Friday, May 18, 2007

the Esmareldas

Ever since my first time in Ecuador 7 years ago, I have dreamed of going to the Esmareldas province in Ecuador. I am told by one of our camp counselors Sixto, that about 180 years ago, a slave ship went down off the coast of Ecuador, all of the "slaves" escaping into the jungle :) The province is now largely populated by African Ecuadorians... hence my dream :)

Well, this year following camp, I wanted to steal Janna away to spend some time together just the two of us, and help her relax and wind down following months of stressful prep for camp! Our destination of choice... Santo Domingo de Onceole, in the Esmareldan Jungle :) Over a year ago in a conversation with Armando we talked about going to the Esmareldas some day (some of his family is from there) ... so, to complete the dream Armando came with us!

It was a 10 hour bus ride, through the night, to reach Borana, the town we had to leave from for our 3 hour canoe ride on the river to reach Onceole :) What a long adventure! We all slept most of the bus ride, then sat by the river in Borana in a little house (friend of Julio Cesar's) to eat breakfast... boiled plantain and boiled fish and rice of course, before we loaded into our canoe :) We were many on the way in... Myself, Janna, and Armando, Sixto, Abel, Jadira, Julio Cesar, and 2 kids that came for camp, plus Peter (who had been at camp for a while, and is the pastor at the church in Onceole-he came to get us). On the way in it rained for a while, then the sun came out probably the most intense I've ever felt it in my life (this was the only day I burned this year... and only a little on my face).

It was really fun to be blazing down the river, feeling cool with water splashing, watching and waving at all the children we passed by along the river bank. I had to shake my head more than a few times because it felt like I was back in Africa :) Oh, happy day :)

In Onceole we stayed at the mission house (build within the past 2 years) where Jadira lives. It was already afternoon, most of us slept, then we had dinner, went for a walk. When the sun goes down in Onceole it really goes down... out come the candles... I love this kind of living. Armando and I stayed up late talking while it poured down rain on the tin roof... one of my favorite sounds in all the world :)

The next day we went to the 2 other villages on either side of Santo Domingo with the team of volunteers for Compassion International (Jadira, Abel, and his friend Miter, and Alfonzo from camp). We went there to find the kids being sponsored so they could write letters to their sponsors. We walked through the village main streets asking people if they knew where certain children lived, and if they could go tell them to meet us at the village school. It was just a neat experience to be on the "other side" of the sponsorship. I've had a sponsor child through World Vision for many years, and watching these kids write letters was really cool. I wish there was some way for me to get the pictures I took to their sponsors :)

There were kids everywhere, always playing... in both villages there were people drying cocoa out on plastic tarps-it smelt sorta bad, but was interesting. We had to wear rubber boots because the whole place was mud, and without boots you'd slip all over the place! I did fall once... apparently it is a customary initiation :) Between villages we had lunch at Sixto's sisters house, it was Coconut River Shrimp (Encocado de Cameron)... sooooo good :) The other village is actually where Alex (from bloque 6 -for those of you who know him) was the principle of the school for 6 months... I didn't know that before I went there! I have to say... if I were to live in this part of the Jungle, this would be the village that I'd pick... it was just phenominal, I loved it :)

We had fun playing with the kids all afternoon. It was amazing to go between Africa and Ecuador every 5 minutes... Africa when I looked at the kids, and Ecuador when they opened their mouths and Spanish came out :) There was one kid there that someone wanted to me take a look at because he had had an accident with a machete and his knee... the knee was stitched with thread (like for sewing) and there was one portion that had a bit of infection, the rest was mostly healed-pretty amazing actually. There was nothing I could do but advise the kid to keep it clean and covered if possible. I had no supplies with me, and there was no clinic in the village let alone a nurse or doctor of any sort. If someone needed medical care they would have to take the 3 hour canoe ride first.

It was a really nice day of just being and enjoying the Lord's people, His beautiful creations -people and nature :) It was also really neat to see where Sixto and Abel lived, their homes, their families, how much they love the jungle and are proud of where they grew up. We were both really glad we were able to come, although a bit disappointed that we weren't around the first few important follow-up days after camp, but we really had a wonderful time. Armando and I had some of our best conversations yet, and that time was a blessing and an answer to prayer for my time in Ecuador. On the way home the next morning we left at 5 am in our little canoe. It was almost pitch black out -no street lights on the river- and I was amazed how Sixto could even see to navigate us around all the river bends... while bailing water out of the canoe... haha :D As we neared Borana again there was a beautiful rainbow... All around it was just a wonderful time... a dream come true :) I'm so thankful.

