Carve Your Name on Hearts: Meeting Guadalupe

One big thing that I didn’t write about in my last post about Ecuador was the opportunity I had to meet Guadalupe, one of the little girls I sponsor through Compassion International. It would have made an “already-long-post” a “too-long-post”, so I saved it for another day…

Meeting Guadalupe

After my trip to Thailand in 2013, I knew I wanted to do something to stay connected to the area. The country stole a piece of my heart, and so many children there need so much. So I partnered with Compassion International to sponsor a child near the area I had worked. Shortly after I returned from Ecuador this winter, I began thinking about sponsoring a child from Ecuador also. Coincidentally, in January, Compassion was also in Ecuador – doing one of their blogging trips. Each night, I would pour over their photos; seeing familiar places, and all those little faces with their dark brown eyes. In conjunction with the blogging trip, they were running a campaign to sponsor 50 kids in Ecuador during the month of January. So I did it. I scrolled through page after page of little faces. Some would catch my eye, and I would take a closer look. I wanted to sponsor a child who lived in an area close to where we would be working this summer, so a visit would be possible. Most of the kids didn’t fit that criteria.
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And then I saw her. Bright eyes and a mischievous smile. A blue shirt, pink shorts, and sandals. Curly hair and those big brown eyes. And she lived in Rocafuerte – a town I knew we’d be working in. She was definitely the one. Janeicy Guadalupe. A lot of name for such a little girl. We exchanged a few letters. Even though they come with a translation, I enjoyed trying to read through the Spanish and figure out what was she was saying. I arranged the visit with Compassion. My mom and I went shopping for her. What should a little girl have? How much can I shove into a backpack and carry across an ocean? We settled on a dress, some shoes, a baby doll, some hair things, a Spanish story Bible, markers and paper, chalk, bubbles, and play-dough. And a tutu skirt. Because every little girl should have a tutu skirt to twirl around in.

My visit was during the second week of the trip. I had arranged for my friend Lydia, and one of our translators, Martín, to join me. As the visit got closer, I was a little nervous. After all, Guadalupe is only three- would she even know who I was? What would I say to her family?

The day came, and one of the ladies from the church in Esmeraldas drove the three of us to Rocafuerte (a very cultural experience in and of itself!). Camilo, a representative from Compassion International, picked us up in Rocafuerte and drove us the short distance to the Compassion project. He told me that Guadalupe was waiting there and that she and her mom, Rosita, were very excited to be meeting me. As we walked up the path, Camilo called her name and she came running out of the building. Just as much energy as her photo depicted. When she wrapped her little arms around me, my heart melted. The sponsorship was no longer just letters. No longer just $38 a month. It was a person. A real little girl living in one of the poorest towns I’ve ever been to.

We toured the compassion project. She showed me her artwork and we played on the playground. I got to see her little world. Camilo told us that kids go to the project twice a week and for church on Sundays. He said that often, those are the only two solid meals the kids get all week. That often they don’t eat all of the food they’re given, because they bring it home to share with the rest of their family. He also told us that many times whole families come to Christ because of one sponsored child. That child goes to the project for church and then the whole family ends up coming and hearing and responding to the Gospel.

The beach is just a short distance from the project, so we drove down and took a walk along the shore. Before long, both Guadalupe and I were soaked from running into the waves. As she collected seashells and chased a ball along on the sand, Camilo explained to us that many families go clamming everyday- digging in the sand for hours to fill up buckets that will sell for a couple of dollars.

As I watched her splash in the waves, I couldn’t help but think of the starfish story. Guadalupe is one of millions of children around the world living in extreme poverty. I can’t help millions of children. But I can make a difference in the life of one.

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After the beach, we went to Guadalupe’s home. Just a concrete room, attached to a family member’s house, with a divider that creates two bedrooms. Guadalupe’s mom gave us some fruit from a fruit tree that they have in their backyard. While we were back there, Camilo showed us the huge tub that they collect rain water in. They don’t have running water, so they collect all the water they can when it rains. We went back inside and I sat on Guadalupe’s bed with her and opened the backpack full of surprises. She pulled her baby doll out, gave it a big hug and named her Meagan. A few minutes later, Guadalupe’s brother, Jari, came running home after his morning at school. His smile is just as infectious as hers.

