Ecuador - Coming Together for Christ

posted Jun 1, 2015, 12:39 AM by Julie Lawson

What could seven strangers from different countries and backgrounds who met for the first time in line for customs in Ecuador possibly do for God in a week? The better question is, what can God do in a week? My pastor likes to say that God doesn't even need a week, he just needs a moment. I witnessed God's touch many moments on this trip. Because this is a ministry and not just an engineering trip, I want to highlight some God moments. 

This was the longest I had ever been away from my kids. And as the day to depart arrived I found myself in tears sending them off to school (I was missing their last day of school) and in a panic attack as I rushed to finish packing and make my flight. I'm usually not too emotional so this was a big deal for me. I traveled throughout the day and even over night as we were driven to our host's home. The next morning as I explored my new surroundings and met my companions for the week I had a complete calmness and peace wash over me. I was instantly comforted from an extreme feeling of worry and fear. That fast of a change and that enriched feeling as if I were with family, though we had just met, can only come from the Father that we all share as believers. Every one of us stepped outside of our comfort zone and took a risk, yet bonding didn't take a week. We were a team from the moment God touched us and blessed our work. 

Our eMi team literally getting closer during one of many trips in the van.

God taught me many lessons too. One recurring theme is His provision. Though I waited until the last minute to fund raise, I exceeded my goal in a very short time. I'm so thankful for those who were moved to support this trip! Also as Keith rushed me to the airport and I worried that our goodbye would be at the curb, I noticed my friend Becky standing at the curb by the luggage stand - waiting to walk by my side and help me on my way. She stayed with me as Keith parked so they could both send me off. God sends community (in both of these examples) to show us that we aren't alone and to provide for us. 

In Atlanta, after our team almost didn't make the connection, we were delayed once we were on our way to the runway. A storm moved in and we waited an hour and a half to take off. When we did take off, it was a rough ride until we elevated above the clouds. Then we were rewarded with a beautiful sunset on the flight. This taught me many things:

1. God's timing, not mine.

2. I'm not in control.

3. It may be an uncomfortable journey, but there is beauty too. And God will get me there safely
4. (Shared by another team member during devotions) When you're in the storm, your instinct is to go down and land on safe ground. But it's still storming on the ground. And that won't get you anywhere either. Instead, go UP toward God and you'll be above the storm and moving forward.

The storm during our 1.5 hour delay on the Atlanta tarmac.

Our hosts took such great care of us while we were there. We had a great place to stay, fantastic food, and enthusiastic hosts who always greeted us with a smile. We had WiFi and could make free calls to the United States, so I was able to keep in touch with my family. I felt guilty because I had it so good. I wasn't simply being provided for, I was being pampered! Bethany reminded me that you don't have to suffer to serve. You may not even have to sacrifice much. Serving is enough. Serving still provides a blessing to others whether or not you suffer or sacrifice. I am thankful that my service came so comfortably and I am thankful that the wise Bethany helped put it into perspective!

Another lesson was that sometimes you need to receive. It was difficult to be served meals by the community in Pijal. They pulled together financially to give us several meals, including expensive delicacies. They waited on us as we ate. Yet we were in Ecuador to serve them. I didn't want to accept anything from them - I didn't need anything, I just wanted to help them. But one thing that I do want for them is equality and dignity. If they are offered the opportunity only to receive and never to give, I am putting myself above them. I am taking something from them. We are all equal in God's creation. And sometimes it is our turn to receive and accept the blessings others offer us.

Team Devotions on Sunday, June 8.

I struggled for my sense of significance early on the trip. I helped with the survey and getting the base map created in CAD, but even then I relied on my friends back at work to help with those areas. I tested the water at the site, but with municipally provided water and sewer available at the street my task was easy. I didn't have a lot of engineering design work to do, so I felt like I wasn't contributing to the team. I didn't feel like I was doing as much as the others and felt unimportant. Wednesday I realized that I was there to serve God's purpose, not mine. I connected with the team, FEDICE, and the people of Pijal and I encouraged others. I provided a listening ear when needed. Maybe my role wasn't what I anticipated, but I was still to do my best to serve in the role that God intended for me. My devotion on Thursday morning drove home the fact that I should stop comparing myself to others, and that I should focus on what I can do instead of what I'm not doing:

"Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load." - Galatians 6:4-5

Performing some water quality tests. 

