Tag Archives: Calacali

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

An Attitude of Gratitude

A few years ago, a friend recommended a book to me that changed my perspective in a tangible way.  Aside from the Bible (yeah, that one changed my life significantly as well) there are only a few other books I would cite as having the impact that this one had.

Interestingly enough,  I didn’t particularly care for the author’s writing style, to the point that I have no desire to go back and reread the book.  But, what has remained with me over the years is the overall concept…looking purposefully at the things we see day to day and finding the joy in the simplicity of life.  By viewing life through the lens of thankfulness, we can move beyond superficial appreciation and enter into an inner gratitude that transcends circumstances.

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Sounds profound, but the concept is remarkably simple.  In my mind, it looks a bit like this:  get up in the morning, put on your thankfulness glasses, and start challenging yourself to see the beauty, the moments, the uniqueness of the world around you.  Throughout the “busy-ness” of the day, take time to savor the interactions with others and view them as opportunities that have been placed before you to make a difference, to matter.  Start SEEING the life you are living instead of simply surviving.

DSC_0009 (2)It’s life-changing, walking through your day this way.  Because you are no longer walking through life…you are meandering, sauntering, savoring, relishing…you are LIVING.  You are caught up in the wonder and amazement of what is happening around you.  You are wearing the proverbial rose-colored glasses, but you don them with confidence, being filled up with gratitude for what our Lord has done for us each and every day.

This works, people, because the focus turns outward instead of on yourself.  It’s awfully difficult to have an unfulfilled life when you are tuned in to the blessings around us.  Brad has been continually focusing on the verse from Zechariah (4:10a) which says “Do not despise the day of small things…” which shows us that all we do and see are important in the scope of God’s kingdom.  From the simplest of tasks, when done with an attitude of worship and focus on others, we can have impact and change lives.  Small seeds are planted which can grow into trees bearing massive amounts of fruit.  Who are we to wonder about our impact this side of eternity?  We can find comfort and rest in knowing that we serve a God greater than ourselves, and, when our hearts are turned to doing what is right, what is good, what is honorable, this cannot turn void.  By looking outward and seeing God’s gifts to us we will, with little effort, translate the joy and contentment we have to serving others and relishing the life of small things.

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How do I know?  Oh, my friends, because knowing this concept and doing it are two separate things.  I’ve seen the good, but lately my focus has been SO much on me that I’ve fallen away from what i know.  When I am NOT focused on the gratefulness I have for everything that has been given to me, I fail miserably in all aspects of my life.  I’m a burden-downed wife, a crabby mom, a co-worker who doesn’t see hurt and pain around her.  I’m self-centered, with a poor-me attitude.  I get overwhelmed by the continual inconveniences that come my way.  They pile up and seem insurmountable, when, in perspective, they are nothing but a mild irritation.  The contrast of living a life of gratitude with that of a life of me, me, me is the difference of living a life with meaning and purpose versus trudging through the day.  I’ve seen both sides, and I want to jump over to the other again.

DSC_0089When I’m caught up in the cycle of inner wallowing, I have to make an intentional effort to get back to the basics.  While I’ve been doing my bible reading daily, I also needed to step things up a notch or two to get back on track.  I need tangibleness…things that I can do to see results.  Here are a few steps I am taking to get back on track when I feel myself slipping back to “Sarah-focus”:

1.  Pick up (or start!) a gratitude journal and write things down:  Even though I am being grateful for items in my mind, seeing them on paper works for me.  I can’t do my tablet or my computer – I need tangible and handwritten.  Just start writing.  Start with the obvious – thankful for food and clothes, but challenge yourself to go deeper and find the little things in your day which mean something to you.

2.  More intentional prayer:  I’m working on the habit of praying in the moment and beyond.  When I say I will pray for you, I’m going to do it right that very minute.  If it’s via Facebook, you can know with all assuredness that the minute I’m done typing you the note, I’m praying.

3.  Keep a praise and prayer journal:  I’m just restarting this again after many failed attempts to keep it up.  I love to see how God is faithful through the good and the bad.  I find it’s easy to keep a prayer journal with all the requests, but harder to keep a praise journal.  I’m incorporating them to be one and the same, because, most of the time, they go hand in hand. (By the way, in the interest of simplicity and margin (see #7) I have combined my gratitude and praise/prayer journal.  Trust me, this is a big step for someone who likes things all neat and orderly and didn’t even start a gratitude journal for years because she couldn’t find the “perfect” journal…but, really, aren’t they all falling under the same general theme anyway?)

4.  Write thank you notes:  This has always been an intention of mine and I find that I fall miserably short.  Instead of spending time in the regret pool, I’m going to write them when I can and make sure I keep them front and center to remember.  If I’m looking outward, I’m going to find lots of opportunities to write and I don’t want to miss the chance.

