Tag Archives: South America

Ridin’ in the back of our pickup truck

Mom and Martha 022Happy New Year!  Hard to believe it’s been weeks since my last post, but, as usual, it has been a busy, crazy few months.  We were blessed to share a wonderful Christmas and New Year’s with our friends (who are like family!) here in Ecuador.  Then, January 5th, my mom and my niece, Martha, came to visit for a bit over two weeks.  What an amazing time we had, sharing our ministry and country with them, while helping them to understand a bit more clearly what we do and how God is at work in this place.

Mom and Martha 202  Mom and Martha 040I thought I would share a bit about how we are managing to get around these days.  Last year, about this time, we realized that a vehicle would be a wise purchase, enabling us to have more mobility, flexibility, and a means to extend hospitality (by being able to buy more groceries than just what we could carry on the bus and get enough to share meals with others!)  Thankfully, the Lord led us to Howard and MaryAnn Scholl, our neighbors in Calacali.  They were heading back to the States, and had a 2006 Nissan truck to sell.  We moved forward with the purchase as we could verify the history and maintenance of the vehicle and work with English speaking people to complete the sale.  Certainly an investment, vehicles in Ecuador are extremely expensive, but they do retain their value (to a point).  The truck may be a little small for great comfort, but affordability was more of an issue than leg room.Mom and Martha 094  IMG_8953

Anyway, this truck is serving us well.  Except for some problems with the battery and a flat tire,  we have been able to “truck” around much of Ecuador.  Our long-legged boys barely fit in the extended cab, but have one great option…the truck bed.

The bed of the truck has been our saving grace with extra people, stretching out leg space, or just the option of getting out and viewing the Andes mountains in the open air.  Rain is always an issue and concern, but, unless you are sitting at a stoplight (high likelihood) or in a torrential downpour (happens here and there) the wind keeps most of the wetness off when you are cruising along.  (Oh, and the well placed tarp pulled up over your head helps as well).IMG_9631  Mom and Martha 021

So, many a person has traveled in this way, and, while we are still looking for a topper to protect our stuff when we travel (both from rain and someone grabbing things out of the back), we continue to make the most of this special little truck and are thankful for the places it takes us, and the people who are willing to ride along!

 IMG_9344   Mom and Martha 103 

It’s interesting, as I sorted through these pictures, that riding in the back of a pickup truck is kind of analogy of certain points in our walk with God.  Many times, we are facing backwards, looking at what the past has been, wondering what it all means, maybe facing regrets and bad decisions.  We see where we have been, and often times know full well the consequences of the sins we have committed.

DSC_0061 (2)BUT, when we are sitting in the back of the truck, we are, most often, still moving forward.  We are continuing on a journey that is not stagnant, not stuck in reverse.  Oh, even the rain may come, but we at least have a tarp to cover us, protecting us from the drenching.  And, if we continue to move forward, the saturation is less.  We have the vantage point of viewing the landscape changing and fading behind us, but we also have the benefit of seeing where we’ve been, and knowing that we are pushing onward.  We may not even have a visual of what is in front of us, where the road will lead, but we know the driver is leading on, and we trust.

Our past is real, and often comes with pain and regret.  But, we move forward, learning from the past, cushioned on this road with the forgiveness and grace of our Driver, the one in whom we trust. Do you trust Him today to relieve you of your past, and completely control your future?  I pray you have this hope that is found only in Him, our Savior and Lord.

Now this is what the Lord says—
the One who created you, Jacob,
and the One who formed you, Israel—
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by your name; you are Mine.
I will be with you
when you pass through the waters,
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not overwhelm you.
You will not be scorched
when you walk through the fire,
and the flame will not burn you.  Isaiah 43:1-2

Enjoy the view, knowing you are in His hands, past, present or future –


The faces of Calacali

We are in the midst of a wonderful time with Brad’s parents who have joined us in Ecuador for two weeks…a mix of work and play. Brad’s dad is speaking in a number of venues, sharing with Alliance Academy International students in Biology and Bible classes as well as area pastors, staff, and faculty.  Cape, Josh’s friend from Sioux Falls, was also able to travel down with them, and they have been enjoying  an assortment of play along with a mission project of trail blazing up on the mountain.  The time is flying!

