on unconditional love.  Basically, in a nutshell: see a need, act on it!

It is a hard lesson for me to learn, and I failed again today with a situation here at home.  Some of it is tied up in expectations and a difference in perception of what “hospitality” actually looks like.  True, there is no set definition of what it HAS to look like – it may be a gift of a pizza delivery, giving someone a ride home, or even graciously accepting an offering or blessing from someone else.  For me, I need to work to broaden my perspective into areas that will stretch me beyond my comfort zone while digging in to the heart of why I frequently have a knee-jerk negative reaction to opening my home when it is not my plan, my idea, or within my parameters of what hospitality means.   More than likely, as much as I hate to admit this truth, the simple reality is that it probably boils down to my continued selfish, me-first attitude which loves to find ways to rear its ugly head.  I may see a need, but the immediate reaction isn’t necessarily to act on it.

Self-reflection is so over-rated.

I do want to do better, and I know He’s not finished with me yet.  I just wish we could move a little faster in these hard to reach areas.

In my devotion time one morning this week, this statement jumped off the page:

“A Christian is held captive by anything that hinders the abundant and effective Spirit-filled life God planned for her.”


I continue to see the snares Satan sets for me – the ways in which I am held captive -and I am growing to recognize them as potential pitfalls.  But, rather than getting hung up on my shortcomings and wallowing in my failures, or wishing I was more like all those fortunate people who seem to have the immediate reflex of “how can I help?”, I choose following my Savior, because He chose me. While I fail, I strive to do better.  I want to become more like Him today than I was yesterday, all in response for what He has done for me.

“Love is an enormous commitment.  It is a commitment that tests you at your most vulnerable areas of spirituality.  A commitment that will force you to make very hard decisions.  A commitment that will force you to deal with your lust.  A commitment that will force you to deal with your greed and pride.  Love demands from you a quality of commitment which Jesus uses as an analogy of His own relationship with us.”
                                                                                                       ~ Ravi Zacharias

While I may never fully master the elusive #11, I am so thankful that I have the greatest possible example of unconditional love – my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

…but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Romans 5:8 (ESV)

Do you have this assurance today?  Do you feel like you fall desperately short?  Know this without a doubt – his unconditional love will surround you and uphold you in a way you have never experienced.  Just confess your sins to him, and place your trust in him as your Lord and Savior. He will meet you where you are and lead you forward.  

Resting in the promises despite my daily failures,

Sarah

Always Under Construction…

“Partnering with Jesus to advance his kingdom is often difficult and unpleasant, but there are some unexpected upsides.  It is never boring.” – Chris Travis, Insignificant

As is often the case when embarking into an unknown area, we venture out on highways that we have not yet traveled.  We find ourselves leaning forward as we wonder what will be around the next bend.  The anticipation of a new landscape, a breathtaking view, the wonders of majestic mountains coupled with patchwork quilts of farmland never grows old.  Every journey contains a choice – will I eagerly look to what is coming, or dread the unknown?

Image result for cartoon people on bus about choice

A few weeks ago, we were able to venture out of the city on a long weekend to visit Quilotoa, a crater lake located high in the Andes Mountains.  As is our custom, we grabbed a mattress and a blanket, threw the kids in the back (once we were outside city limits), and proceeded on our adventure.  We traveled a bit and then veered off the main highway to the winding road which would take us deep into the mountains.  Once we found a quiet little pullout, we unpacked our picnic lunch and enjoyed the solitude of rolling hills and puffy clouds.

 

We are always amazed at these spaces and God’s creative handiwork.  We continued to wind around bend after bend, switchback after switchback, particularly thankful that the truck continues to be a faithful and trustworthy companion on our journeys.  Of course, we consider how awful it would be to have a breakdown so far from a main road, yet remain grateful for the many miles we have traveled together without significant incident. As we continue on our way, we eventually happen past a much needed gas station, and, while standing at our pump out in the middle of rural Ecuador, greet a gentleman on a motorcycle who arrived the previous night from Kansas City.  He has been in country less than twelve hours and, with his limited Spanish, is making his way to the coast, stopping at the crater along the way.  Among other things, we discuss with him the beauty of the surroundings and the amazing upkeep of the road we have been on.  It has been lined with flowers in the town, and seemed somewhat new.  We wish him well and pull out ahead of him, eager to continue our journey but marveling at the coincidence of meeting a lone English speaking tourist at a random gas stop in the middle of the mountains of Ecuador.