I saw God work in many other ways during the trip. These are just a few examples. I will keep trying to put less burden on my shoulders and allow God to provide instead of trying to do it all on my own. I will keep trying to be aware of His presence and His work around me. And I'm sure He will have even more lessons for me later.

Ecuador: The Food

posted May 31, 2015, 10:27 PM by Julie Lawson

We ate so well in Ecuador, the food really needs its own blog entry. Most of our meals were prepared for us by Isabel but some were prepared by the women of Pijal as well. Either way, food definitely brings people together - even from different cultures - and unites and leads to laughter and friendship. 

We always had coffee available in the morning. In addition to cream and sugar, there was cocoa to scoop in as well! Breakfast usually included fresh fruit and oatmeal. Sometimes eggs or cornbread. Lunch is the biggest meal of the day and sometimes had a soup course, the main dish, and a dessert. No siesta after either! Dinner for Ecuadorians is usually bread and coffee, but they served lunch meat to us as well since we're used to a little more in the evening. Any way you look at it, this was not a trip to lose weight on!

Enjoy some food pictures!

Enjoying each other's company for Bethany's 30th Birthday Party on June 7. Gathering around the table together really brings a group together (photo by Rene).

Lunch by Isabel on Saturday, June 7.

Lunch in Pijal on Sunday, June 8.

Another lunch by Isabel on Sunday, June 8. They put popcorn in their soup! (try it, you may like it)

Kendra and Ruth checking out a babaco fruit (which is in the dish in front of me, like pears but with a perfume scent).

Cafe time in the kitchen!

A typical dinner spread.

Breakfast by Isabel on Monday, June 9.

Lunch in Pijal on Monday, June 9.

Breakfast by Isabel on Tuesday, June 10.

Lunch in Pijal on Tuesday, June 10 (Cuy is on the left).

Another lunch in Pijal (at the daycare) on Tuesday, June 10.

Lunch by Isabel on Wednesday, June 11.

Lunch by Isabel on Friday, June 13.

Lunch at La Riobambenita on the way to Quito on Saturday, June 14.

Dinner in Quito on Saturday, June 14 - guess where!

Breakfast in Quito at Hotel Los Alpes on Sunday, June 15.

Lunch in Quito on El Panecillo on Sunday, June 15.

Dinner from El Brasero on Sunday, June 15.

Day 10 Ecuador - Sunday June 15, 2014

posted May 31, 2015, 9:41 PM by Julie Lawson

On our last day in Ecuador, we decided to take a bus tour of the capital city of Quito to maximize our sight seeing. We were able to get off at various stops and then back on to continue our tour. And even though we couldn't exit at every stop, we at least heard about those stops and some other features that we passed.

We first stopped at the Basilica del Voto Nacional, which is a Roman Catholic Church at the center of Quito. You can see the Basilica from all over town it is so big. And we were able to climb up to the top of a tower and take in the amazing sights of the City. What was more amazing, was that Ecuador was playing in the World Cup at the time and scored a goal while we were up in the tower. We could hear cheering and horns honking from all over the city!

Our next stop was at el San Francisco, a Roman Catholic complex including a public square, a courtyard, and the church and its chapels. It is the largest architectural ensemble among the historical structures of colonial Latin America, covering over 7 acres (according to Wikipedia). In the streets around el San Fransico there were vendors, bands playing, and people out and about everywhere. We walked around, looked in a few other churches, and then headed back to the bus.

Finally, we stopped at El Panecillo, which is a 200 meter (656 foot) hill in downtown Quito. The top elevation of the hill is 3,016 meters (9,895 feet) above sea level. On top of the hill is an aluminum statue of Quito's madonna, which you can go inside. There are amazing views of the city in every direction from this hill. Vendors sold souvenirs and snacks and we fueled up on freshly made empanadas for the rest of the trip.

Once we were done with the tour it was time to go to the airport and all go our separate ways. It was a long night (red eye) of flying - and it was even longer for my new Canadian friends! But all made it home safely.

Tour bus selfie (photo by Rene).

The Basilca

Inside of the Basilica.

Our eMi team on the top of the Basilica (photo by Rene).

The stairs were no joke!

Going down a hill on the bus on the way toward El Panecillo.

The flag of Ecuador.

el San Francisco (photo by Rene).

Steve, Kevin, Julie, Ruth, Rene, and Luke sitting in front of San Francisco church (photo by Kendra).

Inside of el San Francisco church.

Dancing in the streets near el San Francisco.

