Living here in Ecuador for nearly 9 months now, we have been adjusting to the many differences in cultures. Some differences are very small, others take more adjusting to get used to. One small cultural difference is in greeting people. On the streets as you pass by people, almost everyone will greet you with, “Buenos Dias,” or “buen día” or something else similar that means hello, how’s it going. In the congregation this means that you must greet and shake every single persons hand or give them a kiss on the cheek. It’s really very loving, but it did take some adjusting to remember to go up to everyone, whether they are sitting down, across the hall or already talking to someone else.
One large local cultural celebration we had to be prepared to deal with is a indigenous holiday, Inti Raymi.While many people are Catholic and they celebrate the Catholic holidays, they still hold on to this indigenous tradition, especially in the town we live in. The Holiday is 2 weeks long, although it’s mostly celebrated on just a few selected days. The holiday involves the indigenous people that live in the villages in the mountains surrounding us. They dress up and come into town to dance and drink heavily. I say we had to prepare for this holiday because in the past it has been very dangerous.
The men drink way too much, and when 2 different groups of men from different villages clash, they begin to fight. In the past people have been killed from the violence that takes place. So on the specific days when they are in town, our congregation meetings are cancelled and field service is restricted. We don’t meet in groups or work territory, but if it’s early and seems safe, you can do your studies. Last year and this, the government brought in the national guard to prevent too much fighting.
The first few days, we safely stayed in our apartment. Having stocked up on food, we had a “stay-cation.” Our apartment is far enough away from the main part of town and the plazas that we were in a safe area. But standing outside our apartment you could still hear the noise from the large crowd at the plaza dancing and singing. Late at night, as the crowd started to break up and the people attempted to head home, we would occasionally see a wife dragging her stumbling, drunk husband home.
The last worst couple days of the holiday we left town for a weekend trip to some hot springs. The hot springs are in the mountains 3 hours from Cotacachi. We had a great time, although I got a horrible sunburn afterward that was painful for many days and gave me blisters on my lips. Why do I never learn to wear sunblock!? I’m on the equator, in the mountains! Doh!
Although we had already gone to the convention in English, shortly after getting back from the springs, we went to our congregation’s Spanish convention in Ibarra. The city of Ibarra is an hour bus ride from Cotacachi. The city has special requirements for events held in Ibarra, such as having your own “firemen” with fire extinguishers spread out in the facility and a security team with some security guards to be “undercover.” Attendants were required to wear green vests, firemen orange vests, and security in black vests, except the undercover agents. I was asked to be undercover. Which I thought was hilarious as I blend in so well with the crowd.
The facility itself, a basketball court, was in horrible disrepair. Many hardworking brothers and sisters worked for days doing repairs, while I stood by and watched on guard. A tough job, but someone has to do it!
We thoroughly enjoyed the convention, attendance peak was approx. 2,800 with 30 getting baptized, including one 13 year old brother from our congregation.
It’s been a great summer so far with only one more month left before the boys start school again. They will be doing homeschool again but have enrichment classes at a local school a sister owns and operates. Logan will be attending 1 day a week at the school and Connor and Wes will go for 2 days. Plus they have their online classes too. It looks like next year is going to be crazy busy, but a rewarding year.
What’s it like to work in the El Campo territory?
Just like all of you, we have been greatly looking forward to attending the ‘Be Courageous’ Regional Convention. Don’t worry I won’t spoil anything from the convention itself, but just share briefly our experience. There is one English Convention in Ecuador, maybe all of South America. It is located at the Bethel branch in a huge city near the West coast called Guayaquil. It’s about a 10-12 hour bus ride, a 6-8 hour car drive at night (longer during the day due to traffic), or a short 40 min flight by plane. We decided to fly. Here’s a map of where we live and where the Convention and branch are located.
Traveling to and back from Guayaquil was fairly smooth, “fairly.” Can you really ever travel somewhere without some little bumps along the way? Well, we apparently can’t. To begin our trip, our close friend, Felipe, picked us up and drove us to the airport in Quito 2 hours from our apartment. Once we got to our gate to wait, we found several other witnesses traveling to the convention too.
Our flight got delayed 4 times and we began to worry a little. It was Thursday evening and we wanted to get to our hotel and get well-rested for the convention, especially cause Mel and I were just recovering from bad colds. We were told by other friends that it was common for the airline we were flying to cancel flights so that they could get more passengers on one plane, and sometimes they just cancel at the last minute, you know, for fun. So we began to worry that we wouldn’t be able to fly out that night, but we did.
We arrived in Guayaquil Thursday night around 8pm or so and made our way to the hotel. The hotel we stayed at had dozens of witnesses staying there too, including several families with kids. After an excellent breakfast buffet Friday morning (yes it needed to be mentioned) provided by the hotel, we got on a bus a group of us witnesses chartered to take us to the convention. After a 30 min ride, we arrived at the Bethel branch.
Like all other Bethel Branches, the grounds were beautifully maintained. There are even large iguanas there, about 2ft long or so. They usually were climbing or resting in the trees. Don’t sit under one for too long, you might get an unwelcomed gift from above.
TheVenue for the convention was open air with a cover. Attending this English convention were mostly need greaters serving in the country and Bethelites working at the branch. It was so encouraging meeting and visiting with so many need greaters and full-time servants. During the convention, one speaker said this convention was like attending a large pioneer meeting. There was between 1,100 - 1,200 in attendance, including a special quest from Warwick NY.