As the kilometers tick away, I’m not sure why we continue to be surprised when we meet unexpected obstacles, but our North American roots run deep – we often expect the way something is done in the US of A to be the same regardless of where we are.  In this case, our previous musings on the newness of the road bounces up against our unexpected reality that maybe, just maybe, they hadn’t quite finished the project. We must have somehow missed the “construction ahead” signs (there weren’t any) and we had suddenly ventured into some serious change of roadbed.

No flag men, no pilot car, no detour signs; the inconveniences we dread seeing in the States when we are in a hurry to arrive at our destination were nowhere to be found, and, in actuality, nonexistent.

Road under some SERIOUS construction.

Imagine the immediate conversation in the car: “Which lane are we supposed to take?”

“Are we even on the right road?”

“Truck ahead! Can you get around him?”

“Do we try to go forward, or should we turn around and go back?”

“We’ve come this far…there is no way we can change our investment of time and energy at this point!”

After all is said and done and I reflect on this trip from the safety and comfort of my living room chair, I can’t help but notice the parallels of our life journey right now.  We are currently at the crossroads of some major decisions.  Our time here at Alliance Academy International is drawing to a close, and we have been working through the immense emotions and changes that come with a decision such as this.  Many different roads stretch out before us – great choices and opportunities – but the fearful part of me is concerned we will choose the wrong one.  In some ways, certain actions can be interpreted as barriers and discernment is needed to determine if it is simply a detour, a roadblock, or a closed road.  Many people have valid opinions and insight and we must continue to weed through godly counsel as well as personal preferences.  This road is bumpy, winding, and we can’t really see very far in front of us at this point.  To be completely forthright, there are many days where I question everything about what we are doing and where we are going.  Unfortunately, working through all of these thoughts means a whole lot of uncomfortable introspection and a spotlight on my own shortcomings.

Honestly, once in a while, occasionally, sometimes, frequently I want to do things my own way, with my own best interests in mind.   I want to pick my path, what is best for me.  I want to be selfish and choose myself first. I want to not feel bad about the way I treat my husband, or how I speak in anger or frustration towards my kids.  Keeping the best interests of myself in the forefront means I have the right to hang on to past hurts because it is justified to feel this way.  Sure, I may cast my cares down at the feet of the Lord, but pride makes me pick them back up, time and time again.  And, when choices are on an even bigger scale, involving the future and where we will live next, where we will serve in our next phase of life, certainly I have the right to pick and choose based on how I feel and what I will get out of it, right?

In the minds of the world, everything I wrote in the paragraph above would not only be accepted, but perhaps even honored.  It’s understood that I should “get mine”!  But, I have learned over the recent years that my way, although it is self-serving and may sound or feel satisfying in the short-term, is by no means the best way.

Thank the Lord that He has drawn me to himself and called me to be His own!  He chose me, and, each and every day, my choice, despite how much I fail or fall short, is to follow Christ, no matter what.

I don’t have to do anything because he has done it all, through his sacrifice for me.  But, my response, due to my thankfulness for this gift, is to serve him with all that I have and all that I am.  I strive to become more and more like him every day – I want to be more Christ-like today than I was yesterday.  Granted, it is definitely not easy and I fail miserably all the time (see paragraph about selfish tendencies listed above!) but, blessedly, I am forgiven for my shortcomings, so I get up and try to be obedient in letting him lead my life again and again.

The beauty of all this (there’s actually a lot but I’m picking this one today…) is that His plan for me is promised to be SOOOOO much better than my plan for me.

It is promised in John 10:10 and I can claim and trust that promise for my life!

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. (ESV)

Or, if you read it in the NLT version, it shows how it is beyond what I can comprehend…

A thief is only there to steal and kill and destroy. I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.

This life of a Christian is never boring, and it is full of adventure when Jesus IS the pilot car.  I am immensely thankful that I don’t have to venture out alone as we have the gift of the Holy Spirit leading us along.  We know by seeking Him and aligning our hearts with his, he will auto-correct us if we are veering off course.  By  immersing ourselves in his Word while strengthening our relationship through prayer and communication with Him, we can be assured that we are traveling His road, in His time, for His glory. He alone can provide the assurance in each step, each decision, because we trust in his leading, even if we are unclear where it is taking us at any given moment.

