A couple of weeks ago I traveled to Ecuador with Southside Church of Christ to participate in a medical mission trip. I want to warn you; this post is going to be very long, but I hope you will read about my experience and be encouraged.
A lot of people have asked me why I decided to go on this mission trip. What they are really asking is why in the world would you leave your 3 year old son and 11 month old daughter (who you weaned the week before!) and travel half way across the world? I give all the credit to my amazing husband, Matthew and God. My church is very mission-minded and groups have been going on these trips for years now. I have been on 3 international trips before (2 to Honduras and 1 to Mexico), but I didn't think I could go in this season of my life. I have little ones at home that need me every second of the day. One day after church, Matthew said to me:
"You should go on that trip to Ecuador in June."
"Really?! But I'm breastfeeding Reese."
"You can wean her."
"But you are working. Who will watch the kids?"
"I can ask my parents to come and stay the week and help me out."
"But how will we pay for it?"
"We can save our money."
"Just think about it."
And I did. The Lord assured me that they would be fine while I was gone and there was no reason why I couldn't go and serve Him. We saved, I prepared for my trip, practiced my Spanish, and in no time it was here.
Little did I know that a series of events was about to happen that would humble me and deepen my relationship with the Lord.
The morning of my flight, Matthew and the kids drove me to DFW airport, we said our teary goodbyes and I headed inside alone. But I wasn't alone. When I got inside, a lot of my team members were there and I was so excited to start this journey with them. I went to the counter to check my bag and there was a problem. I wasn't flying out of DFW. I was flying out of Love Field which is located 30 minutes away. I didn't panic. I just laughed at myself and called Matthew. He said that he had his phone on silent and he just happened to pick it up and look at it right when I was calling. I believe that was a gift from the Lord. He turned around and picked me up. I was not looking forward to saying goodbye again. He dropped me off at Love Field and I had no problem getting checked in and getting to my gate on time with plenty of time to grab a light lunch. I have flown tons of times, so I wasn't nervous.
I got on my flight with one of my teammates, America Nava. It was a small plane that would fly us down to Houston where we would meet up with the rest of our team for the long flight down to Quito, Ecuador. This plane was only 3 seats wide and I was happy to have my own seat by the window. We took off and I was happily looking out the window at the clouds when I felt my entire body turn cold. I immediately thought that I would throw up at any moment. I quickly rifled through the seat back for the emergency paper bag. I opened it and had it ready. I tied my hair back. I felt horrible. I closed my eyes and leaned back. I tried to breathe deeply and prayed that this feeling would go away. It did not go away. In fact, I started to experience claustrophobia. I felt like the plane was getting smaller and I needed to get off RIGHT NOW. I was panicking. I prayed and prayed. I told myself that when I got to Houston, I would be renting a car and driving myself back to Fort Worth. Was I really sick or was this motion sickness? Am I pregnant?! No. I told myself that I was definitely sick and needed to go home. Then I prayed and asked God to speak through Matthew and I would do whatever he recommended when I got to Houston.
When I saw America, I smiled and told her I felt sick on that flight but I was too embarrassed to tell her the intensity of the sickness or how I had doubts that I would ever get on a flight again. I called Matthew and immediately broke down in tears. He calmed me down and said I would be ok. When I asked him if he thought I should still go to Ecuador he was taken aback and said, "Yes!" He encouraged me to share how I was feeling with someone else on my team. I told him I was too embarrassed. I fretted and had several more panic attacks before I summoned the courage to ask Cari Barker if she would like to walk with me around the Houston airport. While we walked, I cried and told Cari how I was feeling. How I wasn't sure if I could get on the plane. How I was so sad to leave my babies. How off-guard all of the feeling and emotions had caught me. She was so kind and offered to sit by me on the next flight. I felt so relieved.
Her kind husband took my ticket and let me sit by her. I took a Dramamine and some Pepto and chatted with her and slept and made it all the way down to Ecuador. As I talked about my experience with the rest of the group, I was surprised to hear how many others experience anxiety and nausea on planes. The extraordinary fact is that they knew they would experience these feelings and yet they went on the mission trip anyway. That is how much they love God and his people.
I am one of those people who is a perfectionist. I love for everyone to think I have everything together. I want to be perceived as a strong, independent woman. Crying in an airport in front of tons of people, and having to change tickets with someone so that I won't be too scared to get on a flight doesn't really communicate that message but that's ok. I learned a very important lesson. God wants us to lean on Him in all areas of our life and he wants us to lean on each other.