5.  Take more photos:  I love to take pictures, and I plan to look through my lens with a different eye.  It’s easy to be thankful for the sunset, the beautiful flowers…but the insects?  Dirty dishes?  Amazingly enough, there is beauty in those as well.  I have a special little guy who loves to see bugs…how cool to see the ones from Ecuador.  (Thaddeus, the one below is for you, buddy). The dishes?  We’re blessed with food throughout the day. You get the…picture.

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6.  Encourage others:  While I try to be faithful in this area, I want to continue to grow and be transparent.  Again, seeking others out and helping to reframe life in terms of “joy” is a discipline requiring practice.  When we work together as a community to build each other up, the strength we have together cannot be shaken.  Let’s keep the gossip and drama out of this realm…I want to be a woman who stands to support, not break down those around me.

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7.  Allow margin:  In the world we live in, we are constantly behind, overtired, stretched to the breaking point…when running this race there is no room for reflection and contemplation.  I would go as far as to say that allowing down time in your day is often “frowned upon” by the IMG_0041fast-paced culture we live in.  We need to use more of the “addition by subtraction” principle to seek out the best of things in our life and lose the weights that are keeping us from joy.  I need to continually evaluate my “red flag” areas…particularly in the area of Facebook time.  Am I using up my extra time in areas of growth and gratitude, or by escaping into another world through some other means?  Additionally, if I have no margin in my day, I have no time to take the opportunities that God places before me…in fact, I will probably not even recognize them as ways to make a difference.  This is a daily battle for me, but when I set my heart on Christ the minute I put my feet to the ground, He helps me focus on things that matter.

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Finally….

8.  Keep the first things first:  Best intentions are only that…intentions.  I, on my own power, will fail if I don’t tap into the life source that is a power beyond my own.  I need to be fed through the Word and through other believers.  By the strength of the Holy Spirit, I can be used for his glory and His kingdom work.  I only need to trust Him to lead and guide me.  When I venture my own way, and go the way of the world, the result is angst, uncertainty, being unfulfilled.  When I seek Him first, the path is clear.  Oh, that I may continually keep that as my focus and guiding principle.

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.  (Romans 12:2 NLT)

These are my action steps…ones that I need to continually look back to and focus upon to keep my attitude of gratitude.  I’ve slipped away but am heading back in the right direction.  I’m thankful for a gracious God who is patient with us as we meander our way through the one life we have been given.  I continually flounder, but know that when my eyes are focused on Jesus, my life is one of satisfaction and joy, which, when I stop to actually think about it, is truly the only way I want to live. Brad and Sarah

I pray you have found this joy that can only be based in Him.

To God be the glory,

Sarah

PS.  By the way, the name of the book I read was One Thousand Gifts: A Dare To Live Fully Right Where You Are by Ann Voskamp.  Just a book I read – no affiliation or compensation for plugging it.

What we’ve been up to…

It’s been almost two months since we’ve arrived back in Ecuador.  Although cliché, the time really does fly.  The past few months have definitely been a time of transition and settling into new routines.  It’s been kind of crazy as we’ve tried to make decisions about where to live, what we really are doing, how God wants to use us.  He doesn’t always provide the “ah-ha” light bulb moments, but we are learning that if we continue to seek his guidance and stay in the Word, we can walk WITH HIM in his will, rather than continually trying to “find” it.  So, as we walk, we learn.  Here’s a glimpse of our journey –

Brad is adjusting to his new role as Director of Spiritual Life at the Alliance Academy International School.  More on that in a future post, but, in a nutshell, he is charged with “keeping the main thing the main thing” at the school.  This is a challenging and exciting role for him, and he is working hard to get up to speed and help set direction to support the faculty and staff as they work within the school to reach the future generation.  His white board is out and full of ideas and goals…managing the brainstorm is a work in progress.DSC_0034 DSC_0038

We moved to Quito.  With Brad’s new role and the unpredictability of living outside the city, we found a reasonable, furnished apartment about 15 minutes walking distance from the school.  Being close allows us to pretty much park the truck for the week when we are in town and then walk to most of our destinations.  It’s often times easier to take a bus or taxi to get groceries rather than negotiating traffic, so this has been a blessing for us.  There’s plenty of busy streets to cross as we walk back and forth to school, but so far it has seemed very safe as we vary our routes and don’t walk much after dark.  We’re adjusting to the noise of the city (hello, we live next to a bus station!) and finding our new favorite places in the area.  Being in Quito also allows us the opportunity to strengthen and deepen relationships through playing sports at the school gym for fun (Jacob is helping coach a local baseball team and Brad will be helping with the JV basketball team), lead and participate in bible studies to further delve into God’s word, and have people over to support and encourage the people we are surrounded by.DSC_0020 DSC_0001DSC_0015 (2)

We commute to Calacali for the weekends.  Guess you can say we have a country house and a city house…our plan is to be out at Calacali two weekends a month, but so far the schedule DSC_0245has dictated us to be there more often.  We are trying to focus our efforts on having two times a month be “Spiritual Life weekends” – intentionally seeking out and inviting faculty and staff to stay at the retreat center, supporting them in prayer and encouragement, and providing a weekend of respite and recharge that can only be found in the Spirit.

