Building the Kingdom, one child at a time

Imagine being a mom in the jungle of Ecuador.

You earn a minimum wage of $270 per month for a regular 40 hour work week. You hope your child will one day have a different and more fulfilling life than the one you have had. You dream of a better future. You see it on TV, you see it from the tourists who come from developed cities, and you hear it through your child’s frustration with a limited education. You have the option of a poor education that will lock your child in to a limited lifestyle, or you can hope for an education that will one day help your child break the cycle they have inherited. What would you do?

After being in Ecuador this summer and seeing both how much need is there and how simple it is to make a difference in Jesus name, I was thrilled to hear from our own Daniela Schwartz that we have another opportunity to invest in these wonderful kids.  The paragraph above is from a flyer I received from her about the Jungle Kids for Christ Sponsor A Student program that helps them provide quality, Christ-centered education to poor children in the jungles of Ecuador.  For only $45 per month, you can partner with a local family (who also must pay $45/mo) to send their child to the JKC school, an investment in the next generation that we’re already seeing bear much fruit.

Would you take a moment to read the attached one-page flyer and prayerfully consider if this might be something for you?  You can check it out here: Sponsor a student 2012 – 2013

Impacting the world together,
– Pastor Phillip

PHOTOS: Ecuador 2012 (5)

All good things must come to an end, including building projects.

Although we had a great time building a wooden house for a missionary family coming to work with Jungle Kids for Christ, it was also nice to finish the work and have the joy of a job well done.

Here are the final construction photos from our 2012 mission trip to Ecuador.

– Phillip

[NOTE: The other parts of this series (plus Ecuador daily recaps) can be found HERE.]


 

A clean sweep

 


 

Carry that weight

 


 

A long inspection

 


 

Smile for the camera

 


 

Quality work

 


 

A job well done

 

PHOTOS: Ecuador 2012 (4)

Few things say “we’re on a jungle mission trip” more than monkeys and macaws.

Like you might expect, Ecuador is filled with all sorts of exotic animals that aren’t normally found in the United States. Here are a few shots I had fun taking.

– Phillip

[NOTE: The other parts of this series (plus Ecuador daily recaps) can be found HERE.]


 

Breakfast for monkey


 


 

Watchdog of the morning


 


 

I want to break free


 


 

High-wire artist


 


 

Beautiful bird


 


 

Chicken!


 


 

One last look


 


PHOTOS: Ecuador 2012 (3)

Apparently, mission trips are hard work.

We had a great time on the building site in Ecuador as we helped construct a wood house for Jungle Kids for Christ.  The house will be used for a missionary family that will be moving down to spend at least a year ministering to children and families in the jungle.

Here are some of my favorite moments from our work.

– Phillip

[NOTE: The other parts of this series (plus Ecuador daily recaps) can be found HERE.]


 

Making plans

 


 

Up in the air

 


 

Making the cut

 


 

Bring your guns to work

 


 

Laying it straight

 


 

A well-deserved rest

 

PHOTOS: Ecuador 2012 (2)

If a picture’s worth a thousand words, here are some (nice) choice words about the team from Ecuador 2012.

This post continues a series of my favorite photographs from our mission trip to Misahualli, Ecuador in May of 2012.  Specifically, here are several shots of the people who went on the trip, captured in some special moments.  Feel free to pass along your impressions when you see them next. 🙂

– Phillip

[NOTE: The other parts of this series (plus Ecuador daily recaps) can be found HERE.]


 

Marcos makes a new friend


(Marcos Araya)

 


 

All systems go


(Ryan Eyre)

 


 

Who are you callin’ dirty?


(Chris McGuire)

 


 

Lovers far from home


(Cameron and Daniela Schwartz)

 


 

A smile for the family


(Marc Wallace)

 


 

A job well done


(Phil Schwartz)

 

PHOTOS: Ecuador 2012 (1)

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but that didn’t help much in English class.

