Wednesday, July 01, 2020

A Year in the Life: December

December begins with a 2-day evangelistic campaign at the Pisulí Church of Christ. On Saturday, Rusty takes the three boys to their baseball practice and games in the morning, then to the church to help for the afternoon. I stay home and get out the Christmas decorations. We put up the tree that evening. On Sunday, we all go to Pisulí for the morning service, followed by a big lunch and some afternoon activities.

It takes me several days to get my house all decorated for Christmas. We start doing our Jesse Tree -- reading a devotional each night leading up to Christmas and then hanging up the accompanying ornament. This has become such a meaningful holiday tradition for our family. We use this wonderful book by Ann Voskamp. We also start watching our favorite Christmas movies when we have a free evening.

The first half of December tends to be fairly busy. I am still homeschooling and teaching my English classes, but I am also planning and getting ready for various Christmas events at the camp. We usually have a Parent Night for the after-school program just before we break for Christmas, so there are rehearsals to help with and decorating to do for that. In addition, we will have a Christmas party for the kids in the program, and a staff Christmas lunch. It is tradition in Ecuador for employers to gift their employees with a box of "víveres," or non-perishable food items for Christmas, so Rusty and I take a morning to price the various options at the different grocery stores in town and then purchase the boxes for our staff.

Alex has a Teen Night to attend. This one is a sleepover because the following day, the teens put on their Christmas fair fundraiser event. They are raising funds to off-set the costs of their annual retreat, which will take place in the spring. The teens spend Friday evening setting up for the fair, which takes place on Saturday. It is a fun day with games, crafts, and food for purchase. Our whole family attends and has a great time. We are very thankful for this community of fellow homeschooling missionaries.

The after-school program runs through mid-December, and then we have a 3-week break for the Christmas and New Year's holidays. The final day of the program is busy. We have the staff Christmas lunch before the program and present the Christmas boxes to our staff. Immediately following the program, we have the Parent Night. Each class has prepared a Christmas song to sing for their parents, and they do a great job. Afterwards, we serve hot cocoa and homemade empanadas to everyone. We had a great turnout this year, so there are nearly 200 people present!

The boys have their final baseball games and end-of-season parties on the same day as the Christmas party for the after-school program, so once again, we "divide and conquer." Rusty takes the boys to Quito for baseball, and I stay at the camp to help with the party. We have a group of students from the Bible college come out for the day. They have planned games and outdoor activities for the kids. We also do "photos with Santa" and have those printed so the kids can make a photo craft. Lunch is served, followed by a special program -- the students perform a drama for the kids and then the kids sing a couple of their songs (the same ones they performed for the parent night) as a way to say "thank you." Finally, Santa gives out a bag of candy and treats to each child! We are thankful for all those who make these special Christmas parties possible -- through financial gifts or through giving up a free Saturday to help out!

Alex has a friend from baseball over to spend the night following the final game. The next day, his family drives out to pick him up. We have lunch together and spend Sunday afternoon visiting and playing disc golf. The Quito Youth Baseball League has been another great place for us to make friends outside of our own little missions circle!

Now, most of the camp Christmas activities are over, but we have become aware of a member of the Pisulí church, Sandra, who is in dire need of help with her house. The house is not finished, but Sandra and her children have been living in it for awhile. Rusty organizes some of the camp employees to travel to Quito several days in a row to do a service project to make the house more livable. He takes Alex with him one day to help out. They are joined in their efforts by some of the members of the Pisulí church as well as by Sandra and her family.

The last day of school before the Christmas break is December 21st. Elizabeth has her school Christmas program followed by her class party. After lunch, we head in to Quito. Alex attends the homeschool teen Christmas party. Rusty and Josh hang out at the Marcums' house with the younger kids while Julie and I go out to dinner and do some last-minute shopping.

Our Christmas break has officially begun. We spend the next few days doing final Christmas prep -- wrapping presents, doing our annual ornament craft (this year, we do puzzle piece ornaments), and finishing up the Christmas baking. I try to do 12 different cookies, plus peanut brittle and peppermint bark every year. Once I am all finished, I start putting out trays of Christmas cookies with each meal.

On Christmas Eve, we have finger foods and wassail for dinner. After the kids go to bed, Rusty and I stay up late wrapping presents and watching movies. I like to watch "While You Were Sleeping" as I wrap gifts on Christmas Eve. It has become a fun personal tradition.

Christmas Day is relaxed and fun. We start the day with pumpkin cinnamon rolls for breakfast. Then, we open presents. We have a yummy late lunch of roast lamb, spiced peaches, and all the trimmings and then watch "A Christmas Story" together. The kids spend the following day playing with their new toys while I do a little clean up and putting away around the house.

On December 27th, the Marcum family arrives at the camp for our annual family Christmas gathering. We have a yummy late Christmas lunch, then play disc golf and board games for the rest of the afternoon. That evening, we exchange gifts (each kid buys one gift for one of their cousins -- keeps things simple) and have a sleepover. The Marcums leave after breakfast the next morning.

All the hustle and bustle of Christmas is finally over, but we have the next 2 weeks to enjoy some family time. All of the camp employees are taking vacation time for a few days and the camp is closed and very quiet. These times don't come around too often, so we try to enjoy them when they do! Over the next few days, we eat lots of Christmas leftovers, play board games, and have a "Hobbit" and "Lord of the Rings" marathon.

On New Year's Eve I spend the day scrapbooking. We make egg-nog, Chex Mix, and homemade pizza for our family New Year's Eve party. The kids watch movies and sleep out in the living room under the Christmas tree. They want to try to stay up until midnight to ring in the new year, but nobody makes it except Rusty and me! At midnight, the fireworks start going off all around us.

December moments (clockwise from top left):
  1. Alex and Eliana ran the game called The Three Gifts at the Christmas fundraiser fair.
  2. Christmas train sighting!
  3. After school program Christmas party -- the kids made a photo craft using their photo with Santa.
  4. Group picture after completing Sandra's home improvement service project
  5. Merry Christmas from the staff of Camp Bellevue!
  6. Christmas cookie decorating
  7. Christmas morning family pic in front of the tree with our silly hats!
Another year has come to an end. I hope you enjoyed this little glimpse into what "A Year in the Life" looks like for the Campbell family in Ecuador!