Calacali worship – the second weekend of the month, we have started to hold either Saturday night or Sunday morning worship services out at Calacali.  While casual in setting, we are able to join together for worship and fellowship, often coupled with a meal of some sort.  Whether it be around the bonfire or in the conference room, we are focusing on the bonds that tie us all together as believers…the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.DSC_0191 DSC_0187 DSC_0183

School – the kids are continuing their online schooling this year and we have been blessed toDSC_0308 be able to use the Black Hills Online Learning Community to support our efforts.  Homeschooling has provided us the flexibility to be able to work out at Calacali when needed, and be flexible with travel and people visiting.

AWANA – The school has set aside Wednesdays after school for Christian Service Outreach programs (CSO).  One of the programs that was on Brad’s heart was the AWANA outreach.  He grew up with AWANA as a child, and had great memories of deepening his faith through that program.  So, Brad, along with several other faculty and close to twenty high school student leaders,  will start a pre-K through 6th grade AWANA program at the school in October.  The boys are both going to be leaders and Tessa will be a participant.  We’re excited about how the high school students are embracing this opportunity and look forward to seeing them develop as young leaders.

DNA (Discipleship, Nurturing, Accountability) group – The last period of the school day on Wednesdays is set aside for DNA groups.  These groups, which meet three times a month, are small cells of kids who come together with a common interest which is used as a launching pad to develop relationships and deepen their walk with Christ.  Many of the high schoolers are non-Christian, so the traditional chapel (which is still held once a month) was not meeting the needs of the majority of students.  Knowing that relationships are often the key to going deeper and being transparent, the DNA groups are a bridge to fill this need and focus on small groups of kids with the intention of developing a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  My friend Ashley and I have developed a “Diner’s Club Challenge” cooking group in which we collect funds from faculty and staff and use the funds to bless others.  The past two weeks, our group has received funds to bake dozens of cookies which were used to share with faculty at a professional development meeting along with sharing baked goods with the maintenance staff as a thank you for all their hard work.  We have a group of nine students and we are trusting God to do a mighty work in these kids as we prepare to be the hands and feet of Jesus.

Just a glimpse, but we ask that you would continue to keep us in your prayers as we seek to serve God first and foremost in these areas.  May we continue to serve him faithfully no matter our location or vocation as we plant the seeds that only the Spirit can bring to fruit.

RC Sproul

Blessed to be held in his hands,

Sarah

 

 

 

Blest Be the Tie that Binds – An Overview

Blest be the tie that binds
Our hearts in Christian love;
The fellowship of kindred minds
Is like to that above.

Boy, this post is long overdue.

<insert all our excuses here>

Where to start?  The hymn above came to my mind this morning as I was looking through pictures from the past few months.  This past summer was certainly a new experience for us.  How do you “do” travel back to the United States when you no longer have a home, a vehicle, or anything to really call your own?  How do you do it “well”?

DSC_0066And, how do you get used to paying this
<—–when you are used to paying $1.03 for diesel or $1.48 for regular??

While we reflect back on what went right and what we could improve on, I find I have one big regret from our summer in the US…I’m sad that I didn’t take more pictures of each and every sharing time we had with friends and family.  I would have loved to now look back and see every person we were blessed to come in contact with.   But, we did have a summer of strengthening relationships and intentional fellowship which was a gift in itself.  Our time was filled with binding our hearts with others, and, now, as we are back in Ecuador, I cherish the memories and time of encouragement we experienced even more.

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The kids were able to connect with friends and cousins…it’s pretty much a dream summer when you have the “yes” parents who let you see all your friends as much as you possibly can.  Josh and Tess were welcomed into the families of their friends, and Jacob rejoined his baseball team, with team parents who graciously shared hotel rooms and their cars to help us out when we couldn’t attend tournaments and games.  They also had the opportunity to speak to their youth group about what has been happening in Ecuador and how they each have been finding a way to use their gifts to serve others.

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Before our Father’s throne,
We pour our ardent prayers;
Our fears, our hopes, our aims are one,
Our comforts, and our cares.