While the boys are all hiking up the mountain, I thought I’d take a bit of time to share with you a few faces of the special people who have blessed us with their presence here at the discipleship and ministry center.  We have been able to host a variety of people, from Alliance Academy International staff and families, to church youth groups, to leadership trainings.  Here is just a sampling!

AAI family

IMG_7492 IMG_7862Travis family IMG_7708 IMG_7707 IMG_7706IMG_7594  IMG_8458 IMG_8137  IMG_7881IMG_7245 IMG_7272 



Caretaker Jorge and his father Jose Maria


AAI Soccer team


Mennonite church youth group


AAI 5th graders


Celebrating Jorge’s birthday


Alposento Alto youth group

Carmen Bajo church and Compassional International kids

IMG_8782 IMG_8777 IMG_8765 IMG_8763 IMG_8760 IMG_8759 IMG_8758 IMG_8747 IMG_8746 IMG_8745 IMG_8744 IMG_8742 IMG_8741 IMG_8739

We have been blessed greatly by all the faces that grace this property and trust that the Lord will do a mighty work in the lives of each and every one of these people .  God’s glorious creation is the perfect setting to draw people closer to him as the evidence of his magnificent glory is all around us.  We pray that all who set foot on this special place may feel his presence in a tangible way.



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.
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.


$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.
IMG_7829     IMG_7791

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.
IMG_8087    IMG_8088

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…

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…
IMG_8184             ↑IMG_8182

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!


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.
IMG_8187           IMG_8246 IMG_8161

And, if we’re lucky, and it’s not raining, we catch a glimpse of at least one volcano on our walk down.



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.
IMG_8189     IMG_8190

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!

Tour of Calacali

Hello everyone, this is Jacob. Since mom and dad can’t formulate their thoughts to write a new blog post, I have been given permission to express those thoughts for them. Since nobody back home is very familiar with the ministry and retreat center where we are living, I have decided to provide you with a tour.

Section one, the entrance:

Driveway looking toward the road

Driveway looking toward the road

That pretty much shows all of the entrance. The gate starts the driveway bordered by corn fields and it continues up towards the main part of the camp where it passes the bodega (storage/closet) building and the red house where we live and ends in the “parking lot” in front of the tan cabin. Who is that handsome guy in the chair you ask? Well, that would be me, waiting to bring the garbage down in wheelbarrows when I see the garbage truck go down the road. We can’t leave the garbage at the end of the driveway because we don’t know exactly when the garbage man will come, and, this place is loaded with stray dogs looking for their next meal.  One of the disadvantages of having a long driveway is it takes a lot out of you when you are sprinting down it with a wheelbarrow full of garbage.

The bodega building is also included in the entrance section. This building contains many years of history from the school such as props from plays and other various items from the old dorm at the school. But the bodega also includes hidden treasures left behind from years of missionaries leaving Ecuador with no where to put their stuff. Guess where that stuff ended up…

look what we found in the bodega!

look what we found in the bodega!


Section two, the common area:


The common area is, well, the common area. This is the middle section of the property that contains the four cabins along with a miniature soccer field. This is where most people spend their time while they are staying on the property and for good reason; because this is where all the good stuff is. The soccer field is one of the main attractions in the common area, mostly because Ecuadorians enjoy their soccer. One of the only level spots on the property, the soccer field is placed in the only big enough space possible.

See the soccer field to the right of the ox?

See the soccer field to the right of the ox?

