Friday, April 16, 2010

Ecuador Update, por fin

Greetings to one and all,

Thank you to each and every one of you who sent me an email in response to my last update. For those of you who are still procrastinating, as I did this email, I would still love to hear from you. Late is better than never! (Right?)

Lets start with some questions that are probably ringing in your head:

"Peter, How's life?"

Well, for the most part life has been pretty normal, well, at least as normal as life can get down here.

"Well, normal, that doesn't help me out much. What are some "normal" things that wouldn't seem normal to me?"

Well, for starters, everyone doesn't have a car around here, in fact, buses and taxis sometimes seem to outnumber the cars on the road, and definitely carry more passengers each day. Thus, my life revolves greatly around learning the different bus routes, and figuring out which routes are the best for taking me from where I live to each different activity. The family I live with has one car, and most mornings I can catch a ride to the Bilingue School, and from there most of my classes are walking distance. (within 8 large blocks) However, every evening, and whenever I have a change of schedule (or the car gets in an accident) I get to use the bus.

"Buses? What are they like in a third-world country?"

The bus system here is pretty amazing. True, you can't always count on the buses to use the same route every day, and sometimes you have to wait 30 minutes for the next bus, and sometimes the drivers are rather impatient, but generally the buses pass by quite regularly, and you can ride the bus as long as you want for 25 cents. That being said, that doesn't always mean that when you get on a bus you can count on having a comfortable ride. First off, the seats are built for 10-12 year-olds. Yeah, my knees are always squished against the seat in front of me, but that isn't the biggest problem. Finding a seat is most often out of the question.

I have gotten accustomed to riding buses with 30 seats, crammed with 60 or more people. In fact the other night riding back I counted 100 people that I could see riding in the same bus with me. (probably there were some kids or shorter people that I couldn't see in the back of the bus). When I got on, I was just standing in the door way, and we still added another 20 people before anyone got off at their stop. Its called squish a little tighter. I later found out that actually things have gotten better recently. In times past, at times they would have the inside FULL (evidently with a capacity of more than 100 people) and would have people hanging on with one hand to the doors, riding on the bumper, or anywhere else they could find a foothold before they would consider the bus full!

Thankfully the buses aren't always so full, so I sometimes get the privilege of sitting crammed in a seat for my 30-40 minute rides in the bus. (Yes, sitting crammed is preferable to trying to stand and hang on, especially when the driver is in a hurry)

"Well, what is travel in a car like?"

When I have the chance to ride in the car, life is also different. First off, many of the streets are so pot-holed you can't even attempt to avoid the pot-holes, you just try to avoid the worst ones. Secondly, traffic laws are very laxly adhered to. Turn signals are used at random, totally at random, sometimes the left signal is used to turn right, but more often no signal is used at all. Unfortunately I didn't make the effort to get an international driver's license before I came down here, so I haven't been able to try my hand at driving. It sure looks fun, though.

Ok, so traffic is a bit different around here. Whoever is bigger gets the right-of-way. That goes for pedestrians and bikes too. You have to watch out for your own safety when crossing a street.

"How about food? Is that different to?"

I have grown up accustomed to a wide variety of food, so I have been able to fully enjoy the food. The staples of the diet are rice, mote (a type of starchy large-kerneled, white-kerneled, and boiled maize), bread, and brothy soup (often with some type of meat broth for a base), with milk and natural juices for a beverage. Proteins are expensive, and used sparingly, but whatever food is prepared is superbly seasoned. The family I live with ends up eating more meat than is typical, (normally some sort of meat for supper) as they have the means to purchase the meat, and prefer meat to the more typical beans. Vegetables are more scarce than I am used to, but fruit is abundant.

"What are other cultural things that a Westerner would find strange or uncomfortable?"