We went to a restaurant for lunch – and for four dollars a person we all ate soup, meat, rice, and lentils. Over lunch, we talked about our families and what life was like for us. I learned that Guadalupe’s father is a fisherman- he wakes up at 4:30 every morning to see if he can get work on a fishing boat. Camilo told us that there aren’t as many boats available to go out as there used to be, because drug cartels from Columbia have started hiring the boats to transport drugs up to Mexico. So some days, he doesn’t have any work. And on a good day, he brings home $5. He also told us that in Ecuador, the kids call their sponsors “Madrinas or Padrinos” which means Godmother or Godfather. In Spanish, the word “sponsor” doesn’t hold that much meaning, but godmother is someone who loves, prays for, and believes in you. After lunch, we stopped for some ice cream, and Guadalupe and Jari’s  happiness over such a small thing was as obvious as the ice cream that was all over their faces.
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Soon, it was time to take Guadalupe and her family back to their house. We took a few more photos, and under normal circumstances, we would have had to say goodbye. But, the church where we were doing our program that week was literally about a five minute walk from her house. So, I was actually able to see her for three days. Every afternoon Guadalupe and Jari would come to our program and come find and find me and give me big hugs. One day, their parents walked them to the program and brought our whole team fruit from the tree in their backyard. It always amazes me how people with so little are so generous.


After our final program for the week, Lydia, Martín, Jason (who is hoping to sponsor Jari- please pray everything works out for that!), and I walked Guadalupe and Jari home. We said goodbyes and exchanged hugs, and with tears in my eyes, I walked away from her little house, but a part of me stayed there.

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In some ways it feels helpless to leave her in a town where there is so much poverty and abuse. But I don’t leave her alone. I leave her in the loving hands of her family, and more importantly in the good hands of a good God who loves her more than I could ever dream of.

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A big thank you to Lydia and Martín, for taking this journey with me (and an extra thank you to Martín for capturing our time together so wonderfully).
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Ecuador 2016

 

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My friend Lydia compares Ecuador to Narnia. Despite the fact the the wardrobe we had in our room in Esmeraldas did not take us there-we checked) I think she’s on to something. A couple weeks after I got back from Ecuador, my family took a trip out to Michigan to go camping, visit my brother Dan, and to pick up our dog, who had been staying with him while I was gone. We passed time on the drive by listening to the Focus on the Family dramatized version of the Chronicles of Narnia. In Prince Caspian, when the Pevensey children return to Narnia for the second time, Lucy is the first one to encounter Aslan. In their first conversation she tells him that she thought it would be the same as last time- that he would appear in the same way. It was one of those leading lines that I knew would elicit a quote-worthy response from Aslan. It’s the fourth story in the series, and you could just start to feel when they were coming. And sure enough he responded with something simple, yet profound: “things never happen the same way twice.”

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And it’s true. This trip to Ecuador was my third trip there, but my second summer trip, and undoubtedly and even sub-consciously, I was expecting it to be like last year. In some ways, of course, it was. We worked with the same church the first week, most of the same translators, even about half of the team was the same as last year. But in many ways, it was so different. Things never happen the same way twice. So here is the story of what God did this year; July 2016.

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Ecuador. It’s funny how a place 3,235 miles from where you live can feel so much like a second home. And how the people who live there can feel so much like a second family. I guess that’s the beauty of the global church.

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I could go through a day by day narrative of our trip, but I’m afraid that would get a little tedious for you. Instead, I’ll focus on the major themes from the trip.