Friday, June 26, 2020

A Year in the Life: November

The first weekend in November is a holiday weekend in Ecuador. Three holidays back-to-back (Day of the Dead, All Saints Day, and Cuenca Independence Day) combine to make a long weekend. This year, we have a large group from the Salvation Army at the camp for a youth retreat from Thursday afternoon through Sunday lunch. It is a busy few days.

The following weekend, the camp hosts the Women in Ministry retreat. This is a retreat planned by the Bible college in Quito and offered to all women in Churches of Christ who are involved in full-time ministry. The camp is in charge of food and housing for the weekend. In addition, I've been asked to lead a connection group, do a breakout session on personality styles, and give a keynote talk on Sunday morning. It is a busy week for me as I plan and prepare for all these different components. The theme of the retreat is "gratitude." It all goes very well and is a wonderful time of refreshment and encouragement for all the participants.

The next week, we drive into Quito to celebrate Dad's birthday. We eat at the best Indian restaurant in town and follow that up with pie for dessert at the Marcums' house. A few days later, we head back for a Friday night sleepover. The younger kids hang out with their cousins while Rusty and I drop Alex and Michaela off for Teen Night Then, we get to have a date -- dinner and movie out! The next day, we take the boys to their baseball practice and games at Cotopaxi Academy. After lunch and grocery shopping, we drive home. The camp is hosting a baby shower that evening for a young lady who has been helping with the after school program on a part-time basis and I have tea sandwiches to prepare for that.

Now that all my traveling is done and most of the fall camp groups have come and gone, I am ready to start up English classes again for the kids in the after-school program. I make name-tags for all the kids and teach my first set of classes in mid-November.

Just before Thanksgiving, Rusty has planned a 1-night getaway with Alex, Dad, and Josh, to discuss manhood and what it means to "become a man." Then, it's time to get ready for Thanksgiving! We drive into Quito for the weekend and have a nice family dinner on Thursday with the Marcums and my parents, followed by a mini-piano recital, put on by all the kids for their Nyanya. Later on, there is a time to share individual "psalms of gratitude" (a Marcum family Thanksgiving tradition), and while the kids watch a movie together, the adults have some time to visit and pray together.

The next day, all 14 of us head out of the city for a 1-night camping trip at Antisana National Park. Rusty has found a small lodge where my parents can stay, while the rest of us pitch tents by the lake. We enjoy exploring the park, hiking, and seeing several different species of birds, including an Andean Condor in the wild!

We spend one more night in Quito, attend church at Pisulí on Sunday, then have lunch at the Marcums' with the EQEB students who have been taking Dad's spiritual formation class. He teaches his last session to them after lunch, and then we pack up and head back to the camp. Mom and Dad come with us. They will be spending their last few days in Ecuador with us, and Rusty will take them to the airport.

It's hard to believe my parents' 2.5 months in Ecuador is at an end. We pass their last couple of days in Ecuador taking them to shop at the market in Otavalo, and arranging for them to see available apartments and condos in our area. (One of the purposes of this trip was to see if living in Ecuador full-time could be an option for them now that Dad has retired from full-time ministry.)

It has been a full and a busy month. We are thankful for all the wonderful family times we have enjoyed. Now, it's time to get ready for Christmas!

November moments (clockwise from top left):
  1. Mom shares her "prayer album" with the Women in Ministry participants during my keynote session at the retreat.
  2. Baseball has been such a fun outlet for our boys in the years we've lived in Ecuador.
  3. Happy Birthday, Dad!
  4. Our Thanksgiving feast
  5. Three generations of piano players
  6. Rusty and Alex
  7. Hiking with the cousins in Antisana National Park

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

A Year in the Life: October

The first week of October, I am in Brazil for the Connections renewal for missionary women, sponsored by Great Cities Missions. This is a wonderful few days of rest, teaching sessions, lots of time for silence and solitude, and time spent in small "connection" groups. The food is delicious, and the setting (a cozy hotel on a secluded beach) is beautiful, but the best part of the whole week is being with sisters in Christ! The fellowship and especially the singing (in English!) is amazing.

Rusty spends the week at home with the kids. He keeps the Facebook community entertained all week with hilarious "misadventures of a single dad" posts. This has become something of a tradition that his friends look forward to every two years. This year, my parents are there to help out, so I don't think he gets as much sympathy as he normally does.

On the day Jerica and I return from Brazil, Rusty brings the whole family to pick us up at the airport. After dropping Jerica off, we head to the Marcums' house to help my parents get settled. They will be living there "on their own" for the next few weeks and studying Spanish. We attend a church in the valley near the Marcum's house the next day and help Mom and Dad make some connections with the Christians there. Then, we say goodbye and head back to the camp.

For the next two weeks, we have a fairly normal routine. I begin homeschooling again as well as planning for several upcoming camp groups. I have several special projects I am working on for the after school program -- preparing enrichment activities for each class, taking pictures of the kids for the picture wall, and updating the bulletin boards. I have decided not to start English classes until November, so this gives me a little extra time to work on these projects. I am also working on updating Facebook photo albums for me and for the camp, and on a PowerPoint for our presentation on Camp Bellevue at the upcoming Operation Ecuador Summit.

The boys have baseball every Saturday. Elizabeth has a Field Day at her school one Saturday, so I take her to that while Rusty takes the three boys to Quito for practice and games. Alex also has his first Homeschool Teen Fellowship night of the school year. He really enjoys these times -- they are one of his only social outlets right now.

Rusty has been invited to preach at the church in Cayambe, so we attend there one Sunday, followed by lunch at one of our favorite restaurants, the Café de la Vaca. The next Sunday, we are busy with a weekend group from the U.S. spending their fall break in Ecuador serving at the children's home next door. They stay at the camp for three nights and we prepare breakfast and dinner for them each day. They leave on Sunday after church.

The next day, Mom and Dad drive out to the camp. They will be staying with the kids while Rusty and I travel to the States for a week to attend the annual Operation Ecuador Summit. We go grocery shopping and make sure they are set up for the week, then pack our bags (again) and head to the airport for our late night flight to Miami.

