by Jan Pearce
Imagine, if you will, a place so breathtakingly beautiful that you cannot help but stare at it in wonder. There are mountains that change color from green to gold as the sun casts its shadows upon them and as the clouds dance around them. A sprawling city lays in the valley and creeps up the mountain sides, with its buildings inching their way up to the blue skies above. But in this same picturesque scene coexists a stark contrast. At closer glance, many of the buildings that dot the mountainsides are actually urban shacks in disrepair, without proper electricity, water and sewage. Dogs and pigs laze together among the trash that litters the dirt streets, and then even closer, strong smells of raw sewage and cooked meat spill from the open doors of the shacks. This is Quito, Ecuador….our mission teams’ home for a week in June. To comprehend the poverty of the city with all of my senses was necessary for me to try to connect with the mothers and children whom we would be serving over the next five days.
Experiencing the physical irony of Quito the day after we arrived was only the very beginning of our mission work for the week. Each day we traveled into the southern part of the city to a community center where we operated a medical clinic and Vacation Bible School for day care children who were bused in to us. A team of three doctors, a physician’s assistant, a nurse, pharmacist and several eager assistants provided physical examinations and dispensed vitamins and antibiotics. While children were waiting to be seen by the medical team, bible stories were read, songs of praise were sung and colorful crafts were created.
Our team consisted of 20 volunteers from Crawfordville United Methodist Church, St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Pensacola and individuals from Colorado and Louisiana. We were a diverse group with ages ranging from 24 to 80 and from all walks of life. Some team members had served on many short-term missions, while others (like me) were fondly referred to as “first timers.” Each individual on the team came with their own set of expectations, fears and apprehension, but during the week as we worked, ate and prayed together, we created a bond that was both unique and special. Our team leader, Mavis, explained one night during our devotional time that no two missions teams are ever the same; no mission experience ever repeated. Perhaps this idea strengthened our bond even more knowing that the images we saw and emotions we experienced were uniquely shared by our team and etched on our hearts forever.
What measures the success of a short-term mission? On the final evening of our trip, our lead physician, Dr. Roberto announced to us that over 500 children were served through the clinic during the week, setting a new record. The team diagnosed and treated ear infections, respiratory infections, numerous skin conditions and even a possible bone tumor. Quantifiably speaking, this would deem our trip a success. But if those numbers were never shared openly to us, I know that our team would agree that our mission was successful in ways beyond that which numbers cannot define. Here are some of those ways…
To serve with humble hands and open hearts in ways that many of us did not know we could possibly do.
To share the good news of Jesus Christ; to share the story of his life; his miracles; and his love with people who speak a different language than our own and who live in circumstances that we cannot fathom.
To love openly and unconditionally and to let our ideals of individual pride be second to that of working as a team.
To laugh, to cry and to be open to God’s spirit working within and among us and to be aware of his awesome presence in our lives.
But what about returning from Ecuador, what about continuing our mission to serve others here in our own community? Is it possible? For this, my mind takes me to a different image.
Imagine, if you will, a small, quaint community where sleepy rivers meander through thick forests creating overhead canopies of fertile green. Where springs, creeks and coastline are abundant and time is a sleepy friend to keep the city away. But among all this natural beauty, if you travel back the dirt roads in this place the same stark contrast exists. Mobile homes and houses in disrepair hide among the trees; some with holes in the floor and only stove burners to provide heat from a winter’s cold. Families live here with no money, no car, little food, and no health care , but with the same human spirit that we share. The same need to be loved and to be cared for and to be ministered to. This place is Wakulla County. This place is my home.
Mother Teresa so lovingly said, “Only in heaven will we see how much we owe to the poor for helping us to love God better because of them.” I traveled all the way to Ecuador to help others and to share my blessings with them. But along the way, God revealed to me how truly blessed I was through my experience with the people of Ecuador. Through each smile, each greeting, each hug, and each knowing glance that clearly spoke when no words were needed, "I know you, you are a child of God."
Author Jan Pearce is pictured above right with one of her Ecuadoran students.
This article originally published on July 14, 2008.