Despite the twists and turns and actual obstacles in the road (once again, our truck proved herself to be true as she cleared water pouring over the road and easily bounced over boulders), we eventually reached Quilotoa and were immensely rewarded by the wonder and beauty of God’s creation. Surrounded by snow capped mountains, the lake reflected the ever-changing hues of the sky.  The journey was well worth it due to the destination.  In this case, we were able to see the end product of our journey in just a matter of hours.

 

Thankfully, as Christians, we also know the ultimate destination at the end of our time here on earth.  We have the assurance of heaven due to Jesus Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection for each and every one of us. So, we trust in Him to continue to guide us as we follow wherever he leads.

Things are changing for us…including our location and calling. The new chapter is becoming more clear each and every day. Today, we choose joy in the opportunities coming into focus and continue to experience a peace beyond all understanding as we travel the unknown road into tomorrow.

This is what the Lord says – Your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: “I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is good for you and leads you along the paths you should follow.  Oh, that you had listened to my commands!  Then you would have peace flowing like a gentle river and righteousness rolling over you like waves in the sea.” Isaiah 48:17-18 (NLT)

Thankful to be a small part of this amazing adventure ~

Sarah

PS.  As I have been writing this over the past days, a news story was developing about a tragic accident along the very road we had traveled a few weeks prior.  The excessive rains we have experienced lately were a key factor.  Once again, we are overwhelmed with thankfulness for our safety and protection in this country, and our hearts are heavy for those who are victims of this sad event.  May we ever be mindful of how fleeting life is, and how the urgency to share Christ with others should be our first thought and action in whatever our circumstance.

El bus cayó a un barranco debido a que el puente del lugar colapsó. Tres personas resultaron heridas una de las cuales falleció. Foto: cortesía Bomberos de Pujilí

Photo credit: El Comercio

That Time We Took the Road Less Traveled…

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! I am, once again, long overdue for an update in regards to our family, the happenings here in Quito, Ecuador, and much, much more.  I have been working on a Christmas letter, and now we are slightly past the beginning of the year, so I am right about on time with how we typically roll.  Stay tuned for an update as to how we are all doing as I promise to share that with you soon.

In the meantime, all is well here in Ecuador and we continue to take opportunities to explore and learn more about this beautiful country whenever we have a chance.  Shortly after Christmas, we headed out on a road trip to the nearby tourist town of Baños de Agua Santa.  We have been able to travel here a number of times over the years as it is only about three hours away from Quito, making it a relatively stress-free, reasonable drive.  We enjoyed a few days in the area, doing many of the well known activities and plenty of exploring.

fall-2016-1528 fall-2016-1523On our way home, we decided to venture out and take the road less traveled, and, boy, did that make all the difference.    

fall-2016-1545After crossing a rickety bridge over a huge gorge (and glimpsing the bridge we normally would have traveled upon), fall-2016-1543we traversed some beautiful countryside on a surprisingly well-maintained road with landscapes of farm fields cut into the mountain side.  We captured multiple views of the Tungurahua volcano, which showed its majestic self frequently throughout our three days in Baños.  We saw quaint little towns with cute town squares and unique soccer fields.

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It was a beautiful drive, one that we had debated in taking as it was venturing into the unknown…roads could be treacherous, even unmarked, and certainly with possibilities of being a longer route.  We waxed poetic on how this countryside certainly must resemble Italy, and what unique treasures were around every corner. We continued to remark to each other what a wonderful decision we made and how we would have missed this opportunity if we hadn’t been willing to seize the chance of venturing onto the literal road less traveled.

As we journeyed onward, we continued to applaud our courage, citing what a reward we had received.  Our smiles were radiant beams across our faces. Modern day explorers, we were, jubilant in spirit, actually physically patting our truck on the dash as we thanked him for being so reliable and trustworthy.  Making good time, we were ecstatic about finding this route and all the beauty it entailed.

Until we drove into San Miguelito and directly into this rope-stretched roadblock.

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Out of nowhere, two days before New Year’s, we encountered barrier after barrier in the form of costumed characters.  San Miguelito stretched on for blocks and blocks, with no alternative route in site to avoid what was in front of us, while Gandalf’s voice reverberated in our ears…

“YOU SHALL NOT PASS”

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Swarmed. Stuck. Stopped – Unless you pay off the masked creatures swarming your car…or take a drink of their offered alcoholic beverage…or both.