Well, for starters, the traditional greeting for women is a kiss on the cheek, (women-to-women and men-to-women both) and it is very important that you greet everyone in a room when you arrive with the proper salutation (handshake men-to-men, and kiss for the women). Thankfully, I was fully aware of the tradition, and adjustment has been no issue for me. (Let's just hope I remember to readjust back to the cold western tradition of a simple handshake, or distant wave when I get back) ;-)

Hot water is a luxury. In the house I live in, there is not running hot water. For showers we use an electric shower head, which only provides minimal heating for the water. I have also gotten used to washing dishes in cold water. (much more difficult than in hot).

Perhaps that gives you a little idea of "normal" life down here. In general, life is a lot more simple with more emphasis placed on people, especially in times past. However, more and more technology is creeping in and taking time away from friendships and relationships. There is a lot less "surplus" income to use on luxuries and vacations, however, that does not prevent warm hospitality, and I have been blessed by many a gracious host insisting on feeding me a meal, or welcoming me into their home for a celebration.

"Ok, so maybe that's normal for you, but haven't you had anything out of the normal in the past weeks?!"

I have had the privilege to join the church on a Holy Week retreat to the coastal jungle. The climate was hot and humid, but the animal and plant life was magnificent. If you haven't already see the pictures on my brother's blog, I would suggest you to stop by and see some of God's beautiful creation. However, much more memorable and special to me was the fellowship, and the biblical teachings at the retreat. Pastor Santiago, Gerardo (on of the elders of the church) and Darwin Paccha (a young leader in the church) all taught different sessions on subjects varying from "The glory of Christ's death," to "the culture of noise." Did you know that the average American teen-ager spends just shy of 8 hours every day listening to mp3s, tv, radio, and playing video games? Can you imagine what influence this "noise" has on them? What a difference it would make if we were to turn off the "noise" to spend more time to listen to Christ!

I also had the opportunity to visit Nabon with Justo. Nabon is a small town a couple of hours away from Cuenca. My family lived in Nabon for 3 of their years in Ecuador. We visited many of my family's old friends, and I had the chance to see the house where the lived, and the school where Justo and Jessica attended Kindergarten. Justo is still well known in the town as not many "Gringos" (whites) visit the town, so he has to frequently stop to visit with some person or another.

"So, Peter, how would you rate your trip so far?"

Well, the Lord has really blessed me and my endeavors so far. I have been generally blessed with good health, and classes in general have been going very well. I teach about 22 hours of class each week solely in Spanish, with another 13 hours teaching English. (most of those hours I also use a lot of spanish) I also take part in 3 different cell groups, and take 4 hours of spanish classes each week to fill up my other free hours. Considering that I have to count on 30 minutes of travel for each class, I keep pretty busy.

As far as language goes, well, each day is better, but I still struggle a lot with the verbs. In Spanish, the verbs are conjugated differently for every person of pronoun, (I, you, he/she/it, we, you plural, and they) in past, present, future, subjunctive, and perfect tenses! Basically for each tense there are 6 conjugations of each verb to learn. Most of the verbs are regular and follow one of three set patterns, but there are just enough irregular verbs that are used a lot to keep a person confused. In general I am able to communicate what I need to, and I can do pretty well understanding most conversations, but I still have to concentrate to keep from getting "left behind" in a conversation. However, learning Spanish has gone fully as well as I ever expected. Considering that this was one of my main purposes for coming down here, I'd have to give my time so far an A+.

"So how has your time in a third-world-country, or specifically in Ecuador, changed you?"

Well, that is a really hard question. (why did I have to put this one in here anyways?!) Perhaps this is a question that would be best answered by you when we meet next. Quite honestly the culture, food, and people really didn't create the big of a culture shock for me. Perhaps I was expecting it to be far more different than it really is. The difficulties of language, and the challenges of teaching my first structured classes aside, it really has been more of a fun and exciting experience than a shock. Whatever the case, I would say that my time here has helped me to again rethink priorities. As I see the hospitality and generosity of these people, in American eyes generous and hospitable beyond their means, it makes me think again, what is really important, necessary for life? (Just to give an idea, a normal entry level salary here in Ecuador is $55-$75 a week. Often the work weeks are over 40 hours.)