La Virgen de Quito on El Panecillo

The view of Quito from El Panecillo

Our tour bus.

Day 9 Ecuador - Saturday June 14, 2014

posted May 31, 2015, 8:31 PM by Julie Lawson

Today we had to say goodbye to our Otavalo home. Marilyn and Glenn were such amazing hosts! And Isabel kept us caffeinated and well fed! Everyone was so great to be around and I know that they worked hard to take care of the seven of us. And they didn't complain once that we displaced them for a week from their regular rooms!

We split up in two cars and started the two hour drive toward Quito. There was beautiful scenery on the way - and there was a ton of highway construction too! There is definitely a push to improve infrastructure, as we saw roadway construction in progress every day we were there! 

The tourist equator is not on the actual equator. Being that we are engineers and such, we chose the correct location as our stopping point. There was a monument and some shops around, but apparently nothing compared to the tourist equator. Still, we double checked with our GPS and got to be on both hemispheres at the same time!

We stopped for lunch on the way and finally reached our hotel in Quito. It was a German owned and operated and the staff was very friendly. We hit the town for a small amount of time in the evening and had dinner and did some more shopping at the Quito market. Finally, we turned in for our last night in Ecuador.

Isabel (center), her mother, and her son Brayan. Isabel is an amazing cook! And we enjoyed helping Brayan practice his English!

Our eMi team straddling the equator - the actual one, not the tourist one (photo by Rene).

At a rest stop. Left to right: Rene, Kevin, Lisa, Bethany, Steve, Julie, Ruth, Kendra, Luke (photo by Rene).

Marilyn and Glenn at lunch - the love these two share is too deep and strong for words (photo by Kendra).

Bethany, Ruth, Kendra, Julie & Rene after lunch.

Our accommodations in Quito.

Day 8 Ecuador - Friday June 13, 2014

posted May 31, 2015, 7:59 PM by Julie Lawson   [ updated May 31, 2015, 11:19 PM ]

Today we worked on completing our presentation. In the evening, we went out to Pijal, where many from the congregation had gathered to find out what our proposed plan for their new church was. I have never had a presentation go so well! I can't take credit, my role was very small on this project and even if it had been larger - it is hard to impress a crowd with water and sewer design. The architects' imagination and fabulous renderings of the design really impressed. 
After the presentation, the pastor spoke and thanked us. I mean really, he thanked us - a lot. He thanked each of us individually. Then different members of the church took turns to speak about each of us individually and presented us with an embroidered souvenir that they made. The thank yous may have lasted longer than the actual presentation. What joy filled that room, and it was so genuine. After the thank yous, we posed for a team picture. Then FEDICE joined in. Then the member families from the church took turns and each family took their picture with our team. It was amazing to think that they want to cherish that memory as much as I want to! 

After our last big group picture, we headed to the basement where the women of the church had once again prepared cuy for us, this time roasted over a fire that they made in the basement of the church. Instead of purely being served, as they had done for us so many times throughout the week, they ended up sitting among us. We laughed together, we talked the best we could, we shared pictures of family with each other, and it was a great experience. Even though there was a language barrier, we all bonded with each other and came to know each other the best we could. I may not know the facts and figures about everyone I met, but I know for sure the love that they have in their hearts!

The gathering went fairly late into the evening and it was difficult to say goodbye, but we finally did and went back to Otavalo for our last night there. With the presentation accepted, our eMi team was tasked with finishing the design for construction from our homes in Canada and the United States.

Julie's portion of the presentation (photo by Rene).

The audience had a fantastic reaction when they saw the architectural renderings.

The site will become handicap accessible by flattening out the grade by the old church (left) and adding a paved ramp to prevent erosion. The new church (right) will have some parking out front and the soccer field will be on the far right side of the picture.

The new Sanctuary.

The proposed new church (left), which will include an office, storage, and restrooms. A courtyard will connect the old and new buildings and be used for meals and fellowship. The old church (right) will become classrooms upstairs, and a more formal kitchen, meeting room, and quarters for a visiting pastor downstairs.

The front of the new church.

The courtyard.

The eMi and FEDICE teams (photo by Blanca).
Back row (left to right): Kevin, Steve, Ruth, Marilyn, Kendra, Luke
Front row (left to right): Lisa, Julie, Blanca, Glenn, Bethany, Rene

eMi, FEDICE, and the wonderful members of Pijal Evangelical Alliance Church.