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We chose the payment method.  A reasonable fifteen to twenty cents was dropped into their offered basket while unidentified drinks were pushed into Brad’s face.  He politely refused, and we boldly countered with pulling out the camera, having no problem capturing the all too eager subjects.

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By the time we were on about stop number twenty-five along this never ending stretch of town, we were scrambling and digging through all our containers for small change and wondering how long this section of road and crazy shenanigans were going to continue.  If it didn’t end soon, we were going to have to start handing out our much coveted dollar coins as our nickels and dimes supply were quickly dwindling.

Our passing through provided a fair share of entertainment value for all the locals, with numerous references to us being gringos and our speaking both English and Spanish. Donald Trump’s name came up a few times in the high pitched gibberish that prevailed at every barrier, echoing in our heads even now as we wonder about most of what was said.

At one of the last stops, we met up with this guy, who, at one point, directed his gun (umm, no orange tip on the end, thank you very much) at Brad’s throat. fall-2016-1577

That was highly unnecessary and just a tad bit disconcerting.

We finally reached the end of this town and breathed a sigh of relief as we continued on our way.  We quickly searched the map to see where we could get off the back roads and onto a main highway, knowing that the Pan American highway would be safe from more of these type of festivities.  We had one more small town to drive through, so rapidly double checked our coin supply and geared up for another onslaught.  To our delight and overwhelming relief, we had no further stops and were able to have an uneventful remainder of our journey.  We certainly spent some time pondering what it would have been like if we had traveled through this town an hour later in the day, one hour deeper into the alcohol that was flowing freely at all the stops (and with many of the stopped drivers), on the verge of darkness and shrouded a bit more in mystery.

It still remains unresolved as to the reason behind the events in San Miguelito – it was one day removed from the Ecuadorian April Fool’s Day, and two days prior to the typical New Year’s Eve traditions, so may have just been isolated to this small little area.  But, it was definitely an unexpected event to encounter as we journeyed the road less traveled, and put yet another unique memory in the books from our time here in Ecuador.

Until next time,

Sarah

I Am That Person

Earthquake 1

Photo credit: AP

As many of you know, a little over a week ago, the coast of Ecuador was hit with a 7.8 magnitude earthquake.  While only about 100 miles away, the part of Quito in which we live escaped relatively unscathed.  We had experienced tremors before, but knew this one was different the moment it hit…lateral movements, an increased duration, windows and lights swaying…little did we know at the time the massive devastation it had caused just down the road.

Earthquake 2

Image: Carlos Sacoto/AP

It didn’t take long for us to begin to see the extent of the damage on the coast.  We went to bed Saturday night with the preliminary reports of buildings down, but it was easy to rest as no fatalities had been reported.  But, with the light of Sunday morning, it was apparent how tragic this earthquake had become. The reality of escaping this destruction by only miles was startling. We were so thankful for God’s protection in our lives, but, just as readily, confused about why were were able to be granted safety this time around.  The call to action came from the pit in my stomach…I did not want to BE THAT PERSON who turns a blind eye, who sees but does not act, who does not have the eyes of Jesus. I wanted to do something and do it now.  So, I struggled against who I didn’t want to be, but realized exactly who I am.

I am that person who was absolutely stunned by the devastation that has occurred.

I am that person who is glued to Facebook in order to see the latest developments and obtain new information.

I am that person who is heartbroken to know how many children have been orphaned and left alone.

I am that person who is overwhelmed by the realization of how life has changed for the very places we have visited and vacationed.

I am that person who is frustrated that I can’t just go to the coast, comfort people, and shower them with the love of Jesus because I have a huge language barrier.

I am that person who is amazed by those that have immediately and unselfishly answered the “first responder” call and been a part of heroic rescues.

I am that person who is angry because the world keeps revolving as if nothing has happened.

I am that person who, in the past, when tragedy struck in the world, could acknowledge the need, but often failed to respond.

I am that person who can have a heart that breaks for others, but I selfishly continue to focus on what I need and what I desire.

I am that person who desires to do more but is somewhat paralyzed because I want to do it right, efficiently, with good stewardship, and make a difference.

