From June 13-July 7 this summer, a team of five Oklahoma Baptist University students and one mentor journeyed through Ecuador on a Global Outreach (GO) Trip. Students Rachel L., Melody P., Elisa R., Laura S. and Daniel T. were led by Rachel S., mentor and OBU staff member.
GO Trips are made possible by the Avery T. Willis Center for Global Outreach. The GO Center seeks to partner with students, faculty and staff to engage a diverse world. It also provides support and opportunities for students to reach out to people in Shawnee, Oklahoma City, the United States and around the globe. Through global and local outreach, the GO Center seeks to challenge students’ global perspectives through the integration of faith and education.
The main purpose of the trip was to serve local churches and ministries. Nearly all of these opportunities offered the platform for witnessing and sharing the gospel.
While working with “For His Children (orphanage),” the team did crafts with the toddlers, played with the babies, helped with feeding time and took some toddlers swimming. They also washed windows, did laundry, swept and mopped, and participated in an afternoon of landscaping and outdoor work.
The team built relationships with students while working with Por La Paz (“For the Peace”) Christian School. The team had an hour of chapel time where they did some teaching, music, object lessons, skits and games. After chapel, they painted murals on some of their walls and played with the children during recess. On the team’s last day with the school, they accompanied the children to a solstice festival where the team cheered on the students as they competed in a folk dance contest.
On the weekend, the team helped with children's services at the largest Evangelical church in Quito, the capitol of Ecuador. The church has one Saturday service and four Sunday morning services, and the team worked with about 250 children during these 5 services.
One night, the team did a cultural exchange on a local college campus with CECE, the Ecuadorian chapter of International Fellowship of Evangelical Students. During this cultural exchange, students from both countries shared testimonies, engaged in some music and prayer time, and enjoyed one-on-one conversations.
Two weeks of the team’s stay included serving with Reach Beyond. This ministry began in the 1930s as the first ever radio station in Ecuador. Untold thousands around the globe have been impacted by this radio station's proclamation of the gospel. Not only did they broadcast to unreached people groups in South America, but also millions around the world, including those behind the Iron Curtain and communist China. They also worked closely with five missionaries who were infamously killed by members of a native tribe in 1956.
The team’s first week with Reach Beyond was spent in Quito and included running an afternoon program for missionary kids, working at a Soup Kitchen, and helping remodel a building to be used for children's ministry. Remodel work included tearing out a kitchen, removing tile, plastering, sanding and painting walls, and installing lighting.
During the team’s second week with Reach Beyond, they traveled to Shell, a jungle area, to work with the Greenhouse Project, which furnishes jungle villages with enough plants to help those communities become self-sustaining through planting, cultivating and harvesting crops to sell. As each village comes to claim their plants, they will receive a week of training which includes practical instruction in the care and cultivation of crops, as well as spiritual applications. Each lesson will include a topic (such as weeding, watering or harvesting) that deals with one aspect of planting or gardening. Lessons then explain the physical process and also include scripture and analogies, with plentiful opportunities to share Christ.
While in Shell, the team helped write the lesson plans for The Greenhouse Project, and are continuing to do so now via email correspondence. During the week, the team aided The Greenhouse Project with numerous physical tasks, including moving 500 bricks by hand; installing a sprinkler system; clearing a large field of sticks, rocks and debris; moving over 20 old radio towers into better position for use; hauling dirt; digging trenches; laying a brick patio; scraping; and painting. The team also ran two ministry programs while in Shell an evening program for missionary kids and an afternoon program for local teens at a nearby church.
Rachel S., OBU staff member and mentor on the trip, loved returning to Ecuador.
“Ecuadorian culture is warm and inviting,” she said. “People take you into their homes, but more importantly, into their hearts and their families. Simple greetings are warm and embracing, and you leave feeling as if you're leaving dear ones behind, when maybe you've only known them for one hour. There are bright colors everywhere; from buildings and signage to the flame blowers and apple sellers on the street corners. Majestic volcanoes circle the city of Quito providing a jaw-dropping spectacle on clear days and spine-tingling views from the top. Hiking through the jungle to swim in a roaring waterfall was a highlight for the team. Our ride to Shell had glorious views of the countryside.”
Rachel found the work for The Greenhouse Project the most challenging, and yet at the same time, extremely rewarding.
“The physical labor was draining and the weather was uncomfortable at times, but many times the most challenging also ends up being the most encouraging,” she said. “By the time we left Shell, I was so excited about this project. While much of our labor was just laying the groundwork, I am excited to see what the lasting impacts of this project will be. We pray that many villages will know and receive Him as a result of our hard work and sacrifice.”
For her, the trip was rewarding in many different ways, one being her interaction with a young Ecuadorian man.
“I think the most rewarding was seeing God at work all along our journey. During the first week, one of my team members and I had a conversation with a young Ecuadorian man who was volunteering at the orphanage. The conversation soon led to spiritual topics. He claimed to be an agnostic. Even so, he seemed to be anxious to discern the reason for our belief. He admitted to being concerned about the afterlife. This man was very intellectual and I immediately began to recall information I'd read only months before in a book about the conversion of a man who had to be convinced intellectually of the historical Jesus before he came to faith. While the book was an interesting read, I had silently marveled at the length of time it took the author to convince himself of the actual existence of Jesus – several years. But now that very book was giving me good answers to this particular Ecuadorian's skepticism about the Bible, about Jesus claiming to be God's Son and more. As I used some of the arguments from the book, I saw his face change and I could tell he was really pondering what we were saying. Several times he would say ‘that's a really good point!’”
“No, he did not make a decision that day,” she continued. “Hopefully, he will take the challenge we gave him to research these things for himself. Maybe it will take years, but we pray that one day he will accept Jesus as Lord and Savior. But this is what ministry looks like, planting seeds and praying for a harvest, and knowing that we may never see the results until heaven. But God is faithful and He will use us if we're willing. I see now that God directed me to read that book months before because we would encounter this very man. He is always at work!”
Not only did Rachel see connections between the locals and the Gospel, but she also saw connections between the OBU students on the trip and the locals they encountered, “Another very rewarding part of the trip, for me, was seeing my students interact with, and reach out to others with the love of Christ. They gave so much on this trip and it was a privilege to serve with them. I loved our evening devotion times where I got to hear what each one was learning as they walked in faith through the various aspects of our trip. I know God was at work in each heart as they learned new ways to serve our Savior in new surroundings. What a blessing to see them be excited about His work in Ecuador!”
“Participating in a GO Trip allows us to experience God in new ways,” she said. “Whether that means serving alongside believers from another country; or washing dishes without hot water and seeing that not everyone has all the benefits I enjoy; or seeing how Christians from different places worship; or just realizing that when we get out of our comfort zone, we rely more on God; or learning to serve as part of a team. Whatever the case may be, God is always working in us and sometimes a change of pace and venturing out of our comfort zone is the best way to see what He wants to show us. Every time I GO, I learn something new about Him and His love for the world - which includes me.”