The convention itself was so encouraging! Afterward you feel so courageous, like you could take on the world because Jehovah is with you. We were also greatly encouraged by spending 3 days with so many need greaters. To hear their experiences and the confidence they have about this form of service really built us up. We also got to meet a few couples and families that happened to be visiting Ecuador to “spy out the land.” Some were from Australia, United States, and Canada. Hearing their goals and the sacrifices they have already made to reach their goal of serving where the need is great was a great boost to us, it invigorated us.
Our visiting speaker from World Headquarters was Robert Luccioni and his wife Faith. No surprise here, but they were so loving and friendly. We spoke with them a couple times and loved getting to know them a little. Events like this get you so excited for the New World where you can spend more time with our brothers and sisters getting to know each other and enjoying each other’s company.
The Convention is jammed packed with special treats for all of us. Wesley’s favorite part, in addition to the Jonah movie, was the symposium about the animals. Here are his notes.
It was an amazing weekend, filled with so much encouragement. We met new friends that we hope to stay in contact with and enjoyed associating with some brothers and sisters we already knew. We all had a wonderful time, it’s sad it came and went so fast, but now- it was time to head home.
There are many different types of needs when serving where the need is greater. Some congregations need elders or ministerial servants, others need families or pioneers, some congregations need publishers to learn a new language. The primary need in our congregation is for teachers to conduct bible studies. While our territory is covered frequently, many new interested are consistently found. This makes for a very exciting and rewarding ministry. We are able to have a conversation and read a scripture with many people almost every time we go in the ministry. Then with a little watering, a study is often started. Each day in the ministry is so exciting.
One brother in our congregation has studied to the point of baptism with 36 people, 36! He is an amazing teacher and the boys have learned a lot working with him in the ministry. Ecuadorian people respect the Bible and even if they have their own religion, many are still willing to talk with us. The most common religion here is Catholicism, and at times we do get completely shut down with, “I’m Catholic” or “Occupado”, which means busy.
Often though we find a few people to speak with. Not only do we get to go through our presentation, but the conversation can continue, sharing several scriptures and getting to explain a bible truth. It’s so enjoyable to not always have to rush through our presentation, but to actually explain a bible truth. A very rewarding ministry!
After our first couple months we started to get some bible studies. The first study I got, mentioned in the previous blog post is still going well. Logan’s Spanish is way better than mine, so he comes with me and helps me conduct. We have watched a few different videos and movies and are nearing the end of the good news brochure. At the last study he admitted JWs are the true religion and he is greatly looking forward to the new world. He even attended a meeting.
I have a few other studies that study for a short period of time each week. I hope they will increase their study time period soon. Logan has begun conducting a study with a young guy, 20 years old, that works in a store near our apartment. The study is tough to schedule cause he works from 9am to 9pm almost everyday, so Logan conducts at the store, but there are many interruptions.
Melanie is studying with the Mom of Logan’s study. The study got started by a couple visiting from France a little while ago. When they went back home, Melanie took over the study. The Bible student, Liliana, is an amazing bible study. She as been studying for about 4 months, but she knows this is the truth. She has even asked us about becoming a publisher and in fact has already started informal preaching at work, placing books and magazines. Liliana comes to meetings whenever she can, when her health allows her to. It is clear that Jehovah is drawing her near to Him.
Melanie has a few more studies, 2 studies that a sister that moved away gave her, one study Logan started doing door to door and a study Melanie started with a women that owns her own small store. We also have a family that we all study with. Logan and Connor study with the kids while Mel and I study with the husband and wife. We got this study from a sister in the Quichua (a native language) Congregation. The parents have a hard time reading but are making good progress. The husband has been receiving some pressure from workmates to stop studying, but he courageously continues to study. The mother and some of the kids attend the meetings.
With all these studies we have a busy schedule. It also takes a lot of energy and time to prepare in advance, walk to where the studies are, and conduct them, but it is so worth it! We leave each study so invigorated and so thankful that Jehovah allows us to conduct these studies. At last count, our family has 15 bible students.
Pic of Melanie studying with Liliana in our apartment.
Other Rewarding Activities
Logan is doing amazing with the new language, all the boys are doing great getting settled in the new congregation. Logan has the privilege of assisting in the territory department, has given a 6 min student talk and read for the congregation bible study. Videos are below, of course it’s all in Spanish. 😜
We recently had the privilege of serving refreshments at a new Kingdom Hall build in a nearby town. We went with another family from our hall and Melanie’s bible study, Liliana, went with us. She loved the experience, to see so many brothers and sisters volunteer their time and energy to build a Kingdom Hall.
Our congregation was asked to take care of the snacks every Saturday till the build was completed, in about 6 more weeks. The friends in our congregation have donated generously to provide the food and drinks. The Saturday that we were able to go and pass the food out, a brother and his wife made and donated sandwiches. They provided 90 sandwiches!
This was amazingly generous, especially considering the value they represented. The pay is not very good here. It is very common for someone to work 12 hours a day and to only make $5 a day! A good paying job is around $10 a day. So the sandwiches represented between 9 to 18 days of some Ecuadorian’s pay.
We had a wonderful morning passing out the snacks. The work on the Kingdom Hall is very labor intensive, as they don’t have many power tools, so it was very encouraging to see the many brothers and sisters working so hard for Jehovah.
That’s just a few of the highlights from the last couple months. I plan on posting more regularly with shorter posts in the future. If you have any topics you would like me to cover or particular questions, please leave in the comments and I’ll be sure to include in the next post.
The experiences mentioned above are truly gifts from Jehovah. Certainly not the result of our skills or efforts but only the blessings of Jehovah.