I am that person who must relinquish my illusion of control, and daily hand the reins over to the only One who holds the past, present, and future in His hands. 

There are so many options, so many places to help.  Alliance Academy mobilized the Monday after with the students taking the lead in developing a list of items to donate, a church to deliver the supplies, and a site to provide an option to give money.  What a great start – fantastic opportunities for our students to be involved, to participate, to serve others.  But, is that enough?

(AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)

Shouldn’t we be heading to the coast, jumping in our trucks, stopping to get the required paperwork to be let into the area, acquire a police escort so as to not be robbed or looted, all in the name of Jesus? Is that what is required of us in this time?  Or, are we to stand back and serve where we are planted, providing support to donation drives, and, perhaps, wait for refugees to enter the city and be an active part of that ministry? What about the orphans?  Shouldn’t we be immediately gearing up to become foster parents in the interim, possibly putting travel plans for the summer on hold so we can be available to the least of these?

I don’t know the answers to any of these questions and we struggle continually with how much to do, even what to do, and where to put our resources.

And, then, we come to the realization that no matter what we do, it will never be enough.

We are not going to be able to make this go away.  We are not going to “feel” right about the unfairness of this disaster.  We are not going to be able to just move on as if nothing has happened. We are not going to ever be able to do enough to know that we have met the needs of everyone who is hurting, who is homeless, who have lost everything.

earthquake 5Despite the pain and heartbreaking realizations of this week, it has helped me realize something even more deeply.  This feeling of needing to do something but feeling immensely inadequate is how we would feel if we had to EARN our way to heaven. Because this week of dealing with the immediacy of the earthquake aftermath clearly showed me that you can never feel like you have “made it”. There is no way to ever know with all certainty that what you try to do would ever be enough.  To walk around with that pressure, that concern, and that FEAR would consume your life and be devastating as you tried to earn your way to heaven.

So today, throughout all the heartbreak, the pain, and the sadness going on around us, I can serve my Lord and Savior through my day to day life, striving to do more each day, to be more Christ-like in my words and actions, and to demonstrate Jesus to others in what I do. But, in that, I am amazingly thankful to know and trust with all certainty that I am doing those things as a direct response to the salvation bestowed upon my by accepting Jesus as the Lord of my life.

The wages of sin is death but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23 ESV)

In no way is this a result of anything I have done. My pathetic self could do nothing to gain this salvation because, try as I might, I would always come up woefully short.  Instead, Jesus gave His life for me…and for you.  I know, with all assurance, that upon judgment day, I will not be cast aside into a line labeled “You Tried but Missed it By A Mile.” The line I can join is the one stating “Your Debt has Been Paid in Full by Jesus Christ – No Action on Your Part is Required.” The freedom of the Gospel is joy and life, and I have been reminded this week of the depth and breadth of this gift, no strings attached.

I am that person who is inept on my own accord, but is a new creature because of Christ in me. This brings me hope in this current darkness, and I pray that, with His power, and as a result of the Holy Spirit living in me, I will be that person who can faithfully serve and obey the King of Kings, for our good…and for HIS glory.

Blessed to be His,

Sarah

PS.  Wondering what you can do to help Ecuador at this time?  First of all, please pray for the people of this country.  No one has gone untouched.  Secondly, if you want to talk about options for giving, please drop us an email at bierlefamily@gmail.com and we’d be happy to visit about some ideas.

Traveling the Pan American Highway

A few days before Christmas, we took a little family road trip to the city of Cuenca, Ecuador. About seven to eight hours away from Quito, it sits along the Andes mountains, just as our city does, but is further south.  Often times, you can take a quick flight at a reasonable cost, but with five of us going, it made more sense to drive.

road trip

Heading north in South Dakota

Interestingly enough, the Pan American highway is the route that joins the two cities.  Since this roadway encompasses a path from Alaska all the way to the tip of South America, you would expect four lanes of exquisite roads, with plenty of space to enjoy a leisurely road trip, right? Something to wet the road trip whistle?

We’ve driven enough in this country to know that what you want is many times not what you get.

The road was certainly not the leisurely, “don’t have to think because nothing will ever get in your way” straightaway drive you would expect from heading on any major highway in South Dakota.