Campamento Majores 2007

Janna and I showed up a day late for this camp, 'cause we'd stayed in Guayaquil to spend a bit more time with the Canadian team from our church, go to the market, go to Iguana Park (my first time there) help paint the school... and say goodbye.

This is of camp was the first time I'd ever been there without a big team of Canadians! It was a little bit different, but I sorta liked it too! If I hadn't already known so many of the Ecuadorians, since it was the Sr. Teens/College and career aged camp, I would have felt a bit out of my zone :P

The week of camp was filled with many of the same activities and competitions as the youth camp, but unfortunately had even less beach time because the water was even more ridiculous... the worst yet. But we all made due and appreciated every bit of time in the water even more! :) David... the director made sure we played lots of games on the beach during low-tide at least :)

One thing that I really liked about the older camp was that I got to sit in on a workshop... but not just any workshop... my sister's workshop :) Janna talked about Daniel (the Bible character) during her workshop time that week, and did a really great job of it. It still amazes me when I sit and listen to her talk, the whole thing in Spanish. I know she is fluent, but when I sit and listen and really think about it, I just love it :D And I love that the people really respond to her, they love her, they truly listen, and I love how the Lord uses her there. It was such a gift to be there with her. She blesses my heart :)

Because, as I said, I already knew some of the youth at this camp, I was blessed with having a few really great conversations, with Miguel Arocito (an ex-gang kid that gave his heart to the Lord last year at camp and is livin' strong for Jesus), Edy from bloque 10, Kathryn from Ontario (Heather's daughter), my 'brother' Pedro, Mauricio, and a really significant talk with another 'brother' Luigi, and even Janna had more time to talk this week... Actually, this was a great week also because I got to meet so many of the kids that Janna has talked about for the past 2 years. Quite a few of the Park Boys (gang guys from bloque 6) that she and Bethany have gotten to know and love over the years were there. Unfortunately 2 guys were sent home on Thursday morning after a second drug related incident during the week, but most of the guys made it trough with just the one warning... when you think about it, this really is admirable considering the addiction/habit they had to fight all week. (Picture to the left is most of them that were at camp with the Green team's trophy on the last night of camp)

I feel like there is a lot that I'm not saying, and I'm frustrated with myself that I didn't finish writing about Ecuador sooner (I've been away for the past 2 weeks and now it seem so far from my memory... all the details), there is so much that I would still like to communicate! :)

Again this week of camp the Lord laid on my heart 2 people in particular... One was a really tall, beautiful guy (no I wasn't praying for him cause he was pretty...) that was paying FULL attention to everything that went on in chapel- his name is also Miguel (blue shirt bottom right corner, thumbs up). I noticed the very first night that he had his eyes glued to the speaker and wasn't distracted by the park boys sitting behind him (who he knew and was friends with from living, and partying, in bloque 6). The other guy was Chamo, in the red shirt with the necklace in the middle-a bloque 6 park boy who had made a commitment last year to follow Jesus, but his good intentions didn't last throughout the year. The reasons behind feeling the Holy Spirit's call to labor in prayer for this boy is a longer story, but I felt, starting Wednesday, that the Lord was working in his heart. I had some good conversations with both of them during the week, but my talks with Chamo toped the charts for many reasons :) Both of these guys made decisions to recommit their lives to Christ and get "help" (discipleship) following camp. Both of the guys have continued strong since then, and are even helping out at the church with the kids and youth programs. Praise be to the Lord for lives transformed! :D

One really neat thing was that we didn't even know how significant this week of camp had been for people until the Sunday following... when Miguel shared his testimony and asked for prayer and support from the church in bloque 6 about his decision, and 5-6 youth shared about their week and different commitments they'd made at the bloque 10 church. I sat in amazement that morning at both church services, crying in joy at what the Lord can do to transform His children and make then more and more reflections of His Glory (2 Corinthians 3:18). What a Mighty God we serve!

What a amazing 3 weeks of camp, and what a blessing to be a part of what the Lord was and continues to do in the lives of so many fabulous people... that are SO easy to love :D