The OE Summit is being hosted this year by the Livonia Church of Christ in Livonia, MI, but our first stop is actually Dallas to spend a few days with the Shawnee Trail Church of Christ. This church began supporting our family in January, but we have not personally visited them yet. Our days in Dallas are full with missions committee meetings, errands, shopping, and visits with our friends the Wilsons (who recently moved back to the States from Ecuador), and my Uncle Ken and Aunt Barb, members at Shawnee Trail and our initial connection with this church.

After a few days in Dallas, we fly up to Detroit. We stay at my parents' house with the Marcum family, who are wrapping up their 4-month furlough. The OE Summit takes place at the Livonia church on Friday and Saturday, October 26-27. Rusty and I do a presentation on the camp together for the entire group. We enjoy hearing about the good things that God is doing in the other "sister ministries" of OE -- the Bible college, church planting teams, and Kumanii and medical missions.There are also scheduled break-out sessions and times of prayer for the various ministries. On Saturday afternoon, the church has planned a fun outing for all the Summit participants -- the Rouge Factory Tour followed by dinner at a wonderful Middle Eastern restaurant in Dearborn.

On Sunday, we attend church at Livonia -- Rusty and Josh co-preach. The rest of our day is filled with visits with friends and supporters, as well as the requisite shopping and then packing until the wee hours of the morning. We fly back to Ecuador on Monday, October 29th. Mom and Dad drive back to Quito the following day, while we unpack and start prepping for a large group coming to the camp this weekend.

On Halloween, we manage to procure four orange pumpkins at the market for the kids to carve into jack-o-lanterns. That evening, they dress up in their costumes and we attend Fall Fest at Elizabeth's school. We finish the night by watching "Charlie Brown and the Great Pumpkin," a family tradition.

October moments (clockwise from top left):
  1. Haircuts for three boys and their Babu
  2. Rusty and I presenting on Camp Bellevue at the Operation Ecuador Summit
  3. Rusty bought two Great Dane puppies -- we named them Lucy and Ethel.
  4. Carving jack-o-lanterns
  5. Halloween, 2018 -- a cowboy, Doc McStuffins, a brave and daring knight, and Bumblebee!

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

A Year in the Life: September, 2018

The first part of September is quiet (the kitchen staff are taking a week of well-deserved vacation), and I am trying to reestablish the routines of a "normal" life, including homeschooling, hospitality, pizza-and-a-movie nights with the kids, lunch dates with Rusty, and meal-planning and food prep for just my family. I always find that I have to sort of relearn how to cook in my home kitchen for a small group of people after an entire summer of thinking in large quantities for large groups. I feel like a little girl playing with toy pots and pans at first!

The boys and I finish out the last two weeks of the school year, which we didn't get to before the summer rush, and then I begin planning the next one, pulling out and organizing the books and materials we will use. My house has been neglected for an entire summer, and there are many things that need to be organized and put away, many areas that need tidied up. Ben is ready for bigger clothes, so I pull out the tub of size 6/7 clothes and put them away in his closet, then bag the clothes he has outgrown for donation to the camp's clothing closet. I still haven't finished getting everything in order to file our taxes, so I spend several days working hard to finish this project. I also write and send a family newsletter. I feel like I am playing catch-up on so many things I've gotten behind on over the past several weeks.

On the way in to Quito for some errands one day with Rusty, our Nissan overheats and breaks down on the side of the highway. We have been having problems with it for some time, and this is frustrating, especially since my parents are coming to visit soon and we will be going to the beach with them. We have it hauled to our mechanic in Quito and he keeps it for a few days and makes a few repairs. Later, we find out that we need to have the motor rebuilt, an expensive undertaking that we don't have the funds for right now. Thankfully, Rusty's Landrover, which has been in the shop for over a year having body work done to convert it from a pickup to a wagon, is at least drivable by this point, so we have a car to drive while we try to make a decision about the Nissan.

Elizabeth's first day of preschool is on September 10. The first day is just the opening ceremony, and the rest of the week, she is home each day before lunch. So, it is an easy and gentle introduction to school for her. She has a great first week!

Rusty attends the Global Member Care Conference in Quito during the second week in September. This conference is focused on educating and training those who provide care to missionaries or cross-cultural workers. He has a great time and makes some new friends and contacts.

The camp ladies come back to work in mid-September after two weeks off. They spend a couple of days cleaning, sorting and folding piles of clean sheets, and organizing and setting up their classrooms for another year of the After School Program, which will begin on Monday. I put their supply boxes together and help set up the library.

On Saturday, September 15th, Rusty takes the three boys to their first baseball practice of the season. I stay home, finally finish our taxes(!), prep food for our beach trip next week, and decorate the house for fall! I want to do this now because I will be gone for the next nearly 3 weeks, and then when I get back, I'll be busy for a couple of weeks before traveling again.

On Sunday, we head to church at Pisulí, then go out to lunch and do some grocery shopping. There is a huge hailstorm in Quito that afternoon. In some sections, the hail is over a foot deep! From a distance, it looks like snow. Isabel calls us to say that she won't be coming into work tomorrow because her house has flooded. We decide to go over and try to help her family. Rusty and Alex help her husband shovel hail off their roof before the melting ice can cause more damage to what's inside the house. Aside from everything getting a good soaking, the only casualty to their belongings is a chipboard cupboard, which we offer to help her replace.

Monday September 17th is the first day of After School Program. It's great to see all the kids again after the summer vacation! I spend the day packing and getting ready for the beach. Rusty loads the car. We eat dinner and then head out. First stop -- the airport to pick up my parents who will be spending the next 2.5 months in Ecuador! We stay the night at the Marcum's (they are currently in the U.S. on furlough, but their house makes a nice stopover and will shorten our drive to the beach tomorrow).

The next day, we continue our journey to the coast, finally arriving at Tonsupa and our friends' condo about 5:00 p.m. We will spend the next week here enjoying some rest, relaxation, and family time.

We pass our days playing in the waves, digging in the sand, swimming in the pools, playing games, doing puzzles, reading, watching movies, enjoying beautiful sunsets, and eating yummy seafood. One morning, we take a boat ride out to the Isla de los Pajaros so my parents can see birds. They really love birding, and Ecuador is quite the place for it! We see frigate birds and blue-footed boobies. Another day, we take the kids to the Aqua Park. Rusty and I have agreed to help our friends with the purchase of a new fridge for the condo, so we head into the city one afternoon to make the purchase and then have dinner at a restaurant on the beach. Mom and Dad keep the kids -- grandparents are awesome!