Passing the car ahead of you is always an exercise in gauging safety versus patience -partly because obeying no passing zones is totally optional: Cuenca 001  Cuenca 002

Fast food restaurants are virtually non-existent along any route, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have choices.  We followed an ice cream truck for quite a ways…Cuenca 006  Cuenca 005

And could have stopped in any small town for a typical Ecuadorian meal…Cuenca 048

Cuenca 046But, instead, we opted for a picnic at our self-made “roadside” rest with curious dogs seeking our leftovers.

If you need to use the restroom, most gas stations are equipped with some sort of baños.  But, you need to think ahead as the facilities are a bit different than what you would expect elsewhere.  Make sure you pack your own toilet paper as most bathrooms are not equipped with any.  At best, they may be staffed with an attendant who will sell you a few sheets of paper for fifteen to twenty cents.  Any type of doors would be a luxury.Cuenca 012

But, despite the extra thought and preparation that comes with a South American road trip, you can be guaranteed that your journey will be filled with a variety of sights that will keep you guessing as to what will be around the next bend.  This Pan American route did not disappoint.

Taking your barnyard animals out for a walk…

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People waiting for rides…

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A probable funeral procession:
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The overachiever:
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A New York bus obviously well off its intended route:Cuenca 362

And absolutely beautiful landscape, including a peek at parts of the Chimborazo volcano:

Cuenca 027 Cuenca 031 Cuenca 373 Cuenca 375

Road trip or not, there are always lessons to be learned –

  • We are thankful to have a reliable vehicle which allows us the ability to travel out of the city and explore God’s creation in unique ways.
  • We are reminded of our blessings of having our needs met as we travel through areas of poverty and squalor.
  • We see glimpses into the simple life of having enough for each day, because you work the land, tend the sheep, and milk the cows.
  • Patience means sometimes waiting for a ride at the side of the road for long stretches of time, especially when a gringo with a full truck bed can’t pick you up.
  • The variety of God’s creation is vastly different from South Dakota to Ecuador, but each place (and everything in between) are beautiful in ways beyond description.

Bottom line, we are blessed beyond measure by the God of the universe who is powerful enough to create a vast and diverse world, but personal enough to have a relationship with each and every one of us who confess Him as our Lord and Savior.

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That is a trip worth taking.

Praying you are on the best road trip of all with Christ at the wheel…

Sarah

The Gathering at Calacali…Choclo Edition

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It’s harvest time in Ecuador.  Last year, I chronicled the steps of our choclo harvest at the Calacali property in this post, including the age old tradition of planting and harvesting the South American corn by hand.  We again celebrated the bounty and blessings this past weekend by hosting a good ol’ fashioned “all you can eat” choclo and sloppy joe feed at the Calacali campus for the AAI faculty, staff, and their immediate families.

One of our areas of ministry has been hosting (almost) monthly events at the AAI Calacali campus.  Often, they are camp-style worship gatherings with the intent to provide a place of peace and rest from the day to day routine, fellowship with other believers, and an escape from the city with an opportunity to be refreshed.  These reunions also provide an opportunity for us to work together as a family and focus on serving others.  But, as you can imagine, getting ready for an event such as this takes some coordinated efforts.  This past weekend, the kids and I were on our own initially as Brad had an all day VISTA education program going on at the AAI campus in Quito on Saturday.  Let me just say, these kids of ours stepped it up…For fun, we documented some of the prep time in pictures to give you a bit of a back story of what we do to get ready for our guests.

First off, we have the food prep – this time, it was frying lots of ground beef (20 lbs or so) and assembling the sloppy joe recipe from scratch…no dry packets of mix available here!

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Part of the challenge in this step is figuring out how much each pan can hold and how we can still stir the mixture…We start with one pan, realize it is not quite big enough, move to the one we originally wanted to boil the corn in, realize the spoon barely reaches the bottom, decide to split the mixture into two large pans to cook, and, voilá, never ending dish duty.

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~Next, there are mayonnaise containers to fill (Ecuadorians tend to lean towards mayo on their corn versus the North American counterpart of butter), Calacali 2015 011

~Chairs and tables to wipe down and set up

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~Breaks to take

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~Music to jam to while you’re working…(God’s Great Dance Floor by Chris Tomlin)

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~And, for some reason, these kids still think they have to be fed so we have to prepare food for our own meals (AAARGH!)

