Incarnation Ecuador Experience

Incarnation Ecuador Experience

by Daphne Vernon, Associate for Children and Youth at Church of the Incarnation, Santa Rosa

We planned this trip with the intention of giving of ourselves. Having prior mission trip experience, I knew we would receive more than we could possibly imagine. After two years of planning and one year of fundraising, we were off to Ecuador to work with the organizations BECAS and To Give Hope. To Give Hope functions like a neighborhood Boys and Girls Club for children 1-12 years old. It is an afternoon program that provides preschool activities, tutoring, a warm meal and tooth brushing. BECAS is a scholarship program that sponsors children, providing school uniforms, tuition, backpacks, books, healthcare and social services for the family, including parenting classes. BECAS currently sponsors 12 children, and their commitment is to sponsor a child from early grade school through to college. We learned about BECAS when Ella Harris came to share her story and organization with our congregation. Ella is a past youth group member and started BECAS after living and working in Ecuador for two years in the Peace Corps.

On June 15 we started a 10-day journey that changed our lives. We stayed at an apartment that we rented from the Episcopal Dioceses. We then took a 4 bus hour long commute up to the To Give Hope school site. There we scraped ceilings and walls and prepped them for new coats of paint, fabricated a garden fence, fixed a water faucet, replaced broken windows and paid for a plumber to fix the kitchen sink. In the mornings we worked and in the afternoons, during free time, we played with the kids. We set out on this mission trip to experience God's love in the world and we found it at To Give Hope.

The women who work at this program have truly answered a call. They work second jobs in the mornings to be financially able to work at the program in the afternoons. These women give of themselves everyday, and their commitment is visible as soon as you walked through the door. This program is run by love and devotion, and our youth noticed. They all understood these women's work as a true spiritual calling. These women of To Give Hope spoke of our presence as God's love blessing them, but we felt truly blessed to be there.

We spent an afternoon painting at the Episcopal school and working in the yard using machetes, which was a new experience. At the end of our work day the School Director came and spoke to us. She expressed how touched and inspired she was by our visit and explained that they were just starting a youth group and maybe someday they could come to us.We all felt blessed to be able to serve and were touched by her warm exchange. We are hopeful to keep these relationships into the future, and found it a blessing to experience our union as one Episcopal Church.

We ended our trip spending two days hiking in the Cloud Forest. We stayed at a conservation lodge that is working on protecting and sharing the wonders of the Cloud Forest. We found it another example of people living their call in the world. We walked to a local artisan's house and he explained his process of collecting seeds from the forest, drying and polishing them and turning them into beads to make jewelry. He started this business when he could no longer in good conscience, cut down trees in the Cloud Forest. His previous work provided him with a good living, but he walked away from it to live into his call as a conservationist. His seeds and work were beautiful.

As we gathered for our last evening circle we reflected on this journey that is still now settling within us. We are forever changed, inspired by our work offerings, we accomplished so much more than we could have imagined. We fell in love with the children and the teachers at To Give Hope, sharing hugs, laughter and working side-by-side. It was a life-changing experience for us all, and we will work to continue these relationships. The Incarnation youth group was inspired and has committed to sponsoring a BECAS scholar. To be a part of this culture and ride the bus to work every day was eye opening and invited us to experience the world in a new way. The youth reflected on their life of privilege back home and on how much is truly enough after seeing these children with nothing expressing such joy and laughter for the time they have together. The teens were able to see that you can make a difference and experience the power of giving of yourself from the deepest place. We saw God in the eyes of others and in ourselves, which was my deepest desire for this trip. I hoped that we would open ourselves to God’s love within us and among us. This wasn’t required for the trip to be a blessing, but it was my reason for making this trip happen, and a prayer I held in my heart. One that was answered two-fold. I think this trip will be living and calling in us for a while. There are lots of conversations around joining the Peace Corps and going back to Ecuador to work with the kids. I am sure the question of, "Where else can I serve and give of myself?" is being asked. Once you have experienced what it feels like to give of yourself, you are inspired to keep giving.

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