Probably about eight years ago, Brad was asked to take a position as deacon of our church.  His first impulse was to say no, feeling totally unqualified and certainly too busy to take on this role.  Interestingly enough, through a lot of prayer and searching, “no” became “yes” through obedience and Brad stepping out in faith.  His only condition was that he would never have to stand in front of church and lead a service or speak.  So, of course, as God would have it, Brad was asked to share the message at our home church one Sunday over the summer.  He did a fabulous job of sharing how God is faithful and we only need to cling to the Rocks and the Roots – his promises!  Take a listen…(you may need to allow time for it to buffer and feel free to click on the HD in the bottom right corner to reduce the quality slightly to allow it to load faster)

I was also blessed to be able to be a part of a special women’s retreat put on by my home church, held just days before we left to return to Ecuador.  I can’t describe the feeling of standing before these ladies who have been such a vital and important part of my life for the past years.  While the theme of the event was Invisible: When Only God Sees, I can tell you that these special people are seen by me.  I see women who have been hurt, wounded, stretched, bound, persecuted…but know and trust they have been released and redeemed by the blood of the Lamb.   What an encouragement for me to be with these godly women and challenge them to exercise gratitude on a daily basis to change their life and to affect the lives of those around them.  My soul was plumb filled up to venture forth for another year without them.  We serve in different places, but we serve the same Master.

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We share our mutual woes,
Our mutual burdens bear;
And often for each other flows
The sympathizing tear.

Over the course of this past year, we had been praying for so many people from our family, our friends, our church…while we were home, we once again were able to celebrate joys and share in the sorrows of those we love.  Our dear friends were finally able to bring home their twins from Haiti after delays, heartache, and obstacles.  In God’s perfect timing, we were able to share in the special homecoming and rejoice with the arrival of Judah and Elijah.

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We continue to pray for our brother-in-law, Gary, who lost his best friend to an aneurysm while we were together over the 4th of July.  We were blessed to have met Matt Stefan on many occasions and know he had an eternal impact on those around him.  Once again, the shortness of life brings our focus back to the urgency of sharing the gospel and living for Jesus.

When we asunder part,
It gives us inward pain;
But we shall still be joined in heart,
And hope to meet again.

Coming back to Ecuador felt a bit different this year than last.  While we were excited to return, the excitement of the unknown had diminished and we knew more of what we’d be facing.  We had the whirlwind summer of being with friends and family, deepening relationships that would be now again separated by time and distance.  As the hymn states, it gives us inward pain, but we have the assurance of being united again, if not physically, then in heaven.  This is the promise we cling to and we claim.

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We’ll share more in the upcoming days on what has changed, our challenges, our hopes, and how we are trying to continue to be intentional with sharing the gospel.  There are may exciting changes and challenges ahead, but we are looking to the One who is faithful to guide and direct our paths.

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
Ephesians 3:20-21 ESV

 

We saw God today

In a little over a week, Brad, Tess, and I will head back to the States.  Our boys are already well immersed in the American culture, feasting on foods they have not had for ten months, and fully enjoying the joys of the much-beloved idiot box television.  From afar, it appears that they have re-acclimated nicely, and are treasuring their time with family and friends.

We are deeply excited to join them.  We are anxious to see all of our loved ones, have a Starbucks coffee, enjoy some creature comforts that we may miss here, and get reacquainted.

But, honestly, I think it is going to be WEIRD.

Not in a bad way…just different.  I’m not totally sure what to expect.  We’ve gotten used to some things here that we absolutely love.  We miss some things from our previous home.  Put that all together, mix it up, and I’m not sure what is going to happen once we get feet back on the ground in the good ol’ US of A.  People talk about culture shock and that it happens in both directions.  Our boys have eluded to a few observations they have made already, so we’ll need to debrief to see if it truly is a reality for us.  In the meantime, we’ll embrace the time we have together, revel in being with fellow believers, and reminisce about the simple and blessed life we have experienced over the past months.

While we’ve been in Ecuador, we’ve been working on being intentional in slowing down from the hectic pace of life, building relationships, listening to God’s voice, and living in the moment.   It’s often not easy – we get caught up in the “busy-ness” here just like everyone else.  It takes practice to remember, first and foremost, that we are put on this earth to bring people to Christ and serve others.  By taking away all the “noise” and seeing God’s fingerprints in our life, we are more apt to be focused on the true things that matter.  As we become more aware of what is going on around us, and how God is at work in each and every moment, we become less self-centered and inwardly focused.  We start to see the beauty in even the smallest of things, which, in turn, makes him even more real and brings us into His presence.

How do we see Him at work?

It’s full moons and cotton candy clouds at sunset…

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It’s horseback riding thanks to friends who share their expertise.

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It’s spending an entire day setting up a created game with just the supplies you have – and making it work.

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It’s dogs you love and an extra who takes your bed.

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It’s working on projects that someday will make a difference.

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It’s drinking Coke out of real glass bottles.

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Sleepovers in the prayer cabin,

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and Superbowl drawings on the whiteboard.

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It’s about watching luminescent hummingbirds actually land…

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and playing extreme croquet.

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It’s taking time to pet the dog…

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and watch the art of a hard day’s work,

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It’s taking time to wait for your alpha male to come home.

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And a cozy fire.