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~Bean bags to be repaired for corn hole games to be played…

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~Hugs for the dad who has arrived via bus and is ready to work

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~More arranging

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~And, quality assurance checks for how the choclo tastes

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Sunday arrives, and it is time to move the corn, almost FOUR HUNDRED ears of it…

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Make lemonade, get some help to cut the queso fresco (white cheese – another Ecuadorian tradition),

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And get a jump start on shucking the corn (with a cup of coffee) to have some ready when everyone arrives to enjoy the beautiful day!

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Let the festivities begin!

Shucking corn…

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Eating…

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Conversation…

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Game playing…

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Holding baby Matias…

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Looking good…

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And hanging out with friends…

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God has truly blessed us with the opportunity to be intentional in celebrating God’s provision, sharing time with the AAI community, and being a part of Calacali.  Our prayer this year has been that the Calacali campus could be a place filled with God’s presence, one in which merely setting foot on site would allow each individual a time of rest and relaxation in order to recharge for continued ministry.  Whether it be for individual retreat, or corporate times of worship and fellowship, Calacali has become a special place to feel God’s presence.

But as for me, God’s presence is my good.
I have made the Lord God my refuge,
so I can tell about all You do.  Psalm 73:28

Praying you will find rest and refuge in the only One who can sustain our every need…

Sarah

There and Back Again…A Market Tale

As I take some time to stew on a more in depth, thought-provoking post,  I wanted to share some of the beautiful country in which we are blessed to live.  One of the commitments we have made while residing here in Ecuador is taking time to explore.

Spring 2015 206We have been able to travel to a number of different areas, and Otavalo has been a convenient destination.  Just a few hours from Quito, it touts the largest South American open air market, with vendors selling their wares for blocks and blocks every Saturday.  Like any trip, the journey is part of the experience, almost more so than the destination.DSC_0010

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In the past three or so times we have traveled to this gem, we’ve taken different routes, stayed at a rustic cabin, explored surrounding towns, and felt immersed in the culture.  The town of Cayambe, near the same-named volcano, boasts bizcochos.Peguche 004  IMG_9970    Best when taken straight from the wood ovens, they are served with caramel, cheese, and what I would term “clotted cream”.  Similar to biscotti in the United States, they are worth the early morning stop on the way to the market.

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On one of our adventures, Brad found us a cozy little one room cabin…rustic, but comfy. DSC_0203 We had to follow an old railroad track as a road, and put the truck into four wheel drive to get up the hill, but the view of the Imbabura volcano and Lago San Pablo (San Pablo Lake) along with the neighboring rugged Cotacachi volcano were worth the tense moments. Complete with a shepherdess who walked by twice a day, and a cute little dog to entertain, we also shared breakfast with the family who owned the cabin as they made us scrambled eggs with bread, cheese, and juice for the low cost of $1.50 a person.  Short of the 3:00am wake up call to market for the entire village of San Rafael, it was a great opportunity to share a bit with the culture we are immersed with on a daily basis.

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A quick stop at Peguche Falls on the outskirts of Otavalo:

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The views of Otavalo, San Vincente, Cotacachi, and Laguna de Cuicocha:

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The beautiful people of Ecuador:

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Jacob, on our most recent trip, was able to finally purchase a charango…basically, a ten stringed instrument which would most closely resemble a cross between a mandolin and a ukulele.  Hand crafted by the hugely talented artisan Santiago Ayala at La Casa del Bandolin/Intrumentos Ayala, this heirloom will always be a precious reminder of our time here in this country.  Taking time to play it at one of our favorite restaurants on the lake at San Pablo, while overlooking Imbabura, is a memory that will be relished for quite some time.Spring 2015 211Spring 2015 212Spring 2015 238

Spring 2015 252Finally, heading back to Calacali, we took the road less traveled via Perucho and San José de Minas.  This road is not highly used due to its cobblestone base…but it is shorter in distance, with curves that twist and turn on themselves, full of amazing vistas and sweeping views.  A quick stop in Perucho for mandarina juice, and our trip is complete.

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We pray we will forever be thankful for these opportunities in front of us, and that we can be faithful to the call that is on our hearts…trusting in the One who guides us on this adventure, wherever it may lead.DSC_0058

Click here for an assortment of online Otavalo market pictures, showing the market in its full Saturday glory…