Cuy prepared barbeque style - minus the sauce (photo by Kendra).

One last meal with the good people of Pijal. This is the first floor of the existing church, which is currently used for the children for Sunday School - as shown by the paper crafts hanging from the ceiling (photo by Kendra).

Learning more about one another and sharing family pictures after our meal. 

Our last goodbye with the great people of Pijal.

Day 7 Ecuador - Thursday June 12, 2014

posted May 31, 2015, 6:57 PM by Julie Lawson

Today was the big push. We had a lot of work to do and not a lot of time to get it done in. So most of the day consisted of eating, working, eating, working, working, and eating. A few of us took a break though to hike to Peguche Falls. We took a back way to get to the falls and it was beautiful going across the suspension bridges and seeing the hot springs below. The falls were beautiful, and we went back to the house on a more manicured stone path built for tourists. It was definitely worth the break to enjoy some of Ecuador's natural beauty!

The team worked all day at various locations around the house.

Hiking to Peguche Falls.

Up the whole hike there.

Some of the hot springs along the way.

Peguche Falls.

The path on the hike back.

Day 6 Ecuador - Wednesday June 11, 2014

posted May 31, 2015, 1:00 PM by Julie Lawson   [ updated May 31, 2015, 1:01 PM ]

Today the architects needed to meet with the Pijal church again to make some decisions. We learned after our initial plan that a soccer field was desired in our proposed building location and also the local ministry was having a hard time being open to a design different from what they had envisioned. With limited exposure to other architectural ideas, a lot of communication and trust was necessary for them to buy into our ideas. And of course, their vision differed from what the budget allowed, which we can all relate to. Fortunately, the pastor from the Texas church who is largely funding the new building was in town and was able to be a part of the meeting as well. All went well and the result of the meeting gave us the green light to move ahead with an agreed upon direction.

But in the mean time, we were in a holding pattern. So the rest of the team went to the market for a little bit of shopping at Plaza de los Ponchose in Otavalo. We took in some city sights and enjoyed some coffee from Daily Grind. 

When we all joined back together at the house, we got on the same page and started to move forward full steam ahead! I think the time that everyone invested in creating relationships paid off as trust was formed and a consensus was found. God was truly at work in easing tensions and allowing everyone some humility to hear each other's concerns. Direction today was answered prayer.

A meeting with the local ministry to decide how to move forward on the design.

Luke, Julie, Rene, and Bethany at Daily Grind.

Day 5 Ecuador - Tuesday June 10, 2014

posted May 31, 2015, 12:27 PM by Julie Lawson   [ updated May 31, 2015, 12:54 PM ]

With the survey complete, today Luke downloaded the survey data and we prepared a base drawing for the team to use. Luke and I set up shop in Glenn's office, where the WiFi signal happens to be strongest! I feel so fortunate to have WiFi and remain connected to home. It came in handy today as we needed some CAD assistance and some of my co-workers at ARCADIS pitched in to get everything cleaned up! Their dog, Canela (which means cinnamon in English), is sweet and kept us company as well. Glenn busily worked on his blog as we joined him in his work space - complete with a view of Imbabura! 

We have completely taken over the house. Steve and Kevin worked on the dining room table while Kendra and Rene worked in the living room. Ruth joined our host Marilyn at a local community where they taught English. 

The Pijal church prepared a very special lunch for us (in Ecuador, lunch is the largest meal of the day). So we traveled back to Pijal and enjoyed our first time trying Cuy (that's Guinea Pig to us in the United States)! Yes, it somewhat tasted like chicken - but not quite. In Ecuador they farm Guinea Pigs because it is more economical and requires less land than raising cattle. Still, cuy is not an every meal type meat - we were being honored by being served this delicacy. 

After lunch we walked up the street in Pijal to a daycare that FEDICE is involved in for Pijal children who are ages 4 or less. FEDICE is involved in many day cares so that the women can work and help provide for their families. The day care celebrates birthdays a few times a year, so we were able to take part in the festivities. They had dancing (which we were prompted to join in on), face painting, a puppet show, a pinata, playing outside on their playground and of course cake! It was all fun and games until we spun a merry go round a bit too hard (prompting one chlid to lose his cake) and broke the merry go round! Oops! 