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It’s seeing a baby calf within a half hour of its birth, and watching it stand for the very first time…

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And playing guitar by yourself, or for others…

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It’s doing schoolwork on the porch swing on a beautiful day…

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Or homemade donuts for breakfast, fried two at a time…

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It’s colorful quilts blowing in the breeze…

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Taking time to swing and hike –

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Stopping to notice the colors that are painted in the landscape,

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It’s not being fazed by a traffic jam of an unexpected sort…

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Or having a different than normal view on your walk to town…

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It’s having to slow the pace to get where you want to go, and enjoying the roads (steep as they are) as you meander your way to the destination…

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Sometimes, just living a simple life helps us treasure every moment as it happens.  It is learning to see the beauty in the day to day, in the normal, in the now.  You don’t have to go to Ecuador to find it.  It’s about being intentional with everything you do and say.  It’s about seeing the Creator in the creation.  It’s how God intends us to live.

Just look around and see how the Creator is calling you to Himself.  He’s just waiting for you to notice.

Yours, Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the splendor and the majesty, for everything in the heavens and on earth belongs to You.  Yours, Lord, is the kingdom and You are exalted as head over all.  1 Chronicles 29:11

Walking His Path

Some days, it just seems so surreal.  When we stop and take a step back to look at the big picture, we can get knocked to our knees with the wonder of what happens when we finally resolved to let God totally lead our lives.  One year ago, Brad and I were here in EcuaIMG_9507dor, taking a “vision trip” of sorts.  There were a number of reasons for the trip – seeking out ministry opportunities, searching for a tangible peace to all of the ideas and thoughts that we felt God had placed upon our hearts, and seeking discernment on final decisions to actually move forward with selling all of our accumulated goods to go “all in” and give up “worldly” security for eternal pursuits.  Now, a year later, we find ourselves in the same scenario as a year ago, here now in Ecuador, reviewing ministry opportunities, seeking peace and discernment for final decisions on our upcoming year.  Amazing how God has brought us full circle.

Last year, when we were here in Ecuador, Brad and I found ourselves struggling with our thoughts about mid-week.  We had met with so many people who had great opportunities.  We were torn about how God wanted us to proceed.  We felt pulled in many directions, all of them good, but yet we were so hoping that God would give us that specific peace about one area so we would at least know how to proceed.  So far, he had led us so specifically in our decision making – selling the house, selling the business…it was disconcerting to be in the IMG_9510middle of the place we felt God wanted us to be with no peace about what we were to do.  So, after praying for guidance, we made a list of why we felt led to follow this crazy path.  We brainstormed item after item, consolidating all the praying, seeking, and guidance that had brought us to this point.  As a result, we wrote down twenty-nine items that we felt were the vital reasons for changing our life and being more intentional about following Christ.  It affirmed to us what we both had been thinking, but, more importantly, it gave us a starting point along with a foundation for determining ministry direction.

We have been blessed to again have a number of amazing opportunities in front of us.  So, as we have been continually seeking direction for the next year, we pulled out the original list.  It was validating to look at something we wrote last May and seeIMG_9505 how God has been at work in so many different areas.  It challenged us to keep pushing and growing in the spots that we didn’t do so well in.  It helped us to regroup and see if our priorities have remained focused, matching them to the possibilities in front of us, providing further support for upcoming decisions that need to be made.  Finally, we could discern if we are continuing to strive to seek his way with the life verse he has placed before us as a family:

Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.                                                                                                                 – Colossians 2:6-7

So, we continue to let God lead.  We are trusting Him to set course in whatever decision is made.  We realize, when determining the will of God, it is not so much a turn from one path to another, or changing course, but, instead, it is to walk in God’s will on a moment-by-moment, day-by-day, hour-by-hour basis.  As Oswald Chambers writes,

When you are rightly related to God, it is a life of freedom and liberty and delight, you are God’s will, and all your common-sense decisions are His will for you unless He checks.  You decide things in perfect delightful friendship with God, knowing that if your decisions are wrong He will always check; when He checks, stop at once.                                                                                      – My Utmost For His Highest

We continue to seek Him, to learn more about Him, to commune with Him through His Word, to live in total surrender to Him.  We fail, and we fail miserably.  We want things, we want comforts, we want the easy way.  But, we remain convicted that, by saying to God that we will go wherever he leads and do whatever he asks, He, as our Father, will do what is best for us 100% of the time.

If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!
– Matthew 7:11 ESV

IMG_9515In Him, we continue to move forward.  Armed with the power of the Holy Spirit within us, we seek to be purposeful and intentional with sharing the gospel.  God is preparing the way so we have no reason to fear.  Instead, we have reason for our faith, and, in turn, a necessity to share it with others.  Shouldn’t that be our natural reaction to his best gift to us?  Yet it is not, at least in my own life.  I pray we will continue to turn from the entrapments of this world and seek God with our whole heart.