Before I tell you about the Spanish circuit assembly we attended, let me give some updates with how we are doing.
When we first moved here, we came on a 3 month tourist visa- No explanation necessary for how long we could stay on that visa. Shortly after we arrived with met with our lawyers (a husband and wife, the husband is the brother of an elder in our congregation) to give them the necessary documents for the application for a 2 year visa. We were excited that just as our 3 month tourist visa expired, our 2 year visa was approved. We now all have Ecuadorian IDs and can stay for 2 years. We can also leave Ecuador to visit the states whenever we want. After 2 years, we can apply again for the same visa or we can apply for a permanent visa.
While we were still living in the states, Melanie went through training and received a English teaching certificate. Since we arrived in Ecuador (with said certificate in hand), she has been applying to companies that teach English online, primarily to young Chinese children. She had some promising prospects a couple times but nothing for sure. The needed job was kept as a matter of prayer and Mel was persistent with applying to many companies.
In the meantime, the lack of work allowed us more time to adjust to our new life and get settled properly (see a previous post). Then around the same time we received our approved visa, Melanie was hired by an excellent company. The job is perfect for our needs and Mel’s desired service and family schedule. The job is a gift from Jehovah.
Although the job is perfect for our needs and family schedule, it doesn’t come without some sacrifice, namely- super early mornings. Mel’s work hours are 5am to 9am M-F. So she has to get up at 4:30 in the morning. YES, 4:30 AM every weekday! The reason for such an early morning is the time difference between here and China. But she has adjusted well, and I too am learning to adjust to having to sleep in, to not having a job and just letting Mel bring home the bacon. It’s been a rough few weeks for me, but I think in time I will be able to handle these changes. :)
Actually, I am hoping to get hired by the same company in a little while. But for now, I’m using the time to work on my Spanish. Here’s Mel at the “office,” our dining room.
MEMORIAL CAMPAIGN & FIELD SERVICE & BIBLE STUDIES
Our territory is well covered, about every 2 months, so only brothers leading out for service can check out territories. A typical service day starts with the meeting for service at 8:45am. Tue - Thur the meetings are at different publisher’s homes. Monday we meet at the hall to go do el campo service. Last month I was asked to start leading this group out. So for each Monday I prepare for the meeting for service, then I translate it (using JW language app or JW library in Spanish and google translate), then I have Logan or Melanie check the translation for me and then practice it, especially the new words. This is turning out to be a wonderful blessing helping me with my Spanish.
After the meeting, we work our territory for that morning until it’s completed, about 1 hour to 1 1/2hr. Then the friends go and do RVs or bible studies. Now that we have been here a few months and have acquired some calls, we are able to make the day longer by doing our calls.
Recently, another brother and I called on a man that owns/works in a suit shop. I’ve been in the store before with the family to get Logan some stuff. We chatted for a bit and I placed a magazine. The man said he was studying with another brother at his home in the next town over. A couple days later I ran across the man walking down the road and he said he would prefer to study during the day at his shop and that the other brother had stopped coming by his home. He asked if I could study with him.
Of course I jumped at the chance and since then, we’ve had 2 studies. I take Logan with me to help with the Spanish because he’s basically Ecuadorian now 🙄😠. I prepare some auxiliary questions in advance and translate them to Spanish, but Logan helps me with the hard words. The man loves his study, and often exclaims how exciting the information is. Funny enough, after we read a scripture that he really appreciates, he says in English with a big goofy smile, “oooh my god!” I love his enthusiasm for learning the truth.
Another man I got in the territory has agreed to study as well. He owns/works in a leather store. Making and selling leather goods (like 77.2% of everyone in Cotacachi), like bags, belts..etc. I showed him the video, ‘Why does God allow suffering” and left him the Good news brochure. We set a date to start the study for next Tuesday. I can’t wait!
The memorial campaign has been going really well and a number of people have said they are coming. In fact, the turnout is typically so large that our congregation actually has the memorial at 2 locations. We divide the congregation and serving body in half and let the public pick which location they would like to attend. Here’s Logan and I taking a brief rest while Melanie makes a call.
CIRCUIT ASSEMBLY (finally- sorry)
Less than 2 weeks before our assigned assembly, we were notified that we could not have it at the location we had reserved. But thankfully another location was quickly found, however it needed some work. The owner agreed to let us use the facility for FREE, if we agreed to do some repairs. The facility was a gymnasium, much like a high school basketball court. But it was in terrible disrepair and had no functioning bathrooms. The only “functioning” bathrooms onsite were 2 temporary metal porta-johns outside- see below.
There was also only about 10 parking spots. Most of the friends don’t have cars, but there are a few per congregation and there would be 9 or 10 congregations attending. So the brothers poured some concrete ramps to allow the friends to park on the outdoors basketball court. For a week, groups of brothers and sisters would go to the facility to make repairs. New toilets were installed ( indoors! Ya!), sinks, handrails were painted and a number of other things. The day before the assembly we went to help with the final clean up. Here’s the boys standing outside the facility.
BYOCS- bring your own cleaning supplies. The facility had not been cleaned in sometime and was filthy. Bird poop was washed and scrubbed off walls and stairs, thousands of pieces of gum were hand scraped from the floor, the concrete stadium benches (no chairs) were mopped, and much more. To fill a bucket with water, a Dixie cup was filled (slowly due to bad water pressure) from a bathroom sink then dumped into the bucket. Repeat...Repeat...Repeat...until full.
Many hands by wonderful brothers and sisters worked tirelessly to clean, repair, and put together the stage, sound system and etc.