All too soon, our family vacation is over and it's time to head home. We drive back to Tabacundo via Mindo, stopping for a late lunch and to visit the butterfly farm. We arrive home in time for dinner. I have one day at home to do laundry, and repack my bags before leaving for Brazil. Mom and Dad will be staying with Rusty and the kids next week while I am gone, and she will be in charge of meals, so I take her grocery shopping and show her around my kitchen.

I travel to Brazil on Saturday, July 29th. Jerica and I travel together. We fly to Bogota, then to São Paulo. We make our way to the Monreale Hotel, where we will be staying for the next two nights. The Connections conference doesn't begin until Monday afternoon, but because of flight schedules, this was the best option for the money. It is nice to have a day in between traveling and the beginning of the conference to rest and do a little work at the hotel.

September moments (clockwise from top left):
  1. First day of preschool for Elizabeth!
  2. Back to homeschool with my crew
  3. Boat ride to the Isla de los Pajaros
  4. Mom and Dad enjoying the lazy river with Stephen
  5. Fun in the pool
  6. "Back to routine" means back to piano lessons and practice. My mom gave the boys several lessons while she was here.

Friday, May 10, 2019

A Year in the Life: August, 2018

Youth camp continues through the first week in August.This camp is sponsored by the Fort Walton Beach Church of Christ from Ft. Walton Beach, Florida. They have been putting on this camp each summer for the past nearly 20 years, and it is always a great week and results in several baptisms. We are grateful for their partnership with the camp and our family (this church recently became part of our family's personal support team).

During this week, I am working 14-16 hour days in the kitchen while Rusty is mostly at home with the kids, although he does have a few responsibilities throughout the week. Also, I am already thinking ahead to next week and the next camp. There is a menu to finalize, groceries to purchase, and orders to place for meat, chicken, bread, and fruits and veggies.

Camp ends on Saturday, August 4th. After lunch, the campers depart, and the camp feels strangely empty and quiet! I begin to immediately do laundry -- with only 2 full days before the start of the next camp, I will keep our 3 washers and 2 dryers running nearly constantly in order to get enough sets of sheets washed and dried so beds can be made for the next set of campers. We send the rest of the staff home to rest for the remainder of today and tomorrow. They have worked hard all week long, and I am so thankful for them! I shower, clean up, and put on normal clothes (and even a little make-up!), and then we go out to dinner with the Florida team to celebrate another successful youth camp.

On Sunday morning, I serve breakfast to the team and we have a short worship service at the camp followed by a meeting to talk about next year. Then we go out for lunch together. Afterwards, we say goodbye and they head off for a few days of R&R. I continue doing laundry most of Sunday afternoon and evening.

On Monday, August 6th, the staff return, ready for another week of work. They spend the morning cleaning cabins and making beds in preparation for Basketball Camp. The counselors begin arriving in the afternoon. We do some training sessions with them, and they help decorate and set up. After dinner, we have a devotional all together.

On Tuesday, Basketball Camp begins. This week, Rusty is helping with the camp all week as one of the directors, while I stay at home with the kids. One of my staff will be running the kitchen all week. Alex is old enough to participate in Basketball Camp this year, so I will have just the three younger ones with me at the house.

I use my few days at home to get everything in order for Kids Camp next week. I do most of the planning and organizing for this camp, and there is still a lot to be done, so it is nice to have a few days at home to focus on it.

Basketball Camp ends on Saturday with an all-day tournament. The campers leave in the late afternoon and I begin the laundry cycle again. On Sunday, we attend church at Pisulí and then do some grocery shopping before heading home to get ready for tomorrow.

The staff are back to work again on Monday, August 13th, for our final camp of the summer. They clean and prep cabins while I set up for Kids Camp. The counselors arrive in the afternoon and are a big help with the decorating. We are doing Egyptian decor this year, to go along with our theme, "The Life of Joseph," and they make some amazing wall decorations out of brown paper, markers, crayons, paint, and glitter! We have dinner together, followed by a devo.

Kids Camp begins on Tuesday afternoon, with the arrival of the campers. This is one of my favorite weeks of the year. Although planning, organizing, and directing a camp is a lot of work, I have also found it to be hugely rewarding! I have help in the actual directing of the camp from Syndi and Guillermo. They do a great job, and we make a good team. After the registration dust settles, we have 47 campers this year, a record high!

Kids Camp runs for three full days, plus 2 partial days for arrival and departure. The schedule I have found works best is to do a Bible lesson in the mornings, followed by games and a craft to reinforce the key point. The kids then meet in small groups with their counselors to have some discussion time and to practice their memory verse. After lunch, we have them rotating in groups to art class and sports. Then we have an "afternoon activity," and after dinner each night, an "evening activity." For the first afternoon, we play Bible Smugglers outside. The kids love this game! Our evening activity is indoor games, including Bingo, and a hilarious game called "Captain's Orders," which they never seem to tire of.

On the second day, we have an Egyptian themed treasure hunt in the afternoon. After dinner and the campfire devo, there are s'mores, followed by outdoor games with glow-sticks. The third afternoon is set aside for a service project. This year, the kids are making 40 no-sew fleece blankets to donate to a prison ministry. We have also invited a Christian brother who served time in prison and now heads up a prison ministry to talk to the kids about his experiences and about the importance of ministering to the incarcerated. After dinner, we spread out thin mattresses in the auditorium, give all the kids bags of popcorn, and have a movie night. In keeping with the week's theme, I have chosen "Joseph, King of Dreams."

Kids Camp ends on Saturday morning after breakfast and a closing ceremony. The campers leave before lunch, and we have a brief meeting with all the counselors before sending them and the staff on their way. We are now completely done with summer camps -- hooray! -- although we still have one final group coming to the camp next week. We have a few days before their arrival to do laundry, clean cabins, shop for food, and put away all the supplies and decorations used during Kids Camp.

Our final group of the summer is from the Bible college. They are doing their new student orientation. It is just for one night, Wednesday night, August 22nd. By Thursday afternoon, we are completely done with groups for the summer! It is a good feeling. On Friday, we have a big cleaning day at the camp. We prepare a special lunch for all the staff and I make a cake to celebrate those with August birthdays. It's a good way to end the summer and to thank everyone for all their hard work.

