First Day in Ecuador

Breakfast was at 9am, since we got in so late. We combined both Thursday and Friday’s events since we arrived late.

We did the general orientation FEDICE video and powerpoint. And went to the Tocagon community to meet the people we will be working with. We were greeted as if we were family. We were told to treat the place as if it was our home. Everyone was introduced to one another and we were invited to a wedding on Sunday. While out, we grabbed some ice cream. Luis gave us all roses and a hug.

When we arrived back at the hotel we had dinner, and small church gathering for the evening. We also noted our reflections for the day:

Amber reflected on how beautiful the architecture is and how beautiful the flowers are, and how grateful she is that she got to come along.

Karla thought about how happy the people are and how much they smile.

Ken is excited that he gets to enjoy the carnaval and gets to go to a wedding.

Lindy says what she has seen so far makes her want to come back for another mission trip.

Jan loves traveling and says that no matter where she goes people are all the same and that we shouldn’t fight.

Marcy says that the people of Tocagon are all very blessed and how happy they are inspires her.

Curtis says that the children inspire him.

Rene said that Minga gives purpose to the trip.

Meghan likes to go to different cultures and experience new things.

Blanca stated that “we are all one in Christ. We do not have many resources but do the best we can. We are so happy that you are here to work with us. God is working in all of us. FEDICE team is not perfect but we do the best we can. Luis is happy that he could meet all of us and is thankful that we came. He is here to help you and answer our questions. He is so glad we came here. And says thank you and god bless.”

Muriel is glad that everyone is being so accomodating with her needs.

Lori likes to travel and going to different countries and different cultures. She says this is so much much more than she thought it could be.

Janel stated that when people hear about mission trips it is only about the amount of work getting done. And when we missed a day some of us thought about not getting enough done. This trip is much more. Things are not the same in every country. I am very appreciative of what the people have accomplished and I feel we will get more out of this trip than they will. We appreciate everything the hotel is doing to accommodate us.


Moving Forward


We all woke up early in the hotel. Our shuttle to the airport wasn’t until 10:05am, so we slept in. As I left my room Rene was headed downstairs as well. When we arrived most everyone was there. After we had finished breakfast, we tried singing a new hymn, first in English then we had Rene tell us how to say it in Spanish.

When the shuttle arrived we played Tetris to get 12 people in a 10 person van, much like we had the night before. After arriving at MSP, we made our way through TSA and met up on the other side. We walked to our gate and left someone to watch luggage while many of us wandered through the airport looking through stores. You would think it would be hard to find the people you are with in the airport but I was wrong as first I saw Ken and then later ran into many of the ladies in the bookstore.

As we walked we noticed that the men’s and women’s bathrooms all had artwork inside. We stopped by several restrooms just to see the artwork.

Nearing loading time, people were asked to check their bags to their final destination. Janel and Karla both checked bags and were allowed on the plane early.

Slowly we filled into the plane and took off. When we landed in Atlanta we only had 20 minutes to get to our next gate from concourse A all the way to concourse E. The tram saved us a lot of time. I was feeling hungry, so passing all the food places just made me want to stop. When we got to our gate, I had 25 minutes before boarding so I was off to get food as quick as I could.

As we filed down the plane, I spotted my seat when a man made a gesture for his friend not to get up. “Here is the situation,” he started, “This man and woman are traveling together and would like to sit together, even though they do not have seats together. Would you switch?” I agreed, since I have no real seat preference and we were all going to get to the same destination.

The man started telling about his mission trip with college students who are getting college credit. And how he had been doing this kind of work for some time, even offered us his card in case we were interested.

Upon arrival to Quito, Ecuador we went through customs as a group. We were going to ask if we should all go to one counter, but thought it would overwhelm them. Instead, we went one at a time. Just asked simple questions like where did you first fly out, and how long are you here for. We all collected around the luggage concourse and collected our luggage. All except one bag that wasn’t there. Karla’s suitcase of work clothes were missing. It turned out the bag was still in Atlanta.