Paul says in ITim. 6:8, that we should be content with food and clothing. (and no, he didn't leave out the ipod and cell phone because they weren't invented yet, I believe God inspire him to write it exactly how he did). If food and clothing (yes, shelter as well in a northern climate) are sufficient for contentment, shouldn't that be a reminder for us to take our eyes off of temporal things "where moth and rust destroy and thieves break in and steal"? Instead, where does God say to lay up our treasure? in heaven.

I have been challenged recently by the example of the apostle Paul. Here he was, a trained, intelligent, man. One who most likely could have lived a comfortable, if not affluent life, but he chose the life of service and danger. (I Cor. 9:19-22, II Cor 11:22-33, ,IITim. 1:8-11; 2:9-10; 4:6-8, and numerous places in Acts.) He rejected the comforts of this temporal life to strive for the eternal souls of men. "What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world, yet loses his soul?"

So how does this apply to me today? Does this mean I should live a life of poverty, rejecting all the comforts of life? Nay. Rather, this is a reminder where my focus should be. We have the responsibility to preach the Gospel to all nations. In whatever we do, to do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus. To cleanse ourselves from profane and idle babblings, strivings, youthful lusts, disputes, or whatever else may hinder our witness or impede our race of faith, and finally to prepare ourselves for every good work. (Mat. 6:33a, Acts 1:9, Col. 3:17, II Tim. 2, Phil 3:12-16) We need to give the more earnest heed to God's Word, to prepare ourselves for the work God has called us to. (Eph. 2:10) In this day and age of affluence and prosperity, it is often to easy to get caught up looking for the bigger paycheck, working those 5 hours overtime for some spending cash, or taking that second part-time job to allow for that vacation to Hawaii. What does that profit for eternity? (for more thoughts along this line, I encourage you to read about William Borden)

Yesterday I read of a man, Leonard Dober, who actually sold himself as a slave in the Virgin Islands to be a missionary to the slaves. Here a respectable, free man, sold himself to work as a slave, to be able to effectively minister to the slaves. However, it wasn't his sacrifice that shocked me the most, nor his willingness to ask for a lower position of servitude to better relate with the slaves he felt called to serve, it was the ridicule and shame he received from other Christians! Here was a man who sacrificially went to the extreme to serve God, and yet his "friends" ridiculed and mocked his service. However, the Lord blessed his ministry, and in 3 short years his ministry had grown to, not 100, not 1,000, but 13,000 new converts!

How often have I looked down on those who have sacrificially given up luxuries of life, perhaps a good job, perhaps a comfortable parish, to serve God, in their entirety?

So how can I pray for you in your last few weeks in Ecuador?

A heart of service: that the Lord can create in me a heart fulling willing to serve Him in any way he sees fit!

Safety: This is not just for me, but for everyone down here. Crime is a big issue, just over a week ago the church was robbed, and I know of at least one other person in the church who was robbed this week.

Mateo and Pablo: That I can be a good example for them, and that the Lord can continue to put the desire in their hearts to grow spiritually.

My Time: That the Lord can guide me in how to best balance my time, especially in these final two weeks, as there are sure to be many people wanting to "send me off" in these last weeks.

Do you have any praises to share?

Do I ever!

Parra family: When I arrived down here, the dad was not in the picture, and their children were really struggling in their studies. In the past months, I have seen the father come back, start digging in the Word, and start faithfully attending cell groups in the church. The change in the family has been absolutely dramatic. The Parras have been by far my best homeschool students, and their joy in having their father back is fully evident. What a change intact parents has on the children, and what a change our risen Lord can have on a marriage!

Homeschoolers: Along with the continued struggles, there have been some definite improvements. A couple of the families have been really difficult, but in the last couple of weeks they have started to be more responsive and more attentive in class. PTL!

Marriages: The struggles continue, but this last Sunday the sermon was on marriage, and afterwards the was a sharing time, followed by a prayer time for the 4 people who came forward to share their struggles. What a joy it is to see the public commitment to rebuild the relationships!

Once again I would like to offer my sincere gratitude for your support in communication and prayer! I look forward every morning to my chance to check my email inbox for new emails from all of you. God bless!

In Christ,

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