Now, however, there is no word count requirement or final grade on the line, so I’ll be posting several of my favorite shots from our church mission trip to Ecuador.

I hope you enjoy.

– Phillip

[NOTE: The other parts of this series (plus Ecuador daily recaps) can be found HERE.]

 

Cooking by candlelight

 


 

A breakfast conversation

 


 

Fresh baked bread

 


 

Another day in Misahuallí

 


 

Two little friends

 

Ecuador 2012 – Day 8

The mudslides had carved deep furrows in the earth and the trenches remained; reminders of the fragility of life.

Clouds hung low over the green patchwork mountains as we passed the artificial canyons dug by mudslides in 2001.  Daniela Schwartz told us of people whose response to evacuation orders was simply, “We have no place else to go” and who had stayed with what little they had in hopes that they would be spared.

As we traveled along the road on the last leg of our trip to Quito, it was a solemn testimony to how quickly life can change for any of us, and how important it is to use our time and resources wisely now to invest in things that matter.

The morning had started with a final breakfast of fresh-baked bread and scrambled eggs at Hostal el Paisano, where we bid adios to our hosts, Hernan and Eunice, for the last time and began our journey home.  After an hour of driving, we made our first stop of the trip at a little town called Shell, 89km southwest of where we’d been staying in Misahuallí.

There, we got to visit the home of Nate Saint, a missionary pilot who was killed in 1956 while sharing the gospel with a previously unreached people group in the jungles of Ecuador.  “Operation Auca” was the name given to the plan to reach the Waodani tribe, and Nate Saint, Jim Elliot, Ed McCully, Roger Youderian, and Pete Fleming gave their lives in the attempt.  Seeing the house that served as a home base for the missionaries and hearing the stories of how the tribe eventually did embrace Christ was a glad reminder that when our investment is in God’s Kingdom, it always brings a return.  (More on Nate Saint is available here and in the movie End of the Spear.)

After taking photos and purchasing a few mementos to support the ministry, we continued our return trip, heading northwest another 47km to the tourist destination of Baños.  Before we got there, however, we had two important stops to make.

First, we pulled off the road at a little stand that offered a very special mountain experience: cable car rides across the ravine.  Unlike in the U.S., where we even have redundancies for our redundant safety systems, here there was simply a thick steel cable, a metal basket with a railing, and a drive system at the launch point that consisted of a modified car engine bolted to the concrete floor.

It was epic!

For only $1, we got to sail over the rocks and river below, capture breathtaking mountain photos from midair, and take some pretty cool videos like this one: Cable Car Adventure! (Ecuador 2012).

Having worked up an appetite with a morning of adventures and all the screaming on the cable car, we were quite ready for lunch and were not disappointed.  After a little bit of backtracking, we arrived at a beautiful resort hotel on the river where we enjoyed a rich burrito buffet of all sorts of delicious things, including an unexpected treat that we hadn’t had all week: Doritos!  We walked around the resort a bit as we waited for our food to be ready, then feasted and rested and got back on the bus for our jaunt into Baños.

By the time we arrived, the rain that had been mercifully absent all day finally began to fall.  Though it wasn’t quite a downpour, it gave the team pause as we considered whether or not to step out of the dry bus and explore the people-packed streets in between raindrops.  Thankfully, even as we deliberated, the clouds began to clear, and though there were a few periods where the sprinkles returned, our time in the city was mostly dry.  From the cathedral to the cuy (more on that in a moment), the tourist trap shops to an ally filled with local art, it was an exciting and different afternoon.  We were able to get souvenirs and snacks to get us home and take plenty of interesting photos along the way.

One of the most interesting parts of international travel is undoubtedly the food.  Though Ecuador offers plenty of dishes most Americans are familiar with (thank you Latin American restaurants), there are a few things that most folks from the U.S. have probably never heard of, much less tried to eat.

Enter cuy.