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From the first day, I was taken out of my comfort zone. We arrived in Quito late Saturday night, and after four church programs on Sunday, we had a team meeting to find out which teams we would be on for the week. Last year, I had been on a craft team for two weeks and on a game team one week. I expected that I would be on a craft team again this year. But Liz announced the craft teams first, and I wasn’t on either of them, so I thought, “oh that’s interesting, I’m on a game team this week”, but then I wasn’t put on a game team either, and I knew that I was on story team. Now, to be honest, this had seriously been a secret fear of mine ever since last year. Story team was high-energy, very dynamic, highly creative. In fact, when I had been working on the curriculum, there were even times I thought, “well story team is always really good. I can just put a few ideas in there and they’ll know how to run with it and turn it into a good story”. But there I was, not only *on* story team, but *leading* story team. The first rotation on Monday morning felt like it lasted an hour, but things only got better from there. It was like God wanted to remind me that just because this was my third time to Ecuador, I wasn’t going to just coast through the trip. I was going to need to rely on Him for wisdom, energy, and creativity. By the end of the week, I was loving being on story team. One of my favorite parts about it is that the story team gets the most time to talk in depth about salvation with the kids. A lot of them had really great questions, and about 30 of them responded to the Gospel. It was awesome to get to pray and talk with them.

The first day that we worked with the church in Quito, Liz and Micah were talking to Pastor Benjamin about camp, which happens the last week of our trip. He told them that because of the earthquakes on the coast, a lot of parents weren’t wanting to send their kids this year and that there weren’t many kids signed up. And by “not many”, I think he meant six. He said, “I don’t know, maybe we won’t have camp this year”. For those of us that had been in years past, that was terrible news. Ask almost anyone who has been on the trip, and they will tell you that camp week is their favorite. It’s such an awesome time to get to spend quality time with the kids and develop deeper relationships with them. So you can imagine how disappointed we were when we heard that there might not be any camp. Pastor Benjamin did tell us that there were kids who wanted and would be able to go, but their parents couldn’t afford to send them. Well, that gave us an idea- we could try to raise the money to send them to camp! Our goal was to raise $8,400 – enough to send 60 kids to camp. We knew it was a lofty goal, and we didn’t know if it would work, but we all sent out emails to people back home and shared about it on social media. The first 24 hours of the fundraiser were incredible. It seemed like every 15 minutes we would hear “four more kids sponsored for camp”, “we just got in enough for two more kids”, “guys, five kids just got sponsored”! By the end of the fundraiser, (and before camp started) we had raised over $10,000. It was so amazing to see how quickly God answered our prayer – and how He gave us beyond what we had even hoped for.

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Our second week, we drove about eight hours through the mountains and the jungle and finally to the ocean to work in and around the coastal city of Esmeraldas. This was a new city for me to work in- last year during the second week, we worked in Otavalo, and just stopped in Esmeraldas for a church service on our way to camp. In addition to the geographical differences (Otavalo is high in the mountains and the air is cool and fresh, Esmeraldas is hot and humid right on the ocean), the cultural differences are huge. The people in Otavalo are very reserved and many wear traditional Ecuadorean clothes.

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Esmeraldas is vibrant and rowdy and loud and full of life. In the afternoons, we did our program at a small fishing village about an hour outside of Esmeraldas called Rocafuerte. It is one of the neediest towns I’ve ever seen. By the end of the week, we had about 200 kids coming to our program. Many of them live on the streets. Many of them come from broken families. Many of them are abused. The first few afternoons, I was focused on controlling each group of kids for the twenty minutes that I had them. Shouting over the noises, hoping that some of the story would be communicated and that someone would hear it. And then, I felt like God showed me that I needed to look past the numbers, and see their faces. And when I looked at their faces, my heart broke.

You can see it in their eyes. They’ve seen more of life in the short years they’ve lived than most of us will ever see in our entire lifetimes. Hurt. Abuse. Disappointment. It’s all written on their faces. The kids that we worked with in Rocafuerte were definitely a challenging group. They took all the love and energy we could pour out on them, and we still only seemed to scratch the surface. I had a nagging feeling in the back of my mind that our group, coming for a few days and then leaving, was just another in a long line of disappointments for these kids. In my discouragement, I turned to Philippians for my devotions. Philippians 1:6 flew off the page at me: “being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry on to completion until the day of Jesus Christ.” It is not our job to complete the work. Christ will take care of that. It is ours to obey. To plant the seeds. To love the hurting He has placed in our lives today. He will take care of them tomorrow when we are no longer with them.