The field is conveniently fenced in so the soccer balls will not roll down hill and make you run it down. However, there are some gaps in the fence so people can enter the soccer field without having to leap the miniature fence. Sadly, the gaps are in the places that the ball always seems to go whenever it gets away from someone. The fire pit is also in the common area. Basically a ring of stone descending into a hole, the fire pit is a great place to hang out and get warm when the night comes.


Section three, the mountain:

The mountain part of the property consists of four main components: the prayer chapel, the pine forest, the eucalyptus forest, and the ridge. The prayer chapel is the most used component in the mountain section. There is a nice path leading up to the prayer chapel and it shows a great view of the entire property below along with providing a peaceful, secluded place to reflect on whatever God wants to tell you.

view from the prayer chapel

view from the prayer chapel

Prayer chapel on the mountail

Prayer chapel on the mountain

The pine forest borders the prayer chapel and runs up the mountain to about the same level as where the eucalyptus forest begins. All of the pine forest was planted by kids that used to go to the school and planted trees as part of a field trip and by Mister G. and some helpers. Most of the trees on the lower part of the forest still have markers which state the name of the student who planted the tree. The eucalyptus forest is on the opposite side of the mountain as the pine forest and runs from the same level as the top of the pine forest up until the summit of the mountain. The eucalyptus was planted after most of the mountains in our area of Ecuador were de-forested and almost no trees remained. To try and reclaim to beautiful hillsides, eucalyptus trees were planted.   Eucalyptus was chosen because it is fast growing, and was cheap at the time. Although it is an invasive species to Ecuador, it now populates most of the mountains around here. The last component of the mountain section is the ridge, which is the top of the mountain. Back when the property was first established, trenches were dug to distinguish property lines, so at the top of the mountain, a trench is dug and barbed wire is strung on the other side. Also, a thicket has grown in the trench and on the other side, obstructing any view down the other side.   Luckily, the view on our side is pretty good…


The cabins:

There are four cabins on the property not including the prayer chapel. We lovingly refer to them as the white cabin, the tan cabin (occasionally the brown cabin), the red barn, and the conference room. Since no official naming of the cabins is in place, we get by with those names. The conference room is the newest cabin and is not outfitted for sleeping, but it is a popular place for groups who want to have meetings, bible studies, or a place to hang out.

Conference room

Conference room

The conference room is essentially one room, with bathrooms and a small kitchen.

Inside conference room

Inside conference room

Moving right along, the next cabin we will explore on our tour is the white cabin. The white cabin is the most popular sleeping cabin because of its spaciousness, loft, and wood burning stove. There are also small garden beds enclosed in brick outside the white cabin.  These garden beds are home to onions, flowers, rhubarb, and various other plants whose names I do not know.

white cabin kitchen

white cabin kitchen

outside white cabin

outside white cabin

Loft area in white cabin

Inside the white cabin there is an open main space with couches, kitchen and the beloved wood stove. The first door on the left enters into a bedroom that can sleep six, along with a ladder leading up into the loft area where there are three mattresses for people to sleep on. There is a small ramp leading to another section of the loft. The ramp is probably a foot and a half wide and overlooks the bedroom below. It has no railings. There is then a small hole in the wall of the loft that visitors can crawl through into an area over the kitchen that sleeps an additional three people. There is another bedroom with a double bed, single bed, and a crib which has a small bathroom and ladder leading into a small loft that sleeps two overlooking the bedroom.  There is also one bathroom with a shower tub.

living space in the white cabin

living space in the white cabin

Next comes the tan cabin. The tan cabin has basically two entries – each door enters to a small kitchen, table, couch, and bathroom. Between those two sides are the bedrooms. The bedrooms sleep a total of nine but mattresses from our collection can be thrown on the floor if needed.

Tan cabin bedroom

Tan cabin bedroom

Living space in the tan cabin

Living space in the tan cabin

And last, but certainly not least, is the red barn, where we are living.