Daniela had talked about it several times throughout the trip.  In fact, as we had pondered the itinerary, cuy was one of the things she said she really wanted us to experience, if we were up for it.  Why would she be uncertain who would be partaking of this traditional delicacy?  Because cuy is the Ecuadorian name for a particularly large species of South American guinea pig.  (If you want to see it, click here.)  I chipped in a couple dollars towards the $17 it cost us to purchase one, and bravely took a few bites of the roasted rodent.  It tasted a little like duck.  I didn’t finish the whole piece, largely because there was a lot of fat in it and the skin was so tough, but I was quite pleased with myself for having tried it… and that I never have to do it again.

We spent about an hour and a half in Baños, then wrapped up our visit and hit the road one last time for our journey up to the mountain city of Quito, the drive which took us past the site of the mudslides.  After a day filled with adventure and exciting sights, sounds and tastes, it was good to take a moment to be reminded of the things that really matter most.  It’s fun to visit interesting new places and try new things, but at the end of the day our trip was about sharing God’s love for people in a tangible way.  So many in this world live with so few resources and so little hope, with no place to go even when tragedy strikes.  For some, what we call tragedy and hardship is an everyday reality, and for most, the little luxuries we take for granted are reserved for kings and queens.

Clean water.  Abundant food.  Education.  Personal transportation.  Air conditioning.

For those of us on the Ecuador 2012 team, it was a trip that gave us powerful memories and hopefully a lasting reminder of not just how blessed we are, but how we also have a calling from Jesus to share the blessing with others as much as we can.

After Pizza Hut for dinner in Quito, a brief goodbye to friends at the airport and a 3 hour and 45 minute red-eye flight that took off at 12:05am, we were back in the U.S.A.

There were paper towels in the bathroom and we could flush the toilet paper down.  Our rental vans took us from Miami to Fort Myers in air-conditioned comfort.  McDonald’s gave us a familiar, if unhealthy, taste of America for breakfast, and after two final hours of driving we arrived home and fell into the embraces of those we love.

 


 

Everyone says that when you get back from a mission trip, two things in particular stand out in your mind.  First, you understand just how good you have it at home.  Second, you realize that though the trip was intended to be a blessing to others, you yourself were just as blessed, perhaps even more.  In the wake of this trip, two things are certain.  This will not be our last project with Jungle Kids for Christ, and definitely not our last trip to Ecuador.

After all, there is still work to be done as we partner for the Kingdom, and there are dozens of smiling children whose lives are being changed, waiting to welcome us back to the heart of the jungle.

 

NOTE: The full collection of photos and captions from Ecuador 2012 is available at facebook.com/gatewaygrace. I’ll also be posting a selection of the best photos on the blog in the days and weeks to come, starting tomorrow. I’d love for you to leave comments below, and if you’d like to get my daily posts in your e-mail, just use the “Subscribe via e-mail” form on the upper-right of the content area. Thanks for joining me on the journey! -Phillip

 

Ecuador 2012 – Day 7

When you’ve been waking up at 5:45 all week, 7:30 feels like a luxury.

Morning came with a leisurely delay on the seventh day of our mission trip to Ecuador. After a week’s worth of early mornings and hard work, the team was treated to a day filled with some great opportunities to experience life in Ecuador in a whole different way.

Jeff Hunsucker and Phil Schwartz opted to stay behind at the Jungle Kids campus to put a few finishing touches on the project, while the rest of us headed out at 9:30 to take the bus to a small port on the Napo river. There we boarded a motor-powered canoe and headed up the river to the little village of Pusuno.  We ran the canoe aground on a rock-laden bank that served as the entryway to a grass and gravel trail that led up and over the hill away from the river.  Leaving our lunch coolers and bottles of water, juice and Coca-Cola in the boat, we made our way up the hill along the waist-high grass that bounded the little trail on either side.