And He has said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness." Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong. - 2 Corinthians 12: 9-10
Now for the pretty pictures.....
(Special thanks to Kathy McClure for sharing her gorgeous photos.)
We stayed at the Hotel Andaluza. It was built in 1555 and has been renovated and added onto many times. It might be the nicest hotel I've ever stayed at. The staff was so nice and the hotel was filled with dozens and dozens of fresh floral arrangements. I went around on the first day, feeling of the flowers because I couldn't believe they could all be real. It felt so extravagant!
The plant in the photo above is a geranium. I have never seen a geranium grow so big!
The grounds of the hotel had the most spectacular plants and flowers. Some of the varieties I had never seen before. It reminded me that God is so creative.
Our beds were furnished with down comforters and down pillows, and each night we came back to rose petals that had been carefully placed and arranged. We kept asking each other whether we were on vacation or were on a mission trip. It seemed like we shouldn't be allowed to stay somewhere that was so nice.
The walls of the hotel were covered with some of the most gorgeous art I have ever seen. These pieces were in our bedroom. It is hard for these photos to capture the detail of these paintings.
Our first afternoon in Ecuador, we gathered with several hundred other brothers and sisters in Christ to worship the Lord together. Several groups of ladies prepared songs to sing to us. We felt very honored. It was wonderful to share communion with our family in Ecuador.
Ecuador is the most beautiful country I have ever seen. We stayed up in the mountains where the temperature ranged from 45 in the morning to 65 in the afternoon. It rained everyday. The people in the mountains mostly farm by hand which creates the most gorgeous patchwork hills.
The plants in the picture above are quinoa plants. They grow tons of it.
This is one of the buses that we traveled on everyday. It got a little tense sometimes as we drove up tiny mountain roads with huge cliffs on one side. The highest elevation we reached was over 11,000 feet. There were a lot of people who were greatly affected by the elevation and became sick with nausea and headaches. I got a few headaches and had nausea in the evenings but nothing very severe.
The people of Ecuador are beautiful. They are also very small. Most of the men and women are under 5'4.
This culture is very agricultural. The people own farm animals which the drive out to the fields each day.
I worked in the Pharmacy each day. On the second day, I felt comfortable enough to start using my Spanish. I helped people understand how to take the medication they would receive. It seemed like they had no problem understanding me but if they spoke back to me to ask a question, then I really doubted my Spanish skills. I didn't want to give the wrong answer and mess up their medication. Luckily, we had a translator nearby who could help with those situations. I got really good at my dozen medical phrases. We estimate that over 5 days we saw around 1400 people. Below is a picture of the pharmacy team. I really enjoyed getting to know these people, none of which are from my church. We worked so well together. The young guy on my right is an Ecuadorian teenager named Juan David. He spoke great English and did a lot of our translating. I spent a ton of time asking him Spanish questions and quizzing him about Ecuadorian culture. He skipped a whole week of school just so he could help on this mission trip.
You can't see me very well in this picture but this is a typical line for the pharmacy. I am behind the short wall on the far left handing out medication.
There were tons of wild dogs in the villages we visited. There was usually a dozen or so running around our clinics.
Below is a picture of my friend Cristina. We shared a special bond because we both left our 3 year old boys for an entire week. We were both pretty weepy about it.
Kory Cummings and Lee Ann Finch were my roommates for the week. They were a huge support to me when I wasn't feeling well and always wanted to hear about my day. We didn't see much of each other during the day because they worked on the eye team and were super busy.
This was our wait staff. They were dressed in their tuxes for breakfast, lunch and dinner. They did an incredible job serving us.
Each evening we would come back to the hotel for dinner and they always had a 4 course meal waiting for us. The food was delicious! We had to snap pictures of it so we could show everyone how fancy it was.
The stone above was super hot and we cooked our meat on it for this meal.
We even ate soup out of a coconut.
On our last day in Ecuador we shopped in the open air markets and sat outside at a little café. Tyson and Lauren Garfield, in the picture above, left the day after we got back to the USA to travel to North Carolina to start new jobs. They will be greatly missed!
The church fed us pizza before we got on our midnight flight back to Houston and even hired a band to come and perform for us. They were so good! They had everyone up clapping and dancing.
If you are wondering, I did fine on the flights home. I was very motivated to get on the plane if I ever wanted to see my babies again. I took a Prozac and a Dramamine before the first flight and the same dosage before the second flight. I would say I was feeling pretty good.
I am so happy I was able to go on this trip and I encourage anyone out there who is thinking about doing the same to pray about it and then be courageous.
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9