November 11, 2011

When Compassion travels to Ecuador

I was seventeen and I had lived a good life. For some reason I still felt all busted up, could identify with sorrow.

And I traveled to Ecuador with a group of church kids and a youth pastor wise in the ways of grace.

We landed late at night in a tiny airport and I couldn't see the mountains but I could feel the air. Up there in that high city, the air was different. I could breathe.

I have loved the poor my whole life. I traveled to Ecuador and discovered my own poverty. Because when you can finally breathe in deep, the exhale comes out full ... I didn't know just how much I would spill.

I woke that first morning with gripping fear on a top bunk. For the first time in my life I was clinging to Jesus in real time and I hoped He was the Jesus of this city too, hoped He had come along to Quito. I spoke the fear into my pillow, wrote it in a journal. I was needy and starving for something I couldn't name and I didn't know to what degree.

And we traveled to Comite del Pueblo by van each morning in that insane city where the only driving rule is that there are no rules... We dug dirt and filled wheelbarrows. Broke bread at 10 a.m. sharp and ate tiny green bananas. We began a foundation for a church in a community on a hillside and the boys played hacky sack, built a fort. We drove crazy roads up mountains, swam in hot springs, and lost a transmission somewhere half-way to wherever we were going. We bargained for striped overalls and beaded rings, wool sweaters in the rain at Otavalo, and the whole market smelled of  wet llama. We posed on the equator ... danced. In the morning we at Chocapic with milk from a bag and at night we caught sunsets, circled up and talked about the Word that doesn't return void. The feet that carry the good news. We held hands like family, sang acapella. "Let us adore the ever living God..."

And when the lights went out I poured over Psalm 13. How long, O Lord?... How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart?

I was as lost in Quito as I was at home. We walked through side markets and I confided in Lauren and sang words with Meredith: "Unto Him who is able to keep you, who is able to keep you from stumbling..."

I stumbled hard.

And after a really bad night while that wise, young pastor prayed long over me in the dark, I woke to an empty room. They had all prayed too, and then left to build a church on a hill. They had let me sleep in.  But that pastor- with compassion packaged up in the gifts of time and grace- he gave me a whole day. It was appropriate and it was fatherly.

It was the clearest picture I had experienced yet ... Jesus walking with me. Vivid. Tangible.

And while the rest of the crew worked with dirt and steel, we walked in the city. He asked hard questions and I spilled about family and school and relationships. Pressure. In the middle of Ecuador, we ate pizza.

When we rejoined the team the following day, we sat quiet on a heap of dirt like a surrogate and a stray. We watched, laying a foundation of trust. I shrugged guilty as we were still and the team worked hard, with hands and boots and shovels and steel ties.

I laughed nervous, "Maybe we should get to work, help build the church now?"

And he leaned close so I would hear the punctuated truth he would speak. It would linger long and while I wouldn't live it for years to come, it would change me at my core.

"That's what we're doing, Ab." He pointed to us, patted the dirt pile.

"We're building the church. Right here."

That moment was wrapped in ten days of grace, followed up by years of time ... time and words and a presence that mirrored Jesus. This man had a family and a church, had responsibility. And the sacrifice of real time, true words, patience to walk alongside a life-- it steeled my understanding of a God who came to dwell with the poor in spirit. Resolved exactly what we are called to do in this life.

We are called to build this church.

At all times and in every circumstance and this building has little to do with concrete and steel.  We love in extravagant, messy ways that make no sense to the onlooker. We give compassion and time and we speak true words. We give pieces of ourselves away and we live Jesus with the busted up who know about sorrow. We let our hearts break and we aren't afraid to stay up long and pray- be wrecked for and present to the poor. 

When we commit to a life for a season, we give a picture of Jesus that is undeniable. We say, in a clear whisper and with full authority: You and me together. We are building this church.

I flew home from Ecuador at seventeen, my heart all ripped up and lacking and I waved to Cotopaxi from the air. I wouldn't follow Him in action for years to come. But I met compassion in Ecuador.

Jesus in real time there in that high altitude. 
All because one person looked closely. And then gave.

Compassion International has had a team of bloggers in Ecuador this week. They will fly home, tired and wrecked and built up, inspired. They've been traveling, visiting homes of children, sharing their stories-- all in hopes of inspiring US. They've been looking on faces and hugging necks. They've been capturing moments to share, in the hope that you, WE, might decide to give some of ourselves away.

In the hope that we all might build this church.

This team will touch down on home turf and sleep hard but could we, perhaps, touch down where they left off ... be the hands and feet too?

Could you sponsor a child?

The stories are real, of people waiting for someone to enter into a life. How long, O Lord? ...

And the children ... those faces. They are beautiful. Look close, do the math. One dinner out a month, one pair of shoes. For a child?


  1. This is beautiful friend. I was thinking about these times as I read Ann's words too. You're bringing it all full-circle and I absolutely love it. I love this: " wrecked for and present to the poor." (Wet llama. :) Ha!)

  2. Such sweet memories of YOU... the beginning of something so special. I just love you, friend.

  3. Abby...this is so beautifully written and captures so much....loved reading it and it spurs me on to be "present to the poor " here in my little world. Thanks for the challenge. Look forward to seeing you later this week :)

  4. WOW...

    I have tears in my eyes...