Ben's birthday falls at the end of August. He requests to go to Mr. Joy, a big indoor play zone in Quito, so we head there on his actual birthday. The next day, we finish celebrating with cake and presents. The end of August also means it's back-to-school time. I start doing lessons with the boys again and sign them up to play baseball with the Quito Youth Baseball League this fall, and we also fill out all the paperwork to enroll Elizabeth in the preschool class at the Hacienda of Hope Christian Academy.

Summer is over -- now we can breathe again!

August moments (clockwise from top left):
  1. Kitchen staff for Youth Camp week -- a great team!
  2. Happy 7th birthday, Benji!
  3. Basketball Camp
  4. Kids Camp firepit devo
  5. Kids Camp blanket-making service project

Thursday, May 09, 2019

A Year in the Life: July, 2018

The Family Mission Trip continues through the first week in July. A little background on the FMT: the idea for this trip was born out of the desire of friends of ours from the Hillsboro Church of Christ in Nashville (one of our supporting churches) to involve their children in service and missions in meaningful ways. Over the years (this is the 5th FMT), the trip has included participants from almost all of our supporting congregations, and others from outside those circles. We have had many children and teens participate, and even several baptisms throughout the years. The FMT has become one of the highlights of our family's year -- we love watching families serve and minister together!

This year, the FMT participants worship with the Cayambe Church of Christ on Sunday morning. In the afternoon, there is a medical clinic at the camp and preparations continue for VBS. We have a campfire complete with s'mores and a devo in the evening.

On Monday, the 4-day VBS begins. The basic structure of the FMT is as follows: VBS runs at the camp in the mornings, and then in the afternoons, there are medical clinics, some at the camp, some at off-site locations. Also, throughout the week, we have construction and community service projects for people to work on. This year, we are putting a new roof on a neighbor's house, and pushing hard to get the last section of the prayer trail around the perimeter of the camp completed.

On Wednesday afternoon, July 4th, we take a break from our work to celebrate Independence Day! We play baseball, make festive desserts, have a cookout, and end the evening with a grand fireworks display.

Thursday is the last day of work projects. The medical team spends all day doing a clinic at a new church in Machachi, a couple of hours south of Quito. VBS ends with a bang -- over 100 kids! We complete the prayer trail (a project several years in the making), and take a celebratory walk on it after lunch.

On Friday after breakfast, we leave on the bus for Mindo. We will spend the next couple of days playing and having fun after working hard all week! We stay at a cute hotel in Mindo, and have dinner all together. The next day, we enjoy Mindo until after lunch, then head back to Quito. We tour the Middle of the World Museum, then have dinner at everyone's favorite, Crepes and Waffles, before dropping the group off at the airport on Saturday night for their flights home. It has been another great FMT! 

While we were in Mindo with the FMT, another U.S. group has arrived at the camp. So on Sunday, we jump right into preparing meals and taking care of them. I also begin working on publicity for our upcoming camps, while Rusty is in the middle of designing and installing a disc golf course for the camp. Work continues on the apartment for Guillermo and Syndi's family, and we hope to have it move-in ready soon!

The U.S. group leaves at the end of the week, and I squeeze in a few more days of homeschool lessons with the boys in the midst of planning and prepping for camps. We are nearly done with our school year and will complete all but two weeks before summer camps begin. Stephen Lockwood arrives from Bellevue (our sponsoring congregation) to spend a few days with us at the camp. We enjoy our visits with him.

A Young Friends (Let's Start Talking) team from the Bellevue Church of Christ arrives on July 21st. These are members of the youth group, plus a couple of adult sponsors. They will put on our first camp of the summer, English Camp! We take them to worship with the church in Cayambe on Sunday; then they spend the rest of the day organizing their supplies and getting ready for their camp.

English Camp begins on Monday. It is a day camp, so the campers come each morning and leave each afternoon. We provide lunch. We have nearly 40 kids register on the first day, which is a bit more than the team feels prepared to handle, but they make it work. After camp ends on Wednesday afternoon, the Young Friends team pitches in to help the Racines family move in to the now completed apartment. Cabin 3 (where the Racines have been living) is now vacant again, just in time for our big youth camp coming up!

On Thursday night, the campers get to stay the night for a sleepover at the camp! The team plans some afternoon activities, and we serve dinner. This is followed by a campfire devo with s'mores, and then a zombie game with glow-sticks. On Friday morning, we serve breakfast, and there are some closing activities, and then English Camp ends. In the afternoon, the team helps us clean up, make beds, and get the camp ready for youth camp the following week. We are hosting a graduation dinner at the camp that evening for a part-time employee, so we invite the team up to our house for games and a movie.

On Saturday, Rusty takes the Young Friends team to Otavalo for shopping and to Chachimbiro to enjoy the hot springs. I stay back at the camp to welcome the US team who will be putting on the youth camp next week. They arrive in the afternoon and begin preparations for camp. We have a shared dinner with both groups that evening.

On Sunday, Rusty accompanies the Young Friends team to Quito. They attend services at the Pisulí Church of Christ, then spend the rest of the day sightseeing in Quito before flying home that night. I stay at the camp to oversee meals for the camp team. Their Ecuadorian helpers arrive on Sunday afternoon, and preparations are now in full swing for youth camp, which begins the next day.

On Monday, July 30, youth camp begins. It is our largest group of the year with close to 200 people, sometimes a few more! The campers arrive in the afternoon, and our first meal for the entire group is dinner. We decide to try something different this year, and make sancochco de pescado, a hearty fish soup. It is a big hit!

The last day of July is our first full day of youth camp. I spend a long day in the kitchen, busy with cooking and food prep. Cooking for this number of people, we need 8 staff, working 12-hour shifts, plus me overseeing everything. We finish serving one meal and move right into preparations for the next. It is a lot of work, but we have a lot of fun, too!

July moments (clockwise from top left):
  1. Family Mission Trippers working on the camp's prayer trail.
  2. Everyone loves the craft station at VBS!
  3. Working together to give an elderly neighbor a new roof for her home.
  4. English Camp opening activity.
  5. Soup for 200!

Tuesday, May 07, 2019

A Year in the Life: June, 2018

We still have a U.S. group at the camp until June 2nd. After they leave, we get a 2-week break from summer groups, which is a good thing since there are a lot of other things going on!