Sunday came and the friends filed in. The attendance being near 1,500 with 11 getting baptized in a pool at a local hotel.
Although the facility itself was nothing special to look at, once the friends arrived, it became a beautiful assembly hall!
It was exciting to see that 3 elders from our congregation had talks, along with Logan doing a demo and Melanie being interviewed. The videos are below.
After the assembly, deconstruction began and within a couple hours everything was torn down and loaded in trucks. Logan helped with the stage for a while.
Although it was a bit tiring sitting in the heat on concrete benches trying to understand Spanish, the effort was well worth it! No better place to be than with Jehovah’s people worshipping our God.
Now feeling encouraged and reenergized, it was time to get back to the memorial campaign that unifies us with our brothers, sisters, and family that live in different parts of the world.
First, sorry for the long delay in publishing this post, as you all know, time can easily slip away when you are busy. Although I am currently not working, which obviously has freed up a lot of my time, there are things about living here that require extra time. Let me list just a few.
One thing is we don’t have a vehicle. Our main mode of transport is on foot. Which we actually do enjoy, however takes extra time to get places, and requires a lot more energy and effort- which we are still getting used to. Another major mode of transportation for us is riding the bus. The buses here are very regular and inexpensive. However, sometimes we do have to wait for them at the bus stop, or they don’t go right to the place we need, so we still end up walking some, and although all the drivers must be former NASCAR drivers based on how they drive, it still isn’t as fast as having your own car.
Another major time vacuum here is that stores and offices don’t always have regular business hours. Por ejemplo: I went to go pay our electrical bill recently but when I went to the teller the amount seemed incorrect. The teller told me to see the manager, but I was going to need Melanie’s help with the Spanish. Mel and the boys were waiting for me in the town plaza a few blocks away so they didn’t have to walk the extra distance to the power company’s office. So I walked and got them and we all went went back to the power company. But by the time we got there, 10 minutes later, they had closed for lunch. So we decided to go run a different errand. We walked across town to a different store that we needed something specific from, and they were closed. We were told to wait a few minutes. 30-40 minutes later, no one came so we left and went back to the power company. Now the office was open, but the manager was gone. So that particular morning, from about 10am to 1:30, we ran 5 errands but only got 1 of them done. Waste of time.
Just to mention one last time sucker. It is hard to get or find what you are looking for. Although Cotacachi does have a number of small grocery stores, clothing stores, hardware stores..etc, they don’t necessarily have what you need. These stores are tiny in comparison to what we are used to, and we have been adjusting to what is locally available. But sometimes they don’t even have what they normally have, or there is a particular item you just need. Por ejemplo: I recently built something small for a friend and I needed a few items to build it. More than 1 day, 4 hardware stores, 5 misc shops, a few miles of walking, 3 taxi rides, and 2 bus rides later I had what I needed. Finding the items for the project took longer than building the project. 😜
With all that being said, there are still many things we are adjusting to, and it just takes time to get used to them, even to how much time is needed to get things done.
So with so many different experiences and new aspects of life, it was so nice to enjoy something familiar, something from home, the visit of Melanie’s parents.
They stayed with us in our new apartment for 2 weeks. The first “hurdle” to overcome once a visitor arrives at the airport in Quito is the 2 hour drive to Cotacachi. I say this not to deter any would-be visitors, cause we would love for more friends and family to come and visit, but just to highlight the unique experience it is to be driven here.
The drive is mountainous with curvy roads all the way. Also, Ecuadorian drivers are special kinds of drivers. It’s like combining a NY city taxi driver with a squirrel that’s jumping from tree to tree. They have no fear and road rules don’t apply to them. Pass a bus uphill on a blind curve? Sure! Tranquilo.
After their arrival, we tried to lay low for a day or so to help them avoid altitude sickness, which they did. Then we showed them Cotacachi and introduced them to our congregation. Here we are at the bus stop on the way to meeting.
Now, I’ve prepared a music video with some of the highlights from their visit but let me first explain some of the things we did together.
The music you hear is actually a brother from our congregation. One evening, we had some close friends over for dinner and a brother brought his guitar. Both the Dad and his 20 yr old son play. The Dad is playing and singing the song in the video. We loved it!!!
Of course, we got to enjoy going to meetings and field service together including Mel and Carmen doing cart witnessing in the plaza. Also, Tom gave the public talk the first Sunday they were here and he helped us one day at a KH workbee.
We took a 2 day trip to the center of the the earth, the equator, and we also visited a rainforest. We went to a museum right on the equator and performed some interesting “experiments.” One such experiment was trying to walk in a straight line directly on the equator line. This is surprisingly very tough, basically impossible, because the forces of the earth are pulling you each way. If you lean a fraction one way, south pulls you, if you lean the other way, north pulls you. So it’s not like normal where the same force is constantly pulling you. You quickly lose your balance and walk off the line. It’s hilarious to watch.
Another experiment was watching water drain. Exciting right? Hahaha or actually here they spell laughing as: “jajajaja,” because the ‘H’ is silently in Spanish and the ‘J’ sounds like an English ‘H.’ (Funny to see but not as funny to have explained I see now, jajajaja.)
Back to the experiment, directly on the equator line, and yes there actually is a line there at the museum, the water goes straight down without spinning, but a few feet on either side of the line and it will spin in a different direction. Go north of the line a few feet and it spins in the direction most of us are used to, but go south a few feet, and yep... you get it, no need for me to spell it out to you, although I just used enough words saying this that I could have, doh!
One more was standing an egg 🥚 on its end. Standing on the equator line makes it easier to accomplish this task and we all took a shot at it with varying degrees of success.