It was hard to know where the trail ended and the main street of the village began because in reality, it was all the same thing.  No sidewalks or pavement here.  No shops or hostels or cafes, only a little line of ramshackle buildings with raggedy paint jobs and open-air windows.  A couple of street lights stood guard over the pueblo, as if there would be any reason to be out after dark, and a public bathroom stood broken and abandoned midway through the village, a monument to poorly executed help from well-meaning, but misguided, outsiders.

Being from the United States, it’s almost impossible to imagine the type of conditions in which these people live. Their problems aren’t about having slow internet or being too busy. They struggle to stave off malnutrition for their children and find clean water for the necessities of life.  We worry about paying our car insurance, while they walk or take a canoe to almost everywhere they need to go.

Perspective is a powerful thing.

We only spent about an hour in Pusuno, time which we spent looking around at the various areas of the village.  There was the little one-room school building where visiting teachers and missionaries try to make an impact on the kids, and the public meeting building where some sort of gathering was happening when we arrived.  In a field in front of the schoolhouse  was a group of small children playing Frisbee with a missionary group from Azusa Pacific University in California and it was a delightful thing to watch.  In the midst of poverty and a dim outlook for the future, these little ones knew how to find joy in the midst of the circumstances, and joy like that is contagious.

A few of us got the privilege to be invited in to the home of a woman who lives in Pusuno, an older lady with eight children.  Some of them played nearby in the village, while others, she told us, had gone to Quito to try and find work but had so far been unsuccessful.  She was quiet and reserved, a woman of small stature with skin the color of mahogany.  Her hands were callused and strong, yet still agile enough to weave together bracelets and necklaces of grass cord and beads which she sold to us for a dollar each.  Her smile was tired, but genuine, and though she had so little to call her own, she kept it well, even taking time to straighten up her modest home before we trapsed up the stairs to visit.

There is often a quiet dignity among those who live on little, and with her honest eyes and gentle hospitality, the woman in Pusuno was a reminder that even in poverty, there are still riches to be found by those with open hearts.

By the time we left the village the day was getting hot, so we were grateful to board our boat and get moving down the river once again.  After about fifteen minutes, we pulled off onto a dirt embankment that opened into a small clearing in the jungle underbrush, a clearing that would serve as our lunchroom for a bit.  We spent about half an hour on the shore, swatting away bugs in between bites of tuna sandwiches and fried plantain chips.  We expected another stretch of boat ride, but to our surprise, our after lunch trip was only to the other side of the river, where we docked and prepared to enter the wildlife refuge center called Amazonica.

One of the things the Ecuadorian authorities have to do on a regular basis is confiscate jungle animals from people who illegally keep them as pets or tourist attractions.  Whether monkeys or macaws, orangutans or ocelots, all are welcome at Amazonica.  After a long, long stair climb up the hill of the river bank, we found ourselves at the main center for tourists, where Christian, our German volunteer guide, started off our tour at the toucan area.  He explained the story of each species and how they came to the center, and, of course, why they couldn’t be released into the wild.  With stringy, thinning hair dyed red and clumped into an attempt at dreadlocks, an anarchy symbol tattooed on his wrist, a Soviet star on his upper back and a couple of infected piercings, Christian was himself an interesting sight for many of us.  He did a great job, however, and gave us just the right amount of talking to explain and silence to explore so that we had a great experience at the wildlife refuge nestled in the jungle on the bank of the Napo river.

After a morning filled with visitation and sightseeing, the team made our way back to the bus and returned to the campus of Jungle Kids for Christ in the mid-afternoon.  There we found Jeff and Phil, tired out from their last hurrah of building on the site and glad to see us and get packed up.  With just the two of them, they had done incredible work to put a few last details into place, and it was such a joy to see the fruit of our labors and theirs.  We had been asked to do the floor and roof, and had added to that the framing of interior and exterior walls, plus a good amount of siding, that in the words of Jeff and Phil, “should give the next group a pattern to follow so they don’t mess it up.”