Jake and Tanya Wilson are leaving Ecuador after 5 years of serving as the directors at the Hacienda of Hope Christian Academy. Jerica and I host a goodbye party for them and their close friends. We have the party at the camp. It is a cookout. Following the meal, we have a time to share our thanks and words of encouragement as they embark on a new phase of life.

I get a few more days of lessons in with the boys before the next groups arrive. In addition, I am prepping for upcoming groups and continuing to work on our taxes. The after-school program is still in session until mid-June, and we are getting ready for our end-of-the-year events, including the final parent night and the field trip. A school group has their end-of-the-year dinner at camp.

Rusty travels into Quito one Saturday to help with a "minga" (community work project) at the Pisulí Church of Christ. The church is putting in a set of exterior stairs to make their recently completed meeting room more accessible. He also travels down to Pujilí to meet with the Christians there in preparation for the prison ministry conference that we will be doing with the Family Mission Trip at the end of the month.

Jake and Tanya leave Ecuador on June 13th. We have agreed to take Chiquito, their Great Dane, and give him a home with us at the camp. We bring them dinner on their last night, and then Rusty takes them to the airport. Adios, amigos!

June 14th is the final day for the After School Program until next school year! We finish out the year with an end-of-the-year parent night. Each class sings a song in Spanish and in English. After the program, we serve a snack and offer early sign-ups for next year.

The following day, our two EQEB interns, Jenny and Daniela, arrive. They will spend the next six weeks gaining some practical ministry experience by helping the camp. This is our third year to have interns from the Bible college. We enjoy having them, and they are a big help during some of our busiest weeks. Maranda, a friend from the US, also arrives. She plans to spend the next couple of weeks helping out at the camp as well.

We like to finish out each school year by planning a field trip for all the kids in the After School Program. This year, we have planned to take them all to the zoo on Saturday, June 16th. We spend a fun day with the kids seeing the animals and having a picnic. For many of these kids, it is their first time to visit the zoo.

A dental team from the University of Tennessee Health Science Center arrives late Saturday night. This is a group of dentistry students and a few professors / practicing dentists. This is their third year to come to Ecuador, and we love having them. They are a very professional and hard-working bunch. They will spend the next few days doing dental clinics both at the camp and a few off-site locations. 

Two days later, another U.S. group arrives at the camp. Then two days after that, a small team of 3 teachers arrives to do some projects at the school and in some of the community schools. One of their projects is a mini teachers' retreat, which is held at the camp. It is a lot to juggle all at once, but we manage.

On Sunday, June 24th, I go to church at Pisulí while Rusty stays home to help take care of our remaining groups. Syndi and I have planned a baby shower for Veronica, the wife of one of the church leaders, which is held immediately following the service. I bring a cake, and we play silly games and have a time of sharing.

We get a few days in between this last batch of summer groups and the Family Mission Trip. Preparations are in full swing -- there is food to buy, housing and a million other details to figure out. Maranda decides to leave a few days early due to some family concerns at home.

The Family Mission Trip participants arrive late on Thursday night, June 28th. We spend Friday morning in orientation meetings. Rusty takes them to Otavalo on Friday afternoon to shop at the artisans' market. Saturday is "special project day." A small group does some painting at the church in Cayambe. There is also an all-day medical clinic at the camp and a prison ministry conference at the church in Pujilí, and preparations are being made for the camp's VBS starting on Monday.

And here are a few photos from June (clockwise from top left):
  1. Decorating the auditorium for VBS
  2. Prison ministry conference at the Pujilí Church of Christ
  3. Farewell to Jake and Tanya Wilson
  4. Quito zoo with the After School Program
  5. Dental team hard at work seeing patients
  6. Packing meds for the medical clinics

Monday, February 25, 2019

A Year in the Life: May, 2018

I spend the first few days of May working on expense reports. I am trying to get everything ready to file our taxes by the end of the month before we get slammed with summer groups.

On May 4th, Jillian arrives to spend the next three and a half weeks with us. She is a high school senior and the daughter of a family friend, and will be doing her senior project here in Ecuador. Her first week here, we take her to see some of the local sites like the Equator monuments in both Cayambe and Quito. She goes to church with us the first Sunday to Pisulí. Starting the Monday after she arrives, she takes a couple of hours of Spanish classes each weekday. She knows how to play the ukulele and starts teaching the boys how to play using a couple of ukuleles she brought with her from the States. She even cooks dinner for us one night!

In addition to my normal weekly activities (homeschool, teaching English classes), I also do some planning for upcoming groups (bills and menus) and work on a family newsletter. On Friday, I help supervise the setup for the camp's annual Clothing Sale. The pre-sale for camp employees is on Friday afternoon.

The Clothing Sale is a big success. This is our second year to do this, and it helps clear out our inventory before filling the closet back up with more donated items from all the summer groups. We advertise the sale to the families of the kids in the After School Program, and sell the clothes for $1-2 per item. All proceeds benefit the After School Program. The Clothing Sale has been hugely popular -- the families like that they get to shop for and purchase things that they need, and they like knowing that they are helping to support the program that their children participate in all year.

Sunday, May 13th is Mother's Day. We attend church at Urcuquí, a new church plant. Rusty has been coaching the evangelist there, and he invited Rusty to preach on this day. After the service, Rusty treats us all to lunch at Puerto Lago, one of my favorite restaurants, right on the shores of San Pablo Lake. The pepper steak is to die for!

Jillian is planning to major in marine science at university, so her mother has arranged for her to spend a few days in the Galápagos with Rusty and me! Thanks to the generosity of several friends, we are also able to take our friends Jake and Tanya Wilson along. They will be leaving Ecuador soon and this trip is a sort of group goodbye and going-away present for them. The Marcums have agreed to keep our kids for 5 days while we are away, so the day before we fly out, we get them packed up and drive them into Quito to drop them off. They are excited to spend the week with their cousins.

On May 15th, we head to the airport for our flight to the Galápagos. We fly to Guayaquil, then to San Cristóbal island. We are staying on this island, so after we land, we go find our hotel. Then we have lunch and spend the rest of the day exploring. We find an interpretive center and do some hiking and walking on the beach. The views are breathtaking!