We then went to a butterfly sanctuary. Thousand of different kinds of butterflies all over the place. You could even feed them with a little banana rubbed on your finger. It was spectacular! Jehovah has made the most beautiful butterflies and soooo many different kinds. Even their cocoons can be different. There was one cocoon that was shiny metallic colored. So amazing. The butterflies loved Wesley!
Sometime during the trip we ate at a restaurant known for having humming birds. Not to eat! Gross! But hundreds of humming birds would come and go and fly all around, it was amazing. Large, small, green, blue- all kinds. Dr. Seuss should have visited and wrote a book about that restaurant.
We also got to do zip lining through the rainforest and a gondola ride together. It was an amazing trip and so special to see Jehovah’s creation like that. It was a tiny glimpse of what paradise will be like. We were so happy to experience it together.
Here’s the music video with some of my favorite pictures from their visit.
We all had such a great visit with Papa and Abuelita! We are so thankful they came for a visit!
It’s been a number of weeks since they left and a couple of incredible things have happened since then, which I’ll explain in the next post.
-And loving it!
Our second month here in Cotacachi, Ecuador, began with a move. Our first 3 weeks or so we stayed in a condo we rented from an American we found online (that is the condo, not some sort of Tron-American). The move was necessary to bring down rental costs. After searching out several places, a bible study attending meetings in our congregation introduced us to a couple that own a 3 story apartment. We decided it was a good fit for us and moved in the first week of December.
Our 3 bedroom apartment was partially furnished, which helped keep costs down. However we did need a few necessary items, like a couple more beds. As with all shopping, it is very different than the states. There are no big box stores that sell everything, no large home goods or furniture stores that have a hundred different types of thing-a-bobs, or whatcha-ma-call-it’s, your selection is quite limited. Our new land lord introduced us to a carpenter with a shop and store, and we had him build the beds we needed for a reasonable price.
After the bed frames arrived we found a store with a couple mattresses, and set delivery for the day we moved in. Our apartment is on the third floor, which was no problem for Wesley’s tiny mattress, but a whole other story for the queen sized mattress.
Here’s the stairs up to our apartment to help you visualize the issue.
Spiral stair case!
The mattress would not fit up the stairs. Despite my best effort to football shove it, tackle it, ride it, fold it, anything and everything, it would not go up. If the mattress didn’t get into the apartment, I might have had to sleep on the tile floor, or far more likely, have one of the boys sleep on the floor.
DESPERATE TIMES CALL FOR DESPERATE MEASURES!
Our neighbor below us on the second floor has a balcony that faces the road. So the delivery driver and I shoved the mattress up the front of the building onto her balcony, she was not home. Next, we tied a rope around the mattress and I went to the roof while the driver climbed up to the balcony. Yes, you guessed it, I pulled the mattress up to the roof of the building. The building has a flat roof with a parapet around it, it’s actually a terrace. Well, as I got it pulled up to the parapet, it got stuck. There I was holding onto a tiny rope dangling a mattress over my neighbors balcony with plants and patio furniture and then the rope began to slip, which if it fell would fall either on my neighbors stuff or the driver himself below.
I called for Logan (standing by) who came over and grabbed hold of the mattress. We pulled together as hard as we could and the mattress came flying over the parapet, I fell onto my back with the mattress landing on top of me. Mission Accomplished! The stairway down from roof had much more ceiling clearance and it was a breeze getting into our apartment from there.
Here’s our apartment building from the side.
We have been enjoying our new apartment, especially the views. From the living room and kitchen, which has large windows we can see Mt Cotacachi, and from our bedroom and Logan’s, we can see Mt Imbabura.
And from the roof at the beginning of January.
The next couple weeks we worked on getting settled in the apartment and prepared for Mel’s parents to come visit us. One of the things we figured it out in December before company arrived was the boy’s new home school. A sister living here, that used to be a teacher from Colorado, started a school that combines an online homeschool with the possiblility of adding enrichment classes that you can attend locally.
This homeschool program is way more affordable than other programs we were looking at. Plus they have classes Wes can attend, which would help him learn Spanish. So we decided to send Wes 1 morning a week, and maybe starting next school year the boys can do some enrichment classes, but for now they will just do the homeschooling.
They all got to try out the school for 1 day, here’s Wesley trying out his first day of school.
The week before Papa and Abuelita (Tom and Carmen) arrived we went to a Congregation fiesta. The party was to say goodbye to a couple that was moving away and to welcome new families into the congregation. It was at one of the elder’s house. The weather was perfect, the food was great and we had an amazingly fun time. Music, dancing, games, soccer and a kids show.
The brother has a large outdoor wood fired oven. 20 chickens were cooked all at the same time. The chicken was served with yummy rice that was very similar to Mel’s, along with veggies, corn nuts, more good stuff and a fresh homemade ají (like a salsa but better).
The young kids dressed as a bible character, Wes went as a young David, but sometimes he was also Samson according to him. At one point all the dressed kids announced who they were dressed as (in Spanish of course), Wes got confused and instead of saying he was dressed as David (or Samson) he announced he was “Wesley.” So funny and cute. Here he is with one of his friends.
A brief highlights reel.
The week after the party, which was the week before Papa and Abuelita arrived, we all got sick. We passed the stomach flu to each other but thankfully we got mostly better before they came. I’ll cover their visit in the next post, which I’ll put up in a couple days.
