Monday, December 10, 2018

The Best of 2018

The best part of this year may be yet to come since we have the incredible opportunity to travel to Asia for Christmas and New Year's. But aside from that, there were lots of other great things that happened this year.

One of the best is having family, friends and churches behind us allowing us to keep serving here in Ecuador. We had a great trip to the US this past summer and are very thankful to have all of the financial support we need to keep ministering at Alliance Academy International as well as at other churches here.

Another major highlight was having the youth group from Locust Grove Mennonite Church come to minister with us in July. With their help, we were able to bless several families and neighborhoods in Quito that we couldn't have reached on our own.

This year we started meeting with other friends to start house churches. We've especially enjoyed getting to study the Bible with this couple from Venezuela that Naty knew ever since she was a girl.

Gaby and Marcus are having a great school year! Gaby is now a Junior and Marcus is a Freshman. Both of them are leaders for their class and they are both making stronger friendships this year.

Naty is the president for the parent committee for Gaby's class and has done a great job leading the committee through several fundraiser events with more activities still to come. She is also very busy taking classes online to become a certified life coach, which is giving her even more tools to be able to pour into the lives of others.

I have enjoyed climbing more mountains and doing more trail races this year, but I'm most excited about having a new job at Alliance Academy. I'm now half-time staff care coordinator and half-time Reading Intervention teacher. Both of these roles fit me better than being a classroom teacher and I am loving the diversity of all that I need to do at school now.

Marcus loved participating in the drama workshops at school and is looking forward to being part of their production this spring.

Gaby's workshop is often her bedroom where she has been crocheting some pretty amazing teddy bears lately.

2018 has been great! We've had our challenges too with parents and teenagers not always seeing eye to eye, but we all agree, WE LOVE OUR FAMILY! We are anxious for all that the Father has in store for us in 2019!

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Hosting and Training

This year has already started with lots of action. The first weekend of the year we welcomed the Lozada and Wanty families to our place in Quito. After spending New Year with them, we were so glad they could come to our place as well. Gaby missed the fun because she was at the Alliance Academy "Fusion" girls retreat for the weekend. Naty and Carla took all the ladies and kids to Mitad del Mundo to visit the equator.

Meanwhile I took Derek and some other guys to hike to the top of the Guagua Pichincha volcano. It was the first time Derek and Carla's nephew Andrés had ever seen snow!

A weekend later, we went with our new Cuban friends Raul and Lydia to visit our friend Marcelo's restaurant in the town of Nono. We have started meeting and praying with Raul and Lydia and are planning to work together with them to start house churches in Nono and also in Quito. They were house church planters for many years in Cuba and they have been longing to do the same thing here in Ecuador. It's amazing how God has given each of us the same desires.  The kids and I are planning to help facilitate our first Bible study in Nono tomorrow.

Last weekend I traveled to Durán, just across the river from Guayaquil, for the annual business meetings of the IEME Mennonite churches in Ecuador. I was very grateful for the time I got to be with Cesar and Brenda (pictured here) and was able to preach at their church on Sunday Morning.

This past week, Jan. 23-27, Naty helped to facilitate a Kairos Course here in Quito at the campus of HCJB. We hosted Daniel Coventon from Honduras and Angel Castro from Guayaquil all week so that they could participate in the course.

Last night Gaby had her winter choir concert at AAI. They did an amazing job and she sang a great solo!

 Today Naty is on the coast at Salinas, teaching leadership skills to the teams of Impacto Mundial, an Ecuadorian mission agency with whom we partner. If all goes well, she'll fly back to Quito Sunday evening. Her flight there got postponed about 3 hours. Hopefully that won't happen tomorrow.


So, what's up next? Thankfully we have a week off school in February for our semester break and Carnival. We plan to spend half of that time on the coast in Puerto Cayo to help with building the new Mennonite Church campground. We'll also help facilitate a missions workshop with some other missionaries from Ecuador during that time. Later in February Naty will be coordinating with our Impaco Mundial Quito team to host a coffee time for pastors to encourage and mobilize them for global missions.
In March, Dion will be helping to lead the high school guys "Man Up" retreat here in Quitl and then also teaching for three days at the SEMBRAR discipleship training school in Manta.