Let it begin with me.

I have been crucified with Christ.  It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.  And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.                                                                           – Galatians 2:20 ESV

From field to table

It’s harvest time in Ecuador.  An obvious difference from our South Dakota roots, where spring has sprung and farmers are certainly working on preparing their fields to plant the corn or the beans…yet here we are, late April, at the end of the growing cycle which we have been able to witness first hand from start to finish.

It all started back when we arrived late summer.  We caught the tail end of the purple corn harvest, a type of corn that is dried and ground into a flour for the specialty drink, colada morada.  A blend of corn, spices, and fruit, this drink is available as a commemoration of the Day of the Dead celebration.  One little field on the property is dedicated to growing this specialty corn.  José Marie picks it by hand and tosses it into the handmade basket on his back in true Ecuadorian style.

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Then, the soil is prepared.  This was late September.  It was so dry…according to José Maria, it was the worst it has been in thirteen years.  But, it doesn’t stop the need to plant the source of your livelihood and pray that God will send the rain.  With this process, there are no tractors for plowing and furrowing the rows.  Just two well-trained oxen, a sturdy yoke, and lots of muscle to turn the soil and make it ready for the seed.

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The fields are ready for planting mid-October.  Through a skilled technique, the women poke, drop, and step, creating symmetric and even rows of seed that will produce choclo, (pronounced choke low), the sweet corn of the Andes.  Row after furrowed row they walk, hand seeding with a baby in a back sling and seeds in the front.

IMG_7559 IMG_7562 IMG_7560 IMG_7557This sweet little guy is used to having to fend for himself and play with whatever materials are available around him.

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The rains finally come, but are too little, too late, perhaps, for the last planted field.  It will eventually grow, but there is uncertainty as to whether it will produce.

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José Maria tends the crops right before Christmas by hand hoeing..day after day he comes out of the corn, hunched over from wear and tear, yet is so fit for a seventy year old man.  I reminisce about my tiny little garden and how I hated to take care of the weeds.  It pales in comparison to the size of the fields that need to be maintained.  Certainly not the acres and acres that any farmer would have in America, but a plot of land that brings pride and satisfaction when it grows and produces.  The work ethic of this man is amazing.

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He picked a gunny sack full about a week ago, and, as he carted it off in his wheelbarrow, lamented to us how the market price is only $8 for the entire bag of 250 ears.  It is a bumper crop this year so supply exceeds demand.  He leaves at 2:00am to take a bus to Quito just to see if he can find a better price.  The report comes back that there were trucks and trucks of corn.  The price will be low for now.

But, when the corn is ready, it needs to be picked.  So, despite the price at the market, this week was one of excitement. Workers were hired and the harvest began.

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Through a time-tested ritual, workers entered row upon row to pick the corn, while José Maria and another man ran the gunny sacks back to the piles, dumping sack after sack to be sorted into grande and pequeña groupings.

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Harvest dictates we try a sample platter for lunch, fresh from the field, cooked in a classic “remembering Grandma” pot.  Many Ecuadorians use mayonnaise or cheese, but we stuck with good ol’ butter and salt.

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Two to three days of harvest, and a daily truck run into town with the fruits of their labor.

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And us, blessed to have them farming the land we are able to live on, purchased a bag of choclo to share when we hosted the Homeschool Teen Fellowship group last night.  One hundred ears husked with 150 more to send home with our guests.  Fresh picked the day of cooking.

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Now, that’s farm to table at its finest.

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 “To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven:  A time to be born, a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck what is planted…”  Ecclesiastes 3:1-3 (KJV)

 

When the gringos go to town

When we moved to Quito, we knew it would be awhile before we got a car – if we got one at all.  We were willing to try out the bus and taxi scene and, once Brad got his license, we would potentially look into the feasibility (and investment!) of getting our own vehicle.  Now, certainly, the city of Quito lends itself to getting around fairly easily with a very reasonably priced taxi, but being 45 minutes out of town in Calacali is a game-changer.  Going to the Alliance school, getting groceries, well, let’s just say we’ve become resident experts in the art of bus riding and getting to town.  Alternative transportation is limited.
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For example, let’s say we’re heading into town to get groceries.  Now, one option is to walk a mile into Calacali and head to the Sunday market to get our fruits and vegetables, stop for a few basics of yogurt, eggs, and chips at the local tienda (a small corner store), and grab some buns or enrollados at a panaderia (bread store).  This was (and is) our usual Sunday routine – complete with large bags to fill with potatoes, cauliflower, tomatoes, carrots, pineapple…But, certainly worth the walk and the heavy baggage for fresh, locally-grown produce.