We went through the baggage check and went to find Blanca. She was excited to see us. We grabbed some waters and got on our full size bus for our 1.5 hr trip to our hotel. Amber asked curious questions and we looked out the window into the darkness. The excitement of what we would see in the daylight arose. We finally arrived and got checked in about 3am, we were all beat.


The Unexpected


We woke up at 3:30am to make our way to the front desk where our shuttle would be waiting. The shuttle was not large enough to fit us all, so we came in waves, staggered from one and another. After we checked in and made it through various types of TSA screening, we waited for the others. We were excited to get our journey underway.

When it was time to board, we boarded and the plane was full. Shortly after boarding the pilot mentioned that the water lines were frozen, so there would be no coffee or flushing the toilet. He told us he would see if he could get the tank drained.
I nodded off when they said they had to de-board the plane. We were all excited. Janel called the travel agent to see how we could be rebooked, since we were going to miss our connecting flights. Snacks were brought out; chex mix, fruit snacks, cheese and cracker sandwiches, pop, orange juice and water.
Lori, Janice and Meghan did laps around the airport to get some exercise. Amber took a nap and did homework. Rene did work and fell asleep. Janel coordinated our departure by calling the travel agent and talking to the ladies at the airport counters.
Everytime they would announce that they did not have an update the less cheery we became. It was suggested that we practice our hymn as a group, first in English. Then Rene told us how to say the words in Spanish. We started to get the rhythm the more we sang.
They announced that they would be bringing us lunch at 1pm. Some of us thought it would be cold sandwiches while others suspected pizza. It was pizza. Amber couldn’t eat pizza so she got a voucher for food inside the gift shop.
Soon we watched the pilot do his walkabout around the plane. We started to get excited, but tried not to get too excited. Shortly after, our tickets were reissued and we boarded the plane. The plane was nearly empty and we sat wherever we wanted. After a quick deicing of the plane we were off and on our way to Minneapolis, Minnesota. We cheered. And our connections wouldn’t be until the next day.
When we landed, everybody cheered. Muriel told the pilot that Amber just got her wings and they gave her a tour of the cockpit. When we entered the terminal we were told to go to the help desk. We walked down the airport to the help desk. They checked our bags, gave us a little night bag filled with brush/ comb, toothbrush, toothpaste, razor, shaving cream, deodorant, and cotton swabs. And hotel vouchers for each of us.
We called for the hotel shuttle. When it arrived we crammed 12 people into a 10 person van. Everyone got their own room for the night with two exceptions, married couple and underage and guardian. After we all checked in we went to the adjoining restaurant, Denny’s, and ate as a group. Afterward, we called it a night, ready to start again in the morning.

Gathering and Blessing

Seven people from Dickinson, 1 from Jamestown, 3 from Hebron, 1 from Wahpeton and 1 Glen Ullin all gathered in Bismarck, North Dakota at the Expressway Inn to prepare for our journey to Quito, Ecuador where we will visit with FEDICE, a Global Ministries partner. After everyone checked in, we made our way to Perkins to eat as a group. We told stories and met new people and enjoyed the company. Pastor Keith Mills joined us for our meal. After eating, we made our way to the breakfast area in the hotel for our commission, prayers and send off from Pastor Keith. We also had communion consisting of strips of bread dipped into a chalice of wine where he blessed us individually.
Everyone seemed excited, nervous, or a combination of both about our adventure!
Photo, in no particular order: 20180206_192732Janel Kolar, Curtis Kolar, Lindy Holt, Ken Adams, Muriel Hurt, Janice Cooper, Marcy Dawson, Rene Heredia, Amber Hutzenbiler, Karla Staiger, Lori Sticka, Meghan Bartz, Keith Mills

The last day in San Salvador

Context is so important in ministry. Today, our final day of our trip we spent time with the Lutheran Church of El Salvador. We learnt how the church developed its own theology best suited to its Latin American context.