The next day, we take a tour of the highlands. The guide takes us to a freshwater lake, the largest in the entire archipelago, then to a tortoise conservation center. We end the morning with some playtime at a very pretty beach. After lunch, we walk on another beach where the waves are just enormous. Then, some of us want to snorkel, so we rent gear and find a quiet and calm cove where we can see some underwater life.

The following day, we take a "360 tour" by boat around the island. The boat stops off at different points so we can snorkel, enjoy the beaches, or take photos of birds and landscapes. Lunch is included. Our last stop of the day is the Leon Dormido (Sleeping Lion), a huge rock of an island divided by a channel. The snorkeling in the channel is supposed to be some of the best in the Galápagos. Unfortunately, the water is rough, the sky is cloudy, and visibility is poor, so we don't see much.

Our last day in the Galápagos, we decide to take a ferry to the island of Santa Cruz. We visit the Charles Darwin Research Center, then take a long hike to an absolutely beautiful and pristine beach, Tortuga Bay. After lunch, we take another ferry back to San Cristóbal island. We watch a beautiful sunset and have delicious burgers for dinner.

It's time to head home after an amazing few days. We are tired and sun-burnt, but carrying precious memories of time spent with friends exploring this beautiful corner of God's creation. We have breakfast, pack, and then head to the airport. We arrive back in Quito by mid-afternoon, go to pick up the kids and then head home.

The next day is Sunday. We go to church at Cayambe, then take Jillian to the Condor park, and to the artisan's market in Otavalo. She does a little shopping. We have yummy pie at the Pie Shoppe, right off the market square.

The first group of the summer is just a couple of days away. I am busy shopping, ordering food, organizing employee schedules, and making sure the cabins are prepped for their arrival. The group from Madison Academy arrives on May 22nd, marking the official start of our summer at Camp Bellevue!

Jake and Tanya are running the Madison group; however, they are collaborating with us on a couple of projects. The group is putting in a cement floor for a neighbor's house. They are also doing several days of literacy activities for the After School Program. They are a hard-working group and we really enjoy them. Jillian jumps right in to help with some of their work projects. Midway through Madison's time at the camp, another group arrives.

Somehow, in the midst of all that is going on with the groups, we manage to find a night to sneak away to meet up with the Marcums in Quito and see "Solo: a Star Wars Story" in the theater together. We are all big Star Wars fans (all except Josh, and we are doing our best to convert him), and we have enjoyed seeing the new movies together as they are released.

Josh's cousin Carson is in Ecuador for a few days to take pictures and shoot some video footage of the different Operation Ecuador ministries. He is putting together the annual video that we will show at the Operation Ecuador summit in October. See the final video here. He comes out to the camp and spend several hours taking photos and videos of all the different things going on. He also interviews Rusty and me.

Jillian has just a few days left in Ecuador before she heads home. She has planned an art project for the kids in the After School Program. With her help, each class makes a handprint art poster. We plan to display these in a couple of weeks at our end-of-school parent night. On her last day, Rusty takes her and Stephen to Mindo. They enjoy zip-lining and the butterfly farm. He drops her off at the airport later that evening for her flight home.

On the last day of May, we serve a special snack to the kids in the After School Program in honor of International Children's Day, which is tomorrow, June 1st. The kids love the taxo popsicles we made for them! Taxo is an Ecuadorian fruit kind of like a passion fruit, and it grows in abundance at the camp in a "vine tunnel" that Rusty had put in behind our house.

May is over, but the summer has barely begun!

May moments (clockwise from top left):
  1. "360 Tour" around San Cristóbal island with Jake, Tanya, and Jillian!
  2. Galápagos sea lion
  3. Happy Mother's Day -- Rusty bought me this pretty cake!
  4. At the Mitad del Mundo (Middle of the World)
  5. Rusty and I at Tortuga Bay -- whitest sands I've ever seen, apart from Kenya's gorgeous coast!
  6. Galápagos tortoises
  7. Jillian and Stephen at the butterfly farm in Mindo
  8. The group from Madison Academy helped put in a cement floor in this house belonging to one of our neighbors.

    Saturday, February 02, 2019

    A Year in the Life: April, 2018

    April begins with my birthday, which also happens to be Easter Sunday this year! We go to church at Pisulí, then have lunch at an Indian restaurant in Quito. In the evening, we celebrate Easter with a special "brinner," complete with resurrection rolls, an Easter object lesson and treat that the kids like to help make.

    I share my birthday with my sister, and we enjoy celebrating together. This year, we plan a spa date in mid-April. This was actually her Christmas present to me, but we have waited so long to actually plan it that it feels like a birthday gift, too! We enjoy a hot tub, massages, and facials at a spa in Quito, followed by lunch out, and then manicures and pedicures. It is fun to pamper ourselves occasionally!

    Representatives from the Shawnee Trail Church of Christ in Frisco, which has recently begun supporting our family, as well as the Bible college in Quito, come to Ecuador the first week in April. We drive into Quito to have dinner with them and the Marcum family at Pim's, a nice restaurant with views over the city. The following day, they come out to see the camp and have lunch at our home. Then, they leave with Rusty and Josh for a one-night trip to Loja to visit the church planting team there.

    Stephen turns nine on April 6th. He is sick on his actual birthday, so we postpone our plans for an outing with his cousins. By the next day, he is feeling better, so I make his requested birthday dessert -- Oreo Cheesecake Brownie Trifle, and we celebrate at home. Later, we reschedule a visit to the arcade with his cousins.

    Syndi has her baby (born on Stephen's birthday!), so after church the following Sunday, we pay them a visit at the hospital. Baby Isabella is super cute!

    Our fridge is still not working properly, so while we wait for the technician to figure out what the problem is, Rusty has a small fridge that belongs to the camp brought up to the house. We squeeze it into our laundry room. It's not ideal, but it's better than nothing. And waiting a few weeks for a repair is certainly better than buying another fridge! Meanwhile, the closets for the boys' new bedroom are finally finished, so I spend several days unpacking, sorting and organizing their clothes into their new space.

    A small group from the Sunset Church of Christ in Springfield, MO visits Ecuador in mid-April. They are visiting the church-planting team in Manta, which is sponsored by Sunset. Rusty travels with the group to Manta to help as a translator and is gone for several days. On the way back from Manta, the group misses their connecting flight in Quito, so Rusty brings them out to the camp for the night. They are re-booked on a flight leaving the next evening, so we get to enjoy a day with them at the camp. We take them to town, to the Equator monument just south of Cayambe, and to have lunch at the Vaca Loca. We have dinner at our house that evening before Rusty takes them back to the airport.