The red barn

The red barn

The downstairs of the red barn has a kitchen on one half, and tables for dining on the other, along with a fireside room and a bathroom. This is used as the community area where groups are welcome to come in and have a cup of coffee. The downstairs, which wraps all the way around the staircase provides a great area to prepare food and socialize with guests, friends, and family.

kitchen in our house

kitchen in our house

The fireside room has a wood burning stove in it, along with a propane heater mounted on the wall. One of those sources of heat are usually used in the mornings to take the chill off.

fireside room in the red barn

fireside room in the red barn

Upstairs is used as our primary living space. The roof is slanted, so the most space is in the middle, where the living room is located. The living room  consists of two couches, two easy chairs, two tables, other regular chairs, and our life support: the HUSJ (Heater of Ultimate and Spectacular Joy). In one of the four corners upstairs there is a bathroom while in the other three corners, there are bedrooms where Mom, Dad, Josh, and Tessa have moved in. That leaves one out: me (because Josh and I decided not to share a very small room). So I sleep behind the curtain on a single bed in the hallway (not really a hallway, just an empty space between Tessa’s room and the bathroom). Any day that the sun is out in the morning (most days), the upstairs becomes unbearably hot by mid-day. While outside may be 60 to 70 degrees, the thermometer upstairs tops out at 98 degrees on most days due to the windows and tin roof. So, the time between 10:30 am and 4:00 pm is usually spent downstairs or outside. At night around 7:00 until bedtime we cave in and turn on the HUSJ because the temperature starts to rapidly drop and often is 45 to 50 degrees by morning in the house.  Blankets save us overnight, but it’s a shock to the system getting up in the morning!

IMG_7586 IMG_7588

I hope I provided you with a decent tour of our new home along with something to read until mom and dad can formulate their thoughts into a blog post that gives you another segment of our lives that applies to yours (good slogan for the blog, eh?).

Until then,

-Jacob Bierle (un-official spokesperson for the Bierle family)





And suddenly we were in the treetops…

Okay, maybe not so suddenly.  Here’s the scoop…

Yesterday, Lois Wells, the Human Resources director here at Alliance Academy International (AAI), scheduled an outing for all the new staff and their families for a cultural trip to Mindo, Ecuador.  Mindo is about 100 km from Quito (yeah, we’re in the metric system) which translates to about 62 miles in our well known system of measurement.  This trip takes about  two hours due to the winding mountain roads and the non-passing lanes.  Let’s just say that Mrs. Wells could drive a 15 passenger van through the Andes mountains like no other.  When you come to visit, it would be best if we hire her to take us out and about – neither one of us can imagine being able to drive faster than about 30mph on these roads and no one wants to take 5 hours to get to their destination.

All that being said, we safely traveled through God’s majestic country and were able to experience magnificent views of the Andes while getting to know new fellow teachers and staff.  It is breathtaking to see the grandeur of God’s creation to this magnitude.  But, that experience had only just begun.  We arrived in Mindo, a village in Ecuador that is centered in the Mindo-Nambillo Protected Forest.  According to Wikipedia, it boasts 350-400 different species of birds, 40 species of butterflies, and 170 species of orchids.

We saw one bird.  But, it was pretty impressive…

Toucan in Mindo


It just happened to be that we saw this toucan from a treetop view.  You see, the outing consisted of ZIP-LINING!  One moment we were on our way to Mindo; the next moment we were getting strapped in to gear and climbing a platform to launch.  They say lack of sleep and altitude can cause memory problems, lapses in judgment, and delusions.  Obviously this was true as we ventured forth as a family (remember our desire to serve together?? 🙂 ) and off we went.