We had yet another meal at the daycare, then went further up the mountain to visit a sundial that the local architect designed and had built. The local community used to rely on sundials to know when to plant, when to harvest, etc. There was a school near the sun dial and the grounds are used to teach the children how to plant and harvest food and gives them a hands on way to learn to take care of the earth around them. It was beautiful hiking around and enjoying nature and learning about the culture and history of the area. 

Luke and Julie joined Glenn in his office.

The women of the church worked hard in the basement of their church to prepare another meal for us (photo by Rene).

Cuy (Guinea Pig), an Ecuadorian delicacy (photo by Ruth).

Bulls on parade on a Pijal road.

Bethany, Rene, Ruth, Kendra, and Julie carrying the birthday cakes up to the daycare from the church.

The daycare in Pijal (it is common for buildings in Ecuador to have rebar sticking up from the roof).

A birthday party for the children of Pijal at their daycare.

Children enjoying the party (photo by Rene).

Enjoyed learning about the history and culture of the Cayambi.

The architect from Ecuador with the architect from Canada, standing on their respective sides of the sun dial.

Day 4 Ecuador - Monday June 9, 2014

posted May 31, 2015, 7:23 AM by Julie Lawson   [ updated May 31, 2015, 8:41 PM ]

Today it was time to get to work! We went back to the Pijal church and did some site work. Luke and I did a site survey, Kevin performed a structural inspection, and the rest of the team took measurements of the existing building and worked in the church on a preliminary layout. We were joined by many children who were interested in what we were doing. The pastor helped mark the corners of the property, including scampering down a very steep hill in his dress clothes! And Luke and I were surrounded by various livestock throughout the day as they roamed the community. 

It was great being on site to work and get more familiar with the building and the property. The day started cool and drizzled but turned out to be gorgeous. We were treated to great hospitality once again with coffee in the morning and a lunch (potatoes, beans, corn, a fantastic salsa and a warm drink) prepared by the church. Their local cooking techniques are a bit different from what we're used to - but the result is just fine!

Luke distracted by some chickens.

Julie contemplating life while having coffee and surveying.

Julie and Luke surveying (photo by Rene).

Kevin, Rene, Ruth, Steve & Kendra working on the building plan inside of the church.

Kendra and Melany working on the layout (photo by Rene).

The church's cooking method (photo by Ruth).

Preparing the potatoes at the church's water supply (photo by Rene).

Taking a break to enjoy lunch.

What a great view while we worked!

Taking a break after the day's work: Ruth, Rene, Julie, and Kendra grabbing a selfie with a donkey (photo by Ruth).

My favorite picture of the volcano Imbabura.

Day 3 Ecuador - Sunday June 8, 2014

posted May 31, 2015, 6:53 AM by Julie Lawson   [ updated May 31, 2015, 8:58 PM ]

We started the day with worship at the church we are serving in Pijal. It was a beautiful 2 hour service with abundant music. Some was in Spanish and some in Kichwa, a local language spoken by the indigenous Cayambi people. Some of the women of the church gave us a special performance. Then the kids, completely dressed up as farm animals, came in and gave a sweet performance as well! During regular worship songs, some of the members in the congregation contributed percussion as the guitar players and singers led on stage. Our team leader Steve gave the message for the day. The church has a visiting pastor come in to bless and give communion.  

After worship, we were treated to a meal prepared for us by the church - chicken, corn, and rice. It was very good! We played with the children and interacted the best we could given the language barrier. Before long, Luke was playing guitar and Ruth singing along with him, Llename - a beautiful song in spanish. They went through it once then everyone else joined in. Check out the video below for this awe inspiring impromptu moment! Music is truly a universal language, and when we all come together from different backgrounds and cultures to worship God - well, I can't describe the moment.

After our lunch and visit with the local church, we changed and went for a hike at Lago Cuicocha. This is a 3km wide crater lake at the foot of Cotacachi Volcano. The name means Guinea Pig Lagoon in English. It was a lot of fun taking in the beautiful sights with the team and really brought us closer. 

What an amazing day worshiping God, spending quality time with the local ministry we are serving, and bonding as a team!

Some women of the church shared their musical talents with us at worship.

The children of the church gave us a sweet and special performance also!

Si Tu Amas a Mi Cristo

After church.

The visiting pastor (photo by Kendra).

eMi team member Kevin being a human playground (photo by Rene).


eMi, FEDICE, and the Pijal church singing Llename.

Our eMi team at Lago Cuicocha. Left to right: Kevin, Steve, Ruth, Luke, Rene, Kendra, Julie

1-10 of 19