The Theology of Life. A system of scripturally based principles grounded in practicality with a preferential option for the poor. A theology which sees value in each human life and sees the task of theology to embrace all aspects of life holistically. We witnessed seminarians and pastors who take up this theology by responding to trauma of this countries civil war by being trained in trauma counseling techniques. They use the theology of life to help the people heal from the trauma of everyone who is over 30 remembering someone who was killed by the civil war. A truly contextual and wholistic theology.

We said our goodbyes to the seminarians and the Lutheran Bishop, an inspiring church leader (and celebrated three birthdays too.)

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We then spent time with an elected representative for the left wing FMLN party. We asked tough questions and we got a hard hitting glimpse into the political situation in El Salvador.

We finished the day supporting local artists and street sellers in a night market and had a final dinner meal together sharing in the joy of remembering how this trip has impacted us. We thanked our guides and translators and exchanged our contact information so we can continue to be in solidarity with their struggle.

And as we prepare to make the journey home I am thankful for the holy road my fellow pilgrims and I have travelled on. We stripped away all pretense, we saw each other truly and we listened in divinely present ways to the stories of others.

Alex Pittaway


A personal note

Part of the reason I stayed at hostel yesterday is because I was beginning to feel sick, overnight it got much worse, and so today our mission partners here in El Salvador took me to a clinic that was closed and then to ER. I was very dehydrated and so they gave me an IV. Our partners paid for it for me even as I asked to go to ATM to get out money to pay. They showed Christ’s love, compassion, and care in a way we so often do not in the U.S.

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For this and many other reasons I implore my fellow U.S. citizens to view all of our neighbors to the south with much more compassion than we do. The political propaganda is that these people have no value, and this is absolutely untrue. Going forward, if you did not already recognize this basic truth, think of how they treated me and remember this when our government tries to tell you these are bad people. We must be in solidarity for the rights of our neighbors both while they live here and when they come to our country. Jesus says as we care for others, so we care for Jesus. My friends and neighbors here in El Salvador modeled Jesus for me today, and I am deeply appreciative of them. They have less than us and yet they share so much more than we often do.

Amie Vanderford


A day of unexpected adventures

Today, as Dr. Allen has christened it, was a day of unexpected adventures. We began today expecting to explore two more Mayan ruin sites. However, we arrived at the first site only to discover that the Ministry of Tourism is on strike until their union can bargain for a better salary for its workers. Because of the strike, both Mayan ruin sites (as well as several other tourist stops throughout the country) are closed to the public. Although some of us were disappointed to not be able to see more of these ancient historical sites, we were also excited to see unions fighting for the rights of laborers, as, in the United States, policies have restricted the ability of workers to unionize, and unions that do exist are restricted in their power to effect change and justice for workers.

So, rather than visiting these sites, we went along to Santa Ana, another large city. There, we explored the Catholic cathedral, also named Santa Ana. Several of us chose to climb the bell tower of the church all the way up to the roof. From there, we could see all of Santa Ana, as well as the mountains which surround the city in every direction. It was beautiful and breathtaking.

And I mean breathtaking in a literal sense. We had to climb up 8 flights of stairs to get there.

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After exploring the cathedral, we continued on to Lago Coatepeque. This lake was formed inside of a crater left behind after a volcanic eruption. This crater is surrounded by three other volcanoes. We ate lunch at a restaurant built onto a dock over the lake. From our vantage point, we could see the entire lake. We got a chance to relax, to eat, to bask in the sun and the wind coming off of the lake. After lunch, several of our cohort members (Ron, Preston, and Alex), took a swim in the lake, becoming, as they would have us call them, the Brothers of Crater Lake.

After relaxing by the lake for a while, we returned back to our hostel, to spend the rest of the evening in fellowship with one another, watching the rain fall, and listening to the sounds of the city.