The weeks covered here were an important couple weeks. While it may seem like not much was accomplished, getting settled was an important step. This will allow us now to focus more on our new family and spiritual schedule. We will be able to focus more on learning the language and gradually increase our share in the ministry. We also look forward to getting to know the friends better by having them over. All of this is much easier to accomplish and focus on now that we feel settled and starting to feel that this new place, new country, and new congregation, is our new home.
One of the main reasons we decided to move to Ecuador was the field ministry. While it is true, sheep are being found in all countries around the world and we even had success in the congregation we were in, but the amount of people here that want to discuss the Bible, then study it, come to meetings and make progress, is staggering.
When we visited last year we saw this first hand and it was exciting that most people you speak with would give you the time to have a spiritual conversation. Yes, some say they’re busy or catholic, but the majority are very friendly and enjoy talking about the Bible. In the brief 2 weeks we have been here so far, we have found this to be the case still.
Our first service day was a Saturday morning. We met with the same service group we were assigned to last year, they meet nearby. After a brief meeting, the brother conducting assigned each publisher with a service partner, there are no “car groups,” just service partners. Mel was assigned to work with an experienced sister, Logan with the brother that lead the group out, any guesses who I was assigned with?
Yep, the two gringos, the most gringo brothers out in service were put together, Connor and I! We had simple tract presentations, so that wasn’t a big issue. I also know when someone says they’re busy or not interested, but if they deviated from that, the angels would have to step in.
Actually it went really well. Another (Spanish speaking) brother joined us for a little while but then we were on our own. We both placed a few tracts and I now have a call I can go back on. Mel got to go on a study with the sister she was working with. The lady works in a shop that sells denim jeans. After several interruptions by costumers, they rescheduled their “door-step” study- more accurately: their “inside tiny shop” study.
The people are so friendly it calms your nerves a lot. There is no rush through the greeting. You can politely introduce yourself and your partner(s) and even ask them their name and how they are doing. I usually then apologize for having terrible Spanish, then tell them that I have a question for them. I then say- this tract asks..... show them the options to answer the question and get their response. If going well, I “explain” (barely mumble through) that the tract has many scriptures to answer more, then- “do you want to read the tract?” Connor’s presentation is a simplified version of mine.
Logan’s however, is a presentation a seasoned pioneer was using and so he copied it. The presentation includes asking a few questions, relating that many people have the same answers, reading and explaining 2, count them, 1 and a 2nd scripture, followed by an explanation of what is in the magazine. Oh, boy I’m so jealous of his ability to learn (absorb) a new language!
It was a very pleasant morning, and helped us to start feeling less apprehensive about the ministry. Except one experience. A well-dressed man with a top hat the boys tried speaking to was so rude! He completely ignored them and acted like they weren’t even there. I snapped a quick pic of him and the boys- see below pic.
Informal Witness Experience
The next day we took a bus to Otavalo, a nearby town, to pick up some needed items. Mel sat next to a women who asked (in spanish) an “out of the blue” question. She asked if it was difficult in the USA to find books about missionaries. Mel said yes and it could also be expensive, but we were Jehovah’s Witnesses and offer literature free of charge about the Bible and even had free videos and other content available on our website.
Mel processed to witness for the next 20 minutes or so to the woman. Showing her the website and playing a video for her. Logan said that when Mel played the video the bus got quieter and it seemed like other people were listening. We hope the woman will continue her search using JW.org.
A funny side note to the story has to do with our cell phones. For cell service we are using a network (claro) that you pre-pay in advance and receive a certain amount of data and minutes. The amount you get is based on the cost rate so it can be tricky to know how much you’re using. We limit our data usage as much as possible, but we can use WhatsApp (a text and call app) for free **(so if you wanna call us or text, this app is preferred- email us for our numbers).
Just that morning we had added money to our service, $6 each, and this should have lasted us a little over a week or more- depending on usage. Except, the video Mel had shown on the bus was not yet downloaded (in Spanish) on her phone. The informal witness used all of her data. 😮🤪 Well worth it!
Here’s a typical bus ride, although at times it can be lot more full- standing room only! (Connor and I prefer to stand to help with motion sickness.)
Each day of the week, the friends meet at different locations for service, that way they are within walking distance of the territory. Our first mid-week service day was a Thursday and there was a nice size group out, close to 20. Mel and Connor were assigned to work together and Logan and I. Just like the first time we went out in service last Saturday, I was again asked to say the concluding prayer. 😯😟😲
Being asked on the spot to say a public prayer in a foreign language that you barely know is a great stress test on your heart. Once my heart started beating again I was able to choke out a couple brief sentences and then recall (assisted by Holy Spirit) how to conclude the prayer. While it was nerve racking, I do appreciate being throw in the deep end, it’s the best way to learn the language and I do desire to be used here by Jehovah. So, pray, trust, then act, it’s all any of us can do no matter where we are or what we are doing in service to Jehovah.
The morning was a hit! Mel got a call and Logan placed 3 magazines. We loved it. Plus Wes did great learning to walk a lot, and I mean a lot- especially for his short legs (more on that later).
Service in Quiroga
Quirgoa is the small town right next to Cotacachi (basically connected), it is where the Kingdom Hall is located. It is much smaller than Cotacachi, with only a few shops spread out here and there. One service group meets there at the hall and another in an elder’s home for Saturday service. The group overseer and his wife +kids that meet at the hall wanted us to work with them the next Saturday. So we joined them.
Logan worked with the group overseer, Mel worked with his wife, Connor with the overseer’s 20 year old son, Sebastian, and I worked with a 12 year old brother that has been an unbaptized publisher for 3 months. Did I mention he doesn’t speak English?