Zip lining in Mindo

Zip lining in Mindo


Brad and I were also able to experience this great adventure, one we know will certainly not come often, but shows the diversity of the Ecuadorian culture and landscape.  It was a time meant to build friendships, and forge new paths.  But, for our family, in a way, it was symbolic of this new step in our life…a step of faith.  A transition point, perhaps.  One doesn’t need to go zip-lining, though, to realize that all God is asking of you is to take that step – that step that he is asking of you.  Trust him.  Look to him for direction and fulfillment.  Trust him with your life and let him order your steps.  When you are zip-lining through the treetops, you can soar high, but it is a man-made adventure.  With Christ, your path in life can be beyond what you can even imagine.  Don’t soar the man-made way…soar on wings like eagles.  Explore the treetops…with Him.

Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. Isaiah 40:31

Trusting in him through the days we soar as well as the days we trudge,

The Bierle’s



We have arrived in Quito, Ecuador!!

After a whirlwind of activity over the past months, we have landed to open arms and a warm welcome from our new friends in Quito, Ecuador.  Tuesday morning started out very early (especially after the late night as we continued to find room for those last minute items) as Brad amazingly managed to somehow pack 9 suitcases, 3 backpacks, 2 briefcases, 3 heavy carry on bags, and one guitar into my brother Joel’s Expedition.  We must have looked like the clown car as six of us piled out at the Minneapolis airport, along with all of our items.  We only had to redistribute two suitcases a few times at the check-in counter to achieve the desired weight of 50lbs per bag…with the exception of one suitcase at 52.5 lbs which (God bless American Airlines) they graciously allowed us to pass through.  God’s hand was upon us as our second bags were miraculously passed through with no additional charge.

Our flights to Chicago and Miami went quite smoothly, but, due to a late start out of Chicago, our connection time was greatly reduced in Miami.  Our kids were amazing as they trucked through the Miami airport with backpacks loaded full, and everyone having an extra bag to lug around as well (two were full of books and resources, so you can imagine the weight!).  We made our connecting flight and somehow managed to still get Jacob’s guitar onboard, despite being almost the last people to board.  We flew smoothly into Quito, and were greeted by Lois Wells and Toby Travis, both from Alliance Academy International, the Christian school we are partnering with.  As it gets dark in Quito by around 6:30-7, our kids were not able to see much on the hour ride back to the school dorm, which is our home for the next few weeks.  However, Wednesday morning arrived bright and sunny, and Brad and I were up early to meet the faculty and staff at AAI and couldn’t have been more eager to have that first cup of coffee.

Wednesday was filled with meeting the administration and new arrivals at AAI, starting the visa process with Helga, obtaining internet and school email addresses, realizing our old cell phones are not global compatible so we need to get new ones to use, a quick trip to the grocery store, a walk to the bakery to get pan (bread), and a wonderful welcome dinner with Bill and Ellen Evans and their son, Jimmy.

Our dorm arrangements are fantastic…we will be living here the next few weeks to do business in the city before moving out to Calacali… the kids have a room with three beds and a bathroom, and we are across the hall with a bed and bathroom as well.  We’ve obviously made ourselves at home as is evident from the clutter already starting to accumulate…

Kids dorm room

Kids dorm room

Our dorm room

Our dorm room

The new dorm parents, Will and Ashley, who arrived to Quito Sunday night for their first experience here as well, have already become friends and we are sharing cooking and laundry facilities and are about to share our dinner meal this evening – leftover lasagna from last night and ramen noodles for the kiddos. 🙂  We are safely tucked in the walls of the school campus, with guards at both entrances,  excited to have internet access and anxious to share more details of our path as it continues to be revealed.

Today was a fun-filled explore Ecuador day, but is a post in itself as it demands a few pictures.  We truly appreciate all the prayers that have been sent up for us – we have felt them along the way and we know it has helped us feel connected to all of you through Christ!

God’s Word has been our guiding path, and Psalm 27:1 has been on my heart as of late…it was my dad’s favorite verse, and it resonates with me strongly these days:
The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear?  The Lord is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid?
We are venturing forth in faith, not fear, and we know the path will not be easy.  But, our eyes are turned towards him who gives all power and strength through his name.  We trust in this wholly.

Feeling blessed with his presence…

The Bierle’s