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$6 of fresh produce from the market

Now, unfortunately, we do have to venture in a bit further to get the rest of our goods.  We have become masters of knowing exactly how much food (and weight) each person can fit into a backpack or canvas bag.  It is essential to be able to have the distribution of weight correct, as often times the buses are standing room only, so you have to be able to stand, surf style, hold on to an upper handle while supporting either the backpack or the bag in a protective measure because you never quite know who might want your chifles (plantain chips) or bagged milk.

Once on the bus, you pay your 42 cents to get you about an hour from the MegaMaxi store back to Calacali, where you walk the remaining mile, slightly uphill, all the while thinking about how perseverance (or at least heavy groceries) makes the body stronger.

At times, we may head to Calacali for an almuerzo (lunch).  But, once again, to get to town, we have to be creative…plastic chairs and all.
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Many of the local restaurants have a menu of the day item…here in Calacali, you receive a large bowl of soup, an entree that has a type of meat, rice, and a vegetable, juice of the day, all for the low price of $1.75 to $2.00.  This is where we have experienced an array of protein choices, from liver, to goat, to tongue.  Now, we have learned to ask before we order, because you can always substitute your meat with a fried (over- easy) egg.
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Once a week, at a minimum, we need to head in to the Alliance Academy in Quito.  In order to get there in time for meetings, we leave our home around 6:35am to make the trek into town to catch the 7am bus.  Walking in to Calacali is always an adventure and you never quite know what you will see…
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Luckily, the bus line starts at Calacali, so we are often guaranteed a seat.  This is quite fortunate as the bus becomes EXTREMELY crowded as it picks up people stop after stop.  The early mornings often take a toll, frequently lulling the young (and old)  to sleep…
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And, we recently even tried out the Metro – Ecuador’s version of the subway.  Just like the bus, you just pray you can get on and get off before the doors close!

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But, rewards await.  Getting off at a nearby bus stop, we walk the last 20 minutes downhill to school, stopping off to look at flowers, rest in the park, or have a quick snack at a local bakery.
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And, if we’re lucky, and it’s not raining, we catch a glimpse of at least one volcano on our walk down.

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Cotopaxi

Getting to and around town has sure been an adventure, thus far, but it has also served as a learning tool.  We’ve seen the respect for elders, pregnant women, and women with small children as people immediately give up their seat as soon as one enters the bus.  There is no looking around to see if someone else is going to do it, or a hesitation in hoping a different seat is found.  We’ve seen Ecuadorians go out of their way to make sure we didn’t miss our bus stop when we stay on the bus past the local tourist spot of Mitad del Mundo (the middle of the world) to go on to Calacali.   We’ve seen how the bus is a prime place to try and sell a CD, ice cream, cherries, grapes, limes, tomatoes, and homemade goods.  We’ve noticed, though, we are an obvious minority among Latinos, yet we receive many friendly smiles. We’ve seen how little boys and girls like to try out their limited English by saying “hello” and then giggling non-stop when you say hello back.

The bus has been a great experience, and one we will continue to use.  But, thankfully, we now have the option of driving as Brad has received his Ecuadorian license and we can rent a school van when it is available.
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And, in the very near future, we may be the proud owners of a used Nissan truck.  While the bus culture has worked for the short-term, we have found a vehicle that seems to be a good fit for us as a family.  Cars are an investment in this country and are extremly expensive, but retain their value far beyond what you would expect.   We are able to purchase from a family returning to the States, so we will be able to exchange money through American banks.  We know the history of the vehicle, and the current owner is willing to help us with all the transfer of paperwork, which is quite extensive.  Our prayer is that the vehicle will continue to retain its value throughout our time of ownership, and that we will be good stewards of this investment.  It is a BIG step, but one necessary at this time.

God continues to provide us with our every need, and we are thankful for his provision.  He has granted us safety through all our walking and riding.  We pray he will continue to keep his hand of protection upon us in this new adventure of driving!

2013 Reflections

Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and he will establish your plans. Proverbs 16:3

Happy New Year from Ecuador!  Around here, the Año Viejo has been created, which is a monigote (large dummy), a representative of the old year.  It is burned at midnight to symbolize the out with the old, in with the new.  We are anticipating a loud night, complete with fires, loud music, parties, and fireworks until late New Year’s Day morning.  We’ve been to town, checked out all the artistic renditions, had some pasta de chocolate, and have been playing family games all evening in the comfort of our casa,

Seeing as it is December 31st, the evening seems to naturally lend itself to reflection and reminiscing.  While we have certainly done that year to year, this past 365 days has proven to probably be the year sporting the biggest changes for our family.  In lieu of a Christmas letter this year, we thought we would share a bit of a recap:

November 2012:

  • Shared with our families how God was working in our life and instructing us to “get mobile”
  • God truly asking us for obedience without all the puzzle pieces in place
  • We meet with Pastor Kirk and Gloria to tell them how God is working in our life and he shares how he was compelled to share Proverbs 16:3 with us that day – one of many confirmations in this path

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December 2012:

  • Joshua gets a deer hunting with Grandpa Bierle and Uncle Steve
  • Plans being made to further heed God’s call to Ecuador – we realize this will may be our last Christmas at our house

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January:

  • God provides a young, godly chiropractor to begin the transition as owner of Brad’s practice
  • Kids continue their dog sitting jobs and brave the frigid temperatures
  • Kids begin to talk about Ecuador in “real time” – what we should do there, what they think their home will be like…we see them embracing the changes to come by trusting us as we trust our heavenly Father.