Christmas and New Year 2018

The holidays in another country are very different from the traditions we've shared before with family. Thankfully, God has blessed us with families here in Ecuador to help fill void that is left from being so far from home. Two of those families are the Murphys and the Lozadas. The Murphy's are from Georgia in the US and we have loved getting to know them ever since our pre field orientation in New York in 2016. The Lozadas are from Guayaquil, Ecuador and I've known their family ever since I was in the REACH program in Ecuador in 1997. We celebrated Christmas with the Murphy's and New Years with the Lozadas this year.

Our Christmas break started with an overnight get away to the hot springs in Papallacta, about two hours east of Quito. We went with our friends the Murphy family who are also missionaries at Alliance Academy. While we were there we also celebrated Gaby's birthday. She is 16 years old now!!

For Christmas Eve, the Murphy's came to our house and we had our Christmas meal Latino style, late at night. We made a combination of Venezuelan and American food then had a gift exchange after that.

On December 26 we set out from Quito with the Murphy family to Cuenca, a beautiful city about 7 hours south of Quito. We enjoyed 3 days of sleeping in and eating out while visiting many beautiful Catholic churches and even went to some hot bathes there as well!

From Cuenca we said goodbye to the Murphy's and traveled down to Guayaquil for New Year's. Guayaquil is a great place to send off the old year and welcome the new. They have a tradition here of making "Old Years" - años viejos which are effigies that they burn at midnight when the new year arrives. They make some huge año viejos in some neighborhoods of Guayaquil and we went with the Lozada family to see them.

Another great thing about Guayaquil is that they have Wendy's! I don't know why there is no Wendy's in Quito, but that's just the way it is. Nothing makes me smile quite like a Frosty!

On New Year's Eve we had a gift exchange with the Lozada family. It was so special that they all invited and embraced us so that we felt at home. If at all possible, we hope that we can welcome 2019 in Guayaquil as well!

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Campamento Juvenil Menonita 2017

On Thursday morning we set out with this great group to the semi-annual Campamento Juvenil Menonita in Santo Domingo. Thankfully it was only about a 4 hour drive and we made it there and back and didn't lose any of our luggage that we had to pack up on the roof!

Our mornings and nights were filled with amazing times of worship and challenging teaching from three different conferencistas. Altogether there were 160 young people who attended to camp!

During the day Friday the youth were divided into 5 different teams for some extreme games. They had to hold hands any time they went to the games or they would lose points for their team.

Some of the games were a bit gross, like having 20+ people take a bite out of the same watermelon...

Others were downright messy, like doing and Army crawl through a mud pit!

Everyone seemed to have a great time though!

A highlight for me was having some amazing times of worship together. It's been a long time since I've seen a group of young people so passionate to praise God!

Another amazing part of the camp was that it was all organized by the youth too! This is the group of leaders for the camp and I'm sure these guys are going to go VERY far in life. They did an amazing job making it a great weekend for everyone.

I had the chance to share about missions with the group and we had response cards from 55 of the youth saying that they want to PRAY, MOBILIZE, SUPPORT or GO in missions!

Monday, October 30, 2017

Helping Refugees

Our friend Cristal from Colombia sharing about how to connect with refugees. This one is in Spanish...

Sunday, October 29, 2017

SEW 2017

This past week was our fall Spiritual Emphasis Week for elementary. It was by far the highlight of my time at Alliance Academy so far. SEW is a time when we have chapel and activities every day of the week instead of just on Tuesdays. I was part of the planning committee this year and in spite of many extra hours of work and less hours of sleep, it was an awesome week!

Our theme this year was CAMP AAI and we set up the chapel to look like a forest with several campsites. We had short plays everyday where I acted as Counselor Kazoo with some crazy campers (faculty members) named Poppy, Roxie and Allie. Each day had a different theme with guest speakers who taught about community, courage, perseverance, rest and eternity.

On Wednesday we had a Family Night for students and parents. We packed out the chapel with about 300 people! I had the opportunity to lead worship with another teacher and the singing was amazing! I also got to interpret as another teacher shared about how God able to do the impossible.