Friday afternoon we did a program for a town right outside of Rocafuerte. We had a great turnout, and thankfully, we were under cover, since it started pouring rain about halfway through the afternoon. As the program drew to a close, the rain stopped, and a huge rainbow appeared in the sky. As we were leaving the program that day, the pastor in that town left us with 1 Corinthians 15:58, “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord, your labor is not in vain.” God knows just what we need. He knows that we need to be reminded that He will complete the work that has been started. He knows that we need to be reminded that our labor is not in vain. And some days, He knows that we need an extra reminder that He is faithful to keep His promises.MKW_20160722IMG_8197© Meagan Wanschura
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The final week was spent at camp. In total, there were 84 kids there, from five different churches in Quito, Otavalo, and Rocafuerte. At first we were worried about how the kids from the different churches were going to get along. For the most part, they blended remarkably well. It was an absolute joy to witness kids, who normally would never have the chance to go to camp, spend the week playing, laughing, and learning about Jesus. I led the green team, “Verde” for the week. I had 16 awesome kids on my team, two dynamite translators, three fabulous helpers, and two great team members on my team for the week.

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Together we learned bible verses (in Spanish), played games, ran to line ups, cheered for each other, and worked together. Everything at camp is a competition. The five teams (Rojo, Azul, Verde, Tomate, and Morado) are competing against each other. At the end of the week, when all the points for all the competitions were tallied, our team won the gold medal. I loved watching the reaction on my kids’ face when they realized that they had won. Sheer excitement and happiness. My favorite part of my team though, was having Daniel and Genesis, two kids who were on my camp team last year, on my team again this year.

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I remember after the medal ceremony was over Friday night, almost everybody was sitting around, enjoying the huge bonfire that we made. I had run back to my cabin to grab a sweatshirt, and as I was on my way back to the fire, I stopped for a bit and sat at one of the tables right outside our cabins. A few team members and I reminisced about the week, and I remember thinking, I wish I could just bottle this up and take it home with me. The sounds of kids laughing and having fun. The mad dashes to line up after the whistle. The clapping game in the dining hall. Their big eyes while we are telling them stories. Practicing our memory verses together. The comradrerie amongst team mates. Kids praying to receive salvation. Braiding Martina’s hair. Paula coming and pressing her face against the screen door of our cabin. Watching Daniel play soccer. Sandiel coming up to me and doing our handshake. Josue calling me “Suzy” all week.  Filing 86 kids through little streets to the beach. I wish somehow I could take a part of that home.

 

Reintegrating back into everyday life is something I still haven’t mastered. It’s hard to go back to your world, when you’ve seen so much need and hurt somewhere else. I have so much abundance here. Why wasn’t I born in Rocafuerte? Why didn’t I grow up in a town where little girls are abused? Why was I raised by two parents who loved me? Why do I get to eat three meals a day and sleep in a bed every night, in a house with a roof over it? Those are the questions that I toss back in forth in my mind. Questions I will never be able to answer. In “The Horse and His Boy”, the main character, Shasta comes face to face with Aslan, and asks him why he had wounded his friend, Aravis. Aslan answers, “child, I am telling you your story, not hers. I tell no one any story but his own.” I don’t know why my story isn’t theirs. But I’m grateful that our stories are now intermixed. Because these kids’ stories have changed my story, and left an imprint on my heart.

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I feel like with every missions trip I take, I get a little bigger glimpse into the heart of God. I am reminded that when I weep over a hurting child, His heart breaks even more. When I rejoice at children committing their lives to Him, His joy is even greater. And really, isn’t that the whole reason for the journey – to know God more? After all, “this was the very reason you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.”

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New Beginnings

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Hi Friends!

Since 2010, I’ve been blogging over {here} – it’s been a mix of professional work and personal work. For awhile now, I’ve been wanting to separate the two. My new photography site will be forthcoming, but I’m excited that this new space is ready to roll. I’m not sure how often I’ll post, but the idea is that is will be a mix of everyday life, quotes, random doodles, and my latest adventures. So take a peek around, and thanks for reading!