    Certain distinctive relationships move us to act differently, love more deeply, and risk boldly.  Such was Jesus’s effect upon the apprentices.  They did not want the sort of life they once had apart from him.  They’d been ruined for the ordinary.  What they saw in him transcended everything they hoped to get out of this world.  And when push came to shove, they just couldn’t leave him.  He had the secret – the words of eternal life.                                                                                                       —Sacrilege, p. 219

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February:

  • Letter sent to all Brad’s patients regarding the upcoming transition
  • God continues to speak to us in a variety of ways, strengthening and confirming his leading in our life on a daily basis in ways we would have never imagined
  • The whirlwind of transition begins, but we feel an overwhelming sense of peace with every step taken

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March:

  • Spoke at Abiding Savior to share how God is working in our life along with two other couples experiencing a similar leading
  • Continue to marvel at how God was putting the pieces together with each and every step he put before us.  He was ever faithful in showing us the “next thing” we needed
  • A potential buyer is solidified for our home without needing to list it – a couple placed on our hearts back in November
  • Sarah decides that moving to another continent is easier than addressing a letter.

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April:

  • Continued preparation in all areas of life (work, home, church, family) to be ready to follow God’s leading (So thankful for the prayer warriors who walked this journey with us – and continue to do so!)
  • Unexpected ice storm creates a mass amount of clean up at home and office

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May:

  • Dr.Levi Darling takes over Brad’s practice – changes for staff and patients but God is ever faithful!
  • We travel to Quito, Ecuador for vision trip and pray for confirmation of God’s will with this move
  • The Travis family welcomes us to Quito and become a vital part of our transition
  • Able to attend graduations for two of our godchildren – Martha Fritz and Ali Mogck

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June:

  • The month is a whirlwind filled with Jacob’s baseball (thankful for the graciousness of team parents who stepped in to help us out), lots of continued purging, and finishing school.  Josh and Tessa make the most of time with friends while they can

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IMG_20130627_054717_056July:

  • Tessa gets her ears pierced
  • Bierle Blessing Bonanza is held to sell our household items and ask for prayer support
  • Packing and giving away of all our household items is completed
  • Our home is sold to dear friends (Pastor Wade and Michele) who will love it as we did
  • Brad’s parents graciously allow us to live with them for 3 weeks
  • Goodbyes are said to dear church family, friends, and family

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August:

  • Jacob successfully finishes baseball season and we leave from the state tournament to Minneapolis to spend a final couple days with Sarah’s family before departure
  • We arrive at Alliance Academy International, Quito, Ecuador, on August 6th, 2013 and live in the school dorm for the first month, gaining special friendships for a lifetime

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September:

  • We move to Calacali, Ecuador, to further support the ministry of the AAI Discipleship and Ministry Center.  God continues to define our roles and ministry and we seek his direction in all that we do and say
  • Brad begins leading Discipleship/Accountability/Nurturing (DNA) group for high school sports group

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October:

  • Schooling at home begins for all three kids with mom and dad as teachers
  • We continue to host and support the groups coming to Calacali

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November:

  • We get our Ecuadorian visas and celebrate Thanksgiving with our new “family”

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December:

  • Brad gets his Ecuadorian driver’s license so our bus trips might be greatly reduced as we now have the option to use the school vans and potentially purchase a car
  • We host our first Christmas away from home with friends from Germany, Canada, Korea, China, and America

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We marvel at the changes of this past year.  We are amazed at God’s graciousness in safety and transition.  We praise Him daily for children who have not only embraced their new life, but have been examples to us, as parents, in how to step away from the worldly items we often claim near and dear, with the focus on the eternal.  We are in awe of God’s faithfulness that pours over us as we learn to fully trust in the Lord for each and every day’s provisions.  We are thankful for the peace he provides when we fully let him lead, rather than follow our own earthly desires.  Finally, we are humbled by the Christ-child who has taken people like us and released us from the bondage of sin so we might live together with him for eternity.  How can we not praise him?  How can we not seek him daily and follow him in every way?  This amazing gift is free for us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, our Lord.

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus, our Lord.  Romans 6: 22-23

It took us years to let God take full control of our life.  We gave him parts, but not our all.  Experience true freedom in him.  Give your life fully to him today.  You may not be called to Ecuador, but you are called to HIM.  Listen to his voice.  Follow Him.

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and forever.  Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!