You have to love good quality confidence.

With all of our building complete and our tools collected, the team hopped back on the bus for one final adventure on Day 7, the waterfall hiking destination called “Cascadas.”  After our interesting but grueling walking tour of Amazonica, a shower of waterfalls and a dip in the mountain stream seemed like a great idea.  What we didn’t know was that to get there would involve not just a 30 minute hike, but an uphill journey sotted with mud.

The mud we experienced on the job site in the days before was nothing compared to the stuff we trudged through as we spent all our effort trying not to slip or lose our sandals and shoes.  Yet, after all was said and done, not only was the waterfall so beautiful and refreshing that the hike was worth it, but the mud made it that much more epic a story to tell.

From the boat ride to a river village, to the hiking challenge of an amazon wildlife refuge, to a final visit to the Jungle Kids campus and a waterfall  excursion to top it off, Day 7 was an experience unlike any we had the rest of the trip.  For many, it was likely an entirely new type of adventure altogether, and a great way to wear ourselves out for one final night at Hostal el Paisano.

Though there was no rain to lull us to sleep this time, the jungle gave us cool breezes flowing in from the banks of the river, as our last day in Misahualli faded from experience into memory under a bright Ecuadorian moon.

Ecuador 2012 – Day 6

If there’s one thing that construction workers hate worse than a hot sun, it’s rain.

As morning dawned in Misahualli on Day 6 of our mission trip to Ecuador, the skies were filled with charcoal clouds and sporadic drips of rain.  By breakfast, the inconsistent drizzle had blossomed into a full-blown thunder storm, complete with work-stopping lightning.  The nice thing was that the deluge gave us a few extra minutes in the morning to have some devotional time that we missed the night before.

Once the rain lightened and our time together was completed, we piled in the bus and made our way to the Jungle Kids campus for the fourth day of construction on the new house we’re building.  The house will be used for a missionary family that is moving from Georgia to the jungle for at least a year, maybe more, and this will be a place for them to call home.

As we kicked off the day, the rain returned with a vengeance, drenching everything not covered by the roof, which was still only 75% complete.  Even the roof wood got soaked with the downpour, forcing the construction team to switch gears for the first half of the day.  Instead of roofing, siding rose to the top of the priority list.

The nice thing about siding was that there was plenty to do for the whole team, and since everyone was busy we made rapid progress.  Even better, a little before noon, the rain finally stopped and the site and materials began their long process of drying out.

As the day progressed into afternoon, we’d done a significant amount of siding, and more importantly, the roof supports were dry and ready to receive the coating of sheet metal that had been waiting since the previous day.  With much pushing and pulling, the sheets of metal were place across the waiting wooden supports and bolted down securely; another fine job from the Gateway crew.  By the end of the day, we were able to look at what had been an empty square of dirt with some concrete pilings in it and rejoice over an all-new structure with floor, ceiling, roof and a good chunk of siding complete.

It was a little bit bittersweet to say goodbye to the kids, not knowing if we’d see them again.  For me, it was also compounded by the fact that I had the chance to play guitar and sing with them and teach a small Bible study for three of the days I was there.  Seeing them all over the campus during the days and having them sing our song definitely tugged on my heart strings.

It had to be done, though, and as we drove off in the bus to head back to the hostel we did so both with joy and accomplishment at a job well done and a twinge of sadness to be winding down our time with them all.

One good antidote for sadness, of course, is good food, and once again our hosts and the Hostal Paisano did not disappoint.  Sauteed shrimp with rice and beans and an avocado salad were a great main entree, and dessert was a special fruit found only in Ecuador: “babaco”.  It tasted delicious, but had a little surprise on the other end.  Several of our team who ate it after dinner had a few more bathroom trips than usual that night and beyond.  Thankfully they were able to get some medicine that helped with the problem and calmed things down later in the day on Friday.  It was nice to have been able to go almost the whole trip without anyone having digestive issues, so this little bit wasn’t too bad and everyone took it in stride.