I super enjoyed working with my little partner. He helped me a great deal with my Spanish and taught me how to say some things. I was also very impressed by this new publisher’s preaching skills. At one door of mine, when the women came I told her that we wanted to show her a video about families. She said she was very busy, so I offered her the family tract instead, which she took. Then my young partner said he had a magazine for her. He pulled out the older issue about being too busy. He said something about it, I don’t know what, and placed the magazine with her. I was very impressed.
Here we are- He looks a little scared, but be honest- most of you have been scared to work with me too!
** He is from one of the indigenous tribes, thus the long hair and style of clothes that is their culture.
Here’s Wes with his service partner.
One thing the boys love about Cotacachi is all the ice cream! Many of the little shops sell homemade ice cream, and there are street carts that walk around selling ice cream as well. The street cart vendor sells a cone for $.25! The boys have been taking advantage of that. The small shops sell different flavors of ice creams for $.75. This Saturday morning we actually took our first service break- not coffee break, an ice cream break, at least for the kids. See how they enjoyed it?
Here was one of the roads we worked, the city is currently working on replacing the water line so it’s a little tore up.
el Campo Service
The next time we went out was the following Monday. Just like last year, Mondays are for el campo service, aka: country service, aka: mountain service. After meeting at the hall we walked to the city plaza, la Parka de Quiroga. There, we rented 2 pickup trucks and piled in, sisters inside the truck cab and brothers ride in the truck bed. We love it!
After a 15-20 minute drive up the mountain, we were dropped off. Then we proceeed to walk down and a little bit around the mountain working our way back towards town. Along the way, we do what Witnesses do best- knock on doors or in this case, fences or gates.
El campo service is so much fun. It’s like going on a hike with a bunch of your friends, but wearing a suit and preaching along the way. The people are basically farmers, well most of them. Raising some cattle or growing a small crop. Some just live there but work in town. Dogs are a plenty, but no bad encounters yet. Rocks and sticks are nearby if we need to scare a mean dog away.
Mel (again) had a really nice conversation with a man that expressed repeatedly his love for God, he was sincere and listened as Mel got to share several scriptures.
There are fewer doors in el campo territory because the houses are spread out, plus we were a large group, so my partner and I didn’t have as many good experiences as working in town. I was happy I got to do most of my presentation and share a tract. Getting more comfortable little by little. Here’s most of us posing for a pic.
And Logan with his buddies.
Once we were done with service, we continued to keep walking to the nearest bus stop. Another sister went with us and we rode the bus back to Cotacachi. This is the bus stop.
After we made it back to the main bus station in Cotacachi we began to walk home. And wouldn’t you know it, the boys just had to stop and grab an ice cream!
Even though it’s been only a little over 2 weeks we are getting adjusted to more and more things. One adjustment, a physical adjustment, has been all the walking. We don’t have a vehicle of our own, and we try to limit using a taxi as much as possible. Field Service is all walking, except the taxi truck ride up the mountain. For the first 4 days of field service we walked a total of 14.5 miles.
There have been a number of other adjustments which I’ll mention later, but there has been one consistent that has helped us to stand on firm ground despite all the changes. A Spiritual routine. Which brings me to my favorite picture, Melanie doing her personal daily bible reading.
We are finding a lot of joys here in Ecuador. In addition to the field ministry being a real pleasure, we are cherishing the increased time together as a family. We get to do pretty much everything together, and all the walking affords us the perfect opportunity to chat, laugh, encourage each other, even get sore feet together and loving it! (Get Smart- not McDonald’s)
The day we had been planning for so long had finally arrived. We made it to our new hometown, Cotacachi. Cotacachi is a small town with less than 9,000 people. There is a small community of retired Americans that live in different parts of town. The center of town, which is several blocks, has many small “stores,” where local people sell small goods, things they’ve grown or made. Cotacachi is know for its leather goods, many shops sell hats, belts, coats, shoes, bags and pretty much anything else you can make out of leather. Other shops in town are small resturants. Everything is homemade, so you can find some delicious food.
The people are very kind, and almost everyone will greet you as you walk down the road. About mid-day the kids get released from school to walk home for lunch and rest. It’s neat to see all the kids flood the streets in their school uniforms. At the same time, ice cream and crushed ice street vendors hit the road. A ice cream cone with a fruit sauce drizzled on it is $.25.- so good too. (I get hungry writing this blog😜)
Our friends that picked us up from the airport drive us the 2-hour long trip to Cotacachi. The drive is not for the faint of heart. From Quito to Cotacachi is mostly windy narrow roads through the mountains. Many roads are right on the edge of a large drop-off, ussually there is no guardrail. Plus the roads are heavily traveled by buses that travel between the towns. Fare is cheap, more on that later.
Considering these facts, you would think great caution would be taken while driving, nope! Enjoy rollercoasters? Many drivers pass buses on an uphill blind curve, some will come from behind and pass several cars at once and still others will make moves that would impress a NASCAR driver. Last year, Connor and I had to keep motion sickness pills with us, not really bothering us this time.
Once we arrived in Cotacachi our friends took us to the condo we will be renting for the first month. An American couple own the place and advertised it online, that’s how we found it. During the first month there, we will look around for something more affordable. The locals that rent houses or apartments don’t really advertise, you just have to look for a note in a window or posted on a door. Your feet really need to be on the ground to find a place like that.
Here’s the view just in front of our condo.
Yes that is a volcano in the background. There are 2 volcanoes near Cotacachi. One is toward the south (the one pictured above) and another is to the north of town. Both appear to be about an equal distance away. The locals call them the mother and father volcanoes, actual names: Cotacachi Volcano (dormant) and the other is Imbabura Volcano. Imbabura is the name of the province we are in.