    The third weekend in April, we have a group at the camp. It is a girls' retreat, at the camp for two nights. I stay busy in the kitchen all weekend. Rusty takes the kids to Enoch's birthday party on Saturday and to church on Sunday.

    The end of April finds me planning, shopping for, and prepping another big batch of crock-pot freezer meals, this time for Syndi, who has been staying in Quito with her mom, but will be coming back home to the camp soon with her new baby. We have a 4-day holiday weekend at the end of April / first of May, perfect for this project and also beginning work on getting everything ready to file our taxes.

    April moments (clockwise from top left):
    1. Birthday girls!
    2. Stephen is 9!
    3. The kids are enjoying listening to Joe Bright, from the Sunset Church, tell a story.
    4. School is in session

    Wednesday, January 30, 2019

    A Year in the Life: March, 2018

    March has arrived -- and spring break groups are just around the corner. Rusty and I spend the first day of March doing a big shopping trip for all the groups that will be staying at the camp over the next two weeks. Grocery shopping for groups is a pretty involved process. I make about 6 different lists -- one for the baker who delivers the bread we need fresh each day, one for the fruit lady, who brings us fresh fruit like papaya and pineapple from the coast, one for the vegetable man, who delivers fresh veggies to the camp in his pickup truck, one for meat, one for chicken -- these 2 are orders which get placed at the beginning of the week for pickup on Thursday (red meat discount day) or Friday (chicken discount day) -- and then the list for everything else that I have to buy at the grocery store in town.

    Our first groups are coming out of Kumanii (Operation Ecuador's jungle ministry) after a week-long project there. They pass through the camp on their way to the airport. We sometimes feed these groups dinner and give them a place to shower and repack their bags before heading home (because who wants to get on a plane covered in sweat, sunscreen, and bug repellent?).

    A group of students from Harding University arrives next for their spring break project. We are collaborating with Jake and Tanya Wilson (directors at the Hacienda of Hope Christian Academy) on some of their work projects. Rusty helps coordinate a roof-replacement project for a neighbor that the students work on throughout the week. They also spend time each afternoon helping at the camp's after-school program. They lead Bible lessons and fun hands-on science lessons with the kids. They are a great group, and several are from Central America and speak Spanish, which helps.

    I stay busy running the kitchen -- we are serving the group breakfast and dinner each day, and they eat lunch at the school -- and keeping things running smoothly at the after-school program. Midway through Harding's time with us, two more spring break groups arrive, from LCU and Lipscomb University. We are only in charge of housing and feeding these groups; their work projects are being coordinated by the children's home. Still it is a lot to juggle -- for one night, all three groups are sharing space at the camp.

    Harding heads home on Saturday. The following Sunday, the camp cooks a big dinner for both LCU and Lipscomb and all the kids, staff, and volunteers for the children's home, so they can all share a meal together. After dinner, they roast s'mores down at the firepit and have a devo. The last few days of the spring break groups are a bit easier. We are cooking just breakfast each morning, so I have time during the day for school with the boys (they had last week off while Harding was here) and teaching my English classes.

    Alex attends the homeschool teen retreat over a weekend in mid-March. It is his first year -- since he turned 12, he is finally able to participate in the teen activities planned by a family in our homeschool group. He has a great time at El Refugio, an adventure camp just north of Quito. Meanwhile, I spend the weekend doing food prep and packing for our family vacation next week.

    On Sunday, we leave for our vacation. We pick Alex up from the retreat, then head down to Machachi, arriving in time for their afternoon service. It is our first time to visit this new church; Rusty has been coaching and mentoring the young evangelist there. From Machachi, we head down to Baños. It is a long trip. We have a late dinner after we arrive, then head to our hotel.

    Baños is beautiful! We spend the day exploring. We are thinking about bringing the Family Mission Trip here for their "fun day" at the end of their time with us in July, so we visit a few travel agencies and gather information on the various activities available and approximate costs. We also take the kids to a "Dinosaur Park," and after lunch we drive part of the "Route of the Waterfalls," stopping along the way to take photos and do a bit of hiking.

    The next morning, we hit the thermal pools for which "Baños" is named. Then we head back to our hotel to get dressed, pack and have breakfast. We leave about mid-morning and drive the rest of the way to Atacames, a town on the coast of Ecuador, where we will be spending the rest of our vacation.

    We try to take a little vacation time twice a year. Usually, we go in early May before things get too crazy-busy at the camp, and again in September, where we can breathe a big sigh of relief after the summer is over! This year, we are unable to take vacation time in May, so we have decided to come in March instead. For several years now, we have been renting our friends' condo for about a week at a time. It is a beach-front condo in a nice resort with a pool complex. Since we can come during the low season, we don't have to fight crowds of people and we often have the pools to ourselves. We spend the week in a lazy rhythm of playing on the beach, swimming in the pools, reading, playing board games, and watching movies. One day, we take the kids to a nearby water park with slides and a lazy river. They really enjoy that!

    Our beach vacation time is soon over, and we head back to Tabacundo at the tail end of March. We arrive home to a fridge that is not working (hoo-ray), and lots to do to get ready for our Passover dinner and Easter, coming up in a just a couple of days.

    Celebrating Passover has become one of our family's most meaningful Easter traditions. You can read more about why, as Christians, we choose to celebrate this Jewish holiday here. This year, the guest list includes several friends and my sister and her family. We have nearly 20 people in our home for the dinner and service. The Marcums stay the night afterwards. Passover and a sleepover -- a great way to wrap up the month of March!

    March moments (clockwise from top left):
    1. Harding spring break mission team in front of the house they helped roof.
    2. Kids program science activity -- ice cream in a bag. A science experiment you can eat!
    3. Ben loves to help in the kitchen.
    4. Harding spring break mission -- the roof project in process
    5. Rusty preaching at the Machachi Church of Christ
    6. Baños -- this waterfall is called the "Pailón del Diablo" (Devil's Cauldron).
    7. Beach vacation
    8. The "haggadah" (order of service) for our Passover dinner