Thursday night was the last night we would have a devotional time after dinner, since Friday night we knew would be either an early bedtime or devoted to packing.  Because of this, we invited two other mission groups to join us for a time of singing and testimonies of what God has done so far in the jungles of Ecuador.

It was over an hour and a half.

What a blessing to sing as a united body of believers!  What a blessing to see how God is working through other people in other places and yet bringing it all together under the banner of Jesus Christ!  It was great to see people young and old from different places and backgrounds all praising the Lord together.  For me personally, it was one of the highlights of the trip.

At last though, we had to call it a night.  Knowing that morning would find us hitting the road for some special excursions, we knew that sleep would be crucial, and we were definitely ready for it anyway.

It had been a day of worship: first through work, then through song.  As the last note faded into the humid night and the last light abandoned us to the amber glow of the streetlights, we slept and dreamed of hammers and saws and children and smiles as the jungle rain returned to tuck us in again.

Ecuador 2012 – Day 5

You know you’re in the jungle when a monkey steals your seat.

As Day 5 of our Ecuador mission trip began, the monkeys were up and ready to go from the break of dawn.  Whether playing in the park or running all over the roof of our hostel during breakfast, they made quite a racket but were lots of fun to watch.

We hadn’t heard them in the morning before, most likely because Day 5 was the first that was clear and sunny outside for most of the day.  For the construction team, it was a welcome change in one sense and in another, a new challenge.  For the first time on the job site, we faced the brutal glare of the equatorial sun, and no one felt it more strongly than the roofers.

Chris Schwartz, Jeff Hunsucker, Marcos Araya, Phil Schwartz and Ryan Eyre did the majority of the “on top” work, laying cork board across the wooden frames we erected the day before.  As the solar bath continued, we all had to be reminded regularly to drink plenty of water, and were grateful for the sunblock we’d brought along.

Though not climbing on the roof, the rest of the team had plenty to do to keep them working hard.  Jose Morales, Mike Arcentales and I (Phillip) spent a good chunk of the time moving wood of various kinds from the storage shed out to the work site, as did several other teammates throughout the day.  Marc Wallace kept up the pace taking orders for different cuts on the support beams, while Chris McGuire kept the power saw humming literally all day long to make sure each piece of wood was cut to the right size.

The cutting was interrupted halfway through the morning when the electricity went out.  What we thought at first was a blown fuse from drawing too much power turned out to be a wider-reaching problem that affected the whole campus of Jungle Kids for Christ.  The bad news was that the whole place was without electricity for a couple of hours.  The good news was that they had a generator for us to use, so after a brief respite, the work continued full-throttle.

Day 5 also brought some startling discoveries, from the massive spider-like creature discovered in the girls’ bathroom to the slightly smaller but more menacing-looking spider we found in a woodpile.  Hopefully that was enough to fill our arachnid discovery quota for the trip.  The prize for the “best” discovery, however, goes to Abby Schwartz, who picked up a pile of wood and discovered a snake coiled up underneath.  One of the locals said it was a relative of a coral snake, but whatever it was, Abby’s husband Chris made sure it was dead.

Undaunted, the team continued and made even more progress than expected, finishing over half of the first roof layer and getting things ready for sheet metal, the final stage to come.

From cheese empanadas and fresh-baked bread in the morning, to arroz con pollo (rice and chicken) with plantains for lunch, the team was well-fed like usual and was grateful for good food to fuel the work.  We were rewarded with an excellent dinner of stewed beef and fried yucca as the day drew to a close at the hostel.

After great conversations and fellowship at dinner, some went straight to bed as others walked the town, taking in the sites.  The second day of construction had brought great progress for the team, aided by clear skies and good morale.  Little did they know that the next morning would bring a new challenge to overcome in the jungle of Ecuador…