Here’s a closer look at the one picuted above, to the south of us- Imbabura Volcano.
Now that we were in our (temporary) place, it was nice to unpack, for most of the last 6 weeks we have been living out of our suitcases. However, we were worried about getting altitude sickness so we tried to limit how much we did for the first 2 days. We of course needed some groceries, thankfully the property manager was kind enough to take us into town so we could grab a couple things. Afterward we taxi-ed home and did pretty much nothing for 2 days.
We dodged the bullet and did not get altitude sickness this time. However, I did have a mild headache pretty much 24/7 for the first week we were here, but then it was gone and hasn’t returned.
Our first meeting here was the public meeting which is currently held Saturday night at 6:30pm. It was so great seeing the friends we had made over a year ago when we visited. A few have moved away but the congregation has grown a lot. The hall was completely full, about 100 in attendance. The congregation has 5 elders and many pioneers- I’ll get harder numbers later.
Just like last time, we were warmly greeted with hugs and kisses. The friends made a real effort to make us feel welcomed. We’re looking forward to getting to know them all and working with them in the ministry.
The day after the meeting, we went to a little kid party that one of the families threw at their house. The kids got to play a bunch of different games like, wheelbarrow race, potato sack race, 500, and even piñata. The family throwing the party make and sell cupcakes as a family business, so of course we got some amazingly yummy cupcakes.
The cupcake business allows most of the family to pioneer. The mother and father have 2 older sons and 2 younger sons. The older sons pioneer and the oldest is married and serves a few days a week at a nearby RTO. The father is an elder, he is the Watchtower conductor. Melanie has stayed in contact with the Mom since we left and they have grown really close. They are a wonderful family, and it was an entertaining evening!
One of the challenges of living here is finding the right places to buy what you need. In Cotacachi there isn’t one large grocery store where you can get everything you need, so we’ve been exploring different little shops to find stuff for the best prices. Some stuff, you have to get in another town. Fruit and vegetables are sold locally everywhere and are amazingly fresh.
Pineapples, strawberries, apples, mangos, bananas, and so much more. They are so sweet and fresh! It’s the best. We can fill a plastic grocery bag full of fruit for about $4.00.
On one such shopping journey during our first week in a nearby town we came across a pizza place that some friends had brought us to the last time we were here. The pizza is really good, but the best part is a pepper sauce/salsa that you pour on top. It’s sweet and little spicy, really makes for an amazing slice! Take a look at Logan and see how he’s grown in one year.
During this first week, while the boys were keeping up with school work, Mel began to fill out applications for jobs online. The months leading up to the move, Mel completed some training to teach English online, she received a specific certificate to allow her to do so. So now she began applying with companies that mainly offer English lessons to Asian children. Another possible job is transcription. The work entails listening to an audio file, usually from a corporate business meeting, and typing up what was said.
We are confident that the right employment will come up for Mel and I. Jehovah has helped us and blessed us all along, and we know he will continue to do so.
So, our first week was a success. We are anxious to get started in the ministry next week. It will be a challenge, using a new language in the ministry, but we are excited for the experiences we are sure to have.
We flew from Washington to Michigan, drove from Michigan to New York, next we fly from New York to Miami and drive from Miami to Orlando. After a few days with friends in Orlando, we’ll drive back to Miami to fly to Quito Ecuador, then at last- taxi to Cotacachi!
In Orlando Florida we have close friends that have become part of our family. We haven’t seen them in a few years so we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit them. But before we left New York (actually New Jersey) we had one more stop to make. To Carlos Bakery, the bakery from our favorite baking show- Cake Boss.
With that out of the way (worth it!) it was time to load up like the Clampetts and get going.
We got in pretty late once we arrived in Orlando, but our gracious hosts, aka our Friends- stayed up late to welcome us. After a warm welcome, (on their part, I was probably grouchy tired) we all crashed hard.
The day we flew out of New Jersey it was 50 degrees, our first day in Orlando was a sticky 85+ degrees. We woke up late feeling well rested.
Our friends suprised us with a couple days at Disney World. Usually when I think of going to Disney, I imagine long lines, scorching heat and sore feet- The happiest Place on Earth? But our friends both work for Disney and know how to work the park. They got fast passes for rides that we wanted to do, we had nice lunches and saw the good shows. We had a blast together.
In addition to 2 days at Disney we also got to enjoy a morning at the beach, a warm beach. Mel’s happiest place on earth!
The time here went so quick, and before we knew it, it was time to pack up again and say goodbye.
One last flight!
We’ve gotten pretty good flying as a family and the less than 4 hours flew by! - get it? FLEW by, pretty good huh? (I know - it’s terrible) We landed in Quito Ecuador about 8pm and slowly made it through security and immigration. Our plan is to stay in Quito tonight at a hotel that is 2 minutes from the airport. Tomorrow, we have friends picking us up.
The last time we came to Ecuador, Mel and I got real bad altitude sickness- it was horrible! Altitude sickness results from being in a high altitude location and because your body isn’t used to the lack of oxygen you get a severe headache/migraine, and other possible not-fun symptoms. Quito’s elevation is 9,350 ft, Cotacachi’s elevation is 8,000 ft. To help prevent from getting it you are suppose to lay low and take it easy. That’s what we hope to do, however we still have to finalize where we will be staying for the first month here.
Well, that’s for worrying about tomorrow, tonight is about getting some needed rest in our hotel.