Friday and Saturday we were Gaby's biggest fans as her team competed in the AASSA volleyball tournament.

Her team didn't win as many matches as we had hoped, but with no seniors on the squad, they'll all be back next year and should be much better.

Back at home, Naty is very excited to have flowers and ferns planted in these cute flower boxes out front.

I'm stoked to finally have a grill! We had our new school director and his family over for dinner last night and thanks to some tips from another friend, I grilled some of the best meat I've ever made over wood and charcoal.

This morning at church we said goodbye to a Venezuelan couple who only spent a short time with us here in Quito. They need to go back to Venezuela to care for the wife's mom who is sick. The family had planned to stay in Ecuador much longer, escape the economic, social and political disaster zone that is Venezuela these days, but plans changed. They are very grateful for the time they had here and said that their biggest purpose for coming here was to connect with God, something they had never experienced in Venezuela. They are going home with new faith. Naty bought each of them a Bible and we are doing what we can to try to connect them with a church in Valencia so they can grow in their faith and share with others.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

We're Never Bored!

The beginning of school year 2017-18 has been very busy for our whole family but it has also meant more stability and picking up where we left off with many relationships and projects that we keep working to develop.

Naty is working with this group of women to lead the Entre Nosotras women's group at our school. They are studying Keep Your Love On by Danny Silk. This has already been life changing for several ladies in the group.

We keep going to Nono once a month to lead others in connecting with God, but also to connect with Him more ourselves in such a beautiful place. We pray that God would draw more people in this town to Himself. There is not a Jesus centered church in Nono yet and we pray that God will call out the people there who will plant a church.

I hurt my knee back in September and couldn't run for about a month. It was good on this day though because I got to take my beautiful wife out for lunch after on of my doctor's appointments!

Every other Friday night I make lots of pizza for this youth group that we are leading with another couple. The group is mostly made up of AAI students as well as some others from the community. We are studying the scriptures to find Jesus in the Old Testament.

Our family took an overnight get-away to Cuicocha lake at the beginning of October. This lake was formed by a massive volcanic eruption about 3,000 years ago. The volcano has been dormant ever since, but you can still see bubbles of gas coming up from the volcano in the middle of the lake. 

October 9 was Guayaquil Day holiday so I had the chance to go for a 20 km 7 hour hike with some friends. Our goal was to go from my house to the top of Rucu Pichincha, (the mountain peak behind me in the picture) but major lightning and a hail storm made us turn around.

We have had several opportunities to keep mobilizing mission workers here in Quito. We led a missions sending service at this church in southern Quito. I preached about being witnesses in Jerusalem AND Judea AND Samaria AND to the ends of the earth. So many churches here focus on growing their on congregations and reaching their neighborhood and going "to the ends of Quito" but to obey Jesus' commission we must go much farther.

We prayed to commission the brother in the red shirt as he goes to Spain to study as serve as a witness to Muslim immigrants in Barcelona.

November 13 and 14 we hosted four people at our house and Naty helped organize to host 400 people at HCJB for the "United in the Mission" conference. It was a great time to connect with other churches and agencies in Ecuador who are working to send missionaries to unreached areas around the world.

We keep meeting monthly with Rosedale Mennonite Missions' LAMP (Latin American Missions Partnership) team via video conference. We are very excited about a couple in Costa Rica who is taking solid steps to move to Spain.

We keep gathering with the Quito Mennonite Church on Sunday mornings. Our church works a lot with immigrants and refugees. There seem to be more refugees arriving in Ecuador now that their were a year ago. It has bee great to gather to worship with people from so many countries. We have even had people from Iraq and Afghanistan join us for our worship services. Here I am helping to facilitate a meeting to start a men's group for the church.

This past Sunday we had a family night at the movies to watch this Christian film that was produced by HCJB. Some of the scenes in the movie were recorded just a few blocks from our house!

This week is Spiritual Emphasis Week for the entire elementary school at AAI. I'm helping to present some skits and tomorrow another teacher and I will lead worship for our Family Night with parents and other family members. Many families who send their children to our school are not yet followers of Jesus, so I am very thankful for this opportunity to share with them.